Crete (Greek: Κρήτη Kríti; [kriti]) is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, the fifth-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, and one of the thirteen administrative regions of Greece. It forms a significant part of the economy and cultural heritage of Greece while retaining its own local cultural traits (such as its own poetry, and music). Crete was once the centre of the Minoan civilization (c. 2700–1420 BC), which is currently regarded as the earliest recorded civilization in Europe.
Greece and Crete
View of Psiloritis
View of the Ha Gorge
Main article: Geography of Greece
Crete is the largest island in Greece and the second largest in the eastern Mediterranean Sea (after Cyprus). It is located in the southern part of the Aegean Sea separating the Aegean from the Libyan Sea.
The island has an elongated shape: it spans 260 km (160 mi) from east to west, is 60 km (37 mi) at its widest point, and narrows to as little as 12 km (7.5 mi) (close to Ierapetra). Crete covers an area of 8,336 km2 (3,219 sq mi), with a coastline of 1,046 km (650 mi); to the north, it broaches the Sea of Crete (Greek: Κρητικό Πέλαγος); to the south, the Libyan Sea (Greek: Λιβυκό Πέλαγος); in the west, the Myrtoan Sea, and toward the east the Karpathian Sea. It lies approximately 160 km (99 mi) south of the Greek mainland.
Mountains and valleys
Crete is extremely mountainous, and its character is defined by a high mountain range crossing from west to east, formed by three different groups of mountains:
Gorges, rivers, and lakes
The island has a number of gorges, such as the Samariá Gorge, Imbros gorge, Kourtaliotiko Gorge, Ha Gorge, Platania gorge, the Gorge of the Dead (at Kato Zakros, Sitia) and Richtis Gorge and waterfall at Exo Mouliana in Sitia.
The rivers of Crete include the Ieropotamos River, the Koiliaris, the Anapodiaris, the Almiros, and Megas Potamos. There are only two freshwater lakes: Lake Kournas and Lake Agia, which are both in Chania regional unit. Lake Voulismeni at the coast, at Aghios Nikolaos, was formerly a sweetwater lake but is now connected to the sea, in Lasithi.
Main article: List of Greek islands
A large number of islands, islets, and rocks hug the coast of Crete. Many are visited by tourists, some are visited only by archaeologists and biologists. Some are environmentally protected. A small sample of the islands include:
• Gramvousa (Kissamos, Chania) the pirate island opposite the Balo lagoon
• Elafonisi (Chania), which commemorates a shipwreck and an Ottoman massacre
• Chrysi island (Ierapetra, Lasithi), which hosts the largest natural Lebanon cedar forest in Europe
• Paximadia island (Agia Galini, Rethymno) where the god Apollo and the goddess Artemis were born
• The Venetian fort and leper colony at Spinalonga opposite the beach and shallow waters of Elounda (Ag. Nikolaos, Lasithi)
• Dionysades islands which are in an environmentally protected region together the Palm Beach Forest of Vai in the municipality of Sitia, Lasithi
Main article: Climate of Greece
Crete straddles two climatic zones, the Mediterranean and the North African, mainly falling within the former. As such, the climate in Crete is primarily temperate. The atmosphere can be quite humid, depending on the proximity to the sea, while winter is fairly mild. Snowfall is common on the mountains between November and May, but rare in the low lying areas. While mountain tops remain snow-capped year long, near the coast snow only stays on the ground for a few minutes or hours. However, a truly exceptional cold snap swept the island in February 2004, during which period the whole island was blanketed with snow. During the Cretan summer, average temperatures reach the high 20s-low 30s Celsius (mid 80s to mid 90s Fahrenheit), with maxima touching the upper 30s-mid 40s.
The south coast, including the Mesara Plain and Asterousia Mountains, falls in the North African climatic zone, and thus enjoys significantly more sunny days and high temperatures throughout the year. There, date palms bear fruit, and swallows remain year-round rather than migrate to Africa. The fertile region around Ierapetra, on the southeastern corner of the island, is renowned for its exceptional year-round agricultural production, with all kinds of summer vegetables and fruit produced in greenhouses throughout the winter.
