It was a hot and humid summer morning in Crete. A group of hikers had already started walking by the sea towards the castle of Frangokastello, near the town of Sfakia. Everything was quiet and all they could hear was the song of the cicadas and the relaxing sound of waves.
As soon as they reached the Venetian fort, they spent some time staring at the ripples forming on the sea surface. But it didn’t take long till they all instinctively turned their heads towards the nearby monastery of Agios Charalambos. What they saw left them frozen in fear. Tall shadowy figures holding medieval weapons started sprinting towards them. Some of these warriors looked as if they rode phantom horses.
The hikers couldn’t speak nor move; they stood there mesmerized by the group of phantom warriors that ran towards them. The closer the shadows appeared to be, the smaller they become. And just like that, few meters away from them, they disappeared. Later that day, they learned from the locals that they were lucky enough to experience seeing the Drosoulites, the phantom warriors of Crete.
The Greek Folktale of Drosoulites | Greek Folklore
According to a local legend, a group of Greek fighters who lost their lives during the battle of Frangkokastello, still haunt the area. They appear as ghost fighters on some spring or summer mornings, surprising those who visit the castle and the nearby area. There are countless reports of locals and visitors who have witnessed this phenomenon. Some of them, had never heard of the legend but still saw the shadowy figures approaching the castle. Their appearance usually lasts for ten minutes, according to reports.
The battle of Frangkocastello occurred during the years of the Greek war for freedom and specifically on May 17, 1828. The army consisted of 350 men and was led by Hatzimichalis Dalianis from Epirus. The army protected the fort for more than seven days and continued fighting even when victory seemed unrealistic. They all died in the battlefield.
Although this phenomenon is linked to the battle of 1828, the castle’s history is much longer than that. Just few kilometers away from Sfakia, Frangkokastello was built in 1374 to protect Venetian nobles from pirates during the Frankokratia, the era during which French and Italian states were established on the territory of the Byzantine Empire.
Drosoulites: Ghosts or a Natural Phenomenon?
Since the appearance of Drosoulites has been reported multiple times over the past two centuries, it is more than a local folktale. Scientists have tried to debunk the myth, with the most common explanation being that it is simply a meteorological phenomenon.
To be more precise, it is believed that it is a mirage from the coast of North Africa. However, there is no definite or clear answer. What we do know is that it occurs on late May or early June, usually in the morning, when the weather is humid and warm.
What do you think of this folk legend? Is there a similar folktale where you come from? Leave a comment in the comment section.
Marialena Perpiraki is a journalist and writer from Athens, Greece. In 2020, she founded Helinika as a cross-media platform.
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