The Southernmost City in Europe
by Minoa.info / Juhani
Ierapetra is an important producer of fruit and vegetables in Europe. The city of Ierapetra is perhaps the least known of the cities of
Crete, even though it is the most southern and sunniest place
in Europe. This ignorance is probably caused by the fact that the
area is economically focused on agriculture rather than tourism –
despite the sunny and almost rainless climate, and the longest beach of the Island. Local people feel that agriculture is better business compared to tourism, while the conditions are ideal for both.
Over 1300 hectares of greenhouses
When you reach Ierapetra the city really does look like an area of production rather than a tourist attraction. The greenhouses extend to the horizon and the city features many functions of the agricultural lifestyle: delivery vans, warehouses and different farming services. In Ierapetra farming is possible all-year round, making it one of the most important producers of fruit and vegetables in Europe. The city looks quite different from the other Cretan cities, apart from architecture and men enjoying coffee in front of many cafes. There are a few Minoan archaeological sites, churches, monasteries and even an old city, but it is obvious that tourism is not as essential here as elsewhere on the island. What is essential is growing food for Crete and Europe.
If you wish to familiarize yourself with the more business oriented and busy Cretan way of city life with few tourists, Ierapetra is the best choice. Naturally there are the basic tourist services in the city, but they don’t dominate Ierapetra, as there are only a few tourists to meet in the city.
Founded by a Pirate
Ierapetra has been known throughout Crete’s history. It was originally called ‘Cyrbas’ after the pirate who founded the city. The name of the city has changed many times during the centuries: Cyrbas, Kamiros, Pytna, Ierapytna and present-day Ierapetra. The strategic location in south-western Europe has helped the city to remain strong and developed. Ancient Ierapetra blossomed during the last centuries BC, but was destroyed by the Romans regardless of being one of Crete’s strongest defenders against Roman aggression. The later Byzantine period of the city ended as the Saracens destroyed the city in 828 AD.
Re-building of the city was again carried out to meet the needs of the pirates. Just 10 km south of the city is the island of Chrissi, one of Crete’s many uninhabited islands. The island is 5 km long and has an average height of 10 meters, which is exceptionally flat for Crete. Although there are signs of residency dating back to the Minoan period, the island has remained mostly untouched. The island and its original nature have made it partly protected by the European Union as a natural park. In June 1789 Napoleon visited Ierapetra and stayed with a local family on his way to Egypt. The house where Napoleon visited still partly exists and is open for tourists.
Entering Ierapetra resembles the experience of entering a typical (Finnish) modern city through an industrial suburb. Streets are filled with goods and warehouses, and there are numerous companies specializing in trade and services. It is the inner old city and the promenades by the sea where you find the more traditional look of Cretan cities.
Here, just like elsewhere in Crete, older men sit at their regular taverns observing the fast life of the surrounding city – not that it could break their usual peace and quiet. For the occasional tourist the view is not compromised by tourism in any way. The original and everyday feel of the city is the source of Ierapetra’s peculiar appeal.
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