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Crete Travel Guide

Located οn the southern side of the Aegean Sea, with a sailing duration of around 8 hours 30 minutes from the port of Piraeus in Athens, Crete is the largest and most populous island in Greece and the fifth largest in the Mediterranean, after Sicily, Sardinia, Cyprus and Corsica. It has an area of 8,303 square meters and a population of 623,065 inhabitants (2011), while the length of its coastline reaches 1,046 km. The island is separated in 4 prefectures: Heraklion, Chania, Rethymno, and Lassithi.
The mythical Crete island is one of the most popular Greek destinations, thanks to its crystal clear sea, rugged but majestic mountains, great museums and ancient settlements, impressive caves and precipices, known since prehistoric times, brightly colored frescoes, mild climate, majestic coastal landscapes, enchanting coastal beaches and excellent hospitality. How could one forget the local cuisine?! Eating in Crete is really a journey in flavors, special ingredients and combinations that you would never expect to taste. Crete’s huge cultural, mythological and natural stock make the island a dreamy holiday paradise.

Here you will find information, photos and itineraries about all the Must see attractions, such as Chania, Rethymno, Heraklion, Matala, Knossos Minoan Palace and Spinalonga islet.
Other highlights of Crete include Elafonissi, Balos Lagoon, Psychro Cave, Arkadi Monastery
and many other exciting points of interest that will make the most of your holidays in Greece.

Crete can cover many of the quests of today’s demanding visitor whether travelling solo, with friends or family.
So, if you plan to visit Greece, this is your travel guide of the best things to see and do in the Crete.

Welcome to Crete!

Infomation about Crete

Crete is the largest and most populous island in Greece and the fifth largest in the Mediterranean, after Sicily, Sardinia, Cyprus and Corsica. It has an area of 8,303 m2 and a population of  623,065 inhabitants (2011), while the length of its coastline reaches 1,046 km.

Geomorphologically, it is characterized by the large mountain massifs of the White Mountains (Lefka Ori  2,453 m), Idi or Psiloritis (2,456 m), and Dikti (2148 m). The Dikti mountain range dominates the Lassithi plateau, the largest plateau in Crete, with a particularly rich history. Here is the Ideon Cave, the cave where Zeus was born, according to the Greek mythology.

The Cretan mountains form a – almost – continuous chain from west to east, running the entire length of the island and making it look much larger than it really is.

The territory of Crete

is mainly mountainous 52%, semi-mountainous 44% and lowland only 4% of the island, which is limited to small lowland lanes in coastal areas.

The intense terrain and the plateau create a large catchment area, creating many small rivers that flow mainly into southern Crete, into the Libyan Sea.So the natural environment of the island is quite interesting with many amazing gorges and wonderful beaches

The existence of a large part of relatively fertile semi-mountainous areas and the mild climate makes Crete a place of production of excellent agricultural products with very good and well-promoted brand, easily recognizable in international markets. Thus, in addition to traditional crops in olives, olive oil, wine, oranges, lemons, raisins, grains, tomatoes, potatoes, grains and honey, new crops such as avocados, kiwis, bananas have been developed.

Livestock and the production of quality cheese products are also a constant point of reference for Cretan gastronomy over the centuries.

The quality of its products and  the Cretan diet have made it synonymous with the Mediterranean diet and the island is now considered to be the centre of the Mediterranean diet.

Thus,  the income of the inhabitants of Crete would be said to come from mixed agritourism activities. Employment in the primary sector amounts to 15.4%, in industry and manufacture to 14.6%, while in services the percentage now reaches 70%.

The percentage of employment in services is very high as it includes employment in tourism.

Tourism for Crete plays an important role. Having three international airports and great investments in hotel infrastructure in combination with very important cultural resources and unsurpassed natural environment, Crete receives 21.74% (2017) of all foreign tourists in Greece, mainly with low cost flights, and holds 27% overnight stays (2017). These data make it the most popular Greek region for 2017 among foreign tourists.

This has created a number of public tourism hotspots, mainly in the northern developed coastline of the island (Malia, Hersonissos, Elounda, Heraklion, Rethymno, Chania, siteia) and, also, on the west and east coasts, while southern Crete is visited individually or in small groups interested in culture, history and the natural environment.

