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Flowing Through Time:

Diving into the History and the Future of Water in Gavalochori

Written by Vassilis Kallimoukos

Venetian Wells
Venetian Wells, Gavalochori. Luka Tica, Foundation for Gavalochori

Gavalochori, nestled in the picturesque region of Apokoronas, has a rich history that spans centuries. One aspect of daily life that dates to ancient times and tends to be taken for granted is the meticulous process of collecting and distributing water. Exploration of the old practices of securing this life-sustaining resource provides insight into the ingenuity of Gavalochori’s ancestors.

Water has always been scarce in Gavalochori. Rainwater, a precious gift from the skies, was a significant source of water in earlier times. The architecture of houses always included systems to direct rainwater into strategically placed cisterns. These cisterns were underground reservoirs crafted to capture and store the rainwater, providing a lifeline to the community during the dry seasons. When the rains started in the late fall, the villagers cleaned their roofs so that the water that drained off of them was clean. That water was carried through a channel system that funneled water into the cistern. These structures showcased the resourcefulness of the community in utilizing natural elements to their advantage.

As the village flourished, the quest for water led to the development of wells. These wells delved into the earth’s veins, drawing forth the life-giving elixir to sustain both humans and the land. A walk of about one kilometer (half a mile) from the center of Gavalochori brings you to the captivating remnants of a bygone era—the Venetian wells—a historic spot that contains 24 ancient wells. The rainwater that collected in this spot was first used by the Dorians, a tribe of Greeks who conquered Crete around 1100 BC (which is why the area close to the wells is still called Dorkes). The wells were designed and built sometime during the 15th or 16th centuries by the Venetians with a distinctive blend of functionality and aesthetic appeal.

The Venetian wells were not typically used by the residents of Gavalochori to supply drinking water. The site was an important gathering spot for the villagers, however, because they watered their animals there—cows, oxen, horses, donkeys, sheep, and goats; met other villagers; and shared the latest news. Moreover, this was the spot where the women did the laundry, using open fires built near the wells to heat the water. Efforts to preserve and protect the Venetian wells are under way, with local initiatives aimed at maintaining these historical landmarks for future generations. A major challenge to any future restoration projects, however, is that the wells were built with a type of dry-stone method that is not practiced by many stone masons today.

In more recent times, Gavalochori developed wells that drew on two underground springs that run across Gavalochori. The well closest to the village was called O Pigados (“The Well”). At 24 meters (26 yards) deep, it was an important source of water, especially in the summer. You can view this well on a stone platform at the start of the old road that climbs up the hill to Vamos on the south side of Gavalochori.

With the passage of time, Gavalochori adapted to the changing tides of technology. The clinking of bucket chains was gradually replaced by the hum of modern pumps, and the village embraced innovations like plumbing and water-distribution systems when a municipal water system was built in the late 1960s. This system draws water from springs in the nearby village of Armenoi.

In the present day, Gavalochori faces new challenges in water management. Striking a delicate balance between meeting the needs of a growing population and preserving the delicate ecosystem requires careful consideration. A major issue is that during the high tourist season in Gavalochori, water is often not available to houses built high on the hills surrounding the village. The problem is mainly found in the area near the Church of Saint George because this specific area is provided with water from another network, which frequently malfunctions.

Stavros Stavroulakis, who is a municipal councilor, was eager, in a recent interview, to describe future plans and projects of the municipality regarding water management in the Apokoronas area. To enhance the area’s water security, the village of Maza in Apokoronas is gearing up for two groundbreaking drilling projects that are poised to provide the entire region with more than 1 million cubic centimeters of drinkable water. Geologists and hydrologists have identified promising subterranean water reservoirs there that, when tapped, are expected to yield a substantial and reliable supply of high-quality water. This quantity will add to the 1 million cubic centimeters of irrigation and drinkable water already supplied by the underground springs in the village of Armenoi. The projects, costing approximately 4.6 million euros, are expected to be completed in 2025 and to bolster the existing water infrastructure by 100% for at least the next 30 years. In addition, according to Stavros Stavroulakis, the municipality will also apply for a license to exploit the abundant water supplies of the village of Stylos.

The new water projects are poised to bring about myriad benefits for Gavalochori and the Apokoronas region. Reliable access to clean drinking water is a cornerstone of public health. The new water-supply network in Apokoronas will prioritize the well-being of its residents by adhering to stringent water-quality standards through regular testing and monitoring. Investing in a modern water- supply network also brings economic benefits to the region. Improved infrastructure enhances property values, attracts new businesses, and stimulates economic growth.

Reflection on the methods of water collection over the years in Gavalochori unearths a legacy of resilience and resourcefulness. The community’s ability to harness natural elements, engineer intricate systems, and foster communal bonds around water sources speaks to a profound connection with the land and a deep understanding of the importance of this life-sustaining resource.

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