On 7th March 1897 a force consisting of 200 British sailors and marines, 100 French , 100 Austrian and 75 Russians, landed on the south west coast of Crete. Accompanied by Sir Alfred Biliotti, the British Consul, their task was to evacuate some 1600 Cretan Muslims and 450 Ottoman soldiers from the village of Kandanos in south west Crete, then under siege by Christian Cretans supported by Greek manned artillery. (It should be noted that the actual dates on which the events in the evacuation occurred are somewhat difficult to determine. The main source of information is Sir Alfred Biliotti who although he was present throughout, was less than clear in his dispatches; particularly when it came to putting dates in his narrative! The dates given here was obtained from various accounts, including the log of H. M. S. Rodney; in deference to the log keeping traditions of the Royal Navy, these dates are preferred to those given by Biliotti. Similarly, the numbers of evacuees varies from account to account.) The base for the operation was the then semi-derelict village Selino Kastelli, modern Paleochora.
En-route to Kandanos the European troops stopped overnight in the hamlet of Spaniakos and evacuated the garrison from the Ottoman fortress above the village.
The French troops are reported as having spent the night in a local notable’s harem; the British in the local mosque.
The Spaniakos mosque was eventually destroyed after the evacuation of Cretan Muslims from the area. (Further details of the area around Spaniakos can be found here.)
For the most part the evacuation went without difficulty and the refugees arrived in Canea aboard the various European vessels. Some would stay in Canea, some went to the Turkish mainland, but few ever returned to Kandanos, and those who did were uprooted again in the 1923 population exchange.
However, in the final stages, when the column reached the sea at Selino Kastelli, Cretan insurrectionists opened fire on the International troops. Given the overwhelming superiority in fire-power of the European forces, not to mention the presence of a considerable number of European warships in the immediate vicinity, it’s not difficult to predict the outcome of the engagement.
During the operation several maps and sketches of the area were produced, apparently by French naval officers.
International troops landed at Selino Kastelli and then proceed to Kandanos via Spaniakos and Kakodiki.
The outline of the hills above the village appears to suggest that the sketch was made from a viewpoint in the south west bay.
Evidence of the use of Gras rifles, the type used by the Cretan insurgents, has been found near the site of the final encounter.
More details of the bullet can be found here.
The evacuation marked the effective end of the Ottoman presence in south west Crete, an event marked on a plaque erected on the wall of the old castle in Paleochora in 2020.
The text in English reads:
“After 374 years of Venitian slavery and 244 years of Turkish, here on 1 March 1897 at the end of the revolution of 1896-1897 in Selino, the revolutionary liberation flag of Selino was raised. Here on 1 December 1913 with the union of Crete with Greece, the Greek flag was raised.”
Many thanks to Bob Tait for supplying the illustration of the Spaniakos mosque, and to Michalis Adamtziloglou for the translation of the plaque.