Folklore is a culture defined by its namesake: everything the people of a land say, do and act collectively and as a society. Folklore roots across the region of Kissamos are lost in the haze of time, back to Minoan Civilisation times.


Music and singing are strongly connected to all sides of everyday life for the inhabitants of the area. Traditional musical instruments of Kissamos are the lute and violin, instead of the lyre found in other regions. Locals have dubbed them ‘zygia’ and they are a vital part of days-long celebrations of joyous events like weddings, fairs, engagements, christenings and more. The dancing activities of the people of Kissamos is abundant too, who stomp their feet at the sound of the very first notes; in the past, dancing liberated and heartened them to persevere those war-torn days. A rather undeniable fact is that Cretans sang and danced even amidst armed conflicts.

Crete’s dancing legacy comprises approximately 25 traditional dances, which since the interwar years and to this day spread across the whole island. ‘Syrtos’ was the only dance performed all over Crete with regional variations such as: ‘Chaniotikos syrtos’ and ‘Pentozali’ in Chania, ‘Sousta’ in Rethymno and ‘Maleviziotis’ in Heraklion. Lesser-known dances include ‘Glykomilitsa’ and ‘Rodo’ of Kissamos, ‘Kotsambadianos’ and ‘Trizalis’ of Amaria, ‘Fterotos syrtos’ in Chania and Rethymno, ‘Pidichtos of Lasithi’, ‘Apanomeritis’ and ‘Mikro mikraki’ in Rethymno and Heraklion, ‘Angaliastos’, ‘Zervodexos’ and ‘Xenobasaris’ in Ierapetra and Mirambellos, ‘Lazotis’ and ‘Dournerakia’ across various regions on the island. There exists a large variety of chain (‘syrtos’), slow (‘siganos’) and skipping (‘pidichtos’) dances all over Crete, varying per region, which are dubbed according to what region they come from. Thus, there is a slow dance from Chania, one from Heraklion, a skipping one from Ierapetra, another one from Kastri and so on and so forth.

‘Chaniotikos syrtos’: its ancestral rhythm stems from the era of the Fall of Istanbul and the Turks. According to legacy, as well as historical evidence suggests, Cretans that volunteered to defend Istanbul, composed two melodies (‘skopi’), combining ancient combative music (‘pyrrhichia’), ‘mantinades’ and Byzantine melodies. Those surviving the conflict returned to Crete and popularised these songs, which initially did not involve dancing. The first attempt to choreograph them was made in 1750, at a wedding in Pateriana of Lousakia in Kissamos, when Stefanos Triantafyllakis a.k.a. Kioros from Galouvas of Lousakia, responded to a request by attending Captains, also the groomsmen, for a dance number, and played those two melodies on violin [today, they are called ‘protos chaniotikos’ (=first ‘syrtos’ of Chania) and ‘defteros chaniotikos’ (=second…) or ‘Kissamitikos’ (=from Kissamos)] and the Captains, wishing to honour those returned form Istanbul, improvised a set of new dance steps on the groove of Kioros. The first two in the chain of dancers performed the ‘talimia’, namely elaborate dance figures albeit without lifting their legs in the air, symbolising a Captain and his Henchman respectively, with the latter taking the place of the former in case he was killed in action, an act to be repeated down the chain of dancers, should the need arise. This is, allegedly, how ‘Chaniotikos syrtos’ was born, which enjoys a great deal of popularity across the region of Kissamos, where the above detailed original form and structure of the dance is retained.

‘Pentozali’ is probably the most popular of folk dances in Crete. Born in 1770, when Daskalogiannis from Sfakia asked the then famous violin player Stefanos Triantafyllakis, a.k.a. Kioros, from Galouvas of Lousakia in Kissamos, to compose a combat dance (‘pyrrhichios’). He specifically wished it to highlight the fifth ‘zalo’ (=dance step), namely the fifth attempt of Cretans to liberate from the Turks, involving twelve melodies and ten steps, as the Captains of the Revolution were twelve in number and the Revolution itself kicked off in October, which is the tenth month of the year. ‘Pentozali’ is done with arms outstretched touching the shoulders of the flanking dancers, symbolising solidarity in the fight. Any of the dancers can move out of the chain, take the lead and improvise. Single or multiple foot stomps, dubbed ‘paties’, symbolise the Cretan guns firing against the oppressors. All the above show that ‘Pentozali’ is not just another combat dance but first and foremost a rebel dance of heroic symbolism and explosive style.

Gitsikia sousta: a skipping dance of Kissamos, mostly done by men nowadays, who, with bent arms, grab each other’s palms at shoulder’s height. Also called ‘Roumathiani sousta’.

Rodo: a regional Kissamos dance, done mostly by women nowadays forming a circle, grabbing each other’s palms at shoulder’s height. Its name is linked to ‘mantinades’ that lyrically refer to roses.