Crete is the most populous island in Greece with a population of more than 500,000 people. Approximately 42% live in Crete's main cities and towns whilst 45% live in rural areas.
Crete with its nearby islands form the Crete Region (Greek: Περιφέρεια Κρήτης), one of the 13 regions of Greece which were established in the 1987 administrative reform. With the 2010 Kallikratis plan, the powers and authority of the regions were redefined and extended. The region is based at Heraklion and is divided into four regional units (pre-Kallikratis prefectures). From west to east these are: Chania, Rethymno, Heraklion, and Lasithi. These are further subdivided into 24 municipalities.
The region's governor is, since 1 January 2011, Stavros Arnaoutakis, who was elected in the November 2010 local administration elections for the Panhellenic Socialist Movement.
Main article: Cities of Greece
View of Agios Nikolaos' port
Heraklion is the largest city and capital of Crete. The principal cities are:
• Heraklion (Iraklion or Candia) (130,914 inhabitants)
• Chania (Haniá) (53,373 inhabitants)
• Rethymno (27,868 inhabitants)
• Ierapetra (23,707 inhabitants)
• Agios Nikolaos (19,462 inhabitants)
• Sitia (14,338 inhabitants)
Main article: Culture of Greece
Dancers from Sfakia
Old man from Crete dressed in the typical black shirt
Crete has its own distinctive Mantinades poetry. The island is known for its Mantinades-based music (typically performed with the Cretan lyra and the laouto) and has many indigenous dances, the most noted of which is the Pentozali.
Cretan authors have made important contributions to Greek Literature throughout the modern period; major names include Vikentios Kornaros, creator of the 17th century epic romance Erotokritos (Greek Ερωτόκριτος), and in the 20th century Nikos Kazantzakis. In the Renaissance, Crete was the home of the Cretan School of icon painting, which influenced El Greco and through him subsequent European painting.
Cretans are fiercely proud of their island and customs, and men often don elements of traditional dress in everyday life: knee-high black riding boots (stivania), vráka breeches tucked into the boots at the knee, black shirt and black headdress consisting of a fishnet-weave kerchief worn wrapped around the head or draped on the shoulders (the sariki). Black is the color of mourning, and since Cretan families are notionally considered so extended as to include great-grandparents or second cousins (although they may have little actual contact) as well as all their respective in-laws, one is theoretically justified to be in continuous mourning for some relative or other, however distant. On festive occasions those who are not in mourning wear white, most notably white boots and headdress. In the small villages in the mountains some men unabashedly carry weapons including knives and guns which also appear at special occasions such as weddings.
Cretan society is well known for notorious family and clan vendettas which remain on the island to date. Cretans also have a tradition of keeping firearms at home, a tradition lasting from the era of resistance against the Ottoman Empire. Nearly every rural household on Crete has at least one unregistered gun. Guns are subject to strict regulation from the Greek government, yet the authorities turn a blind eye, accepting gun possession as their tradition.
Fauna and flora
The Kri-kri (the Cretan ibex) lives in protected natural parks at the gorge of Samaria and the island of Agios Theodoros.
The moorish gecko crawls across walls when it gets dark.
A pair of cicadas, commonly found on the island.
The loggerhead sea turtle nests and hatches along the beaches of Rethymno and Chania and the gulf of Mesara.
The Ophrys Cretica orchid
Crete is isolated from mainland Europe, Asia, and Africa, and this is reflected in the diversity of the fauna and flora. As a result the fauna and flora of Crete have many clues to the evolution of species. There are no animals that are dangerous to humans on the island of Crete in contrast to other parts of Greece. Indeed, the ancient Greeks attributed the lack of large mammals such as bears, wolves, jackals, and poisonous snakes, to the labour of Hercules (who took a live Cretan bull to the Peloponnese). Hercules wanted to honor the birthplace of Zeus by removing all "harmful" and "poisonous" animals from Crete. Later, Cretans believed that the island was cleared of dangerous creatures by the Apostle Paul, who lived on the island of Crete for two years, with his exorcisms and blessings. There is a Natural History Museum operating under the direction of the University of Crete and two aquariums - Aquaworld in Hersonissos and Cretaquarium in Gournes, displaying sea creatures common in Cretan waters.
