Samaria Gorge, Chania
Samaria Gorge, Chania: The longest gorge in Europe, with a unique, magnificent natural environment.
In the prefecture of Chania, Samaria Gorge is the most known natural formation. It is located in the South of Chania prefecture, in Sfakia province, in a distance of about 45 kilometres from Chania city.
Apart from the most spectacular gorge in Chania, Samaria Gorge is the longest gorge in Europe, with a total length of 16 kilometres. Its width varies greatly, from about 150 metres to only 3 metres, and the height of its sides range between 300 and 600 metres.
The history of Samaria Gorge in Chania
Samaria Gorge was always an especial place in Chania region. It is the biggest between many spectacular gorges in the White Mountains of Crete, or Lefka Ori. The gorge features a really unique flora and fauna in Europe, with rare flowers and animals, like the rare wild goat of Crete, Kri Kri.
The Samaria Gorge in Chania was an area kept free during all the foreign occupations of Crete. This was especially true during the Ottoman occupation, when the Ottoman army suffered heavy casualties when it tried to take control of the gorge. The main reasons for this were the very difficult terrain, and especially the free spirit and ability in war of the local Sfakian people.
In 1962, the Gorge of Samaria was declared a National Park. In 1964, the inhabitants of the small village of Samaria inside the gorge, which gave its name to the gorge, had to leave their houses and relocate to other nearby villages of Chania. The name “Samaria” comes from the church of Saint Mary, or “Ossia Maria” in Greek, in the village, which was pronounced as one word: “Ossia Maria” – “Samaria”.
Descending the natural landmark of Chania, Samaria Gorge
Samaria Gorge runs from its high point at Xyloskalo, in an altitude of more than 1.200 metres, to the coastal village of Agia Roumeli. In order to pass through the gorge, you must get to Xyloskalo from Chania city by bus, and, after reaching Agia Roumeli village in the evening, take the boat to Hora Sfakion, and from there take the bus back to Chania city. If you want to make things simpler, there are several travel agencies that organize excursions to Samaria Gorge. Their buses leave you in Xyloskalo, and then pick you up from Hora Sfakion. Some of the agencies have experienced guides in order to make your crossing of the gorge easier.
The total time needed to pass through Samaria Gorge in Chania is about 5-6 hours, depending on your speed. Inside the gorge, you can see the now abandoned Samaria village. In the village, you can admire the traditional Cretan architecture. You will see that some houses are in good condition. They are used by the guards of the Samaria Gorge National Park. Sometimes, the wild Kri Kris are said to come near the last houses of Samaria village.
Near the end of Samaria Gorge in Chania, you find the Iron Gates, or “Sidiroportes” in Greek, the narrowest part of the gorge – about only 3 metres wide – and one of the deepest – the sides of the gorge have a height of about 500 metres here. After the Iron Gates, you find yourself out of the main mass of the Lefka Ori Mountains, and after about 3 kilometres you reach the coastal village of Agia Roumeli, which marks the end of the Gorge of Samaria.
Please keep in mind that hiking across the Samaria Gorge is allowed only between May and October. During winter months there are streams and torrents running through the gorge which are dangerous for hikers.
When Visiting Chania, Samaria Gorge is a must-see, a place of unique natural beauty unlike everything else you’ve probably seen. A walk to the Samaria Gorge National Park in Chania is a rare travel experience, which we warmly recommend.