D. Amari cliffs
The Amari is one of the nicest valleys of Crete attributing its beauty to its geographical position and special rock types that host abundant water and life. Located west of Psiloritis it receives plenty of rain and sometimes snow, which form small streams and finally the Platis river, one of the largest in Crete running off into the Libyan sea. These features have helped the villages of the valley to gain wealth and power in the past.
Nowadays the Amari is behind in touristic development in respect to the rest of Crete as a result of its far distance from the coast, but it is ahead however in the wealth and pure beauty of its environment and culture. The variety of rock types is not high. The rocks occurring belong to the “Tripolitsa” carbonates, the flysch of “Pindos” and younger sediments. The most outstanding feature of the area is the huge vertical cliffs starting almost from the peaks of Psiloritis and which end in the valley.
Faults, although not as obvious as those in the Kamares and Gergeri areas, have also sculptured the landscape rising up the mountain and sinking the basin.
However, the high contrast between the roughness and the wildness of the cliffs and the mountainous area, and the calm and balance of the valley are those features that make the Amari unforgettable.
Fourfouras is a nice traditional village in the foothills of Psiloritis mountain with impressive cliffs hanging over the houses. Just east from the village at an altitude of 600 meters exist conglomerates and sand as remnants of an old coastline. Fossils of Clypeaster (Sea urchin) and bivalves show that 6-7 million years ago the Miocene coastline was extending until that place.
The reddish loose sediments occurring around the Pantanassa village are of the few which were deposited as sediments on the land of Crete 12 – 8 million years ago. They consist of loose sand, conglomerates, clay and thin layers of lignite on top, and are referred to as the Pantanassa formation.
The plethora of the data collected from these rocks have helped us, and continue to help us, to understand this distant period when Crete started to become separated from Aegais and began to form the shape of an island.
The beautiful gorge of Patsos occurs west of Pantanassa. It is one of the nicest gorges of Crete with lots of water and rich vegetation. A small cavity in the heart of the gorge was used during Minoan times for worshipping Kranaios Hermes, and continues in use today as a cave-chapel for Agios Antonios.
The gorge of Platania, located north of the Platania village, is rather different from the other Cretan gorges. At its entrance, it develops as a wide valley due to the loose Miocene rocks, but gradually as it gets within the limestone of “Tripolitsa” it turns into a very steep and narrow gorge ending upwards in a wide valley again, where flysch rocks of the same group appear.
A nice hiking trail starts from the village and climbs up the northern side of the gorge. The visitor can marvel at the beautiful wild flowers (orchids, campanulas etc.), old olive tree yards and the scenic panorama of the Amari valley from above. The entrance to the steep gorge is marked by the vertical cliffs, colored yellow and red by the iron oxides. Small and larger cavities, as well as vertical rocks can be seen at the southern side of the gorge. After crossing the stone bridge and an arch formed by the trunk of a wild olive tree, the trail becomes very dangerous for non experienced climbers.
The area is suitable for bird watching as vultures and other birds of prey are common in the area, but also for the observation of the wild flora of Crete. (see the hiking trail)
Over the steep cliffs of Vistagi the Cretan Detachment fault appears again separating the rocks of “Plattenkalk” from those of the “Tripolitsa” group. This fault has fragmented the rocks in the area forming a wide zone where water can intrude and remain for a long time. Several wells, such as the “Tsikalas’ wells”, have been drilled in this zone to get the quantities necessary for the raising of livestock and for mountainous cultivations of the area.
Leska and Chabathoura, are two small caves located just at the edge of the steep cliffs over Fourfouras village. Leska is actually on the cliff and it is very difficult to approach it. It has several halls one under the other and impressive speleothems. However, it is mainly used for the maturing of cheese.
Chabathoura on the other hand is a smaller cave located just on the top of the nearby hill. The most impressive point in this case is that local wisdom built a mitato (one of the few in Psiloritis made from the “Tripolitsa” limestone) above the cave and both were used for the production and maturing of cheese.
In one of the small plateaus of the mountainous area of Fourfouras is to be found the small cave which in ancient times was the place of worship for the god Pan. Today the cave is used by the shepherds and the place of worship has been moved to the nearby chapel of Agios Mironas.
The road cuts of the road leading from Kouroutes towards the Nithavris village are dominated by some rough rocks, reddish in color, which give a special feature to the landscape. These are lavas (basalt) which were solidified in the Tethys Ocean some 65 million years ago. These special and alkaline rocks host some peculiar species of the Cretan flora (like Aethionema saxatιle).