The Prince of the Lilies (Knossos, c. 1550 BC)
Fresco fragment of a dancing woman (Knossos, 1600–1450 BC)
A Byzantine attempt to take back Crete ca. 828, as depicted by Ioannes Scylitzes (see Skylitzes Chronicle)
Main article: History of Crete
Hominids settled in Crete at least 130,000 years ago. In the later Neolithic and Bronze Age period, under the Minoans, Crete had a highly developed, literate civilization. It has been ruled by various ancient Greek entities, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Emirate of Crete, the Republic of Venice and the Ottoman Empire. After a brief period of autonomy (1897–1913) under a provisional Cretan government, it joined the Kingdom of Greece. It was occupied by Nazi Germany during the Second World War.
Main article: Prehistoric Crete
The first human settlement in Crete dates before 130,000 years ago, during the Paleolithic age.
Settlements dating to the aceramic Neolithic in the 7th millennium BC, used cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and dogs as well as domesticated cereals and legumes; ancient Knossos was the site of one of these major Neolithic (then later Minoan) sites. Other neolithic settlements include those at Kephala, Magasa, and Trapeza.
Main article: Minoan civilization
Crete was the center of Europe's first advanced civilization, the Minoan (c. 2700–1420 BC). This civilization wrote in the undeciphered script known as Linear A. Early Cretan history is replete with legends such as those of King Minos, Theseus, and the Minotaur, passed on orally via poets such as Homer. The volcanic eruption of Thera devastated the Minoan civilization.
Main article: Mycenean Greece
Beginning in 1420 BC, the Minoan civilization was overrun by the Mycenean civilization from mainland Greece. The oldest samples of writing in the Greek language, as identified by Michael Ventris, is the Linear B archive from Knossos, dated approximately to 1425–1375 BC.
Main article: Creta et Cyrenaica
Crete was involved in the Mithridatic Wars, initially repelling an attack by Roman general Marcus Antonius Creticus in 71 BCE. Nevertheless, a ferocious three-year campaign soon followed under Quintus Caecilius Metellus, equipped with three legions and Crete was finally conquered by Rome in 69 BCE, earning for Metellus the title "Creticus". Gortyn was made capital of the island, and Crete became a Roman province, along with Cyrenaica that was called Creta et Cyrenaica. When Diocletian redivided the Empire, Crete was placed, along with Cyrene, under the diocese of Moesia, and later by Constantine I to the diocese of Macedonia.
Byzantine Empire – first period
Main article: Byzantine Crete
Crete was separated from Cyrenaica ca. 297. It remained a part of the Roman Empire, usually referred to as the Byzantine Empire after 600 A.D. Crete was subjected to an attack by Vandals in 467, the great earthquakes of 365 and 415, a raid by Slavs in 623, Arab raids in 654 and the 670s, and again in the 8th century. Circa 732, the Emperor Leo III the Isaurian transferred the island from the jurisdiction of the Pope to that of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
Emirate of Crete
Main article: Emirate of Crete
In the 820s when Crete was part of the Byzantine Empire, it was captured by Andalusian Arabs led by Abu Hafs who established the Emirate of Crete. Byzantium launched a campaign to take the island back in 842 and 843 under Theoktistos with some success. Further Byzantine campaigns in 911 and 949 failed. In 960/1 Nikephoros Phokas' campaign successfully restored Crete to Byzantium.
