Lasithi Plateau

Oropedio Lasithiou
Οροπέδιο Λασιθίου

Panorama of the Lasithi Plateau

Oropedio Lasithiou

Coordinates: 35°11′N 25°28′E / 35.183°N 25.467°E / 35.183; 25.467Coordinates: 35°11′N 25°28′E / 35.183°N 25.467°E / 35.183; 25.467
Country Greece
Administrative region Crete
Regional unit Lasithi
  Municipality 130.0 km2 (50.2 sq mi)
Population (2011)[1]
  Municipality 2,387
  Municipality density 18/km2 (48/sq mi)
Time zone EET (UTC+2)
  Summer (DST) EEST (UTC+3)
Vehicle registration AN

The Lasithi Plateau (Greek: Οροπέδιο Λασιθίου, Oropedio Lasithiou) is a high endorheic plateau, located in the Lasithi regional unit in eastern Crete, Greece. It was formerly a municipality whose seat was its largest village, Tzermiado.[2]


The Lasithi Plateau stretches 11 km (6.8 mi) in the E-W direction and 6 km (3.7 mi) in the N-S direction. It is approximately 70 km (43 mi) east from Heraklion and lies at an average altitude of 840 m (2,760 ft). Winters can be harsh and snow on the plain and surrounding mountains can persist until mid-spring. The plateau is famous for its white-sailed windmills, (more accurately, wind-pumps), a local invention that have been used for two centuries to irrigate the land. Despite their vast number (some 10,000) in the past, most of them have been abandoned nowadays in favour of modern diesel and electrical pumps. Because the water table is close to the surface of the ground, all burials in cemeteries are above ground, in a stone mausoleum, or a stone box with decorations. This is because the plateau is endorheic, and there is impermeable rock just below the surface of the ground.


Monument commemorating the battle and desctruction of Lasithi by Ottoman and Egyptian forces in May 1867.

The fertile soil of the plateau, due to alluvial run-off from melting snow, has attracted inhabitants since Neolithic times (6000 BC).[3] Minoans and Dorians followed and the plateau has been continuously inhabited since then, except a period that started in 1293 and lasted for over two centuries during the Venetian occupation of Crete. During that time and due to frequent rebellions and strong resistance, villages were demolished, cultivation prohibited, and natives were forced to leave and forbidden to return under a penalty of death. A Venetian manuscript of the thirteenth century describes the troublesome plateau of Lasithi as spina nel cuore (di Venezia) - a thorn in the heart of Venice. Later, in the early 15th century, Venetian rulers allowed refugees from the Greek mainland (eastern Peloponnese) to settle in the plain and cultivate the land again. To ensure good crops, Venetians designed a large system of drainage ditches (linies, Greek: λίνιες) that were constructed between 1514 - 1560 and are still in use. The ditches transfer the water to Honos (Greek: Χώνος), a sinkhole in the west edge of the plateau, that feeds the river Aposelemis.

During the Greek War of Independence in January 1823, Hassan Pasha led an army of Ottoman and Egyptian forces sent by Muhammad Ali that seized the plateau killing most residents who had not fled to the mountains. In May 1867 during the great Cretan revolt, Ottoman and Egyptian forces under the command of Pashas Omar and Ismail Selim marched towards the Lasithi plateau. Their aim was to strike a decisive blow on the revolutionaries who used it as their hideout. After fierce fighting, the outnumbered rebels were defeated and forced to retreat to the slopes of Dikti. Between 21 and 29 of May, many village dwellers were slaughtered or taken slaves, their homes were set ablaze after being looted and livestock and crops were destroyed.[4] The monastery of Kroustalenia that was the seat of the revolutionary committee was also demolished.

During the Axis occupation of Greece in 1941–1944, the peaks surrounding the plateau were used as hideouts by local resistance fighters.

Archaeological sites

There are several caves of archaeological interest in the surrounding countryside, of which Diktaion Andron (Greek: Δικταίον Άντρον, also Diktaean / Diktaian Cave) near the village of Psychro (Greek: Ψυχρό) is the birthplace of Zeus according to Greek Mythology. Zeus is also said to have used Diktaion Andron as his hiding place after abducting Europa. The archeological site of Karfi, believed to be the last outpost of the Minoan civilization is located on the mountains immediately north of the plateau.


Permanent residents derive most of their income from agriculture and animal farming. A small fraction of the population is also occupied in tourism.

Population genetics studies

Because of its isolated nature (the first road to the plateau wasn't opened until the 1970s), the Lasithi plateau has attracted the attention of population geneticists. A 2007 Y-DNA study showed that Y-DNA samples from the Lasithi plateau differed significantly from those of lowland Crete, and may be indicative of it having served as a refugium of the Minoan civilization.[5] A 2013 mtDNA study of bone samples from a Minoan ossuary in the Lasithi Plateau, dated to 4,400-3,700 years ago, showed that Minoan samples were closest to samples drawn from the modern population of the plateau, as well as other Greek, western and northern European samples, while being distant from North African and Egyptian samples. According to the authors, these results are consistent with the hypothesis the plateau served as a Minoan refugium, and that the current inhabitants of the plateau carry the maternal signature of the Minoan population.[6]

The Plateau seen from the north (above Tzermiado)
The Plateau seen from the north (above Tzermiado)

See also


  1. "Απογραφή Πληθυσμού - Κατοικιών 2011. ΜΟΝΙΜΟΣ Πληθυσμός" (in Greek). Hellenic Statistical Authority.
  2. Kallikratis law Greece Ministry of Interior (Greek)
  3. Watrous, Livingston Vance (1982). Lasithi: A History of Settlement on a Highland Plain in Crete (PDF). Hesperia Supplement. 18. Princeton, NJ: American School of Classical Studies in Athens.
  4. Γ. Παναγιωτάκης: Οι μάχες του Οροπεδίου Λασιθίου, Πατρίς onLine, 2 Ιουνίου 2006
  5. Martinez, Laisel (2007). "Paleolithic Y-haplogroup heritage predominates in a Cretan highland plateau". European Journal of Human Genetics. Nature Publishing Group. 15 (4): 485–493. doi:10.1038/sj.ejhg.5201769. PMID 17264870. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
  6. Hughey, Jeffrey (2013). "A European population in Minoan Bronze Age Crete". Nature Communications. 4 (5). doi:10.1038/ncomms2871. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
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