“ The family of my father comes from a village two hours from Megalo Kastro and is called Varvari “ Nikos Kazantzakis wrote in his book “Anafora ston Greko” and referred to the beautiful, traditional village of Varvari that today is called Mirtia. Mirtia is about 20 kilometers from Heraclion. Administratively, it belongs to the Archanes-Asterousia Municipality while geographically it is built 365 meters above the sea level.
560 residents live in the area, according to 2011 census, and their main occupation is agriculture. Kazantzakis, referring to the temperament of his ancestors from Varvari, described them as “ proud, stubborn, people that don’t talk and eat much, unsociable, they pile up their anger or love for years, remain silent and suddenly a demon takes over them and they explode. The main good for them is not life, but passion”. Even today many of these characteristics are true for the residents of the village.
The museum of Nikos Kazantzakis is in the settlement.
The first account for the Varvari settlement is in a 1206 document. In 1369 it is described as a fief of Maripero.
There aren’t any ruins from the Venetian buildings in the village, but the residents say that Venetians used the villagers for the construction of the Venetian walls in Heraclion.
In 1881 census, the village is referred as Varvari with 271 residents, from which 153 were Christians and 58 were Muslims.
During the Turkish occupation, the residents suffered a lot from the attacks of the Turks that lived in the neighboring village, Astraki.
During the revolution against Turks, the Mirtia residents moved to Lasithi or Mochos in order to protect themselves.
During the German occupation, the residents sabotaged the conquerors and helped in the Battle of Crete.
There are many different views on the origin of the name of the village.
According to the tradition, when Nikiforos Fokas, the Byzantine emperor, liberated Crete from Saracen pirates, in 961 A.C., some of his soldiers moved in the settlement. These soldiers weren’t Greeks, but “Varvaroi” ( non- Greeks were called in that way then).
And so that’s how the village was named Varvari. Nikos Kazantzakis also supported that view in his book, “Anafora sto Greko”, “ when the emperor of Byzantium, Nikiforos Fokas took back Crete from Arabs in the 10th century, he gathered the Arabs remained from the massacres in some villages, and these villages were called Varvari”.
Others say that the village was the base of operations of Barbarian pirates, by which the passers-by were robbed.
According to the Venetian records, it was believed that the village was named in that way because of its first resident, Barbaro, the Venetian Feudal.
In the village there are many churches dedicated to Metamorfosi of Sotiras (about 100 years old), Evangelismos, Agios Antonios and the Birth of Theotokos (Virgin Mary).
The stories of the village are mainly religious. The first one describes that, during the Otoman occupation, in the celebration of Agios Ioannis (St John), on the 7th of January, a large number of Turks decided to attack the village. The residents were unarmed, but they put their strength and any kind of weapon they could find together and gathered on a hummock. When the Turks arrived and saw the villagers, they thought that the villagers were too many. So they got scared and left. The residents believed that Agios Ioannis performed a miracle and saved them.
The second story is about the church of Panagia, which, according to tradition, was built in 40 days. The number of the days was the time limit given by the Turks to Greeks in order to build it.