The history of the village
Nestled in lush nature and green hills, Zoniana is a charming village in a picturesque setting. The history of the village gets lost back in the centuries, thus leading to a rich tradition and a vast cultural heritage.
The name “Zoniana”
The name Zoniana was established in 1920. It was originally called “Zou o Lakkos” [the pit of Zou]. Both names seem to be related to the word (o)zo, which means animal in the Cretan dialect. However, the older name has also been associated with Zeus.
The main occupation of the inhabitants is livestock farming. The famous “mitata” – the distinctive and quite impressive stone-built huts used for cheese- making or for providing shelter to Cretan shepherds – are scattered throughout the region’s mountainous areas.
Legend has it that the village was founded by a shepherd named Za. Za would frequently lose one of his goats while herding his goats and sheep in the area, not knowing where it was going. So, one day he decided to follow it, only to find out that it would go to a spring in the forest to drink water. The shepherd decided to settle near that body of water and named it “Zou o Lakkos” [the pit of Zou]. As the goat’s name was Amalthea, the spring was named “Amalthea’s Water,” and it is still known as such today.
The first name of the village dates back to 1180 BC when men under the command of King Idomeneus fought in the Trojan War, where it is referred to as Zo.
The name Zo is derived from Zeus (Za), who would cry out from his tomb, “I am alive (Zo in Greek), here I am.” In fact, when shepherds were caught stealing at that time, they used to swear: “By Zeus, I am telling you, and you need to know, I am not the one to blame, I know nothing of what you are asking me, be it deeds or words.” Later on, St. George replaced Zeus.
In the Venetian census of 1583, the village was listed as Zo, and in 1671 as “Zou o Lakkos” [the pit of Zou] with 57 inhabitants. In 1900, it was known as “Zou o Lakkos” [the pit of Zou] with a population of 509 people, as well as Zouliana (which belonged to the municipality of Anogia). After 1920, the suffix -niana was added to the original Zo for the first time, and the village name changed to Zoniana. The village was the seat of a community in 1928, with 789 inhabitants in 1940, and 1,281 in 1991.
The village was included in the Municipality of Anogia in 1998, but due to opposition from the Municipality of Kouloukonas, it became an independent community in 2006, and finally became part of the Municipality of Mylopotamos in 2011.
Participation of Zoniana in the fights for freedom
Zoniana was never inhabited by Saracens, Venetians, or Turks, thus its population has always been pure Greek, yet it was never excluded from any of the country’s call to arms.
Since 1770, the village has been a shelter for people fleeing Sfakia and took part in their struggles. In fact, one of the people on the run arrived in the village under the alias "Parasyris".
“Melitakas” (“The Ant” in Cretan dialect)
In 1821, Michalis Mavrogiannis or Melitakas, the chieftain of Mylopotamos, fought the Turks all over Crete. When the revolution was suppressed, he moved on to the Peloponnese with his own squad from Zoniana to fight Ibrahim. Except for Melitakas himself, his squad members were all killed. He came back to Zoniana but, being unable to cope with the complaints and curses of the relatives of those killed, he relocated to Argulio. He kept on fighting the Turks, until he was wounded in a battle at Brahimo, and died some time later.
The battle in Arkadi
In 1866, twenty fighters from Zoniana, led by Parasyrogiorgis, abandoned the protection of the mountains and headed to Arkadi with a squad under the command of Kouvos (“turkey” in Cretan dialect), where 18 of them were killed.
On May 8, 1867, rebels from Zoniana, along with fighters from Mylopotamos, defeated Omer Pasha at Pera Halepa. The Turks fled in confusion, and the rebels seized a portable cannon, carried it to Zoniana, and hid it. This cannon is now housed in the Naval Museum of Chania.
The next day, on May 9, 1867, a large Turkish army crushed the resistance of the fighters and invaded the village. The Turks interrogated the elderly and sick people who were unable to leave in search of the cannon. As no one divulged the secret, they slaughtered everyone and burned the village, as well as the forest of the gorge, to ashes.
Since 2008, it has been formally recognized as a local public holiday.
As in all the other villages, Kumandar Redic Pasha attempted to construct a tower in Kafkaloudi (Amigdalokefalo) in November 1867. He failed as the people of Zoniana gave him no rest. They used guerrilla warfare techniques, engaging in skirmishes all day and night while sabotaging, ambushing, and attacking his army, decimating his soldiers and construction workers. He then withdrew after burning everything that the people of Zoniana had been able to rebuilt. So, the village of Zoniana was set on fire twice within six months (both in May and November). According to a song of the time, the village had been burnt once more before: “That’s the third time you burn the village down, you goddamn fools, but even if it is burnt three hundred times we shall never bend the knee to the Aghas”.
Constant struggle against the Turks
In 1898, the cannon was offered to visiting Prince George by the people of Zoniana as a gift. The years went by but the inhabitants of Zoniana never stopped fighting the Turks. They went to Gazi and Servili and, along with fighters from Milopotamos and Malevizi, they managed to entrap the Turks in the city of Heraklion. Michalis Kavvalos, a.k.a. Kaprakis, “in a hail of bullets” managed to get the Greek flag that was left behind and was awarded a prize by the Cretan State as its savior. 12 soldiers from Zoniana perished in the Balkan Wars.
World War II
19 more fallen in 1940-44
19 soldiers from Zoniana gave their lives during the Greco-Italian War and the Battle of Crete, and 4 more were tragically lost during the Greek Civil War.