At the crossroads of Eastern Mediterranean!
- Crete, introduction
- The coastline
- Environmental protection
- Climate and products
- Cities and people
- Getting there
- History - The name
- The history B.C.
- The history A.D.
Beautiful Crete! Historic and famous, modern and traditional! Between the Aegean and Libyan Sea! At the crossroads of the Eastern Mediterranean!
Cities and ports, picturesque villages, natural beauty! Peninsulas and bays, beaches and small islands near the shore! High mountains and plateaus, caves and gorges! Plains of fertile land! Oil, wine and products of the famous Cretan diet! And 'raki' during your visit to this hospitable land!
Crete ! A long history! Minoan Culture! Knossos! Archaeological and historical sites, monasteries and Venetian castles! Conquerors and ongoing uprisings for freedom! Birthplace of great people!
Crete ! The great tourist destination! It takes time to know the entire island. But worth every minute!
Crete is located in the southern Aegean Sea. The Cretan Sea is to the north of the island, Carpathian Sea to the east, Libyan Sea to the south and Myrtoon Sea to the west.
Crete covers an area of 8,336 sq km and is Greece’s largest island, the 5th largest in the Mediterranean and 11th in Europe.
Its shape is elongated from west to east with a length of 255 km. The greatest width is 55 km in the central part from the Cape Dion to Cape Lithino and the least, 12 km to the east at the Isthmus of Ierapetra.
Mountains and gorges
Crete is mountainous. The land is formed by three massifs. From west to east, the White Mountains (2,452 m), Ida or Psiloritis (2,456 m) and Dikti (2,148 m). Eight peaks are over 2,000 m and twelve over 1,500 m.
The Cretan mountains are rich in beauty and morphological formations; valleys and plateaus, gorges and caves.
One of its main features is the large fertile plateaus, such as Omalos, Nida and the Lassithi Plateau.
The island’s caves are also known from antiquity, especially the Idaeon 'Andron' (Cave), where according to mythology Zeus was born. In Diktaeon 'Andron', the god grew up protected from his father Saturn, who ate his children.
gorges are also magnificent. The most famous, the Samaria Gorge is a national park and a popular destination for hikers from around the world. The most famous of the other gorges are the Imbros Gorge, the Kourtaliotiko, the Platania and the Gorge of the Dead.
Crete has no large rivers. The largest are Ieropotamos, Kiliaris, Anapodiaris, Almyros and the Great River. There are two small lakes; both on the west, in Chania, Kournas and Aghia. On the east , Voulismeni Lake on the coast at St. Nicholas is part of the sea.
Between the mountains and in the coastal areas, there are fertile plains. The largest is the plain of Messara in the central part to the south.
The coastline of Crete is 1,046 km.long. The coastline is jagged forming bays, coves and many capes. The north and west coasts are more irregular, less, in the east and south. There are eighty-one islets surrounding Crete. To the south, the island of Gavdos, the southernmost point of Europe.
The coast on the northern edge of Crete is uniquely shaped. An oblong peninsula, Gramvoussa, extends into the sea ending at the islet Wild Gramvoussa. On the western side, is Gramvoussa Bay. To the south, on the west coast of Crete are Livadia, Sphinari and other bays with beautiful beaches and numerous capes and islets.
East of Gramvoussa, another elongated peninsula, Rodopou , stretches to Cape Spatha, the northernmost edge of Crete. The two peninsulas enclose the Gulf of Kissamos. In the cove is the town and port of Kastelli or Kissamos.
East of Rodopou, there is another large peninsula, the historical Akrotiri. Between the two peninsulas is the Gulf of Chania. In the eastern cove, at the narrow point of the Akrotiri peninsula, is the city of Chania. On the other side, in the cove of an amazing bay formed by the southern coast of Akrotiri and the northern coast of Crete, is the port of Souda, one of the safest natural harbors in the Mediterranean.
From Souda Bay, the coast reaches Cape Draepano to the east. There it turns south, forming Almyros Bay and continues east again almost in a straight line, passing the city and port of Rethymnon, and reaching Cape Stavros (Cross) in the center of Crete. A short distance from Cape Stavros, the coast turns south, forming the Gulf of Heraklion, where Crete's capital Heraklion is situated, with its busy port. The coast continues straight forming the Gulf of Malia and extends to Cape Aghios Ioannis (St. John). Here, it again turns south passing the famous Elounda Beach and the islet of Spinalonga island and forms the Gulf of Mirabellou, where the city and the port of Aghios Nikolaos is located. After taking a northeasterly direction, stretches to the Sitia Bay where the town and harbor of Sitia is situated and ends at Cape Sideros (iron), the northeastern tip of Crete.
