From New World Encyclopedia
Crete (Kriti)
Lefka Ori.jpg
Location of Crete (Kriti)
Coordinates: 35.21° N 24.91° E
Country Flag of Greece Greece
Capital and largest city Heraklion
 - Total 8,336 km² (3,218.5 sq mi)
Highest elevation 2,456 m (8,058 ft)
Population (2021)
 - Total 624,408[1]
 - Density 74.9/km² (194/sq mi)

Crete (Greek: Κρήτη, Kríti; Ancient Greek: Κρήτη, Krḗtē) is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, the fifth-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, after Sicily, Sardinia, Cyprus, and Corsica, and one of the 13 administrative regions of Greece. The capital and the largest city of Crete is Heraklion.

Historically, Crete was once the center of the Minoan civilization (circa 2700–1420 B.C.E.). The Minoan civilization was overrun by the Mycenaean civilization from mainland Greece. Crete was later ruled by Rome, then successively by the Byzantine Empire, Andalusian Arabs, the Venetian Republic, and the Ottoman Empire. In 1898 Crete, whose people had for some time wanted to join the Greek state, achieved independence from the Ottomans, formally becoming the Cretan State. Crete finally became part of Greece in December 1913.

Today, it forms a significant part of the economy and cultural heritage of Greece while retaining its own local cultural traits. Cretans are fiercely proud of their island and customs, such as its own poetry, and music, and men often wear elements of traditional dress. The island has much to offer tourists, from its beautiful beaches and geographical wonders, its abundant flora and fauna, to archaeological sites such as the Minoan Knossos that also has connections with Greek mythology. While tourism forms a significant part of its economy, agriculture also plays an important role with the result that Crete is one of the few Greek islands that can support itself independently without the tourist industry.


in hieroglyphs

The island was first referred to as Kaptara in texts from the Syrian city of Mari dating from the eighteenth century B.C.E.,[2] repeated later in Neo-Assyrian records and the Bible as (Caphtor). It was also known in ancient Egyptian as Keftiu, strongly suggesting some form similar to both was the Minoan name for the island.[3]

The current name of Crete is thought to be first attested in Mycenaean Greek texts written in Linear B, through the words 𐀐𐀩𐀳, ke-re-te (*Krētes; later Greek: Κρῆτες, plural of Κρής),[4] and 𐀐𐀩𐀯𐀍, ke-re-si-jo (*Krēsijos; later Greek: Κρήσιος),[5] "Cretan."[6][7][8]

In Ancient Greek, the name Crete (Κρήτη) first appears in Homer's Odyssey. Its etymology is unknown. One speculative proposal derives it from a hypothetical Luvian word *kursatta (cf. kursawar "island," kursattar "cutting, sliver").[9] In Latin, it became Creta.

The original Arabic name of Crete was Iqrīṭiš (Arabic: اقريطش < (της) Κρήτης), but after the Emirate of Crete's establishment of its new capital at ربض الخندقRabḍ al-Ḫandaq (modern Iraklion), both the city and the island became known as Χάνδαξ (Khandhax) or Χάνδακας (Khandhakas), which gave Latin and Venetian Candia, from which French Candie and English Candy are derived. Under Ottoman rule, in Ottoman Turkish, Crete was called Girit (كريت).

Physical geography

Greece and Crete.
Lefka Ori (White mountains).
View of Psiloritis.
Ha Gorge
The palm beach of Vai.

Crete is the largest island in Greece and the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. It is located in the southern part of the Aegean Sea separating the Aegean from the Libyan Sea.

Island morphology

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.

There are a number of peninsulas and gulfs on the north side of Crete, from west to east these include: Gramvousa peninsula, gulf of Kissamos, Rodopos peninsula, gulf of Chania, Akrotiri peninsula, Souda Bay, Apokoronas cape, gulf of Almiros, gulf of Heraklion, Aforesmenos cape, gulf of Mirabello, gulf of Sitia, and the Sideros peninsula. On the south side of Crete is the gulf of Messaras and Cape Lithinon.

