Memories of Anogia (Crete)

Memories of Anogia (Ανώγεια).

Some time ago I read of child brides in Turkey, I think it was, in our present age, and this took my mind back some twenty five years to Crete and the village of Anogia (/anoia/).

I can´t remember whether Greece was mentioned in the article; more likely the link was that in Anogia I came very close to a society which was still living according to old customs.

Anogia is a village in the mountains of Crete, south of Iraklion. We arrived by bus and were met by two cousins that P. had in her English class, who were both from the village. They both spoke good English and were among the mature students, aged about 18 and 19, and we had become quite friendly with them. The rest of the students were in the age bracket 13 to 15, and rather less mature, though one could say they were maturing, and quickly, too. I vividly remember a Maria who was literally bursting out of her clothes under the impact of the hormones in her bloodstream – it seemed as though her parents hadn´t noticed that her body was changing both shape and size, and made the required purchases.

We descended from the bus in this mountain village. There is hardly a horizontal surface there – you are either ascending or descending among rocks and outcrops; the vegetation is scarce, there are some goats, the usual concrete houses and a church, no doubt. We were taken to the house of the cousin´s relatives where we spent a few hours. I don´t think we did much walking around, and so we talked rather more. The gist of it goes like this.

In the house where we stayed was a woman in her early thirties with a young child, we can call her Kiriakí (which means Sunday). She was married, but I can´t remember seeing her husband. What I was told about him was that he was far older than her, and this fact was highly significant. Kiriakí spoke little, if at all, and was, I think, the saddest person I have ever met.

In Anogia, we were told, you often married quite late. The reason for this was that marriage meant setting up house and living together, and this meant that the man had to have the economic means required. Given that a man might be well into his thirties before this state of affairs arose, a pragmatic (in modern Greek, “pragma” means “thing”) solution had been found: the young would be betrothed, they would move in with the girl´s family, have children (and, er, sex). Once the house was ready, they would marry and establish their own household.

In Anogia, girls could not talk to boys who were not in their family, unless they were accompanied by male relatives. A chaperone was always required – otherwise, well – the usual state of affairs. Loss of honour. Loss of face. Recriminations. Violence? Best not find out.

Kiriakí had been betrothed when she was young to a man of her own age, but he killed himself in a car or on a motorbike like many other young Cretans – or more likely cretins – before him. The word cretin derives from Crete, of course.

In key respects, the fate that now befell Kiriakí was worse than death. She was now unmarried, childless and unmarrieable. She was tainted. This logic certainly defies me, but then, I grew up in Scandinavia in the seventies.

The only venue open to her was to marry someone who was himself on the margins – a widower, a man whom nobody had wanted to marry for whatever reason. In the case of Kirakí my impression was that the man in question was well off, but unmarried, and in his early fifites, and she had elected to marry him rather than remain in limbo the rest of her life. Thus her sadness, which was you could almost touch, the way it filled the air around.

Could she have escaped, left and gone to Athens, or some other part of Greece where the 20th centry had arrived? I never posed the question then, it never crossed my mind. But Anogia was clearly a world within a world, so I suppose the answer was that it never crossed her mind.

If you ask me, they had lived like that in Anogia for millenia. I wonder if they still do, but I doubt it.


Anogia is famous for its part in the abduction of the German governor of Crete during World War II. The governor was successfully (though the Germans may have described it differently) shipped to Egypt (which was occupied by the British!), and the German revenge fell on Anogia.

For this, and for a number of other acts of violence, I was always – or very often – greeted by the question “Germanos?” by elderly Greek men. “Oxi, Norvigos”. “Orea – polí orea, Norvigos”.

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