Agios Ioannis, Sfakia

In the late 70s and the early 80s my husband and I spent more than a year living in Sfakia. At that time Agios Ioannis was a small and isolated village with a population of 55 people (January 1979). It was considered one of the most isolated villages in Crete with a year-round population, and this was what attracted us. Only one household had a telephone and there was no electricity or running water. The village was connected with the surrounding area by a network of foot paths, but the many ravines made walking long and difficult. The spectacular Gorge of Aradena, 100 meters deep, separated the koinotis (township) of Ayios Ioannis from Anopolis and was the main reason why a road had never reached the village. All the traffic had to cross the gorge by using an old zig-zag path. To catch the only bus from Anopolis you had to do the 3 – 4 hours walk in the dark, go down and up the gorge and avoid the vicious dogs in Anopolis.

Building a bridge and a road to Agios Ioannis was the dream of the Proedros (village mayor) Theodoris Polirakis. He believed that more people would stay in the village and that tourists would come in larger numbers if access to the village was easier. The Vardinoyannis family (who originally came from Agios Ioannis) had for a long time promised to pay for the bridge, but the villagers were not convinced that it would ever happen. However in the summer of 1980 the nomarch (governor) of Chania came on a visit to discuss the building of the road, and in 1986 a bridge crossing the Gorge of Aradena was constructed, permitting an extension of the road to Agios Ioannis. The bridge was a gift from the Vardinoyannis family to their native village. But it came too late to save the village from being depopulated.

The koinotis of Ayios Ioannis consisted of two villages separated by low hills, Agios Ioannis and Aradena. They are both situated on a high plateau overlooking the Libyan Sea to the south, where the distant islands of Gavdos and Gavdopolos could be seen on clear days. The coast line was the southern border of the koinotis; the ancient chapel of Agios Paulos and a shepherd´s hut were the only structures found along its lonely length. Looming above the foothills to the north of the two villages was the southern wall of the Lefka Ori range, distinguished by the two peaks of Zaranokefala and Thodoris, both over 2000 meters in height.

The inhabitants of Agios Ioannis were proud of their village. Making the most of what little they had, they emphasised to us the quiet, the clean air and water, and felt they had a good life. The problem was that all the young people had left, and they knew the village would disappear in a few years’ time.

The village of Agios Ioannis

Some history and description of the village and its population.

Everyday life in the village

Kinship, family life, occupations and the roles of men and women.

Picture gallery

Photos of the village and the people who lived and worked there.

About our stay

This web site is not about me but about Agios Ioannis during the time we spent there. All the photos were taken by my husband or myself and are chosen because they show the village, the people and their activities. If you want to know more about our stay, please click below.

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