Mountains and valleys

Crete is mountainous, and its character is defined by a high mountain range crossing from west to east, formed by six different groups of mountains:

  • The White Mountains or Lefka Ori 2,453 m (8,050 ft)
  • The Idi Range (Psiloritis) 2,456 m (8,060 ft)
  • Asterousia Mountains 1,231 m (4,040 ft)
  • Kedros 1,777 m (5,830 ft)
  • The Dikti Mountains 2,148 m (7,050 ft)
  • Thrypti 1,489 m (4,890 ft)

These mountains lavished Crete with valleys, such as Amari valley, fertile plateaus, such as Lasithi plateau, Omalos, and Nidha; caves, such as Diktaion and Idaion (the birthplace of the ancient Greek god Zeus); and a number of gorges.

The mountains have been seen as a key feature of the island's distinctiveness, especially since the time of Romantic travelers' writing. Contemporary Cretans distinguish between highlanders and lowlanders; the former often claim to reside in places affording a higher/better climatic and moral environment. In keeping with the legacy of Romantic authors, the mountains are seen as having determined their residents' resistance to past invaders, which relates to the oft-encountered idea that highlanders are "purer" in terms of less intermarriages with occupiers. For residents of mountainous areas, such as Sfakia in western Crete, the aridness and rockiness of the mountains is emphasized as an element of pride and is often compared to the alleged soft-soiled mountains of others parts of Greece or the world.[10]

Gorges, rivers, and lakes

The island has a number of gorges, including 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.[11]

The rivers of Crete include the Ieropotamos River, the Koiliaris, the Anapodiaris, the Almiros, and Megas Potamos.

There are only two natural 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 freshwater lake but is now connected to the sea, in Lasithi. Lake Voulismeni at the coast, at Aghios Nikolaos, was formerly a sweetwater lake but is now connected to the sea, in Lasithi. There are also several artificial lakes, including the artificial lake of Zaros located on the southern slopes of Psiloritis. There was a small wetland fed by the Votomos spring at the site, in 1987 the area was regenerated, creating the artificial lake from the spring waters that remained there.[12] Three artificial lakes created by dams also exist in Crete: the lake of Aposelemis Dam, the lake of Potamos Dam, and the lake of Mpramiana Dam.

Surrounding 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

Off the south coast, the island of Gavdos is located 26 nautical miles (48 km) south of Hora Sfakion and is the southernmost point of Europe.


NASA photograph of Crete

Crete straddles two climatic zones, the Mediterranean and the semi-arid climate, mainly falling within the former. As such, the climate in Crete is primarily a hot-summer Mediterranean (Köppen climate classification:Csa) climate while some areas in the south and east have a hot semi-arid climate (BSh). The higher elevations fall into the warm-summer Mediterranean climate category (Csb)[13] while the mountain peaks (>2,000 meters) might feature a cold-summer Mediterranean climate (Csc) or a continental climate (Dfb or Dfc). 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.

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.[13]


Minoan rhyton in form of a bull; Heraklion Archaeological Museum.
Minoan fresco from Knossos, Heraklion Archaeological Museum.
Reconstructed North Entrance to Palace of Knossos

The population history of Crete can be traced to the early Neolithic when the island was colonized by farmers from Anatolia who established one of the first Neolithic settlements in Europe in Knossos, and subsequently all over Crete.[14] 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.

Prehistoric Crete

The first human settlement in Crete dates before 130,000 years ago, during the Paleolithic age.[15][16] Settlements dating to the aceramic Neolithic in the seventh millennium B.C.E., 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.[17] Other neolithic settlements include those at Kephala, Magasa, and Trapeza.

Minoan civilization

Main article: Minoan civilization

Crete was the center of Europe's first advanced civilization, the Minoan (c. 2700–1420 B.C.E.). 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 may have been the cause of the downfall of the Minoan civilization.

Mycenean civilization

Beginning in 1420 B.C.E., 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 B.C.E.[18]

Archaic and Classical period

After the Bronze Age collapse, Crete was settled by new waves of Greeks from the mainland. A number of city states developed in the Archaic period. During this time there was limited contact with mainland Greece.

During the sixth to fourth centuries B.C.E., Crete was comparatively free from warfare. The Gortyn code (fifth century B.C.E.) is evidence for how codified civil law established a balance between aristocratic power and civil rights.

In the late fourth century B.C.E., the aristocratic order began to collapse due to endemic infighting among the elite, and Crete's economy was weakened by prolonged wars between city states. During the third century B.C.E., Gortyn, Kydonia (Chania), Lyttos, and Polyrrhenia challenged the primacy of ancient Knossos.

