We are in Greece: Frangokastello, located in the south west coast of Crete, is a beautiful Venetian castle that was built in 1371 as a garrison to impose order on the rebellious Sfakia region and to deter pirates. It is just another testament to the Venetians desire to impose their rule, as the castle was never used by them.
The castle has a rectangular shape, with a tower at each corner and the remains of a Venetian coat of arms above the main gate. The buildings within the walls and the battlements were constructed during the Ottoman Turkish occupation.
Each May, dark, fleeting figures descend upon a stretch of sand leading up to the fort: in the early morning, when the sun still hangs low over a calm, glassy sea, these ghosts of slain Greek soldiers advance toward the ruins. Dressed in black, they trek onward by foot and horseback, with their weapons glowing beneath a beautiful, awakening sky.
At least, that’s what the locals will tell you!
Every year around May 17, the people of Frangokastello, report seeing the shadowy spirits on their annual march across the beach. They call them the “Drosoulites” or “dew men” because they arrive when the morning humidity leaves pearls of moisture on the earth and paints the air with thin wisps of mist, when the sea is calm and the atmosphere is moist before the sun goes too high up in the sky.
However, strange as it may seem, sightings of the mysterious figures are well documented: it seems, during World War II, that Nazi soldiers out on patrol shot at the eerie, ephemeral intruders. Their appearance has baffled scientists, who so far have chalked it up to a meteorological phenomenon, though they have yet to agree on exactly which one.
To the Greeks, the appearance of the “dew men” marks the anniversary of the 1828 Battle of Frangokastello, a notorious event during the Greek War of Independence against the Turks.
A Greek army leader named Hitzi Michalis Dalianis came to Crete with a force of 600 infantry and 70 horsemen to free Crete. The Turkish leader Mustapha Pasha, besieged the castle with over 8,000 men, for seven days. During the siege Dalianis himself and 350 of his troops died. After a seven-day siege, thousands of Turkish forces massacred the roughly 350 Cretan and Epirote soldiers who had bunkered down inside the fortress. They left the bodies of the slain soldiers unburied on the beach, where they rotted beneath the Mediterranean sun.