South from Cape Sideros on the east coast is Vai beach with the famous palm forest. Further south are the bays Grandes, Karroubes and Zakros.
On the south coast there is only a large bay in the center, the Gulf of Messara but there are many small bays with beautiful beaches. The largest bay on the eastern side is Goudouras, from where the islet Koufonissi to the south.can be reached.,Ierapetra is the only city on the south coast, located on the western side. Its port is the departure point to the islet of Chryssi, famous for its beautiful beach. Further west are Myrtos, Arvi, Keratokambos, Tris Eklissies (Three Churches), Lendas and Kali Limenes up to Cape Lithino, the southernmost tip of Crete.
Here the coast turns north to the interior, passing the famous Matala and forms the large Gulf of Messara, where ends at the great Messara Plain of Crete. Situated in a cove on the Gulf is Aghia Galini where the coast turns west again; passing Aghios Pavlos, Plakias, Chora Sphakion, Aghia Roumeli, Soughia, Palaeochora, ending at the southwestern tip of Crete where the beautiful islet of Elafonissi is located.
Some natural areas of Crete and some of the small islands are protected areas for environmental reasons.The most famous area is the Samaria Gorge in Western Crete, which is a national park and nature reserve of global concern. Well-known is the Palm forest of Vai near Sitia in Eastern Crete, also protected. It is the largest natural palm forest in Europe.
Protected areas are also the Gorge Richti for the diversity of the landscape, the islet Elafonissi at the southwestern edge of Crete for the natural environment, the islets Dionyssades in the northeastern side near the Vai beach for its fauna and flora, and the islet Chrissi south of Ierapetra, in which is the greatest Lebanese cedar natural forest in Europe.
Crete has a rich flora and fauna. Among the flowers the orchid Ophrys cretica stands out. There are two hundred different kinds of orchid and among them fourteen varieties of Ophrys cretica. There are also many herbs; among them some rare endemic species such as the Cretan diktamo and malotera.In the fauna of Crete famous is the Kri Kri (the Cretan ibex), a protected species living in the Gorge of Samaria and the islets Saint Theodore, Dia and Aghii Pantes on the north coast.
Protected species are also the sea turtles green turtle and the loggerhead turtle Caretta, which make their nests on the sandy beaches of Chania and Rethymnon on the north coast and the Gulf of Messara on the south coast.
Crete is situated in two climate zones. The largest part lies in the Mediterranean zone and has a temperate climate. The southern part lies in the North African zone with higher temperatures.In summer the average temperature ranges from 25 to 30 degrees Celsius. There are also hotter days but usually the average temperature is lower than in mainland Greece.
On the south coast and in the Messara Plain, there are more sunny days and higher temperatures during summer.
In winter the weather is fairly mild and wet. Rains are frequent mainly in the western region. Often, it snows in the mountains but rarely in the lowland areas.
The atmosphere can be quite humid. The relative humidity depends on the distance of a place from the sea.
Climatic conditions favored the development of agriculture since antiquity. Cretan olive oil and wines are famous. Other main products are also fruits and vegetables. The climate in the south on the Messara Plain promotes the production of excellent quality products throughout the year. Crete is renowned for its cheeses, such as myzethra, anthotyros and graviera , as well as the island’s famous Cretan honey. These products, together with legumes and nuts, create the famous Cretan diet, which, after research, was identified as the most appropriate diet internationally for health and well-being.
Crete and the surrounding islands comprise one of the thirteen administrative regions of Greece. The Region of Crete consists of four regional areas. From west to east, they are Chania, Rethymnon, Heraklion and Lassithi. With the recent administrative reform, the municipalities of the island are twenty-four.According to the 2011 census, Crete has 621,340 inhabitants. There are six cities, which are all ports, five on the north coast and one on the south coast.
Heraklion in central Crete, is the capital and largest city, with 130,914 inhabitants. The center of western Crete is Chania, with 53,373 inhabitants, as well as Rethymnon with 27,868 inhabitants.
The center of Eastern Crete is Aghios Nickolaos , with 19,462 inhabitants. On the northwest coast is Sitia, with 14,338 inhabitants and on the southern coast Ierapetra with 23,707 inhabitants.
Crete retains the features of its cultural heritage where poetry and music have a special place, captured in the famous mandinades accompanied by the Cretan lyre and the lute. The Cretan dances like pentzozalis are spectacular.Cretans are very proud of their island and customs and this is reflected in daily life, even in traditional attire. Men often wear high boots, pants tucked into the boots up to knee, black shirt and a scarf wrapped around the head or the shoulders. A lot of space is needed to fully describe the manners and customs of the these islanders who are famous is their hospitality.