While the cities continued to prey upon one another, they invited into their feuds mainland powers like Macedon and its rivals Rhodes and Ptolemaic Egypt. In 220 B.C.E. the island was tormented by a war between two opposing coalitions of cities. As a result, the Macedonian king Philip V gained hegemony over Crete which lasted to the end of the Cretan War (205–200 B.C.E.), when the Rhodians opposed the rise of Macedon and the Romans started to interfere in Cretan affairs.

In the second century B.C.E. Ierapytna (Ierapetra) gained supremacy on eastern Crete.

Roman rule

Crete was involved in the Mithridatic Wars, initially repelling an attack by Roman general Marcus Antonius Creticus in 71 B.C.E. 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 B.C.E., 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

The Byzantines under the general Damian attack Crete but are defeated by the Saracens, c.828, as depicted by Ioannes Scylitzes.
Arkadi Monastery

Crete was separated from Cyrenaica ca. 297. It remained a part of the Roman Empire, usually referred to as the Byzantine Empire after 600 C.E. 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 eighth 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.[19]

Arab rule

In the 820s when Crete was part of the Byzantine Empire, it was captured by Andalusian Muladis led by Abu Hafs Umar al-Iqritishi, leader of a group of Andalusi refugees who seized control of Alexandria and, after being expelled from the city by the Abbasids, conquered the Byzantine island of Crete, establishing the Emirate of Crete. Although the emirate recognized the suzerainty of the Abbasid Caliphate and maintained close ties with Tulunid Egypt, it was de facto independent.

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 Byzantine Empire, after a century and a half of Arab control.

Byzantine Empire – second period

Small Byzantine church in Limnakaro plateau; dates back to the second Byzantine period.

In 961, Nikephoros Phokas returned the island to Byzantine rule. Extensive efforts at conversion of the populace were undertaken, led by John Xenos and Nikon the Metanoeite.[20] The reconquest of Crete was a major achievement for the Byzantines, as it restored Byzantine control over the Aegean littoral and diminished the threat of Saracen pirates, for which Crete had provided a base of operations.

Under Alexios I Komnenos (r. 1081–1118), the island was ruled by a doux or katepano. By the early twelfth century, it came, along with southern Greece, under the overall control of the megas doux, the commander-in-chief of the Byzantine navy. Aside from the revolt of its governor, Karykes, in 1092/1093, the island remained a relatively peaceful backwater, securely in Byzantine hands until the Fourth Crusade.[19]

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,[20] and it was not until 1212 that Venice secured Crete as a colony, the Kingdom of Candia.

Venetian rule

Fifteenth century map by Buondelmonti.
Frangokastello was built by the Venetians in 1371–74.

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 (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.[21] The three main forts were located at Gramvousa, Spinalonga, and Fortezza at Rethymnon. Other fortifications include the Kazarma fortress at Sitia and Frangokastello in Sfakia.

In 1492, Jews expelled from Spain settled on the island.[22] In 1574–1577, Crete was under the rule of Giacomo Foscarini as Proveditor General, Sindace, and Inquistor. This was a Dark Age for Jews and Greeks. Under Foscarini's 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.[23]

Ottoman rule

Depiction of the Siege of Candia.

The Ottomans conquered Crete in 1669, after the siege of Candia. 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 nineteenth 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 percent of the population of the island may have been Muslim.[24] 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 Cretan Turks fled Crete because of the unrest, settling in Turkey, Rhodes, Syria, and elsewhere. By 1900, 11 percent 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 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. 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 July 3, 1840.

The Cretan Revolt of 1866–1869 or Great Cretan Revolution (Greek: Κρητική Επανάσταση του 1866) was a three year uprising against Ottoman rule, the third and largest in a series of revolts between the end of the Greek War of Independence in 1830 and the establishment of the independent Cretan State in 1898. A particular event which caused strong reactions among the liberal circles of western Europe was the Holocaust of Arkadi. The event occurred in November 1866, as a large Ottoman force besieged the Arkadi Monastery, which served as the headquarters of the rebellion. In addition to its 259 defenders, over 700 women and children had taken refuge in the monastery. After a few days of hard fighting, the Ottomans broke into the monastery. At that point, the abbot of the monastery set fire to the gunpowder stored in the monastery's vaults, causing the death of most of the rebels and the women and children sheltered there.

