The peaks of Afendi Christou (2025 m) and Psaris Madaras and Koupas cluster around a number of enclosed basin-like plains of various sizes, of which the largest is Omalos. This, at a height of 1350 m, has a length of 4.5 km and a width of only 600 m at best: it is most immediately surrounded by the mountain-tops of Afendi and two other peaks (2025 and 2005 m) to the south, Kissos (1090 m), Pantoura (1512 m) and a peak with no name west of Vourlida (1417 m) and Papoura 1827 m).
In the winters the impermeable rock-strata underlying it help create a small lake at its centre, which gradually drains away by the summertime. The scenery is quite outstanding at all seasons, changing all the while – from snow covered to lushly green and flower-strewn, and from barren to alpine with its small lake.
On the west side is the small chapel of Aghios Pneumatos (Holy Spirit). Inside is a spring of water which the shepherds use.
A legend has it that the yard and the church are full of Aghiokonstantinata that “… are not visible to the eye; only at the reading of the Gospel, each time there is a service, they seek from the congregation the one and only person there who is the most faithful, just and good”.
The chapel was built in the last years of the Ottoman rule: here the locals fleeing Turkish atrocities took refuge. It was also the haunt of rebels; the Resistance also operated from here – and because of the fighting in the area a tumulus has been built to their memory.
Access to Omalos is by the villages of Embaros, Kato Syme and Amira – but on foot by various routes.
The Myth of the Aghiokonstantinata
This story which is to do with wood from the Holy Cross is found in many parts of Crete: it has served at various times as a sort of moral tale. It concerns coins of Byzantine origin which have the Saints Constantine and Helen flanking the Cross. It is said that the coins were minted by Aghios Constantinos himself. When Aghia Helen found the Cross .. so it goes .. she had it cut in two – one part remained, the other went to Constantinople. The sawdust that fell as the work was done was collected, mixed with precious metals and from the resulting alloy were made the Konstantinata, which acted as talismans.
If you are lucky on a visit, you may meet the brothers Stavrakakis, herders on Omalos. They are very hospitable: in the Spring, if you encounter them at their cheese-making, you can try out some of their delicious products.
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