In the town of Hora Sfakion, behind a grove of pine trees is an old ruined fortification part Venetian, part Turkish, and part craggy rock.
There is no clear reference to the area in written history before the 16th century. The first official recording of the fortifications was made June 21, 1526.
The people of Sfakia have always been fiercely independent. The Venetians who were busy for hundreds of years building fortifications along the Cretan coast found its most challenging opponents in Sfakia. Of the 11 castles they built along the coast, Frangokastello, a few kilometers to the east of Hora Sfakion, is the least ancient. Surely the site was used as a fortification long before the Venetians arrived, but no one really knows what history lies beneath the stones they laid.
As a result of the war between Venice and the Ottoman Empire Crete fell under the rule of the Turks in 1669. This lasted until 1897 when the Ottoman Empire fell apart.
As the Ottomans moved out in the late 1800s, the island was divided into four parts. Sfakia was in the part controlled by Italy. I could find no account of their influence in the region.
Crete did not become part of Greece until 1913. The photo above was taken in 1914 when the Hora Sfakion fortifications we’re still recognizable.
Sfakia is famous as one of the centers of the resistance against the occupying forces of both the Venetians and the Turks. The impenetrable White Mountains to the north combined with the rocky beaches on the south helped the locals fight off all invaders. It is interesting to note that the Sfakia region is considered one of the few places in all of Greece never fully occupied by foreign powers.
I am writing this as Hora Sfakion quietly celebrates Ohi Day. On October 28, 1940 the Italian government presented an ultimatum to the Greeks, demanding that Axis forces be allowed to enter and occupy Greece. According to legend, the reply was a simple Ohi - No! Greeks aren't easily intimidated and Sfakians don't give up easily.
Another monument below the old castle honors the 26 men from Hora Sfakia and neighboring villages who were executed by the Nazis for aiding Allied troops.
Sfakians are still considered somewhat beyond the reach of the lawmakers and tax collectors of Athens with vendettas over stolen sheep and women's honor still fought late into the 20th century.