Cretan State 1898–1908

Revolutionaries at Theriso

Following the repeated uprisings in 1841, 1858, 1889, 1895 and 1897 by the Cretan people who wanted to join Greece, the international community decided to restore order and in February 1897 sent in troops. The island was subsequently garrisoned by troops from Great Britain, France, Italy, and Russia; Germany and Austro-Hungary withdrawing from the occupation in early 1898. During this period Crete was governed through a committee of admirals from the remaining four powers. In March 1898 the powers decreed, with the reluctant consent of the Sultan, that the island would be granted autonomy under Ottoman suzerainty in the near future.[25]

In September 1898 the Candia massacre left over 500 Cretan Christians and 14 British servicemen dead at the hands of Muslim irregulars. As a result, the Admirals ordered the expulsion of all Ottoman troops and administrators from the island, a move that was ultimately completed by early November. The decision to grant autonomy to the island was enforced and a High Commissioner, Prince George of Greece, appointed, arriving to take up his post in December 1898.[26] The flag of the Cretan State was chosen, with the white star representing the Ottoman suzerainty over the island.

Flag of Cretan State

In 1905, disagreements between Prince George and minister Eleftherios Venizelos over the question of the enosis (union with Greece), such as the Prince's autocratic style of government, resulted in the Theriso revolt, one of the leaders being Eleftherios Venizelos. Prince George resigned as High Commissioner and was replaced by Alexandros Zaimis, a former Greek prime minister, in 1906. 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.

With the outbreak of the First Balkan War, the Greek government declared that Crete was now Greek territory. This was not recognized internationally until December 1, 1913.[26]

World War II

German paratroopers landing on Crete during the Battle of Crete.

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 Allied forces and Creten locals and 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.

Civil War

In the aftermath of the Dekemvriana in Athens, Cretan leftists were targeted by the right-wing paramilitary organization National Organization of Rethymno (EOR), which engaged in attacks in the villages of Koxare and Melampes, as well as Rethymno in January 1945. Those attacks did not escalate into a full-scale insurgency as they did in the Greek mainland and the Cretan ELAS did not surrender its weapons after the Treaty of Varkiza. An uneasy truce was maintained until 1947, with a series of arrests of notable communists in Chania and Heraklion. Encouraged by orders from the central organization in Athens, KKE launched an insurgency in Crete; marking the beginning of the Greek Civil War on the island. In eastern Crete the Democratic Army of Greece (DSE) struggled to establish its presence in Dikti and Psilorites. On July 1, 1947, the surviving 55 fighters of DSE were ambushed south of Psilorites, the few surviving members of the unit managed to join the rest of DSE in Lefka Ori.

The Lefka Ori region in the west offered more favorable conditions for DSE's insurgency. In the summer of 1947 DSE raided and looted the Maleme Airport and motor depot at Chrysopigi. Its numbers swelled to approximately 300 fighters. The rise of DSE numbers compounded with crop failure on the island created serious logistical issues for the insurgents. The communists resorted to cattle rustling and crop confiscations which solved the problem only temporarily. In the autumn of 1947, the Greek government offered generous amnesty terms to Cretan DSE fighters and mountain bandits, many of whom opted to abandon armed struggle or defect to the nationalists. On July 4, 1948, government troops launched a large scale offensive on Samariá Gorge. Many DSE soldiers were killed in the fighting while the survivors broke into small armed bands. In October 1948, the secretary of the Cretan KKE Giorgos Tsitilos was killed in an ambush. By the following month only 34 DSE fighters remained active in Lefka Ori. The insurgency in Crete gradually withered away, with the last two hold outs surrendering in 1974, 25 years after the conclusion of the war in mainland Greece.[27]

Human geography


Crete is the most populous island in Greece with a population of more than 600,000 people.


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.


Heraklion is the largest city and capital of Crete, holding more than a fourth of the island's population. Chania was the capital until 1971.The principal cities are:

  • Heraklion (Iraklion or Candia)
  • Chania (Haniá)
  • Rethymno
  • Ierapetra
  • Agios Nikolaos
  • Sitia


Modern windmills in Agios Georgios, Lasithi Plateau.

