Crete’s Artisan Treasures: Ceramics and Pottery from Margarites
Crete is a cradle of tradition and culture. When you adventure away from the beach to the heart of the island, you will discover a trove of artisan treasures ranging from bobbin lace (kopaneli) to handmade fabrics, embroidery, leather goods, Cretan knives, and beautiful ceramics and pottery. You can find these items in souvenir shops, but you will enjoy them even more if you visit a workshop in a village known for its traditional craftsmanship.
Margarites, in the Rethymno regional unit, less than thirty kilometers southeast of Rethymnon city, in a mountainous area of Crete’s center, is a must-see destination if you seek authentic, handmade ceramics and pottery. Local artisans produce a wide diversity of items, some reproducing ancestral Cretan patterns, others creative, unique, and full of artistry.
Summers are busy in Margarites: tour buses adventure on its narrow streets to bring island visitors closer to Crete’s intangible cultural heritage. Tavernas get busy around noon, ready to serve farm-to-table dishes cooked with honest simplicity that emulates a Cretan’s grandma’s recipe and method: Cretans count on the quality and seasonality of their products rather than using fancy cooking methods to deliver a plentiful feast that brings people together in a celebration of family, friendship, and tradition.
As it stands today, Margarites dates from the time when Crete was the Kingdom of Candia during the Venetian occupation (1205-1645). The village’s architecture and road structure still bear the Venetian influence – quite interesting for architecture and history buffs.
On Margarites’s main street, you’ll find several poetry shops – more than 15 in the village – selling beautiful, delicate pieces created by local artisans. Most of these shops have a workshop where you can witness the craftsperson’s artistry. Enter these shops and admire the items – you’ll feel like visiting an art gallery or museum of sorts. Purchasing a souvenir here is hard to resist: because you busy straight from the manufacturer, the low prices will surprise and tempt you at the same time.
Poetry in Margarites traces its origins back to Minoan times – do ask the artisans if they sell Minoan pottery replicas. Some prefer innovation to imitation, but most of them source the clay from the area. You will get a Margarites original keepsake regardless of your preference (original design, traditional Cretan, or a Minoan replica).
If you happen to visit Margarites, don’t miss your chance to see the village’s churches and monuments. A Late Minoan vaulted tomb dating from 1350 BC bears proof that this area was a cradle of Minoan culture and civilization. See the Church of St John the Theologian (Saint John the Divine) for its outstanding stone iconostasis and traces of frescoes from 1383. A second orthodox temple, the Church of Saint John the Baptist, in the center of the village, has better-preserved frescoes from 1383.
Travelers who enjoy active pursuits can follow the E4 trail, which begins in Margarites and ends in Houmeri, passing through Pigouniana, Orthes, Kalandare, Kalamas Pasalites. Hike from Margarites to Pigouniana, then Orthes – to see the old stone cisterns. In Kalamas, visit the Byzantine Church of St. George. Have your camera ready to snap pictures of the landscape, dominated by ancient olive groves and traditional village architecture.
Nature lovers could explore the verdant Margarites Gorge to enjoy the cypresses’ shade and the local flora’s richness. There are many well-marked paths developed by the local authorities to encourage nature pursuits in the area. Wear proper footwear and pack sufficient water, especially in the hottest months of the summer.