Exantis

Exantis is a very small village. In the early nineties around 100 people lived in the village. Today, perhaps as few as 50-60 individuals have permanent residence here. And like so many other small villages in Crete Exantis is threatened by the fact that many young people move to the larger cities where job opportunities are better and access to modern amenities is easier.

The entire village is situated around a small crossroads. There are really only three roads and a few smaller alleys. The village center is a small square where a few mulberry trees provide shade in summer. Across the street is Taverna Maria, the gathering place for the villagers. Previously there were three kaffeneion (coffee houses) in the village. One of them, (which was closed when they built the Taverna Maria instead), was behind the blue door at the small square. It was also here that the village common telephone was until sometime in the 1980s it became more common for every household to have its own phone.

Exantis sheep in the street

If you stand in front of Taverna Maria facing west and take the first (and only) road to the right from the square you will after a few meters reach a white house with green shutters on your left hand. There is a small gate and if you enter here you will find the ruined remains of an old olive mill. The olive press is probably several hundred years old. It was still in use until the seventies.

There are two churches in Exantis. The new one and the old one. The new church lies at the road towards Melidoni. It was built in 1989 and dedicated to Saint Kyprianos. At the path up to the church one can see a round stone construction. It has recently been renovated and look like a small Minoan 'Tholos' grave. But it is actually a lime kiln. A lime kiln is used to produce quicklime through the calcination of limestone. It was formerly a widespread subsidiary occupation for many of the inhabitants of Exantis. The limestone was transported on donkey to bali and from there by ship on to Heraklion.

The old church in Exantis

The old church is nowadays used only for funerals. It lies just outside the village by the road to Achladés. It is also here the village's cemetery is located. The church, dedicated to "Panagia" (Virgin Mary) has been beautifully restored in 2010. In front of the church stands a very old hollow olive tree, which allegedly was previously used as ossuary.

The inhabitants of Exantis

Morning at Taverna Maria

As is the case in many villages in Crete the villagers belong to a few large families or clans. In Exantis about two thirds of the village's current residents belong to two families. Thus, many share the same surname. And as it is customary in Crete that the eldest son is named after his grandfather, many people also have the same first name. Currently, for example six persons in the village have exactly the same name. (That's 10% of the entire village!) It can be quite confusing, so the use of nicknames is widespread. So widespread that on some of the sarcophagus of the cemetery one can see the nicknames written next to the baptismal Name.

Unlike many other places on Crete's north coast tourism has not influenced Exantis a lot. Here it is primarily agriculture in the little valley that surrounds the village, which employs people. First and foremost it is olives, but also citrus fruits, wine and various vegetables.

The name Exantis

According to the local tradition the name of the village is inspired by the shape of one of the mountains in the area. From the sea this mountain looks like a sextant (called an 'exantas' in Greek) and the seamen used it as a bearing when they were passing by this stretch of the Cretan coast.

Another story behind the name is, that six families used to live in the area - or sometimes it is claimed that six villages should have been here in the old days. Thus, the name should stem from the word 'exi', which means six in Greek.

None of these explanations, however, are quite satisfying. The mountain after which the village is supposed to have its' name is not called 'exantas' at all. It is called 'the top'. And it would be a bit strange if the mountain had lost its' name but the village hadn't. And 'exi' would only explain the first syllabel in the name - not the entire name.

Instead one can try to decipher the name. 'Exantis' doesn't exist in modern Greek but an old dictionary from 1830 gives an explanation. According to this the first syllabel 'ex' means 'from' 'away from' or 'outside of'. And the remaining part of the name 'antis' is derived from 'ati', which means hurt, damage og evil. Ati originally is the name of a goddess who in Greek mythology personifies evil og hurt. And with this the explanation of the name of the village is given. Exantis means 'away from evil' - a peaceful place in other words. If this is the correct explanation then we should be able to find older spellings of the name a little closer to its' meaning - and that's exactly the case. First time Exantis is mentioned in writing is in a Turkish population census from 1671 under the name of 'Iks-ati'.

For a homepage about Exantis, please click here.