The White Mountains National Park is situated in a rocky, mountainous area in the northern part of Crete and is characterized by its numerous and impressive gorges. The main gorge, and the most interesting, among those in the central part of the White Mountains is the Gorge of Samaria, by which name the National Park is generally known. This is a perfect combination of natural elements, resulting in a fascinating landscape unique in the Mediterranean region.
The park was established in 1962 by a Royal Decree published in the Government Gazette 742/1962 and 103/1963. Conservation of the scientific, aesthetic, recreational and cultural values of the whole area was the main objective when the land for the park was bought from the inhabitants of the village of Samaria, located in the centre of the gorge and subsequently evacuated. The park covers an area of 4.850 ha, which includes the Gorge of Samaria (16 km long), with the adjacent forested slopes and precipices.
Steep rocky gorges, rushing mountain streams, several freshwater springs and ranges of low hills and valleys form a varied and dramatic topography, while the impressive geomorphological formations, unexplored caves, cultural remainders of the past and unique flora and fauna attract many visitors.
The landscape of the park is dramatic and has a great variety of morphological features.
The upper portions of the gorge are composed of Triassic limestone and dolomite, while the lower parts are of Jurassic limestone with layers of schist; in many places the exposed rock strata are folded and contorted. Some of the numerous caves shelter the wild goat (Capra aegagrus) while others, perhaps of special interest, are still unexplored.
The National Park contains many endemic species and plant associations and its richness and diversity of biotopes challenge botanists, ecologists and phytogeographers from all over the world.
The following main vegetation types have been observed in the park:
Ceratonietum-pistacietum lentisci. Quercetum cocciferae creticum, Poterietaliae spinosi (garigues), Conifer formation (Pinetum brutiae, Cupressetum sempervirentis horizontalis), Aceratea orientalis, Astragaletea cretici.
As a consequence of the above, the proposed Nature Reserve encompasses a designated special protection Area under the DIR/79/409/E.E.C, and two potential Sites of Community importance under the DIR/92/43/E.E.C for the conservation of natural habitats.