Lost Souls or just a Mirage?
During the last night of May, the beach of Frangokastelo is filled with visitors who camp there until the sun rises, waiting.
They wait for the Drosoulites, a bizarre optical phenomenon that may or may not be the mirage of Libyan soldiers in training.
If you find yourself near Frangokastelo, you’ll meet local shepherds and fishermen eager to tell you about the shadows that appear on the castle walls, very early in late-May mornings.
And yet you’ll also find tourists who have spend endless – and sleepless – May nights on the beach, seeing absolutely nothing but darkness and stars.
So what are they? Do they even exist?
Legends say: "Around the end of May, close to sunrise, one can see the fleeting shadows of armed horsemen and soldiers in the horizon. They come out of the earth and move silently, as if going to battle or training. If one dares to go near them, they disappear into the sea.
The shadows of May’s dawn are the ghosts of horsemen and soldiers who perished in Frangokastelo during a vicious battle with the Turks in 1828.
They return every year to the castle that has been haunted with their blood".
There is a fascinating back-story to the legend of the Drosoulites. The fort of Frangokastelo was built in 1340 by Venetian conquerors. Its construction was constantly being sabotaged by the locals, who refused to allow their conquerors to settle, and was finished with great delay. Afterwards, the Venetians hung the leaders of the resistance from the gates and towers of the castle.
Cretans would eventually take the castle back – when the Venetians abandoned it – and that is where Chatzimihalis Dalianis, one of the bravest heroes of the Greek Revolution, retreated in 1828 along with his volunteer soldiers. He was born in Epirus in 1775, was educated in Italy, was a prominent tobacco merchant, and became a part of the liberation struggle as soon as the Revolution began.
He fought the Turks with a regiment of horsemen he organized by himself, and soon took the fight to Crete.
In the night of May 17, 1828, a tremendous battle took place at the castle. The Turks prevailed, stormed in and killed every last Greek soldier, then tossed their bodies over the walls to the chasm below.
Since then, every year the Drosoulites appear before the wide-eyed locals, repeating their silent march towards the castle.
The phenomenon lasts about 8-10 minutes and is visible from specific parts of the Frangokastelo valley. Those who’ve seen it describe the shadows of the soldiers and the sheen of their weapons, while some even talk of faint sounds heard, like people walking.
Prominent Greeks have witnessed the phenomenon, among them Chatzimihalis’ grand-grandson, General Christos Chatzimihalis, who wrote about it to the president of the Greek Association of Psychic Research, Angelos Tanagras.
Even the Nazis saw it: German troops stationed in Frangokastelo actually opened fire against the shadows, and questioned the locals about them.
Those who believe in ghosts, claim that the soldiers return every year simply because they have not been buried properly – their bones remain in the chasm below the walls, so they cannot escape our dimension, and find peace in the next.
The Association of Psychic Research has two explanations:
- The place is haunted
- A case of "higher mirage" is taking place, and the shadows belong to soldiers training on the shores of Libya, south of Sfakia.
Herodotus describes a similar phenomenon that took place during the Salamina battle. However, the appearance of a mirage is impossible when the distance of the vision and its object is higher than 40 miles (Libya is hundreds of miles to the south). The uniforms of the Drosoulites are also very different to the ones worn by today’s armies.
Others claim it’s all about moisture – a phenomenon similar to the one that creates the rainbow. The mystery will probably be solved when the shadows are photographed with hyper-sensitive film that records frequencies invisible to the naked eye.
If you find yourself in Frangokastelo in the end of May, and decide to try your luck with the Drosoulites, keep in mind that the phenomenon is only visible to observers located between the mountains and the castle. You’ll need to be looking from the foothills towards the sea. And who knows … You might even see them.
Excerpt from the article Local Myths (ANEKORAMA 2007) by E. Miliaraki