Karfi (i.e. nail) is a big rocky hill on a top of the range Selena in the Dikti Mountains, with incredible views to the north coastline of Crete and the Lassithi Plateau, high above the Monastery of Kera Kardiotissa. Atop of it, at an altitude of 1200m, traces of a Minoan peak sanctuary have been found. Peak sanctuaries were open air sanctuaries on the peaks of the island, where the Minoans ascended to dedicate offerings to their gods and are often found in the mountains of Eastern Crete.
Next to this arid and inhospitable place, several Minoan refugees settled after the descent of the Dorians in Crete, so as to continue their lives and keep their traditions (1200BC). Thus, they built a small town on the northeastern slopes of Karfi, at a point protected from the wind. However, extreme weather conditions in winter seem to have forced residents to look for a new place of residence elsewhere in around 1100BC.
John Pendlebury and the British School of Archaeology started systematic excavations in 1930s. In the region, they identified several single-storey houses and a large building which served as a sanctuary. In the sanctuary clay figurines depicting a Minoan goddess with upraised hands were found. Generally, the findings from the settlement are not rich, as residents abandoned Karfi, taking also their belongings with them, unlike other ancient sites that where suddenly destroyed by enemy raids, earthquake or fire. At lower altitudes, near the spring Vitzilovrysi, traces of an archaic temple have been found.
Moreover, in Karfi several vaulted tombs have been found, many of them looted. The looters come when the snow starts melting so as to locate the graves. In places where there are graves, the snow melts more quickly, because the air beneath raises the temperature. It is said that one resident of the Lassithi Plateau, whose family now has a vast fortune, became wealthy when he found a golden sow and piglets in one of these graves. However this is a common story in several archaeological places of the island.
Karfi surely deserves a visit, not so much for the archaeological site, but for the nice walk and the stunning views of the surrounding areas. One would wonder what forced that many people to withdraw their life in the fertile valleys and find shelter in such a spooky place, just like many other settlements of the so called Dark Era of Minoan Crete. The exact reasons for this exile have not been verified yet, but it is believed that the Dorians devastated their cities and they were so scared to flee to the most eerie peaks of Crete.
Karfi can be accessed either from a dirt road starting after Kera and heading to Vitzilovrisi spring, the main water source of Karfi, or by following the part of the European trail E4 starting from the church of Saint Ariadne on the plateau of Nisimos above the village Tzermiado.