Crete is the birthplace of great personalities of politics, science and art. From the Renaissance - Vitsentzos Kornaros with Erotokritos, Georgios Hortatsis with Erofili, the painters of the great Cretan School, El Greco, who carried the flame of creation in Europe - until modern times - the grand politician Eleftherios Venizelos, the great twriter Nikos Kazantzakis, the great poet Odysseus Elytis, Nobel Prize, and many other. The list of personalities goes on till nowadays.
Crete has daily connection by boat with Piraeus and by plane with Athens.The main harbors of the island are Heraklion, Souda, Chania, Rethymnon, Aghios Nikolaos and Sitia. There are also connections to Cyclades and Kassos, Karpathos and Rhodes. Kastelli of Kissamos is connected with ferry from Piraeus to the ports of southern Peloponnese and the islands of Kythera and Antikythera.
In Crete there are three airports; the international airport "Nikos Kazantzakis" in Heraklion and "Daskalogiannis" in Chania and the newer and smaller airport in Sitia with international charter flights, too.
There are flight connections with Athens, Thessaloniki, Santorini, Rhodes and Larnaca.
The road network is well developed, especially in the north, and leads almost everywhere. The northern main road connects the major cities.
In the cities there is public transportation. Intercity buses connect the major cities between them and with the towns and villages. (KTEL Heraklion - Lassithi and KTEL Chania - Rethymnon).
As in all areas with great ancient tradition, so in Crete mythology has its own view of the origin of the name of the island along with the history and etymology. But again there are different versions.Crete was named one of the Hesperides, as one of the nymphs who married Ammon Zeus. Crete was also called the wife of King Minos. The son of Zeus and the nymph Ida was named Cres. The highest mountain of Crete has the name of her mother.
The island was first mentioned as Kaptara in texts of 18th century BC of the Assyrian city of Mari. Later was referred in neo-Assyrian lists and in Bible as Kaphtor. Much more famous is the name Keftiu given by the ancient Egyptians. These names resemble the name of the island in the Minoan era.The current name appears during the Mycenaean era in Linear B. In the ancient Greek language the name Crete is first mentioned in Homer's Odyssey. The etymology is unknown. There is a view that is derived from the Louvean word kursatta (kursawar means island and kursattar means cutting or sliver). In Latin the name was Creta.
Of particular interest are the adventures of the name in the Arabic occupation of the island, as well as later during the Venetian rule.
Initially, the Arabic name of Crete was Iqrīṭiš. After the occupation of the island by the Arabs of Andalusia and the establishment of the Emirate of Crete, the new capital in the center of the northern coast named Rabḍ al-ḫandaq, meaning Chandax , due to the large ditch (chandax) that surrounded the fortifications.
Crete is a region with a rich mythology. Homer, who first mentioned the island, he says, "Zeus gave birth to Minos first, who ruled the island."
Zeus was born in the Idaeon Andron. When he grew up, one of his many loves was Europe. He kidnapped her from Phoenicia and they went to Crete; under the evergreen plane tree of the ancient city of Gortys they made love. The plane tree of Gortys still exists.
Poseidon got angry and made Pasiphae fall in love with the beautiful bull. Pasiphae hid in a wooden figurine of a cow made by Daedalus, satisfied her passion and gave birth to Minotaur , half man and half bull. Minos put Minotaur in Labyrinth built by Daedalus, and forced the Athenians to send every year ten adolescent boys and ten girls to feed the beast. The sacrifice continued until Theseus came from Athens, killed the Minotaur and with the help of Ariadni came out from the Labyrinth.Well known is also the myth of the escape of Daedalus and his son Icarus from Crete with wings made of wax by Daedalus.
According to mythology, other caves of Crete were also used for the upbringing of Zeus, especially Diktaeon A ndron.
There are also other myths about the father of the Olympian gods. Once, when he saw his compatriots hunting his favorite wild goats, he became angry and with one of his thunderbolts created a huge sea lizard to punish them. After request of Neptune, changed his mind, threw two nuts, and when the lizard turned to eat, threw against it another thunderbolt. The lizard was petrified and turned to islet of Dia, seen from Knossos. Also petrified the two nuts became the isles Paximadi (Nut) and Petalidi.
Artemis and Apollo were born in the islet Paximadia near Agia Galini. Their mother Leto was worshiped at Phaestos. Athena was washed in the lake Voulismeni in the bay of Mirabellou.
