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  • crete-1

    crete-1

General Info

Crete is the fifth, in size, island in the Mediterranean sea and the largest of Greece. A blessed land, where morphologic and climatic features create a delicate balance, it is the birthplace of the Minoan civilization, the first civilization in Europe. It is characterized by its remarkable wealth in culture, history, tradition, gastronomy culture, nature and tourist infrastructures. This is why it is an international holiday destination with millions of visitors every year who travel to it again and again. Crete is approximately 260 km long and 60 km wide and consists of four prefectures: Lasithi, home of breathtaking beaches with crystalline water, beautiful small towns and luxurious hotel resorts; Heraklion is a region with spectacular archaeological treasures, picturesque villages, and vast olive groves and valleys of vineyards; Rethymno, located between the White Mountains and Mt Psilorítis (called “Ídi” as well), offers gorgeous mountainscapes, amazing beaches, wild caves, historic monasteries and monuments, traditional mountain villages and luxurious holiday resorts; the region of Chania, the westernmost part of the island, is a favourite destination for nature and beach enthusiasts from around the world. Although tourism is extremely important to the economy of the island, agriculture still remains its most important industry. Crete`s morphologies can be divided into the east, the west and the middle part of the island: the west is the greenest part with forests; the east is a bit drier but with a plethora of flowers and very beautiful wild nature, while the middle section, south of Heraklion, is a patchwork of endless olive trees and vegetable gardens. Crete is the birthplace of many poets, musicians, writers, artists, radicals, inspiring political leaders and heroic figures. One of them is Alexis Zorbas, whose real name was George, the protagonist of the famous novel of Nikos Kazantzakis, the most famous Greek author, who was also born on the island. Zorba the Greek was made into a very successful film, staring Anthony Quinn.

History

According to Mythology, Crete was the place where the ruler of Olympus,the God Zeus, grew up. This is why he was more worshipped on the island than in other Greek parts, as he was considered to be king Minos` father. There is an impressive number of myths related to Crete: Here the beast Minotaur was defeated by hero Theseus of Athens, and here Daedalus and Icarus worked before their pioneering flight with wings made of wax. Minoan, the first great civilization of Europe, was born on Crete, taking its name after its most famous king, Minos. The Minoan period reached its peak from the 16th to the 14th century B.C. and excavations have revealed, among other important findings, stones with a peculiar form of writing, Linear A, which has not yet been decoded by scientists. This strongly indicates that Crete is the first region in the Greek peninsula to invent writing. The Minoan period ended in the 15th century BC, probably because of natural disasters such as earthquakes and the explosion of the volcano in Thera – Santorini.
After this, Crete was invaded repeatedly - starting with the Mycenaeans, then the Dorians, and later the Romans. The island flourished again after the Dorian Greeks settled in large numbers on it and established city-states. Among the most powerful of the cities ( according to Homer, more than a hundred) were Knossos and Cydonia (modern Chaniá). Although important as a trade centre, Crete played no significant part in the history of classical Greece. It became a pirate haven in the 3d cent. B.C. and was conquered (68 B.C.–67 B.C.) by the Romans under Quintus Metellus. The fall of the Roman Empire put the island under the rule of the Byzantine Empire and this is when Christianity was established. In the 8th - 9th century the Arabs conquered Crete, and then it was taken back by Byzantium and eventually sold to the Venetians in the early 13th century. The Venetians prevailed until 1669 when the island surrendered to the Turks. In 1898 Crete was placed under international administration and in 1913 it was officially unified with Greece. In the first year of World War II, Crete was used as a British military and naval base. The British and Greek forces on the Greek mainland evacuated to the island in 1941, but they were quickly overwhelmed by the Germans in a large-scale airborne invasion, the first of its kind in war history. The heroism of the Cretans played a crucial role in delaying Europe’s occupation by the Nazi’s and was admired by the whole world.

Must see

The ruins of the Palace of Knossos, constructed around 2000 BC and according to Greek myths, home to the mythical beast Minotaur of King Minos, were uncovered in 1900 by the British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans. His substantial reconstruction of the site is considered a bit controversial but it surely helps the visitors visualise what the palace looked like during its heyday. Heraklion Archaeological Museum has an extensive Minoan collection from such sites as Knossos, Phaestos, Zakros, Malia and Agia Triada, with figurines, sarcophagi, pottery, jewellery and of course some internationally famous frescoes, which should not be missed. The old town of Chania offers an atmospheric mix of Ottoman and Venetian architecture. Among the town's impressive buildings are the Venetian lighthouse and former mosque, the colourful cruciform market, the synagogue and the great batteries and ship sheds along the harbour. Rethymno with its delightful harbour, impressive Venetian fortress and charming Venetian-Ottoman quarter is a fascinating picturesque town. Dikteon Cave, where Rhea hid the newborn Zeus from Cronos, his angry father, was for many centuries, from the Middle Minoan period until approximately the 1st century AD, a place of cult worship – now it also features stalactites and stalagmites. Agios Nicolaos, a secret holiday destination for Walt Disney in the early 1960s, is a very attractive former fishing village, with a splendid harbour and a small, picturesque lake connected to the sea. The Historical Museum of Crete, in the city of Heraklion, chronicles Cretan life during the Middle Ages and the Modern period – its major highlights are two paintings by El Greco, a Cretan, and one of the few members of the pantheon of great painters: The Baptism of Christ and View of Mt. Sinai and the Monastery of St. Catherine. Apart from Heraklion, Chania and Rethymnon are also homes to spectacular archaeological museums and other very interesting sites.

