In springtime Grambousa is the island of Athanatos (gr. Thanatos = death; Prefix “A” means negation, so “immortal”). In older Times these robust agaves where used for marking land, because deeply rooted in the ground you can’t manipulate them like markers. All over its lifetime about 12 years the plant makes shoots close to the main root. After 12 years the mother plant sprouts a long pedicel (until 5 m) and then died. Next plant grows at the same place so you’ve got the impression of an endless living plant and therefore its name.
The long pedicel looks like gigantic asparagus growing up, right into the sky. Later the pedicel sprouts some branches, at its ends inconspicuous blossoms and later capsules full of seeds. It is a fantastic sight you can watch all over Crete, but I never have seen more flowering agaves at the same time than on the island Gramvousa.
Another brave plant of Gramvousa is caper, armed with many nasty little thorns. I never liked the tart taste of caper – but since I have picked them on my own here in Crete - I fall in love with them. Now I use caper in many different salads. You can pick them all over summer. Caper grows near the roads and by the waysides but stressed by exhaust fumes and heavy metals or has been in contact with herbicides. Here on Grambousa either cars existing nor weed control is done and therefore it’s a perfect place to pick caper.
Did you already know that pickled caper is made from buds? In Italy there is another quite expensive speciality made of caper: pickled caper fruits. You have to pick only the small ones not bigger than a thump; as smaller as more delicious they are. Wonderful! Before you put them into vinegar you have to make little holes into them with a toothpick or so that the vinegar can go inside of the fruit. Delicious!
For sure you will explore some more of the 400 different plants on the pirate island Gramvousa. Hang on minute… pirate island? Is that a clever trick to make the island more interesting for tourism? No its not. In the Turk occupation times about 3000 resistance fighters shall have lived here together. The necessities of live have been done by attacks on passing ships and sometimes also by plundering villages in coast regions. After three years they have been exposed but still now the story is told willingly with pried. Another source (Eberhard Fohrer) tells the following: In the year 1669 it’s true that the Turks occupied Heraklion but it takes 38 years more (in 1715) to take over the fortress of Gramvousa by Turks, because it was too far away and secluded. Therefore not well protected so passing pirates could occupied it and get rich by capture of passing ships. These activities couldn’t be stooped until the 19th century by a British/French naval formation. Some thousands of prisoners from the pirates supposed have got liberation. Legend or history, at Crete it’s always mixed up and creates magic atmosphere. On your holidays on Crete you can be touched by it if you want.
If you wander round, on Gramvousa you can explore the ruins of the houses and discover a cistern too. Some rests of an old Christian chapel as well as a Turkish mosque are also to detect. And of course you will make the small path about 137 m high up to the Venetian fortress to have a look inside. A wall around, little towers for the lookout men, subterranean storerooms and connecting passages are still in good conditions to have good illustrative material about the older times and how to live under different conditions.