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Lagoon of Mermaids


mermaids greek crete rug

A pair of Greek mermaids on a rug from Crete.

Picture copyright by deTraci Regula; licensed to About.com
One of my favorite spots on Crete is the town of Elounda (or Elouda), located in northeastern Crete in the Lasithi prefecture. This modern town lies on the shores of a lagoon that contains the sunken remains of the lost city of Olos. On days when the water is calm, the walls of this ancient city can be seen beneath the waves. In summer, scuba diving expeditions through the town are available.

Elounda's Lagoon

Elounda's lagoon, technically the Gulf of Korthos, also contains the island of Spinalonga and its Venetian fortress, which for many years was used as a leper colony. Sad tales are told of lepers who would try to escape from the "Isle of Tears", using barrels or wooden bed frames for boats. Before Spinalonga was a refuge for lepers, it was also a refuge for Christians during the Turkish occupation, since the Venetians maintained control over the fortress. Spinalonga is also the subject of a bestselling British novel, "The Island".

Elounda's Mermaid

It's not recorded if any the desperate escapees encountered the other occupant of the lagoon: Britomartis, who in Cretan myth is said to be a mermaid goddess, possibly the daughter of Carme and Zeus, believed to still inhabit the local waters - she certainly inhabits the local souvenir shops! Known also as Dictynna, Britomartis is identified with Artemis and Diana and is also believed to be the original form of the mermaid goddess of the island of Aegina.

Despite Elounda's difficult history of sunken cities and suffering lepers, the waters of the lagoon are strangely calming and peaceful. We felt a gentle joy welling up inside of us, perhaps the gift of the strong, yet playful mermaid who is patroness of the area.

More to See in Elounda

Elounda has other treats in store for the curious visitor. Two windmill towers, missing their wings, stand by the causeway to Spinalonga. Pass these and look for a small, easy-to-miss sign saying "Byzantine mosaic". Take the path a few yards past a small, nameless restaurant. Behind a low wall of rough stones, there is a large, beautiful Byzantine mosaic, all that is left of the basilica of Olous which once stood on the site. There's no admission and the mosaic can be easily photographed, especially at high noon when the low walls cast no shadows. Since there are no adjacent ruins, the dolphin-filled mosaic feels as if you just discovered it, and it was one of the best unexpected pleasures of our visit to Elounda. Visit it virtually at the Elounda Photo Gallery.

Where to Eat in Elounda

An excellent restaurant perches on the waterside, called Melissos - Melissa's. Melissos serves an exceptional moussaka and delicious hot marinated mushrooms. The owner is cordial and if conditions permit, he will give instructions on the best place to observe the underwater ruins of Olos. During high season, the restaurant makes arrangements for various types of sports activities.

You can also get a fictional preview of Elounda itself, as well as more of the northern Crete coast, in Belinda Jones' beach-read romp, "Out of the Blue".

Elounda Hotels

Elounda and the nearby town of Agia Nikolaos have abundant hotels, tending toward large luxury complexes. One exception is the Leonidas, equally luxurious and expensive but located in a renovated historic building. The Domes of Elounda occasionally offer some excellent specials. Tours of Spinalonga and Elounda can be arranged on-site or from Agios Nikolaos (Ayia Nicolaos) by Nostos Tours and other travel companies.

Enjoy your visit to Elounda, don't miss the moussaka, and watch out for a mermaid or two!

Pictures of Elounda

Depending on flight schedules, you may need to spend a night in Heraklion on your arrival on Crete though taxis are always available to take you directly to Elounda. Find and compare prices on Heraklion Hotels
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