Glykomilitsa: a dance for both men and women in a circle, grabbing each other’s palms at shoulder’s height; it makes part of the slow dance genre of the Kissamos region and was recently revived. It takes its name from a ‘Rizitiko’ song.

The town’s creative expression gave shape, many a time, to clay artefacts, already since pre-Minoan times. On one hand, vessels had a practical side serving everyday needs but, on the other hand, they were canvases of the artistic expression of their times bearing elaborate designs and adornments. They are made using a technique that involves liquid clay, which is shaped by hand, then left to dry out and solidify. It, then, is heated in special ovens to maximise the strength of the final product. Today, there are pottery workshops in Gramvousa and Nochia, producing decorative ceramics.

Many locals of Kissamos dabble, to this day, in woodcarving. Using their hands, they give shape to the wood by making functional furniture or decorative artefacts. This technique involves traditional Byzantine traits that influence the look of modern-day wood-sculpting. Kissamos hosts a woodcarving school, with several young students, who perpetuate this purely traditional art.

The art of depicting religious themes, the people and scenes involved as well as the miracles of Saints, is called ‘hagiography’, namely icon painting. Kissamos excelled at this since the mid-14th century, visibly influenced by classical Byzantine art. Eminent local icon painters include Giannakakis and Tzirtzilakis, who actually decorated the Metropolis of Kissamos.

All crochets made by the housewife of Kissamos over the centuries sum up the household handicraft of the region. Made with a hook or ‘kopaneli’, knitwear, textiles, Cretan traditional dresses and so much more are their creation that constitute the legacy of local culture and psyche. To this day, there is great interest in such creation, as made evident by the existence of the Women Association of Traditional Handicraft of the Region of Kissamos, operating locally.


‘Rizitika’ are traditional folk songs of dense lyrical content, that are untitled and accompanied by dancing. They split down in two categories: those ‘of the table’ (namely, those that are sung when people meet to eat) and those ‘of the road’ (that keep company to the Rizites walking long distances from one village to the other). They typically start ‘a cappella’, a verse sung and then repeated in chorus by many. They were sung by mountain people in western Crete, initially using metaphors as a communication code so that the enemy would not understand their meaning. They are themed after bravery, courage, gallantry, rage, passion, sorrow, joy, pain and love experienced by the Cretan people. They display a class ethos of great bravery, equal to that of Cretan fighters; though, they are also linked to celebration, feasts, weddings, christenings, engagement ceremonies as well as mere friend meetings.

‘Mantinades’ is the commonest of folk songs and comprise two fifteen-syllable rhymed verses while, at the same time, send a message (‘mandato’ in Crete). Occasionally, they are put together on the spur of the moment as Cretans express thoughts, feelings and experience. They identify with local everyday life and their themes vary, alternating among love, care, complaint, philosophy as well as mourning. They are sung either accompanied by a band, or not, following close to the ‘skopous’ – melodies, in Cretan slang – of traditional local dances.


Fairs are held all year round, peaking in the summertime and especially in the week of August 15. Those are events that bring locals together to chat, eat, drink, rejoice and dance, communicating their own tradition down the centuries and honouring Orthodox Saints. The fair of Agios Spiridon holds a special place, as it is done to honour the patron saint of Kissamos, on December 12 each year with a procession of its icon.

The traditional men’s dress of Kissamos comprises multi-fold breeches made of blue felt, a ‘meintanogeleko’ (=vest) adorned with embroidery, a silken white shirt, a long silken maroon belt and white ‘stivania’ (=tall boots). The outfit completes a fringed headscarf, with fringes symbolising the long Turkish occupancy on Crete, and a chain hanging from the throat that joins the knife around the waist. This knife is made from silver, its handle is called ‘manika’ and usually is fish- or V-shaped. Its sheath, called ‘foukari’, is silver-made, embossed by hand using a chisel, and, together with the knife, is the most eye-catching item of the male outfit. Cretans and their knives were an item and symbolised bravery and mental resistance against all oppressors.

The female dress comprises a loose pair of trousers combined with a long, knee-height shirt coloured, both, beige. The classic embroidered apron hangs at the front while ‘sartza’, a red tinged apron, is tied on the back, the edges of which are inserted on the left side of the similarly red belt. ‘Ziponi’ (a kind of short coat) is made of felt, usually of black colour, with rich golden embroidery, hence dubbed ‘chrysozipono’ (chrysos = gold). The headscarf is silken or cotton made, in red or maroon colour with golden or yellow fringe. An important detail worth the special mention is that the women about to be engaged or married wore ‘Basalaki’ or ‘Pasalaki’ or ‘Argyrobounialaki’. This is a silver-made small knife in a silver sheath, essentially a miniature copy of the men’s one, worn proudly on her belt by the bride as a gift from her future husband.