The igloos of Mount Psiloritis
On Mount Psiloritis in Crete, there are “mitata”, an architectural structure with immemorial origins, whose building method dates back to the Minoan arched tombs. Grayish-green limestone slates, carved by skillful technicians, are put onto each other to form fancy arched weatherproof constructions that stand strong despite the lack of mud or other connecting material. The oldest of them all was carved in 1841 and it hasn’t ceased to be the centre of shepherd’s life on the plateau of Nida ever since.
Mitata: The shepherds’ second house
These stone hives are where shepherds seek refuge to endure snow and the strong mountain winds in the winter, as well as the ruthless summer sunshine. The Mitata’s only opening is their low door which always faces south to avoid exposure to northerly winds. Its perimeter offers space for cheese and animals to be kept, whereas its interior area, with a fireplace on its centre, is used for making various types of delicious Cretan cheese. On the ceiling of the dome-shaped structure there is a little opening to allow the smoke out and the light in.
Life in the Mitata
The rugged soil, the thin vegetation and the harsh weather have made irascible, proud and free-spirited characters out of the men of Psiloritis, who face nature’s wrath against a backdrop of Doric austerity. To these people, Mount Psiloritis is the centre of the world. It is here they do everything, from making cheese and rakí, to sheep shearing.
All these activities call for celebrations, for playing traditional Cretan music and singing traditional Cretan songs, for having meat and strong red wine; and everything culminates with the feast on the day of Agios Mamas, the patron saint of the shepherds. Families and friends go to the mitata to toast to longevity and prosperity and share moments of warmth and love.