Things to do

Crete offers a huge variety of hiking spots, the most famous of which is the Samaria gorge. At 16km, this spectacular creation of more than 14 million years of rain is the longest gorge in Europe, with a width that varies from 3m to 150m and vertical walls that reach 500m at their highest. The gorge of Samaria is also home to a large number of endangered species, the most famous of which is the Cretan wild goat, the kri-kri, as well as an incredible number of wild beautiful flowers. In the White Mountains, to the west, the visitor can experience the atmosphere of villages so metaphorically distant from the more modern, touristic part of the island that the locals consider even other Greeks as aliens. Cretan diet is known as one of the healthiest in the world, and it is characterized by the freshness and quality of its ingredients, the purity of taste and the use of greens and wild herbs and of course of olive oil, the island’s “liquid gold”. Eating out in Crete is thus a lot more than a great entertaining experience; it is a journey to the discovery of new tastes and mouth-watering combinations of high quality ingredients. Crete is famous for its olives and olive oil, snails, cheeses and cheese pastries, dakos, paximadia (rusks), stamnagathi (a kind of delicious green) and gamopilafo (wedding pilaf). Nightlife in Crete is spectacular and offers something for everyone. To call it vibrant is an understatement - tavernas, music venues, nightclubs, dance clubs and many more party places in and near Heraklion, Chania, Mallia and the rest of the island will ensure many an enjoyable night out. Elounda, a seaside town on Crete’s northwestern coast, is a very beautiful place that boasts many of the most exclusive resorts in Mediterranean. Very near there, Spinaloga is a small island, where in the 17th century the Venetians built a huge, forbidding fortress. There is also an abandoned leper colony where the international best seller "The Island" by Victoria Hislop is set. Tens of religious and cultural festivals take place all year long in Crete, which provide both locals and visitors an excellent opportunity to experience the unique Cretan way of celebrating.

Beaches and nature

Crete is a very big island with hundreds of beaches, so there is no doubt that most will the prefect one for them. All of these beaches offer crystal clear, refreshing waters, golden soft sand or smooth pebbles and one or more tavernas, perfect for a delicious local light (or not so light) meal. The better beaches tend to be in the eastern and western parts of the island and on the south coast. The ones on the coast of Agios Nikolaos in Lasithi prefecture are very popular not only because of their breathtaking beauty but also because the have been rated among the cleanest in Europe. Beaches to the southern coast are known for their soft sand and quiet atmosphere. Falassarna beach is probably the best on the island and one of the most famous of Europe. It is 1 km long, located on the North West coast, 60 kilometres west of Chania. It has soft golden sand and shallow, incredibly clear waters. On the southwest coast of the region of Chania, Elafonissi beach has turquoise shallow waters and sand of an unbelievable colour, white with a touch of pink, due to the thousands of broken shells. Balos, the most photographed beach on the island offers spectacular scenery with the combination of a large rocky hill in the middle and the limitless stretch of powder-like white sand that surrounds it - access is not very easy but it is definitely worth it. Frangokastello on the south coast, in the eastern part of the island, with its Venetian fortress, has a large lagoon with crystal clear water and soft sand. Vai is a very popular sandy beach surrounded by the only palm forest in Europe, with thousands of protected palm trees. Glyka Nera beach (meaning Sweetwater) is a long pebbly strand, surrounded by dramatic, breathtaking cliffs with access only by sea or a long hike. Kedrodasos beach is excellent for wind-surfing as well as kite-surfing because of the usually intense wind. Crete is also renowned for its unique natural beauty and diverse landscape. Spectacular mountain ranges marked with caves are sliced by dramatic gorges that reach the sea.

Need to know (practical info)

Crete is too big and too diverse to visit for just a couple of days. A week is the least one should spend on this majestic island, and it will be enough to see just one of its many sides of. Due to the fact that it is located more south than the rest of Greece, and is surrounded by a large stretch of sea, summer is longer there than anywhere else in the country. This is a gift for visitors, as it allows them to avoid the hot, crowded months (July and August) and explore the idyllic quiet days of May, September and October. There are five airports in Crete, three of them used for passenger flights: Heraklion, Chania in Akrotiri and Sitia airport. Both Greek Airlines have frequent flights from Athens and Thessaloniki to Iraklio and Chania, taking around 50 minutes. Iraklio also has flights to Rhodes. From Europe there are many direct charter flights that avoid the inconvenience of changing planes in Athens. There is a regular ferryboat service from the port of Piraeus in Athens to Heraklion, Rethymnon and Chania. From Crete there are also ferry connections to Santorini and many other Greek islands. If one plans to visit monasteries and churches, there is a dress code translated to “no shorts, bikinis or sleeveless shirts”. Capital of Crete is Heraklion city and the island has an area of 8,336 sq. km and a population of about 600,000 people. Cretans are very hospitable, although they may seem a bit rough on occasion, and try and maintain their culture and customs, particularly their strong musical and culinary traditions, and are very proud of their history and homeland. In Crete there are shops all over the island but the ones in the more secluded villages sell hard-to- find locally handmade ceramics, textiles and Cretan delicacies.

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