The economy of Crete is predominantly based on services and tourism. However, agriculture also plays an important role and Crete is one of the few Greek islands that can support itself independently without a tourism industry.[28] As tourism gained in importance in the 1970s, there has been a drop in manufacturing and an observable expansion in its service industries (mainly tourism-related). All three sectors of the Cretan economy (agriculture/farming, processing-packaging, services), are directly connected and interdependent.

As in many regions of Greece, viticulture and olive groves are significant; oranges and citrons are also cultivated. Until recently there were restrictions on the import of bananas to Greece, therefore bananas were grown on the island, predominantly in greenhouses. Dairy products are important to the local economy and there are a number of specialty cheeses such as mizithra, anthotyros, and kefalotyri.

Transport infrastructure

Greek Motorway 90 (A90) part of European route E75 near Heraklion

The island has three significant airports, Nikos Kazantzakis at Heraklion, the Daskalogiannis airport at Chania and a smaller one in Sitia. The first two serve international routes, acting as the main gateways to the island for travellers. There is a long-standing plan to replace Heraklion airport with a completely new airport at Kastelli, where there is presently an air force base.

The island is well served by ferries, mostly from Athens, by ferry companies such as Minoan Lines and ANEK Lines.

Most of Crete is served by the road network. A modern highway is currently being upgraded along the north coast connecting the four major cities (Motorway 90), the sections bypassing the main cities (Heraklion to Malia, Rethymno, Chania to Kolymvari) are at motorway standard, while the sections in between, and west to Kissamos and east to Sitia, should be completed by 2028. A link will also connect to the new Kasteli international airport.

During the 1930s there was a narrow-gauge industrial railway in Heraklion, from Giofyros in the west side of the city to the port. There are now no railway lines on Crete. However, there is a plan to construct a line from Chania to Heraklion via Rethymno.[13]


The construction sector in Crete responded well during the COVID-19 pandemic and came out strong in the post-recession recovery period. Total construction spending recovered and is expected to peak a record high, signalling consistent expansion in construction projects and real estate investments in Crete.[29]

The evolution of the private sector in Crete is tightly linked with the demand for tourism-related investments. Moreover, the recovery of the tourism sector is expected to lead to further growth in housing prices and rental demand.


Matala beach
Port of Heraklion

Crete is one of the most popular holiday destinations in Greece. Today, the island's tourism infrastructure caters to all tastes, including a very wide range of accommodation: The island's facilities take in large luxury hotels with their complete facilities, swimming pools, sports and recreation, smaller family-owned apartments, camping facilities, and others.

Visitors reach the island by air or by boat to the main ports of Heraklion, Chania, Rethimno, Agios Nikolaos, and Sitia. Popular tourist attractions include the archaeological sites of the Minoan civilization, the Venetian old city and port of Chania, the Venetian castle at Rethymno, the gorge of Samaria, the islands of Chrysi, Elafonisi, Gramvousa, and Spinalonga, and the Palm Beach of Vai, which is the largest natural palm forest in Europe.

Holiday homes and immigration

Crete's mild climate attracts interest from northern Europeans who want a holiday home or residence on the island. EU citizens have the right to freely travel and reside in Crete with little restriction.[30] A growing number of real estate companies cater to mainly British expatriates, followed by German, Dutch, Scandinavian, and other European nationalities wishing to own a home in Crete. The British expatriates are concentrated in the western regional units of Chania and Rethymno and to a lesser extent in Heraklion and Lasithi.[13]

Archaeological sites and museums

View of Gortyn.
Archaeological site of Phaistos.

There is a large number of archaeological sites which include the Minoan sites of Knossos and Phaistos, the classical site of Gortys, and the diverse archaeology of the island of Koufonisi which includes Minoan, Roman, and World War II ruins.

There are a number of museums throughout Crete. The Heraklion Archaeological Museum displays most of the archaeological finds of the Minoan era.[31]

Fauna and flora

Crete is isolated from mainland Europe, Asia, and Africa, and this is reflected in the diversity of the fauna and flora. 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 labor of Hercules who 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.

