Two islets share the name Gramvousa: Agria (=wild) and Imeri (=tame) Gramvousa.
Agria Gramvousa is uninhabited, covers an area of 0.825 square km and a challenge to access due to the steep rocks surrounding it. On it, there is nothing but a lighthouse, built in 1874 by the French Lighthouse Company, to avert passing ship accidents. Scores of seagulls and other migratory birds use it as a stopover and resting place. It has been part of the Natura 2000 protection network.

Imeri Gramvousa hosts a beautiful scenic pebbly beach of rocky seabed, a shipwreck at a short distance from the shore, St George’s small chapel and the imposing Venetian fort atop the hill, where the Theotokos church survives. Its natural setting is pristine, with lots of cactuses and leafy shrubs. Here more than 100 species of birds and another 400 species of plants thrive. The loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) frequents the shore in search of food while the Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus) gives birth in the adjacent sea caves. All the above make Imeri Gramvousa a natural habitat of utmost significance in the eastern Mediterranean and a part of the Natura 2000 protection network.

Before the advent of the Veneti, in the 16th century, Gramvousa was called Korykos (=wineskin); a name referencing the skin Aeolus used to trap all winds, because of their menacing gale force in the area. It was renamed Gramvousa in the 16th century, from Venetian ‘Garabuse’, meaning cape outpost.

‘Gramvousa’ is the name of not just the peninsula but, also, a couple of islands on the Northwest edge of the Kissamos Municipality, namely Imeri and Agria Gramvousa, which are inextricably linked to the Venetian and Ottoman occupancy eras. Specifically, Imeri Gramvousa played a major role from 1579 to 1584, when Venetian cardinal Latino Orsini built the fort, which survives to this day, as part of the island’s defence fortification works and in sight of an imminent Turkish threat. This was an asymmetrical three-sided oval fort of 272 m. long walls and bastions, with an unbuilt fourth side, at its north, making use of the steep vertical rocks as natural fortification. Materials used were local limestone and greywacke. Further quarters, reservoirs and headquarters built, were fully integrated in the terrain, with alternating inclined paved areas at an altitude of 137 m. Its only access point was on the East side, up a spiralling path. A masterpiece of the era turned into an impregnable fortress with unobstructed views of the strait between Western Crete and the Peloponnese. Eventually, the fort was surrendered hands down to the Turks in 1692, when the latter bribed Venetian castellan Luca Della Rocca, who went on to live the rest of his days in Istanbul, dubbed ‘Captain Gramvousa’. Turks further fortified it with 66 long range cannons rendering it impenetrable. Every act of revolt from Cretans kept failing up to 1825 when, one day, a group of revolutionaries dressed up as Turkish soldiers, entered the fort and took over control, making Imeri Gramvousa the first of Cretan lands to be liberated from the Turks. This way, gradually, many Greek revolutionaries arrived here and established a temporary form of government called the ‘Cretan Counsel’, the seal of which — as well as that of ‘the Island of Gramvousa’ — are kept at the Historical and Ethnological Society of Greece. For several years it served as a base for guerrilla acts and night-time ambushes against the Turks and was the only place in Greece not under Turkish rule. It became a refuge for more than 3000 families and the base of the Revolutionary Committee of Crete. Its harsh living conditions and lack of supplies though sent its people often on the path of piracy, looting every ship sailing between Gramvousa and Antikythera. This stirred a negative public reaction in Europe. It was eventually reclaimed by the Turks following the Treaty of London in 1830 and deserted.

The story of the shipwreck lying on the shore deserves a special mention. It took place in December 1967 when motor ship Dimitrios P., that had sailed from Chalkis towards its scheduled destination, Africa, with a cargo of 440 tonnes of cement. It was forced to drop anchor twice along its way due to dismal weather conditions. Two days later, the chain of one of the anchors was cut loose and despite the efforts of the skipper to avert the fatality, the port side of the ship run aground and the engine room flooded. The crew abandoned ship and remained on the island for two more days until they were collected by a destroyer that came to the rescue. The ship still lies there, its hull a trademark of the island.

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