The legendary Agiofarago is a rather small gorge in the south of Crete with a great historical and aesthetic value that hosts a lot of endemic, rare plants. It is located at the southwest end of Asterousia mountain, in the south of the prefecture of Heraklion. To the north of the gorge rise the hills of Rhodona and Charkokefala that surround the famous Monastery of Panagia Odigitria. To the east lies the bay of Kali Limenes and to its west spread the Marsaliotiko gorge, the Tracheli cape and the Akra Lithino cape. Agiofarago is only 3 km long, from north to south, and ends up on a beautiful beach, 150 metres long, with small gravel and clear waters looking at the Libyan Sea. 950 metres from the coast is the rocky small island of Papadoplaka. Agiofarago has been created by two seasonal streams that start from the ruined village of Gialomonohoro and the Monastery of Panagia Odigitria. The two streams are joined near the church of Agia Kyriaki and continue in Porofarago, which is the starting point of Agiofarago, before entering the main route of the gorge. To the east of the gorge, and near the sea, lies the famous Vourvoulitis, a hidden, beautiful but rather precipitous pond with brackish waters. Agiofarago (Gorge of the Saints) took its name from the christian hermits who lived here for centuries. The presence of the ascetic life in the region dates back to the early Christian years. According to the legend, three hundred hermits lived here in conditions of absolute isolation from each other and met only once a year in the cave of Goumenospilio. About 250 meters before the sea and close to Goumenospilio is the temple of Agios Antonios, which dates from the 13th century and was the centre of the organised ascetic life of Crete. The surrounding area is full of historical sights such as ancient Lasaea, the burial complex of the Minoan era in Odigitria and the cave of Apostle Paul. Walking in Agiofarago is easy enough, as it takes just an hour to discover many rare plants hanging from the spectacular vertical cliffs.
Brushwood of the Mediterranean savanna with scattered trees and shrubs dominate the area. At the beginning of the gorge there are many wild olive trees and fig trees that grow on the vertical rocks. Other trees in the area are carobs and phoenicean junipers. Just before the coast dense clusters of nerium shrubs are spread, while the vegetation is supplemented by jointfirs, capers, rockroses, heaths, spurges and thymes. Rare plants are found throughout the gorge. Most important of them are the endemic species of Cretan flora, such as Dianthus fruticosus subsp. creticus, Campanula creutzburgii, Centaurea idaea, Verbascum spinosum, Phlomis lanata and Teucrium alpestre. Other rare plants that are found on Crete and the Aegean islands are Crepis neglecta subsp. cretica, Allium rubrovittatum, Ranunculus asiaticus, Achillea cretica, Sedum creticum, Nigella doerfleri, Euphorbia dimorphocaulon, Stachys spinosa, Teucrium microphyllum, Achnatherum fallacinum, Aegilops columnaris and Aristida adscensionis subsp. caerulescens. The vegetation is complemented by interesting plants such as Cynara cornigera, Inula candida subsp. candida, Phlomis cretica, Carthamus leucocaulos, Bryonia cretica, Filago aegaea subsp. aristata, Pimpinella cretica, Helianthemum salicifolium, Mandragora officinarum, Gagea graeca, Romulea bulbocodium, Glaucium flavum, Carlina lanata, Echium parviflorum, Pterocephalus plumosus, Asteriscus aquaticus, Malva aegyptia, Asterolinon linum-stellatum and orchids Ophrys ariadnae, Ophrys cretica, Anacamptis pyramidalis, Orchis italica and Himantoglossum robertianum.
Around and inside Agiofarago live plenty interesting birds.Peregrines and kestrels nest at the cliffs while other birds of prey include griffon vultures, Bonelli’s eagles, common buzzards, Eleonora’s falcons and lanner falcons. The rocks and caves are nesting ground for rock doves, crag martins, swallows, house martins and red-rumped swallows. Seabirds include shags, Scopoli’s shearwaters, Mediterranean shearwaters, sandwich terns and yellow-legged gulls. Other birds in the surrounding area are liittle owls, scops owls, chukar partridges, turtle doves, nightjars, swifts, bee-eaters, rollers, crested larks, tawny pipits, meadow pipits, wrens, black redstarts, northern wheatears, black-eared wheatears, stonechats, blue rock thrushes, sardinian warblers, Rüppell’s warblers, subalpine warblers, sombre tits, woodchat shrikes, jackdaws, ravens, greenfinches, goldfinches and Cretzschmar’s buntings.
From the amphibians, here live only green toads, while the reptiles are represented by Kotschy’s geckos, mediterranean house geckos, ocellated skinks, balkan green lizards, Cretan wall lizards, balkan whip snakes and leopard snakes. Mammals in the surrounding area include beech martens, weasels, hares and Cretan hedgehogs (Erinaceus roumanicus subsp. nesiotes). The sea area is an important passage for rare cetaceans, such as Cuvier’s beaked whales, striped dolphins and sperm whales. The dense nerium shrubs are the reproductive and hatching site of the Oleander hawk-moth (Daphnis nerii). Finally, there are two rare, endemic snails found here, Albinaria terebra and Helicopsis bathyptera.