Prehistoric fauna

Dwarf elephants, dwarf hippopotamus, dwarf deer, and giant flightless owls were native to Pleistocene Crete.[32]


A large variety of birds includes eagles (can be seen in Lasithi), swallows (throughout Crete in the summer and all the year in the south of the island), pelicans (along the coast), and cranes (including Gavdos and Gavdopoula). The Cretan mountains and gorges are refuges for the endangered Lammergeier vulture. Bird species include: the golden eagle, Bonelli's eagle, the bearded vulture or Lammergeier, the griffon vulture, Eleanora's falcon, peregrine falcon, lanner falcon, European kestrel, tawny owl, little owl, hooded crow, alpine chough, red-billed chough, and the hoopoe.[33]


Samariá Gorge

Mammals of Crete include the vulnerable Cretan ibex or Kri-kri, Capra Aegagrus Creticus that can be seen in the national park of the Samaria Gorge and on Thodorou, Dia, and Agioi Pantes, (islets off the north coast), the Cretan wildcat and the Cretan spiny mouse. Other terrestrial mammals include subspecies of the Cretan marten, the Cretan weasel, the Cretan badger, the long-eared hedgehog, the edible dormouse, and the Cretan shrew, a unique endemic species of mammal in Greece.[34]

Bat species include: Blasius's horseshoe bat, the lesser horseshoe bat, the greater horseshoe bat, the lesser mouse-eared bat, Geoffroy's bat, the whiskered bat, Kuhl's pipistrelle, the common pipistrelle, Savi's pipistrelle, the serotine bat, the long-eared bat, Schreiber's bat, and the European free-tailed bat.[34]

Reptiles and amphibians

Reptiles and tortoises can be seen throughout the island. Snakes can be found hiding under rocks. Toads and frogs reveal themselves when it rains.

Reptiles include the aegean wall lizard, balkan green lizard, Chamaeleo chamaeleon, ocellated skink, snake-eyed skink, moorish gecko, turkish gecko, Kotschy's gecko, spur-thighed tortoise, and the stripe-necked terrapin.[34][35]

There are four species of snake on the island and these are not dangerous to humans. These are the leopard snake (locally known as Ochendra), the Balkan whip snake (locally called Dendrogallia), the dice snake (called Nerofido in Greek), and the nocturnal cat snake which delivers a weak venom at the back of its mouth to paralyze geckos and small lizards, and is not dangerous to humans.[34][36]

Turtles include the green turtle and the loggerhead turtle which are both endangered species.[35] The loggerhead turtle nests and hatches on north-coast beaches around Rethymno and Chania, and south-coast beaches along the gulf of Mesara.[37]

Amphibians include the green toad, American toad, common tree frog, and the Cretan marsh frog.[34][35]


Crete has an unusual variety of insects. Cicadas, known locally as Tzitzikia, make a distinctive repetitive tzi tzi noise that becomes louder and more frequent on hot summer days. Butterfly species include the swallowtail butterfly.[34] Moth species include the hummingbird moth. There are several species of scorpion such as Euscorpius carpathicus whose venom is generally no more potent than a mosquito bite.

Crustaceans and molluscs

River crabs include the semi-terrestrial potamon potamios crab.[34] Edible snails are widespread and can cluster in the hundreds waiting for rainfall to reinvigorate them.


The loggerhead sea turtle nests and hatches along the beaches of Rethymno and Chania and the gulf of Messara.

Apart from terrestrial mammals, the seas around Crete are rich in large marine mammals, a fact unknown to most Greeks, although reported since ancient times. Indeed, the Minoan frescoes depicting dolphins in Queen's Megaron at Knossos, indicate that Minoans knew many things about these creatures and respected them.

Apart from the famous endangered Mediterranean monk seal, which lives in almost all the coasts of the country, Greece hosts whales, sperm whales, dolphins, and porpoises. These are either permanent residents of the Mediterranean, or just occasional visitors. The area south of Crete, known as the Greek Abyss, hosts many of them. Squid and octopus can be found along the coast and sea turtles and hammerhead sharks swim in the sea around the coast. The Cretaquarium and the Aquaworld Aquarium, are two of only three aquariums in the whole of Greece. They are located in Gournes and Hersonissos respectively, and examples of the local sealife can be seen there.[38]

Some of the fish that can be seen in the waters around Crete include: scorpion fish, dusky grouper, east Atlantic peacock wrasse, five-spotted wrasse, weever fish, common stingray, brown ray, mediterranean black goby, pearly razorfish, star-gazer, painted comber, damselfish, and the flying gurnard.[39]


