Fragocastello and the "Dew-men"

Fragocastelo took its name from the famous Venetian fortress built in 1371-74 as a garrison to impose order on the rebellious Sfakiá region, to deter pirates, and to protect Venetian nobles and their properties. The Venetians named it the Fortress of St Nikitas, after the nearby church. The locals, however, who never saw it in a positive light, contemptuously dubbed it Fragokastello, meaning the Castle of the Franks (i.e. Catholic foreigners), Castelfranco or Franco Castello. The name eventually stuck and was adopted by the Venetians as well.

The fortress has a simple rectangular shape, with a tower at each corner and the remains of a Venetian coat of arms above the main gate. The buildings within the walls, as well as the battlements, were constructed during the Ottoman Turkish occupation. Actually the fortress never served the aims for which it was built because no order was laid in Sfakiá region, brutal Sfakiots were disobedient, on rebel all the time and would attack the occupants' soldiers whenever they had a chance. As a result, Venetians had a lot of casualties and lost a lot of property, so there were periods when Fragocastello didn't have a single guard.

During the Turkish occupation Fragocastello kept perishing. In Orlov revolt (1770) the Turkish troops fighting the rebellios Sfakiots used to camp there.

In 1828 a revivification of revolution in Crete against the Turkish yoke brings Hadzi Michalis Dalianis, a man from Northern Epirus, to Crete, in particular to Sfakia. He and his brigade of 600 volunteer soldiers decide to confront the Turkish troops in an open battle. He ignores the Sfakiots' opinion about partisan war and even calls them cowards.

This decision, to avoid the war tactic of guerrilla movement and to face the outnumbering Turkish army on a flat plain really worked for the Turks of Mustafa Daili Pasha, Crete's governor. So, from the 600 Greeks of Hadzi Mihalis 338 were killed in that battle, and Hadzi Michalis Dalianis as well. The rest managed to hide in Fragocastello which Turks couldn't take, though they fought hard for a week. The Turk pasha realized the danger and offered capitulation to the besieged. The Greek survivors surrendered the fortress and left. Mustafa Pasha blew up the ruined fortress, so it would not be used again as rebels' stronghold.

Later, though, during the big Cretan revolution (1866-1869), he had to re-build it, in order to have better control of the island.

Fragocastello hasn't been in use since Crete was freed, but it's still standing today to remind us of its bloodcovered history, which revives every year due to the legend about the ghosts haunting it, the famous "dew-men" (Drosoulites).

Each year in May a strange phenomenon happens in Fragokastello. Shadows of horsemen and soldiers march from the ruined church of Agios Charalambos, advancing towards the fort. They reach the sea and disappear into it, with the first rays of the sun. The phenomenon usually last about 10 minutes. These are called Drosoulites, or dew-men, because they come with the morning dew. Some explain this as a meteorological paradox bringing reflections from Africa. Another theory is some trick of the light because of the sun-rays diffraction in the morning fog. But these explanations are not very persuading because those who saw the Drosoulites – and there are lots of
them – always describe the same picture of soldiers marching towards the sea, and not some vague images.

It is said that, in 1890, Turkish soldiers at Fragokastello ran away in panic when they saw the Drosoulites. Many years later, when the Germans occupied Crete, a military detachment saw the ghosts and, mistaking them for resistance fighters, opened fire on them.