Byzantine Empire – second period
Main article: Byzantine Crete
In 961, Nikephoros Phokas returned the island to Byzantine rule after expelling the Arabs. In 1204, the Fourth Crusade seized and sacked the Imperial capital of Constantinople. Crete was initially granted to leading Crusader Boniface of Montferrat in the partition of spoils that followed. However, Boniface sold his claim to the Republic of Venice, whose forces made up the majority of the Crusade. Venice's rival the Republic of Genoa immediately seized the island and it was not until 1212 that Venice secured Crete as a colony.
Main article: Kingdom of Candia
The Venetian port of Chania
From 1212, during Venice's rule, which lasted more than four centuries, a Renaissance swept through the island as is evident from the plethora of artistic works dating to that period. Known as The Cretan School or Post-Byzantine Art, it is among the last flowerings of the artistic traditions of the fallen empire. The most notable representatives of this Cretan renaissance were the painter El Greco and the writers Nicholas Kalliakis (1645–1707), Georgios Kalafatis (professor) (ca. 1652–1720), Andreas Musalus (ca. 1665–1721) and Vitsentzos Kornaros.
Under the rule of the Catholic Venetians, the city of Candia was reputed to be the best fortified city of the Eastern Mediterranean. The three main forts were located at Gramvousa, Spinalonga, and Fortezza at Rethymnon. Other fortifications include the Kazarma fortress at Sitia. In 1492, Jews expelled from Spain settled on the island.
In 1574–77, Crete was under the rule of Giacomo Foscarini as Proveditor General, Sindace and Inquistor. According to Starr (1942), the rule of Giacomo Foscarini was a dark age for Jews and Greeks. Under his rule, non-Catholics had to pay high taxes with no allowances. In 1627, there were 800 Jews in the city of Candia, about seven percent of the city's population.
Map of the major Venetian fortresses on the island of Crete, built during the time of the Venetian empire and the Renaissance.
Main articles: Ottoman Crete and Cretan Revolt (1866–1869)
Flag of the revolutionaries during the 1866 Cretan Uprising
Statue of Cretan revolutionary, Chania
The Ottomans conquered Crete in 1669, after the siege of Candia. Many Greek Cretans fled to other regions of the Republic of Venice after the Ottoman–Venetian Wars, some even prospering such as the family of Simone Stratigo (ca. 1733 – ca. 1824) who migrated to Dalamatia from Crete in 1669. Islamic presence on the island, aside from the interlude of the Arab occupation, was cemented by the Ottoman conquest. Most Cretan Muslims were local Greek converts who spoke Cretan Greek, but in the island's 19th century political context they came to be viewed by the Christian population as Turks. Contemporary estimates vary, but on the eve of the Greek War of Independence, as much as 45% of the population of the island may have been Muslim. A number of Sufi orders were widespread throughout the island, the Bektashi order being the most prevalent, possessing at least five tekkes. Many among them were crypto-Christians who converted back to Christianity in subsequent years, while many others fled Crete because of the unrest, settling in Turkey, Rhodes, Syria and elsewhere. By 1900, 11% of the population was Muslim. Those remaining were relocated in 1924 Population exchange between Greece and Turkey.
During Easter of 1770, a notable revolt against Ottoman rule, in Crete, was started by Daskalogiannis, a shipowner from Sfakia who was promised support by Orlov's fleet which never arrived. Daskalogiannis eventually surrendered to the Ottoman authorities who skinned him alive. Today, the airport at Chania is named after him.
Crete was left out of the modern Greek state by the London Protocol of 1830, and soon it was yielded to Egypt by the Ottoman sultan. Egyptian rule was short-lived and sovereignty was returned to the Ottoman Empire by the Convention of London on 3 July 1840.
Heraklion was surrounded by high walls and bastions and extended westward and southward by the 17th century. The most opulent area of the city was the northeastern quadrant where all the elite were gathered together. The city had received another name under the rule of the Ottomans, "the deserted city". The urban policy that the Ottoman applied to Candia was a two-pronged approach. The first was the religious endowments. It made the Ottoman elite contribute to building and rehabilitating the ruined city. The other method was to boost the population and the urban revenue by selling off urban properties. According to Molly Greene (2001) there were numerous records of real-estate transactions during the Ottoman rule. In the deserted city, minorities received equal rights in purchasing property. Christians and Jews were also able to buy and sell in the real-estate market.
