Skinakas Observatory: Explore the Stars from Crete’s Highest Mountain
Situated at an elevation of 1,754 meters (5,755 feet) above sea level, the Skinakas Observatory stands atop the Skinakas peak on Mount Ida in the Psiloritis mountain range. It enjoys a prime location for celestial observations due to its altitude and clear atmospheric conditions. Its Longitude is 24° 53′ 57” East, and its Latitude is 35° 12′ 43” North.
Established in 1986, the Skinakas Observatory was jointly founded by the University of Crete and the Foundation for Research and Technology – Hellas (FORTH). Its primary purpose is to conduct astronomical research and promote public awareness and understanding of the universe. Over the years, it has been crucial in advancing astronomical studies on the island, in Greece, and abroad.
State-of-the-Art Telescopes and Equipment
Skinakas Observatory boasts cutting-edge telescopes and equipment, enabling visitors to explore the cosmos with unparalleled clarity. From powerful telescopes that reveal intricate details of distant galaxies to specialized instruments that capture stunning images of celestial objects, the observatory leaves no stone unturned to deliver an unforgettable stargazing adventure. The observatory currently houses three innovative telescopes:
- a 1.3m modified Ritchey–Chrétien telescope manufactured by Carl Zeiss Oberkochen;
- a 0.6m robotic Cassegrain telescope manufactured by Astrooptik Keller;
- and a 0.3m Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope manufactured by Lichtenknecker Optics.
Programs and Events for Stargazing Enthusiasts
Skinakas Observatory hosts several open days throughout the year to help the general public discover the wonders of the night sky and learn about the latest advancements in astrophysics and technology. During these events, visitors can explore the observatory’s operations, stay updated on the newest astronomy findings, and, weather permitting, observe the night sky through the 1.3m telescope. Please note that the open days are different every year – usually on days that coincide with the full moon, and you will only find up-to-date information on the official website of the observatory.
Breathtaking Views from the Highest Mountain of Crete
If you cannot visit the observatory during its open days, it is still worth driving to see the jaw-dropping landscapes that stretch out as far as the eye can see.
As you ascend Skinakas Mountain, the scenery transforms into a visual feast for the eyes. Once you reach the observatory, you can take in awe-inspiring panoramic vistas that display the natural beauty of Crete. The landscape unfolds in splendor, from the towering peaks to the sprawling valleys. The line-of-sight distance of Skinakas from the city of Heraklion is just 25km. However, the drive by car is approximately 50km, as the road winds a bit, but it is fully paved. This drive usually takes a little over an hour.
One of the most magical times to visit Skinakas Observatory is sunrise or sunset. Witnessing the sky transform from a canvas of soft pastel hues to a blazing palette of fiery colors is simply unforgettable. The sun’s rays casting a golden glow on the mountains and valleys create a spectacle that words cannot quite capture. Whether you are an early riser or prefer the tranquil charm of dusk, these celestial displays will leave you in awe of nature’s artistic prowess.
When darkness falls, a whole new world unfolds at Skinakas Observatory. With no light pollution, the nighttime scenery here is a stargazer’s dream come true. The velvety black sky becomes a mesmerizing backdrop with millions of twinkling stars. It is a moment of pure enchantment that reminds us of our place in the vast universe.
Exploring the Surrounding Area
If you are visiting the Skinakas Observatory in Crete, you will be delighted to know that the surrounding area offers plenty of opportunities for exploration and adventure. From scenic hiking trails to nearby attractions and landmarks, there is something for everyone to enjoy.
Beyond the observatory and its immediate surroundings, the area near Skinakas offers many attractions and landmarks to discover. Make the most of your visit by exploring these notable destinations recommended by the Observatory:
- Ideon Cave or Ideon Andron: The Ideon Andron cave is about 6 km northwest of the observatory. It is considered one of Crete’s most important cave sanctuaries, comparable to the major Greek temples. It was prosperous during ancient times, from 4000 BC to the 1st century AD. The Ideon Cave gained fame as the birthplace and childhood home of Zeus, the Father of the Gods. However, there is some debate about this claim, as Hesiod’s Theogony does not specify the exact location of Zeus’s birthplace. The Dikteon Cave in East Crete also lays claim to this distinction. The Ideon Cave is situated on the eastern side of Mount Ida in central Crete, at 1,498 meters above sea level. It is important to note that, unlike the Dikteon Cave, the Ideon Cave is not particularly impressive as a natural cave. Nevertheless, the Dikteon Cave attracts thousands of visitors each year.
- Anogeia (or Anogia): 20 kilometers before reaching Skinakas, you will come across Anogeia, which has a rich history and played a crucial part in the recent history of Crete. Anogia served as the central hub for the Resistance movement in Crete. The abduction of General Kreipe occurred there, and the operation to transport him to Cairo was coordinated from Anogia. As a retaliatory measure, on August 13, 1944, Fortress Crete’s commander, Müller, ordered the destruction of Anogia and the extermination of all males within a 1-kilometer radius. Consequently, on that same day, three battalions of German soldiers surrounded Anogia and stationed themselves in the nearby hills. They demolished every single house and set fire to the village. Approximately 800 homes were reduced to rubble, and six elderly disabled women were burned alive. In 1946, Anogia was honored by the state with the War Cross, first class, for the tragedies it endured, and the heroism displayed by its inhabitants.
In conclusion, a visit to the Skinakas Observatory is an opportunity to connect with the wonders of the universe and gain a deeper appreciation for the beauty and mystery of the night sky. Whether you are a science enthusiast, a nature lover, or simply seeking a unique experience, this observatory will surely leave you with memories that will last a lifetime. So, take advantage of this extraordinary chance to observe the stars from the highest mountain of Crete.