No animals are dangerous to humans in Crete and this due to Hercules, who in one of his labors came to the island and took the Cretan bull to the Peloponnese. By the way, to honor the birthplace of Zeus, cleansed the island from dangerous animals. In Crete there are no bears, wolves, jackals, and poisonous snakes. In newest years Cretans believed that the island had been cleared by the Apostle Paul.
Crete has been inhabited since the Paleolithic Age. The first human settlement dates from 130.000 years ago.
The Bronze Age on the island the famous Minoan civilization was developed, the first European civilization.
Large and in key geographical position Crete had during its long history an important role in the historical evolution in the Eastern Mediterranean, especially from Roman times onwards. After the Romans came the Byzantines, then the Arabs, again the Byzantines, then the Venetians and the Turks.
During the Venetian and Ottoman domination Cretans rebelled repeatedly. After a brief period of autonomy from 1897 to 1913, Crete was united with Greece.
Let's look at the most important events of this great historical route.
7000 BC First inhabitants of Asia Minor or North Africa; dwell in stone houses and caves. Discoveries in the caves of Ilithyia, Stravomyti, Ellenospelaeou (weapons, tools, pottery, knives, stone and bone axes and objects of worship dedicated to the goddess of fertility).
Neolithic settlements found in Knossos, Kephala, Mangassa and Trapeza.
2600 BC Colonists from Asia Minor and Egypt settled on the coast; living with the natives, population growth; first commercial contacts.
2000 BC Continuous growth of trade with the Cycladic islands, mainland Greece, Asia Minor, Cyprus and Egypt; economic development, the first urban centers around the palaces of rulers, beginning of the Minoan Civilization.
1900 BC First palaces at Knossos, Phaestos, Malia, and Kato Zakros.
Reconstruction of the palaces; Cretan domination in sea, foundation of colonies; edge of the Minoan civilization centered on the palace of Knossos. Complete lack of fortifications. Palaces in Malia, Zakros, Phaestos and elsewhere as local centers of administration and trade control of Knossos. Main activity shipping and trade followed by agriculture, animal husbandry, weaving and pottery.
1450 BC Eruption of the volcano of Thera (Santorini), destruction on a large area around; despite the view that the end of Knossos was due to the eruption, historically the Minoan Civilization fell gradually in decline, while the rising of Achaeans and the Mycenaean Civilization started. The Achaeans arrived in Crete, prevailed and occupied Knossos.
1380 BC A large earthquake destroyed the palace of Knossos, the end of the Minoan civilization.
Achaeans and Dorians
1200 BC Mycenaean era; powerful fleet, pirate raids in the eastern Mediterranean. Crete involved in the Trojan War; its ships led by King Idomeneus, son of Deucalion and grandson of Minos.
1000 BC The Dorians in Crete settled at Knossos, Phaestos, Gortys, Tylissos, Hersonissos, Cydonia and other cities. The natives resorted to awkward areas of Central and Eastern Crete. The prevalence of Dorian led to oligarchy; similarities of Cretan society with Spartan.
700 BC Foundation in Crete city-states as everywhere in Greece; more than a hundred; major Gortys, Phaestos, Knossos, Ierapytna (today Ierapetra), Cydonia, Aptera, Lato; cultural and artistic flourishing.
500 BC Start of conflicts between cities led to decline; the cities of Crete not involved in wars in mainland Greece.
216 BC King of Macedonia Philip the 5th proclaimed as the islands’ protector by the cities of Crete. Influence of Ptolemaeus, King of Egypt, too.
Cretan War, the friendly to Macedonia cities of Ierapytna and Oloundas defeated by Knossos, an ally of Rhodes and Rome.
71 BC Age of Mithridatic Wars, Rome opponent of King Mithridates of Pontus followed by Greek cities; involvement of Crete, attack by Roman general Marcus Antonius named Cretan.
69 BC Quintus Caecilius Metellus against Crete with three legions; biennial hard war.
67 BC End of the last resistance in Ierapytna, Metellus conquered the whole island surnamed Cretan. Crete a Roman province with Cyrene (Creta et Cyrenaica). Beginning of a long period of peace and prosperity, major public works of the Romans; Gortys, the only city that was not destroyed in alliance with Rome, became capital; new development of Knossos, Phaestos and Cydonia. The League of Cretans still operating freely. The residents retained their language, manners and customs.
58 AD Teaching of Christianity by Titus, a disciple of the Apostle Paul.
First Byzantine era
297 Crete separated from Cyrenaica was included in Illyria. Later the Theme of Crete was created (Theme: Byzantine administration area).
