Gramvousa refers to two small uninhabited islands off the coast of north-western Crete in the regional unit of Chania.
Tame Gramvousa, hosts the remains of a Venetian fort and the remains of buildings left behind by Cretan insurgents, who were compelled to live as pirates, during the Greek War of Independence. Today, Tame Gramvousa is a popular tourist attraction.
Wild Gramvousa, is much less hospitable and is located due north of Tam Gramvousa.
The name Gramvousa has been found in various forms. The Venetians referred to it on their maps as the cape, Cavo Buso, and the Cretans, who translated it to Akra (capo) called it Cavo Bouza, this then became Krampouza, then Gramvousa.
In the opinion of N Hatzidaki, the name originates from the plant Crambe – Kramvoessa, which became Gramvousa. The Venetians named it Scoglio e fortezza Garabuse. The Venetians built the castle, in fear of occupation of Crete by the Turks, which would lead – and did eventually lead – to the end of the Venetian Empire.
After the Turkish occupation of Crete, it was one of three castles that remained under Venetian ownership (the other two were Souda and Spinalongka). Even though the castle was impregnable, during the Venetian – Turkish war, its Italian governor was bribed by the Turks, and it was handed over to them in 1692.
During the Greek uprising against the Turks, Gramvousa played an important and decisive role. After many attempts, the castle was finally conquered by Cretan rebels in 1825 when a group of Cretans, disguised as Turks, entered the castle.
Gramvousa was the first area of Crete that was freed from the Turks. It became shelter for more than 3,000 Cretans and became a base of operations for revolutionary groups. From free Gramvousa began the uprising of the Kalisperides, a group that spread terror among the Turks. In order to create a diversion they organized Zoyrides, armed groups that ambushed the Christians.
As conditions for survival were harsh, the residents of Gramvousa turned to piracy, indiscriminately looting boats passing between Gramvousa and the island of Antikythira, a fact that turned European opinion against them.
In 1828, with the agreement of the Greek government, fleets from England and France routed the pirates and occupied the castle. After signing the Protocol of London, Crete remained under Turkish occupation until 1831 and the castle of Gramvousa was handed over to the Turks once again by the Russian guard.
Fittingly, for an island that has accommodated pirates, there is a lagoon, named the Balos lagoon, between the island and the coast of Crete. There is an islet which forms part of a cape, through the lagoon,called Cap Tigani (which means “frying pan” in Greek). North of Balos, at the Korykon cape, are the ruins of the small ancient Roman city of Agnion, with a temple to the god Apollo.
The landscape combines the raw power of hard rock, the chilly touch of the sea, and the vast proportions of the universe. Balos keeps your senses relaxed and yet alert. Absorbed in vastness, you feel powerful because you can decipher the world at a glance, and yet vulnerable because you are engulfed in the powerful proportions of isolation in paradise.