Crete island is the largest of all Greek islands and the fifth-largest island of the Mediterranean Sea. With a rich historical and cultural background, Crete is a wonderful place with distinctive differences from the rest of the country in terms of customs, daily life, and nature.
Crete was first inhabited in the prehistoric times. The island developed a marvelous civilization in the Bronze Age under the Minoans. In fact, with Minoan civilization, Crete became the first center of advanced civilization in Europe. Many towns were constructed, including Knossos Palace, Phaestos palace, Zakros palace, and others, with impressive buildings, sewage systems and rich decorations. The Minoan civilization was destroyed by the eruption of Thera (Santorini) in about 1,650 BC.
Later on, Crete was overrun by the Mycenaean civilization from mainland Greece and gradually declined till the Roman times, when Gortyn was made the capital of the island and Crete became a Roman province.
In the Byzantine times, Crete was frequently attacked by pirates and for a period of about 150 years (820-961 AD), it was conquered by Arabs.
In 1212 AD, while the Byzantine Empire was slowly declining, Crete was conquered by the Venetians, who left a very strong impact on the culture of the island. The Venetians built towns, castles, lighthouses all over Crete and they also gave a boost to arts.
Notable representatives of the Cretan Renaissance, as it is called, is the painter El Greco, the poet Vitsentzos Cornaros and many writers, artists and scholars. In 1669 AD, after many wars, Crete was conquered by the Ottomans. Many revolutionary attempts would break out in the following decades, with most important the revolution of Daskalogiannis, a shipowner from Sfakia, who eventually failed. Many Christian uprisings followed and finally in 1898, Crete became an autonomous Cretan State under Ottoman suzerainty.
After several attempts from Eleftherios Venizelos, a local politician and later prime minister of Greece, the island was joined in union with Greece on December 1st, 1943.
During World War II, the island was the field of the famous Battle of Crete in May 1941, when local resistant forces and the British Commonwealth forces were fighting the Nazi invasion. The German troops eventually managed to conquer Crete with paratroopers, however, the island was made a base for resistance forces to escape in Egypt.
Geography & Nature
Located on the southern side of Greece, Crete is surrounded by the Aegean Sea on the north and the Libyan Sea on the south. Its morphology is extremely mountainous and it is formed by three large groups of mountains: the White Mountains (or Lefka Ori), the Idi Range (Psiloritis) and the Dikti Mountains. These mountains resulted in the formation of valleys, plateaus, caves, lakes and many gorges. The most famous is the Samaria Gorge, the Gorge of Ha, the Gorge of the Dead and others.
The most distinctive part of the Cretan culture is Mantinades. These are rhyming couplets concerning love, satire or other themes. The music of Crete is performed with Lyra and laouto, two-stringed musical instruments and the most famous indigenous dance is Pentozali. Another distinctive custom of Crete is the vendetta, long-running fights between families that end with the killing of male members of each family.
Since the era of the resistance against the Ottoman Empire, the Cretans also have the tradition to keep firearms at home, although gun processing is strictly prohibited by the Greek law.
Moreover, very characteristic is the traditional dress of the Cretans that vary depending on the season and occasion. Almost all Cretan men wear a black shirt, for mooring. Since a family in Crete is so extended to include great-grandparents, third cousins and relatives-in-law, a local is theoretically in continuous mooring and wears black. This mooring may also be a leftover from the many wars in Crete.
Crete is among the most popular holiday destinations in Greece. It has four prefectures: Chania, Rethymno, Heraklion, Lassithi, although most tourists distinguish the island in western and eastern Crete. The most tourist organized places in Crete are found close to Chania Town, Heraklion Town, and Elounda and offer many hotels and accommodation. However, a drive around the island will bring you to wonderful little places and villages, amazing nature and virgin beaches. A great way to visit Crete, is with an island hopping tour combining Santorini.