Fragokastello is a rectangular fortress, built by the Venetians in 1371 in southwestern Crete, in the province of Sfakia in the prefecture of Chania. The castle covers an area of about four acres, with its main entrance facing the Libyan Sea. On the walls, above the main gate, you can still see the theraeus and the coats of arms depicting the lion of St. Mark and the Venetian crowns.
Nowadays, the fortress is an integral part of the area, to which it gave its name. Until recently, locals usually referred to the area by the name of one of the two villages on the plain, Kapsodasos or (more often) Patsianos. Although today the area is called Fragokastello, it was the construction of the fortress that caused the events that led to the creation and the name of the village and the area (previously) “Patsianos”.
The Frangokastello, otherwise known as Castel Franco, can be found with many similar spellings in world literature. To name a few, Fragkocastelo, Frangocastelo, Frangocastello and Fragocastello
The reason for the existence of so many variations is not only spelling corruption. First of all, Castel Franko means Castle of the Franks. The Franks are not the French, as would be more appropriate, but it is the name given in the Middle Ages to all the populations of Western Europe who invaded the Greek territory. And to think that it’s not a castle, but a fortress…
The castle itself has a long and bloody history. The fortress was originally built by the locals under the supervision of the Venetians. It is ironic that the Venetians built the castle not only to defend themselves against the pirates but also to deal with the frequent rebellions of the locals. There is a local history that has managed to survive to this day, a piece of folklore, which explains to some extent the relationship between the locals and the Venetians
As mentioned above, the area of Frangokastello was first mentioned by the locals with the name of a nearby village, Patsianos. The village was named after the brothers Patsous who went down in history for undermining the construction of the fortress in the 14th century. The six brothers would enter the castle grounds at night and destroy the previous day’s work. Since most of the builders were locals, forced to work, no one betrayed them to the Venetians. The six brothers thus continued their sabotage for a considerable time, but were eventually caught in the act and hanged at the four towers and the main gate of the fortress.
In the end, the Venetians stayed in the fortress for less than a century. With the passage of time, the castle passed into the hands of each conqueror. During the Turkish invasion and whenever there was a revolt against the Turks, it was used by the locals to defend themselves. On 18 May 1828 the battle of Fragokastello took place. The men of Hadjimichalis Dalianis or Talianos barricaded themselves in the castle.
During the seven-day battle, Dallianis was killed, along with a significant number of his soldiers. Barricaded in the castle, Stratis Deligiannakis continued in his position, without any casualties. Eventually, the two sides reached an agreement. The Turks retreated and the Greek troops left the castle on the condition that they take their weapons and their wounded. After their departure, the Turkish commander, Pasha Mustafa, demolished the two towers facing the village and moved his forces northeast. Soon, however, the locals attacked his troops inflicting heavy losses on them, wanting to avenge their side’s defeat.
Later, during the Cretan revolution (1866-1869), the fortress was used as a bastion for the Turkish troops that landed in the area of Sfakia. The battles between Greeks and Turks continued, each time bringing out a new conqueror alongside the repairs to the fortress.
Therefore, since the fortress has changed so many hands (Venetians, Turks and Greeks), it follows that it has changed not only its appearance (its battlements are Turkish) but also its name. Maybe that’s why it took 600 years to give its final name to the surrounding area!
Another folklore connected with the fortress is the history of the Drosouliton which can be translated as “dew shadows”. In the days at the end of May and the beginning of June a phenomenon takes place in the bay of Fragokastello. According to legend, in the first hours before sunrise, a series of human shadows appear to emerge from the old church of Agios Charalambos and head towards the sea, where they disappear. The Drosoulites are thought to be the shadows of Dalliani’s troops who were killed during the battle of Frangokastello. Scientifically, the phenomenon is thought to be a form of mirage, possibly from shadows of people (soldiers?) exercising on the Libyan coast.
Whatever the explanation, the fortress today is the main attraction of the area, providing an unusual setting for the holidaymakers on the beach next to it. The fort is open all year round, and in the summer months it is a venue for concerts and village festivals.