Neapoli is a town in the regional unit of Lassithi (formerly a prefecture), in the Mirabello province in eastern Crete, and is the historic seat of government of the municipality of Agios Nikolaos. Apart from the town itself, it includes approximately fifteen traditional settlements, known as “metochia”.
On Mount Kadistos, two kilometres northeast of present-day Neapoli, stood the ancient city of Driros. The city was founded in the 12th century BC and flourished between the Geometric period and the Hellenistic times, until it was destroyed during a civil war in 220BC. The city was discovered in 1855 when local villagers found a stone inscription and excavations took place between 1917 and 1932. The inscription includes an oath by 180 teenagers declaring their devotion to the city, their hatred towards their enemies – the people of Milatos and Lyttos – and their loyalty to their allies in Knossos (the inscription is currently in Istanbul). From 2010 to the present day, excavations have been carried out by the French School of Athens (École Française d’Athènes) and the Ephorate of Antiquities of Lassithi.
In the area of the town now known as “Apano Geitonia”, there stood a small village named Kares during the Venetian period. The Venetians renamed it “Kainourgio Chorio” or “Kaino Chorio” (New Village), as mentioned in a contract from the Monastery of Areti in 1631. A remnant of that time is the Monastery of Fraro, a Franciscan monastery whose founding is placed in the 14th century and which is depicted on maps of Venice.
Kainourgio Chorio grew greatly during the Turkish occupation due to its location on the passage between Heraklion and Lassithi. In 1868, Pasha Kostis Adosidis was appointed governor of the region and settled in Kainourgio Chorio, which he renamed Neapoli and made the first capital of the Liva (prefecture) of Lassithi. Neapoli was largely remodeled by Pasha Kostis Adosidis (1868-1871), who changed the city’s street plan, built many public buildings and created the following infrastructure:
The city continued to develop after 1871, when Adosidis departed. Neapoli became the seat of the Diocese of Petra, whose previous seat was the Monastery of Areti. The first high school in the prefecture of Lassithi was founded in Neapoli in 1875.
It remained the capital of Lassithi until 1904 (period of the Cretan State), when the seat of government of the prefecture was transferred to Agios Nikolaos. During the Therissos movement/revolt (1905), it ardently supported Eleftherios Venizelos and the efforts for Cretan reunification with Greece. Despite the relocation of the seat of government, Neapoli remained an important commercial and cultural centre in the province and the prefecture in the first half of the 20th century. It was during this period that electricity arrived, the first cinema was built, new shops were opened and the Cathedral of the Virgin Mary was built, a monumental work for the time (1888). This growth was halted after the Second World War and the subsequent occupation, during which it was the headquarters of an Italian division and the local EAM resistance group. The 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s were marked by emigration away from Neapoli due to the region’s economic stagnation and decline.
Today it is a small town, but it retains an atmosphere of distinction in its streets, in the main square and its historic buildings while the old neighbourhoods and their humble houses are a call back to the 19th century.