Cretan State 1898-1908
The Historical flag of the Cretan State
Main article: Cretan State
Following repeated uprisings by the Cretan people, in 1889, 1895 and 1897, the Great Powers decided to restore order by governing the island temporarily through a committee of four admirals.
On the 25th of August 1898, a Turkish mob massacred hundreds of Cretan Greeks, the British Consul and 17 British soldiers. As a result, the Turkish forces were expelled from the island by the Great Powers in November 1898, and an autonomous Cretan State was founded, under Ottoman suzerainty. It was garrisoned by an international military force, and its High Commissioner was Prince George of Greece, who took charge on 9 December 1898.
Prince George was replaced as High Commissioner by Alexandros Zaimis in 1906, and in 1908, taking advantage of domestic turmoil in Turkey as well as the timing of Zaimis's vacation away from the island, the Cretan deputies unilaterally declared union with Greece. However, this was not recognised internationally until 1 December 1913.
World War II
Main articles: Battle of Crete and Cretan resistance
During World War II, the island was the scene of the famous Battle of Crete in May 1941. German paratroopers sustained almost 7,000 casualties, meeting fierce resistance from both locals and the British Commonwealth force, commanded by Lieutenant General Sir Bernard Freyberg. As a result, Adolf Hitler forbade further large-scale airborne operations. During the occupation, German firing squads were routinely used to execute male civilians, who were randomly gathered at local villages, in reprisal for the death of German soldiers, such as at Kondomari.
Minoan rhyton in form of a bull; Heraklion Archaeological Museum
Main article: Greek mythology
Crete has a rich mythology mostly connected with the ancient Greek Gods but also connected with the Minoan civilization.
The Idaion cave at Mount Ida was the birthplace of the god Zeus. The Paximadia islands were the birthplace of the goddess Artemis and the god Apollo. Their mother, the goddess Leto, was worshipped at Phaistos. The goddess Athena bathed in Lake Voulismeni. The ancient Greek god Zeus launched a lightning bolt at a giant lizard that was threatening Crete. The lizard immediately turned to stone and became the island of Dia. The island can be seen from Knossos and it has the shape of a giant lizard. The islets of Lefkai were the result of a musical contest between the Sirens and the Muses. The Muses were so anguished to have lost that they plucked the feathers from the wings of their rivals; the Sirens turned white and fell into the sea at Aptera ("featherless") where they formed the islands in the bay that were called Lefkai (the islands of Souda and Leon). Hercules, in one of his labors, took the Cretan bull to the Peloponnese. Europa and Zeus made love at Gortys and conceived the Kings of the Minoan civilization.
The labyrinth of the palace of Knossos has the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur where the Minotaur was slain by Theseus. Icarus and Daedalus were captives of King Minos and crafted wings to escape. King Minos became a judge of the dead in Hades.
Notable people from Crete
Main page: :Category:People from Crete
Notable people from Crete include:
• John Aniston, actor, best known for his role as Victor Kiriakis on the NBC daytime drama Days of our Lives, father of Jennifer Aniston
• Ross Daly, musician who has lived in Crete for most of his life, originally from Ireland
• Eleni Daniilidou, tennis player, born in Chania
• Maro Douka, author, born in Chania
• Odysseas Elytis, poet, awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1979, born in Heraklion
• Vitsentzos Kornaros, Renaissance author from Sitia, who lived in Heraklion (then Candia)
• El Greco, Renaissance artist, born in Fodele
• Nana Mouskouri, singer, born in Chania
• Georgios Samaras, football player, born in Heraklion
• Eleftherios Venizelos, former Greek Prime Minister, born in Chania Prefecture
• Nikos Kazantzakis, author, born in Heraklion
• Cevat Şakir Kabaağaçlı, a.k.a. the Fisherman of Halikarnas, Turkish writer