Charcoal –How it’s made traditionally.

Nederlands talige teksten

Written by: Julia Milaki
February ’17

the village of Agia is famous for its charcoal production

The village of Agia is very famous for its production of charcoal. Even nowadays, there still are young people who are interested in and are doing this job as their main business. It’s a seasonable profession, mostly during summer (May-November). During winter time the wood is collected, cut in the right size and let dry. Olive trees’ wood is mostly used on Crete since there are plenty of trees on the island.


charcoal made from the olive tree wood in specail burn houses

There are 2 different types of charcoal kilns (ovens); the open air and the brick wall kilns. In Agia the brick wall kilns are seen more often because it makes the procedure easier and faster. The wood is stocked in a pyramid style with an empty core in the middle. The core is filled with straw or even dry branches from the olive tree. Once the pyramid of wood reaches the top of the kiln and covers most of the space around it, they set fire in the core. Then they close the doors and let the fire expand. There are small holes all around the side walls of the kiln that let the steam off and also help the producers control the fire. Once the fire builds up, it produces steam and high temperatures. This is what makes the wood turn into charcoal and it takes around 7-10 days. Once all of the wood is burnt, the fire is put out with water and let dry for about 2 days. Then, the charcoal is put into boxes or backs and it is ready to be sold in the market.

You can see the charcoal burners
if you drive the following Routaki route…

  • Route 52.0

    Heraklion (Gazi) –

    Agia –


[Τσικνοπέμπτη] Tsiknopempti; the second Thursday before Carnival.

One of the main uses of charcoal on Crete is to create fire for a barbecue. By using charcoal you can start a fire only in a few minutes and have it ready for the grills. BBQ’s can be set up at any day and  time as long as they include a good company! (*Although be aware that open fires are not allowed by law during the summer months due to the risks of forest fires.)

There is one special day of the year that almost everybody has a BBQ at their house, even at their work place! It’s the second Thursday before Carnival day, also known as Tsiknopempti. On this day people mostly eat meat from the grill and the cooks in the house “burn” the food they are cooking so that the special smell fills the house. This sets off the official celebrations of the carnival.

charcoal is used everywhere on crete
lovely barbecue use with the family in the back yard
on Tsiknopempti huge fires are made with the use of charcaol

After Tsiknopempti comes Carnival – a time of laughter and fun!

Carnival is all about having fun, laughing, dancing, drinking and eating! That’s why people choose to wear funny costumes, cover their faces in masks, have face painting and tease other people.

dress up parties in Mochos after the Tsiknopempti
dress up parties all over Crete
carnaval parade in Rethymnon - picture of 2014
many years beautiful weather during carnaval

There is one special custom that combines charcoal and carnival and  it is widely known on Crete! If you find yourself around a BBQ company during carnival and you haven’t chosen to dress yourself up, you must expect from others to give you a special face painting! The only thing they need is some dust from the charcoal that is spread around your face and transforms you into a funny person.

It’s the easiest way to join the party and have more fun. You can either have a few stripes of charcoal dust or even cover all of your face with it. In some villages the custom of getting charcoal face painting can be a really big party including bbq, wine, hot soup and dj music. This happens for example in Mochos, a small mountain village south of the more known beachresort of Malia.  In other villages it’s a custom that older people insist on doing, since they believe that the black paint on their face, the dancing and singing is a way of keeping evil away.

facepainting with charcoal is done, when you don't dress up for carnaval
after carnaval is time for fourthy days of lent

Mardi Grass – ‘Clean Monday’ for the Greeks –

the beginning of Lent.

Also on the first day of lent [Καθαρά Δευτέρα]  in English translated  into ‘Clean Monday’ all the people have charcoal dust on their face as a habit of tradition. This ‘Clean Monday’ is in the orthodox church the same as Mardi Grass in the western churches. Carnival celebrations are over, meat is not consumed any more and the charcoal dust helps to keep the evil away and helps to be prepared for Easter!

What also may interest you:

the monastery of Myriokefala photographed driving Routaki route 32.0.0

Photograph an old monastery in route 32.0, south in the Rethymnon region.

visit CretAquarium while driving road trip 58.0.0

Visit CretAquarium while driving Routaki (wine) route 58.0.

visit the Kazantzakis museum in Routaki route 59.0.0

Explore the Nikos Kazantzakis museum in Myrtia during Routaki route 59.0.