Snake lily (Dracunculus vulgaris)
The Ophrys cretica orchid

Common wildflowers include: camomile, daisy, gladiolus, hyacinth, iris, poppy, cyclamen, and tulip, among others. There are more than 200 different species of wild orchid on the island and this includes 14 varieties of Ophrys Cretica.[37]

Crete has a rich variety of indigenous herbs including common sage, rosemary, thyme, and oregano.[40] Rare herbs include the endemic Cretan dittany.[37] and Ironwort, Sideritis syriaca L, known as Malotira (Μαλοτήρα). Varieties of cactus include the edible Prickly Pear. Common trees on the island include the chestnut, cypress, oak, olive tree, pine, plane, and tamarisk.[40] Trees tend to be taller to the west of the island where water is more abundant.

Environmentally protected areas

There are a number of environmentally protected areas. One such area is located at the island of Elafonisi on the coast of southwestern Crete. Also, the palm forest of Vai in eastern Crete and the Dionysades (both in the municipality of Sitia, Lasithi), have diverse animal and plant life. Vai has a palm beach and is the largest natural palm forest in Europe. The island of Chrysi, 15 kilometers (9 mi) south of Ierapetra, has the largest naturally grown Juniperus macrocarpa forest in Europe. Samaria Gorge is a World Biosphere Reserve and Richtis Gorge is protected for its landscape diversity.

Crete has two UNESCO Global Geoparks, territories that aim at preserving and highlighting aspects of the Earth heritage: Psiloritis[41] and Sitia.[42]


Main article: Greek mythology
"Psychro Cave," Mount Dikti

Crete has a rich mythology mostly connected with the ancient Greek gods but also connected with the Minoan civilization.

According to Greek Mythology, The Psychro cave at Mount Dikti 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 worshiped 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).[43] 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 Crete, Rhadamanthys, Sarpedon, and Minos.

The labyrinth of the Palace of Knossos was the setting for the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur in which the Minotaur was slain by Theseus. Icarus and Daedalus were captives of King Minos and crafted wings to escape. After his death King Minos became a judge of the dead in Hades, while Rhadamanthus became the ruler of the Elysian fields.[44]


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). Men often grow large mustaches as a mark of masculinity.

Cretan society is well known for notorious family and clan vendettas which remain on the island to date.[45]

Cretan authors have made important contributions to Greek Literature throughout the modern period; major names include Vikentios Kornaros, creator of the seventeenth century epic romance Erotokritos (Greek Ερωτόκριτος), and in the twentieth century Nikos Kazantzakis. Crete has its own distinctive Mantinades poetry. In the Renaissance, Crete was the home of the Cretan School of icon painting, which influenced El Greco and through him European painting.

Music and Dance

Dancers from Sfakia

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 traditional music includes instrumental music (generally also involving singing), a capella songs known as the rizitika, Erotokritos, Cretan urban songs (tabachaniotika), as well as other miscellaneous songs and folk genres (lullabies and ritual laments).

Although much Cretan music remains consciously close to its folk roots and an integral part of the fabric of many Cretans' everyday lives, it is also a vibrant and evolving modern, popular tradition that involves many professional and semi-professional musicians, numerous regional record companies and professional distributors, professional luthiers (especially of Cretan lyras and Cretan lutes), and Cretan kentra (clubs for dancing to live Cretan music).

Like much Greek folk music, Cretan music is closely related to dance, and the most common musical forms correspond directly with the Cretan dances that may accompany them, such as the Syrtos, pentozali, siganos, pidikhtos, and Sousta. Like fiddle tunes in various other traditions, Cretan dance music often involves repeated melodies or repeated pairings of melodies, whose selection and concatenation is improvised in performance.


Dakos, traditional Cretan salad

The core of the Cretan cuisine consists of food derived from plants, whereas food of animal origin was more peripheral in nature. In general, people consumed seasonal products, available in the wider local area, which underwent minimal processing or none at all. The traditional cuisine was widespread in the island until the 1960s when, with improving living standards, alimentary patterns changed towards more meat and other animal-derived produce.

