Secrets of Crete Tours the secret and silent life of Jewish Crete

Secrets of Crete Tours the secret and silent life of Jewish Crete

Secrets of Crete Tour the secret and silent life of Jewish Crete

Etz Hayyim dating from 14th century is a unique little Romaniote synagogue in the old town's former Jewish quarter of Chania. It is the only surviving monument of the Jewish communities in Crete, the only living, silent witness of the community that once upon a time was thriving in Crete, throughout the centuries and even not so long ago. Now, the synagogue beautifully restored, lacks only one thing - the Jews.

Jews were residing in Candia as early as 13th century. Venetian Crete (1204 -1669) was one of the privileged centres of Jewish life. In second part of 16th century there were approximately 800 Jews living in Chania; the island of Crete as a whole had twice that number. It's known that there were four congregations in Chania at that time: congregation around "the great synagogue", around the "synagogue of the Cohaim", around the "synagogue of the European Jews" and around the "upper synagogue". The accepted liturgy of all four was that of Romaniotes - the one of the ancient Greek-speaking Jews. All four synagogues were located fairly close to one another - all in the heart of zudecca part of Chania - a neighbourhood that Cretans referred to as evraiki (Jewish).

jewish crete 01
Nowadays the synagogue is frequented by Israeli Jews
jewish crete 02
Joseph Batis, a Romaniotes Jew from Athens explains about the history of Jewish community in Crete

By August 1941 the island's Jewish community had shrunk to approximately 330 people, based exclusively in Chania with handful of families in Heraklion. By the time the 263 members of the Jewish community in Chania were arrested by the Nazis in May 1944, of the two synagogues in the city, only Etz Hayyim remained. While the Jews were still imprisoned nearby in Ayas, the synagogue was already being vandalised, both by the Germans and the locals. They were sent by convoy to Heraklion in the east and herded onto a ship, the Tanais. Early the next morning, 9 June, the ship was hit by torpedoes fired from a British submarine. The ship sank and there were no survivors. The Jews were almost certainly on their way to Auschwitz. All 279 Jews aboard perished and the ancient Jewish community of Crete reached its end.

jewish crete 03
Synagogue is empty most of the time. Very rarely is there a minyan, the 10 Jewish males. required for formal prayer

Following the war, and with no-one left to use it, the synagogue became dilapidated through decades of neglect and misuse. It became a home for squatters and a spot for residents of the neighborhood to dump their rubbish. Its walls were scarred by shells and shrapnel still, and by 1995 in the wake of an earthquake, Etz Hayyim was on the verge of collapse. Today, Etz Hayyim stands fully restored. Once more, it is a place of prayer and worship, congregation and celebration. This is due to the work of Nicholas Stavroulakis.

jewish crete 04
Danny is Ashkenazi Jew from Athens

The walls of the synagog Synagogue is in the tradition of Romaniote synagogues in Greece. It serves as a place for prayer, a museum and memorial, and a library recording the long and troubled history of Crete's Jews. In 2010 synagogue survived yet another attack - the fire was set at night. Luckily the neighbour who was awake at the time noticed the smoke and called authorities and the synagogue's director Dr. Nicholas Stavroulakis. The walls of the synagogue's main hall were covered in soot, it sustained significant water and smoke damage in the attack, some 30 antique Turkish carpets also were damaged, the fire severely damaged the recently restored ezrat nashim (former women’s section) but luckily the fire did not reach the Torah scrolls or the library.

jewish crete 05
The precincts of the synagogue contain number of Hebrew inscriptions
jewish crete 06

Having traveled for over 30 years, since 6 years now, I have found the whole world in one of the most fascinating and unique places on earth – Crete. It is a diverse, rich and inspiring island which even after so many years does not stop surprising me - its rich history and unique traditions, its people, the delicacies of Cretan cuisine, its landspace and its stunning nature. Here I reveal some of its secrets.



I see Crete through turquoise - pink glasses.

Synagogue is located in a bustling old town of Chania. Cretans enjoy a coffee break at the entrance of the synagogue

Awards & Accolades



Skip the group tours, leave your rental car at your hotel and ask Joseph to accompany you on a private tour to these great spots on Crete. We did "Mystic & Rustic Crete" and "Birth of Europe".  If you are a first-time visitor he will suggest an itinerary and if you have special requests he will include those.  Without Joseph we would not have known about the local culture or the history of the area nor would we have met and chatted with the local people... Read more

"Fantastic" *****

"A great tour and experience"We spent a full day with Joseph visiting Chania, Rethymnon and an olive oil farm and we had a great time. Crete is huge so you have to make choices unless you spend a week there. We arranged this tour with Joseph discussing our options and time. Joseph was very flexible with the itinerary allowing us to customize our tour and experience the highlights of some very nice towns. Joseph was very knowledgeable and answered every question. We would definitely use Joseph again to visit the other parts of Crete that we could not get to in this visit.

Vincent, New York City

"Crete showed by Joseph is unique"The experience with Joseph showing us around Crete was absolutely unique. He is Greek and speak very good Hebrew. I don't think we would had seen and experienced half of what we did with him if we'd be on our own. He told us a lot of interesting stories about the Lassithi plateau and the area. His effortless ability to chat up with locals and involve us into conversation (with some translation, of course) was amazing. Funny enough these encounters led to further invitations (for a coffee and local drink - raki). Later on, he took us to an absolutely authentic tavern in a mountain village...

Jacky, Israel

"The secrets never die" Das erste Mal haben wir Joseph Batis mit einer kleinen Gruppe in Chania in einer Fischtaverne kennengelernt. Er sprach Deutsch, Hebräisch, Englisch, Griechisch und soweit ich es richtig vernommen habe auch Spanisch. Ich habe die Gelegenheit genutzt ihn über unsere Ausflugsziele zu befragen. Seine Hinweise und seine Kenntnis haben uns in die Welt von Kreta innerhalb kurzer Zeit eingewiesen. Wir haben Joseph für einen Tag engagieren können um uns zu begleiten. Joseph hat über 30 Jahre in Deutschland gelebt. Seit Jahren führt er private Reisetouren auf Kreta...

Robert, Germany

יוסי מסיורים בכרתים ויוון, הוא מדריך.... מקצוען, בעל יידע נרחב איש לבבי וסימפטי, טיילנו בשנה שעברה... היה פשוט מדהים כיף... כיף... כיף... ממליץ בחום למי שמגיע לכרתים ויוון להשתמש בשרותיו המעולים. תודה יוסי על הסיורים ,האוכל, הטברנות, היה תענוג גדול ! ! ! מאתנו: אורי אילש, אלי גנט, יגאל גרינשטיין, נטלי גרינשטיין, אור גרינשטיין

כל מי שעתיד לנסוע לכרתים או ליוון, אני חייב להמליץ על חבר יקר, מדריך מעולה, אדם חביב ונעים הליכות שידריך אתכם בכרתים בעברית, אנגלית וגרמנית, מה שתבחרו.... ל- Joseph Batis אתר בו תוכלו להציץ במה שיש לו להציע לכם כולל תכנון הטיול ומלונות וכו' הציון שנתנו לו 10+ שווה מאוד... ביקרנו במקומות שבחיים לא הגענו אליהם בכרתים ! לחצו על השם וכנסו לאתר ! בהצלחה.