On the NW coast of Crete the west coast of the gulf of Kissamos projects northwards and forms a promontory that the ancients named Korykos Akran.
West of this tongue of land are two small rocky islets. The one north of the promontory is Agriogramvoussa, south of it and to the west is Gramvoussa itself. (GR: Γραμβούσα or Γραμπούσα, further names include Akra, Cavo Buso, Cavo Bouza, Garabusa and Grabusa)
Due to its strategic location,Gramvoussa was fortified by the Venetians, who built a well-fortified castle on the top of a steepy rock at an altitude of 137 m.
Construction on the castle of Gramvoussa started in 1579 and ended in 1582. It was destroyed in 1588, however, when thunder struck on the powder store.The castle was rebuilt in 1630.
It was one of the three castles to remain under Venetian dominion after the Turkish occupation of Crete (the other two were those of Sitia and Spinalonga).
Even though the castle was impregnable, during the Venetian-Turkish war the Italian commandant was bribed by the Turks and he gave over the castle in 1692.
During the Greek uprising against the Turks, Gramvoussa played an important and decisive role. After many attempts the castle was finally occupied by the Cretan revolutionaries in 1824, when a team of Cretans disguised as Turks entered the castle. Gramvoussa was the first part of Crete to be liberated by the Turks.
The rocky island became a refuge for over 3000 people, and a base for the revolutionary groups. Soon, due to lack of food and supplies, it also became the base of pirates who plundered every ship passing through the sea around the island. Even the coasts of Crete suffered from their raids. Thus, with the consent of the Greek government, an Anglo-French garrison took over the island of Gramvousa in 1828. Α multinational guard of English, French and Greek was then established, with Chadjimichalis Dalianis in charge. So the last Cretans abandoned the island, and the houses were demolished. The Greek Guard stayed until September 1830, when the island was occupied by the European forces (England-France-Russia) acting on behalf of Mehmet Ali of Egypt. Eventually, in 1831 it was given to the Egyptians and since then the castle has essentially been abandoned and deserted.
Today, the high walls of the Gramvoussa are preserved, half ruined but awesome.
In the fortress area there are two large, domed reservoirs, which collect the rain water from the paved streets. From the rest of the buildings the temple of Evangelismos (Annunciation of the Virgin Mary) and the powder magazine are preserved, while the foundations of the barracks, the headquarters and other facilities are distinguished. The walls are built of local limestone, except for the cordone ( the protruding stone frieze around the Venetian walls), which is made of carved sandstone
The small church dating back to the 16th century was initially dedicated to the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary. Later, when the island became the "Island of pirates", the temple was named "Panagia Kleptapadochos or Kleftrinas or Kleftisas" (~ Our lady of the thieves) as the pirates were offering a part of their spoils, asking the Virgin to not punish them for their raids. Among the pirates there were even priests!
The island of Gramvoussa is a protected environmental area under the NATURA 2000 network. On the islands of Imeri and Agria Gramvousa there are 173 and 119 recorded plant species respectively. Among them is a species found only on these islets: a kind of daisy that blossoms in the spring called Anthemis glaberrima. This, together with a lily found in Imeri Gramvousa and called Androcymbium rechingeri, are protected by Greek and European legislation.
Access to Gramvoussa is possible only by boat. There are many scheduled daily trips to Gramvoussa and Balos departing from the port of Kasteli Kissamos.
Staying overnight on the island is prohibited and everyone should leave before sunset. There are only very little services offered on the island due to the strict environmental rules. Visitors can purchase however all they need from the boat that takes them here.
Opposite to the island of Gramvoussa is the wonderful beach of Balos.