 Crete’s cultural resources are globally competitive

The history of Crete

We could separate its historical path in the following periods.

The Minoan, the first European civilization, flourished on the island during the Bronze Age (3000 BC – 1100 BC). During this period, large cities were created, imposing palaces were built, and Crete became a major naval power gaining a hegemonic position throughout the Mediterranean. They developed a writing system called Linear A. The decline of Minoan civilization in the 16th century BC. After a great natural phenomenon (earthquake or tidal wave or both, with the most probable catastrophic eruption of the volcano of Santorini) follows the Mycenaean domination of the island in the following centuries until the descent of the Dorians in 1100 BC. Then come the dark times (10th-9th century BC) and the predominance of the peoples of the sea in the eastern Mediterranean.

Crete in the classical era will not participate in the Persian and Peloponnesian wars, while in the Hellenistic era we have internal conflicts between the major cities of the island as well as external interventions by the Macedonians and the Rhodians. In 67 BC the island will become part of the Roman Empire.

During Roman times (67 BC – 330 AD) there is a transfer of administration from the northern part of Crete to the south, as Gortys will host the Roman Praetorium, and it is the place where the Apostle Titus will preach the Christian word. A temple will be built there in his honor in the 6th century AD.

With the transfer of the capital from Rome to Constantinople comes the second cultural coexistence in the Byzantine Empire with two distinct periods: the First Byzantine (330–826 AD) and the Second Byzantine (961–1204 AD). . During this Second Byzantine period, Crete became a place of monasticism, mainly to avoid the forced enlistment and heavy taxes of the Byzantine state.

The following Arab rule of the island will wipe it off the Byzantine map (826–961 AD), when the whole island and the port of Candax (Chandakas, present-day Heraklion) become the main base for Arab offensive expeditions to coastal areas of the Aegean. culminating in the capture of the city of Thessaloniki in the year 904 AD. The Arab settlement with the violent Islamizations lasted until the successful recapture of the island by the Byzantine emperor Nikiforos Fokas in 961 AD.

The fourth Venetian period of Crete (1204–1669 AD) coincides with the Crusader army’s (Frankish) conquest of Constantinople, so the island, now looted by the leader of the Fourth Crusade Boniface I of Montferrat, a King of Salonika, will be sold to Enrico Dantolo, the Doge of Venice. This Venetian-Cretan civilization will last until the Second Venetian-Turkish War (Cretan War:1645-1669), which officially ended in 1669, when Venetian settlers negotiated the surrender of Candia after the longest  ever siege in the world (for a total of 22 years).

This fifth Ottoman period (1669–1898 AD) will mark the last period of conquest of Crete. The Greek Revolution of 1821 will lead the Cretans to a revolutionary struggle against the Turks and a series of major massacres by the Ottomans in Heraklion in 1821 and 1828.

Then the martyrdom revolution of 1866 followed, culminating in the Holocaust of the Arkadi Monastery and that of 1878, which led to the favorable agreement of  Chalepa.

The great massacre of Christians in Heraklion, on the day of St. Titus in 1898, was followed by a British initiative and the whole island to move to a regime of transitional autonomy (1898–1913 AD) and finally to its final liberation and union with Greece in 1913. During this period, the personality of the Cretan politician Eleftherios Venizelos had a decisive contribution to the liberation of Crete and the expansion of the Greek borders.

Some mythological elements from the great Cretan mythology

The mythology of Crete is very rich with amazing world-famous symbolic elements.

On Mount Dikti in Crete, in the Ideon cave or Ideon Andron, Zeus, the father of the Gods and Humans, was born, the creator of the Greek dodecatheon, in which a large part of the Mediterranean population believed. In this sacred cave, Idaion or Diktaion Andron, according to ancient tradition, Rhea took refuge to give birth to Zeus (Jupiter). The Amalthea goat, which according to another legend was a Nymph, raised Zeus, while the Kourites covered the baby’s cry with the sounds of their weapons and their wild dancing so that his father Saturn would not hear it. Another legend says that Dikteion Andron was the place where Zeus (Jupiter) brought Europe, after kidnapping it from Phenicia. It is also said that Epimenides, the famous Cretan seer of the Archaic period, slept and had his visions in this cave for many years.

