Crete (Greece)

Music and Tourism come together in a unique offer

On the occasion of the tour of the Spanish singer, conductor, producer and composer Placido Domingo in the city of Crete, this historic city unites in an exceptional way a tourist offer where music and tourism come together to create a different kind of journey.

Placido Domingo continues to tirelessly perform his concerts and operas all over the world, with success in every place he performs. His next event has a special value as it is a tribute to his beloved diva Maria Callas, whom he met but did not get to sing with her. It will be in the secluded and historic Monastery of Toplou, in Sitia on the eastern tip of the island of Crete in Greece, his country of origin.

Although Maria Callas was born in New York, just four months after her Greek parents emigrated to the United States, she always considered herself Greek, returned to her country at the age of 14 and began to develop her professional life there. This year, the 100th anniversary of her birth and the opening of a museum dedicated to her in Athens, is a good opportunity for Plácido Domingo to return to Greece and give a concert of opera and zarzuela in a place that means so much in the history of the country.

Plácido Domingo has performed on several occasions in Greece, where he is much loved, most recently on 27 June 2007 at the Marble Stadium, the historic monument where the first Olympic Games of the modern era were held, at a charity gala to help refugee children in Dafour, thus supporting the work of the association Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). The concert was attended by more than 10,000 people who sold out several weeks in advance.

In the programme on 9 July, in addition to arias and Spanish songs, there will be various duets between Domingo and the great Greek soprano Christina Poulitsis, who met Plácido in 2014 and, as she said at the presentation of the concert, "is a warm, kind man, who earns respect, the definition of a gentleman". It will be, according to Poulitsis, "a mystical concert, an experience where art will fulfil its purpose". The two artists will be accompanied by the ERT National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Spaniard Jordi Bernàcer in what is already considered one of the most important events for the country and a great honour for the orchestra to be associated with a legend like Domingo in a place like Sitía.

A succession of successes

Plácido Domingo continues in Crete his long streak of brilliant performances that has taken him all over the world, with success wherever he goes. With more than 4,000 performances and more than 150 different roles in all languages and at almost 83 years of age (he will be 83 in January) he seems to be in top form. He has already achieved all the records, such as the longest ovation in history (no less than 80 minutes and 101 curtains in Vienna), more than a billion spectators have watched his interpretation of Tosca in 117 countries, he has recorded more than 100 operas and 50 music videos, and won 12 Grammy Awards and two Emmy Awards.

She has more than a dozen performances signed until December 2023 and so far this year she has given concerts or performed operas in Muscat (Oman), Tokyo (Japan), Mérida (Mexico), Florence (Italy), Palm Beach (Florida-USA), Budapest (Hungary), Monte Carlo (Monaco) and Monte Carlo (Monaco), Monte Carlo (Monaco), Graz (Austria), Baden-Baden (Germany), Tashkent (Uzbekistan), Almaty (Kazakhstan), Envigado (Colombia), San Salvador (El Salvador), London (United Kingdom), Salzburg (Austria), Geneva (Switzerland) and Taormina (Sicily-Italy). 

The last of Domingo's many awards, the Artis Suavitas, will be presented on 30 June in Taormina's almost neighbouring archaeological park, the Archaeological Park of Pompeii. "An initiative that aims to combine passion and cultural taste with a strong commitment to the promotion and enhancement of places of great historical and scenic value".

And there is something of that in the visit to Crete as well. According to the three companies with vision and faith in culture and in highlighting Sitia's distinctive identity that support this concert - Pankritia Bank, Attica Bank and Intrakat - another aim of the concert is to raise awareness and promote the town of Sitia and the Lasithi region, which still has the authentic Cretan flavour, an area of rich historical interest and unique natural beauty. The town is situated on a hill, dominated by a newly restored Venetian Fort, which slopes down to the picturesque Bay of Sitia, and the harbour. The town is the perfect place to lose yourself in its unique atmosphere. The narrow streets leading to the promenade evoke typical scenes of island life. 

There is another good reason to come here: just a few kilometres further on is the famous Vai palm forest with its wonderful beach, an oasis amidst the semi-arid landscape of this part of the island. It is the largest palm forest in Europe, and it is surprising, as you turn off the road towards the beach, how the landscape changes until you find yourself surrounded by a multitude of palm trees leading to a beach with crystal clear waters.

Lasithi is a fascinating region of outstanding natural beauty and marked contrasts. On the one hand it boasts one of the most famous and luxurious resorts in the world, such as the Elouda resort, and on the other hand it invites you to explore unspoilt regions, ancient towns and medieval villages, gorges and mountains that seem unexplored, beaches where you can experience absolute tranquillity. Sitia is a beautiful coastal town, inhabited since Minoan times, which flourished in all historical periods of Crete, from the classical years to the time of Ottoman rule. 

The new town of Sitia began to be built in 1870 and now has a population of around 11,000. Compared to other cosmopolitan centres on the island, Sitía has suffered less from tourist development. Framed by idyllic beaches and numerous monuments, it could be the ideal retreat for those seeking a quiet holiday, but also a good starting point for fascinating excursions throughout eastern Crete.

The food in Sitia is very good and can be enjoyed in the small tavernas that dot the town, and tasting raki, wine, beer or ouzo is an experience not to be missed. Particularly delicious local dishes include omaties, a type of pork crackling stuffed with rice, chopped liver, sultanas and spices, a creamy cheese called xygalo and their highly praised sweet pastries.

Undoubtedly the most important monument in Sitia and Lasithi is the Monastery of Toplou, dedicated to Our Lady of Akrotiri, with a 33-metre high bell tower, where Plácido Domingo's concert will take place, a 15th century monastery that contains a small museum on the history of the settlement and preserves a small chapel with frescoes of great artistic value. 

The space has capacity for 1,600 people and admission for those who want to enjoy Plácido Domingo is free, on a first-come, first-served basis, although tickets are already sold out. 

Toplou Monastery is the only surviving example of the many monasteries, large and small, that once stood in the Sitia area, all eventually destroyed by wars and pirate raids. It stands in a rugged, almost desert-like landscape, with giant wind turbines spinning in the background, in what is one of the first wind farms on Crete.

Abbot Philotheos Spanoudakis has been actively involved in the organisation and promotion of the monastery. Among other things, he has established a Museum of Copper Engravings and Greek Folk Engravings produced by the monks of Mount Athos in the 18th and 19th centuries. The monks created images of everyday life as accurate as photographs. Toplou Monastery also houses 15th-century icons which, along with later examples, are of great artistic interest as they show the stages of development of the Constantinople School of Art, which influenced Cretan art. Among them are the works of Ioannis Kornaros, especially the icon 'Great are You, O Lord, and marvellous are Your works' dated 1770.

In the monastery's long history there are some important milestones, one of the most recent being its role in World War II. During the German occupation, Toplou Monastery played a prominent role in the Resistance, both as a wireless base in communication with Allied headquarters in Cairo and as a refuge for resistance operatives. 

When the Germans discovered the monastery's activity, they arrested the abbot, the monks and the resistance fighters they found there. They were taken to the Agia prison and executed. Although the Germans originally planned to blow up the monastery, they eventually confiscated its property.

A few kilometres from Sitia is the town of Agios Nikolaos, the most important town in this region of eastern Crete. It is a town by the sea, well known for its inland lake called Voulismeni. Its small and interesting Archaeological Museum and its Folk Art Museum are of particular interest. Also its always lively fishing port, in the centre of the gulf of Mirabello, one of the most beautiful places in Crete. 

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Author: Enrique Sancho. Opencomunication Agency

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