365 Big earthquake in southern Greece, the Peloponnese and Crete.
467 An invasion by the Vandals.
623 A raid by the Slavs.
651 First invasion by the Arabs. Others followed.
732 The Diocese of Cree under the Patriarchate of Constantinople; Most important among the first big churches the basilica of St. Titus in Gortys.
Emirate of Crete
823 Raid and pillage by Andalusia Arabs under Abu Hafs with twenty ships.
824 Return of the Andalusia Saracens with forty ships, conquered of the island; establishment of the Emirate of Crete, a pirate state; capital the new city of Chandakas (Trench), a pirate base and a big bazaar of slaves, so named because of the large trench surrounding the fortifications; wild chase the Christian population; colonization by Arabs.
Failed attempts by the Byzantines to retake the island (825 to 826, 842 to 843, 902, 911, 949).
961 The Byzantine Nikeforos Phokas conquered Ghandakas, Crete released; installation of soldiers and citizens by the Byzantines in order to enhance the population, decreased significantly during the Arab occupation. Also installed spawn large families.
1204 The Fourth Crusade changed purpose and route, the Franks in Constantinople; Frankish rule in Greece. Crete was granted to Boniface of Montferrat, who sold it to the Venetians, but was conquered by the Genoese; war between Genoa and Venice.
1212 Prevalence of Venice; large fortifications (Gramvoussa, Rethymnon, Spinalonga Kazarma). Chandakas, now Heraklion, the best fortified city of the Eastern Mediterranean was called Candia, a name that prevailed for the island, too. Nine Cretan revolts from 1212 until 1363.
1363 Revolution of the Cretans in cooperation with the Venetian colonists led to a short-lived state with the name Republic of St. Titus; suppression of the revolution, wild reprisals; tough Venetian rule but cultural growth in the 16th and 17th centuries; flourishing of Cretan literature (Erotokritos by Vitsentzos Kornaros, Erofili by George Hortatsis) and painting (Cretan School, El Greco).
1644 Turkish expedition, the city of Chania occupied.
1645 The Turks in Rethymnon; preparations for the siege of Heraklion; great oppression of the Christian population; revolution in 1692.
1715 The Venetians ceded their last outposts on the island. Many Cretans left to other areas of Venice at the end of Turkish-Venetian Wars.
1770, Easter Revolution of Daskalogiannis, ship owner from Sfakia to whom the Russian Orlov brothers had promised help when they instigated the failed Greek revolt during the Russo-Turkish war from 1768 to 1774. The Russian fleet never reached Crete and Daskalogiannis surrendered and skinned alive by the Ottoman authorities. Today the international airport of Chania is named after him.
1821, June The Cretans revolted as almost everywhere in Greece during this year.
1822, May Egyptian army arrived.
1824 Suppression of the revolution; harsh reprisals against the Cretans.
1825 New revolution, Cretans returned from Greece occupied the fort of Gramvoussa.
1830 While almost the entire island is in the hands of the rebels, the London Protocol left it outside of the independent Greek state. European fleet forced the Cretans to accept it. The sultan granted Crete to Muhammad Ali of Egypt for 20 million piastres.
1840 After a failed attempt by Muhammad Ali against the sultan, Crete back to the Ottoman rule.
Revolutions of the Cretans (1841, 1858, 1866 to 1869).
1878 Constitutional Charter of Chalepa; violations of the Charter, new rebellion.
Union with Greece
1889, 1895, 1897 New revolts.
1898, August 25 Hundreds of Greeks, the British consul and seventeen British guards were massacred by Turkish mob in Chania; fleets of Britain, France, Russia and Italy arrived in the island, expelling of the Turkish forces; provisional government by the Committee of four admirals.
November Autonomous Cretan State founded under Ottoman suzerainty; garrison of an international military force.
December 9 Prince George of Greece took over as High Commissioner.
1905 Mutiny broke out in Therissos.
1906 Prince George replaced by Alexander Zaimis.
1908 , October 12 Abolition of the high commission, temporary government. Crete unilaterally declared union with Greece, raise of the Greek flag. Not recognized internationally.
1912, October 1 The 52 representatives of Crete accepted in the Greek Parliament.
1913, October 14 The flags of Great Powers and Turkey removed from Souda.
November 1 Greek-Turkish treaty of annexation of Crete in Greece.
December 1 King Constantine and Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos arrived in Crete and raised the Greek flag on the fortress of Firka.
Second World War1941, May 20 to 30 Battle of Crete; German attack, the first in the history great major military campaign exclusively from the air with paratroopers; occupation of the island after a vigorous resistance of the Cretan people and the soldiers of the British Expeditionary Corps. The losses of German paratroopers 7,000. Hitler prohibited any further use in large campaigns.