Crete has been mythologically identified with King Minos, from whom a great civilization that dominated the Mediterranean for more than a thousand years took its name.According to Greek mythology, Minos was the son of Zeus and Europe. After the capture of Europe by Phenicia, Zeus transported her to Crete. There she had three sons with her, Minos, Radamanthy and Sarpidon.Minos married Pasiphae and with her had four sons, Androgeos, Deucalion, Glafkos and Katreas, and four daughters, Akalli, Ariadne, Phaedra and Xenodiki.

Minos appears in Greek literature as the king of Knossos  as early as Homer‘s Iliad and Odyssey. . He reigned over Crete and the islands of the Aegean sea. He lived at Knossos for periods of nine years, where he received instruction from Zeus in the legislation which he gave to the island. He was the author of the Cretan constitution and the founder of its naval supremacy. Thucydides tells us Minos was the most ancient man known to build a navy.

During the Minoan period, the architecture of the cities developed and the palaces were huge buildings with dozens of rooms and thus the myth of the Labyrinth developed.

Closely connected with Minos and the Labyrinth is the myth of the Minotaur, a mythical creature portrayed in Classical times with the head and tail of a bull and the body of a man or, as described by Roman poet Ovid, a being “part man and part bull”. He dwelt at the center of the Labyrinth, which was an elaborate maze-like construction designed by the architect Daedalus and his son Icarus, on the command of King Minos of Crete. The Minotaur was eventually killed by the Athenian hero Theseus.

The bull in ancient Crete

The bull generally has a great place in Minoan Crete. It was considered a sacred animal and had a special place in the social and sporting events of the Cretans, especially the one of the Bull-leaping  (a form of non-violent bull fighting) in early spring in order to fertilize the land and regenerate vegetation. The sport, unlike bullfighting, did not require the killing of bulls. Its purpose was to highlight the courage and flexibility of the athletes. Four men and women were holding wooden bats and walking around the bull, one of them was trying to climb on the back of the animal and holding his horns was performing various acrobatic exercises.

On the Athenian stage Minos is a cruel tyrant, the heartless exactor of the tribute of Athenian youths to feed to the Minotaur; in revenge for the death of his son Androgeus during a riot.

Another myth related to Minos is that of the young Vritomartis, a young and beautiful girl from ancient Gortys, nymph of Artemis. As she was hunting one day, Minos saw her and fell in love with her. He chased her for 9 months, but she was hidng and, in the end, Vritomartis, in order to escape, fell into the sea from Mount Dikti.  Fishermen who were there rescued her.  Since then they have been protected by her. Vritomartis was also called Diktainna or Diktynna, from the mountain from which she fell into the sea. In Crete there were many of her sanctuaries, Dyktainna as they were called.

After his death, Minos became a judge of the dead in Hades together with Aeacus and Rhadamanthus. Rhadamanthus judged the souls of Asians, Aeacus judged Europeans, and Minos had the deciding vote.

Apart from Knossos during the Minoan period, there were many other cities, the most important of which were Phaistos, Gortys, Zakros, Falassairna, Eleftherna, Aptera, Lato, Kydonia, Tylisos, Lykastos, Rytion, Lyktos and many others (a total of 100-centipolis).

From the catalogue of the ships of Homer we see that the Cretans participated in the campaign against Troy, along with the other Greeks, with eighty (80) ships.  Their leaders were Idomeneas and  Mirionis.

During the European Renaissance, a Cretan school of painting developed, introducing a special common style of hagiography. Its prominent representative in the 16th century was Dominicos Theotokopoulos (El Greco), who later acted in Italy (Venice, Rome) and Spain (Madrid-Toledo).

Special mention should be made of Cretan literature during the Venetian period, with the most important works being Erotokritos by Vicenzos Cornaros and Erofili by Georgios Chortatzis. Both poems have passed into popular tradition and remain extremely popular classics.