Fresh fruit and dried fruits, pulses, endemic wild herbs and aromatic plants, and rough cereals, whose cultivation was favored by the regional climate, were consumed in great amounts and constituted the base of the Cretan cuisine during that period. Dairy products were consumed on a daily basis in low to moderate quantities. Poultry and fish were consumed on a weekly basis in moderate quantities, whereas red meat was consumed only a few times a month. The main supply of fat was effectuated by olive oil, which was used not only in salads but also in cooking, unlike the northern European countries which primarily used animal fat. Another essential feature of the Cretan cuisine was the moderate use of alcohol, mainly red wine which accompanied meals. Finally, the most common dessert was yogurt and fresh fruits, while traditional pastry based on honey had been consumed a few times a week.


Crete has many football clubs playing in the local leagues. During season 2011-2012, OFI Crete, which plays at Theodoros Vardinogiannis Stadium (Iraklion), and Ergotelis F.C., which plays at the Pankritio Stadium (Iraklion) were both members of the Greek Superleague. During season 2012-2013, OFI Crete, which plays at Theodoros Vardinogiannis Stadium (Iraklion), and Platanias F.C., which plays at the Perivolia Municipal Stadium, near Chania, are both members of the Greek Superleague.

Notable people from Crete

Notable people from Crete include:

  • Nikos Kazantzakis, author, born in Heraklion
  • 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)
  • Domenikos Theotokopoulos (El Greco), Renaissance artist
  • Nikos Xilouris, famous composer and singer
  • Psarantonis, Cretan folk singer and Cretan lyra player and brother of Nikos Xilouris
  • Nana Mouskouri, singer, born in Chania
  • Eleftherios Venizelos, former Greek Prime Minister, born in Chania Prefecture
  • Nikos Stratakis, contemporary painter born in Heraklion
  • Psarantonis Cretain folk singer and Cretan lyra player
  • Joseph Sifakis, computer scientist, laureate of the 2007 Turing Award, born in Heraklion


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  3. Oliver Dickinson, The Aegean Bronze Age (Cambridge University Press, 1994, ISBN 978-0521456647).
  4. Found on the Pylos (PY) An 128 tablet.
  5. Found on the PY Ta 641 and PY Ta 709 tablets.
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  10. Konstantinos Kalantzis, Tradition in the Frame: Photography, Power, and Imagination in Sfakia, Crete (Indiana University Press, 2019, ISBN 0253037131).
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ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Budin, Stephanie Lynn. The Ancient Greeks: An Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0195379846
  • Chadwick, John. The Decipherment of Linear B. Cambridge University Press, 1970. ISBN 978-0521045995
  • Dickinson, Oliver. The Aegean Bronze Age. Cambridge University Press, 1994. ISBN 978-0521456647
  • Fisher, John, and Geoff Garvey. The Rough Guide to Crete. Rough Guides, 2022. ISBN 978-1789197372
  • Hamilton, Edith. Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes. Grand Central Publishing, 2011 (original 1942). ISBN 978-0446574754
  • Holland, Robert, and Diana Markides. The British and the Hellenes: Struggles for Mastery in the Eastern Mediterranean 1850–1960. Oxford University Press, 2008. ISBN 0199239770
  • James, Colin. The Eagles of Crete: An Untold Story of Civil War. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013. ISBN 978-1481958981
  • Kalantzis, Konstantinos. Tradition in the Frame: Photography, Power, and Imagination in Sfakia, Crete. Indiana University Press, 2019. ISBN 0253037131
  • Kazhdan, Alexander P. (ed.). The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. Oxford University Press, 1991. ISBN 978-0195046526
  • Kyriakopoulos, Victoria. Crete. GeoPlaneta, 2008. ISBN 978-1741045727
  • Rackham, Oliver, and Jennifer Moody. The Making of the Cretan Landscape. Manchester University Press, 1997. ISBN 978-0719036477
  • Schmeling, Gareth, and Jon D. Mikalson (eds.). Qui miscuit utile dulci: Festschrift Essays for Paul Lachlan MacKendrick. Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 1998. ISBN 978-0865164062
  • Senisik, Pinar. The Transformation of Ottoman Crete, Revolts, Politics and Identity in the Late Nineteenth century. I.B. Tauris, 2011. ISBN 978-1848855410
  • Treadgold, Warren. A History of the Byzantine State and Society. Stanford University Press, 1997. ISBN 978-0804726306
  • Yale, William. The Near East: A Modern History. Literary Licensing, LLC, 2012 (original 1958). ISBN 978-1258364915

External links

All links retrieved May 17, 2024.


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