|Crete is Greece's largest island, the fifth largest in the entire Mediterranean and the most southern region of the European Union. It lies south of the Aegean Sea, enjoying a privileged geographical position between three continents - Europe, Africa and Asia. The island has an area of 8,261 square kilometers and a coastline that stretches for 1,046 kilometres. Long and thin, it extends 260 kilometres from west to east, varying in width from about 60 kilometres in the centre of the island to just 12 kilometres at its narrowest near Ierapetra in the east. Mountain ranges, snow-crested during much of the year, stretch from west to east, forming the 'backbone' of the island: the White Mountains, rising to 8,045 ft., Mount Idhi or Psiloritis (8,058 ft.), the Dhikti Mountains (7,047 ft.) and the Sitia Mountains (4,843 ft.). The most notable plains are those of Messara and Chania, while a number of smaller ones are located between mountain ranges and hills. The narrow length of the island, its rock types and relatively low rainfall has not favored the formation of significant rivers. The main ones are the Keritis or Platanias, the Anapodharis, the Mylopotamos and the Yeropotamos. .
Administratively, Crete is divided into the four prefectures of Chania (capital Chania) in the west, Rethymno (capital Rethymno) and Heraklion (capital Heraklion) in the centre and Lassithi (capital Aghios Nikolaos) in the east.
If there was a beauty contest for Greek islands, Crete would surely be among the favorites. Indeed, some say there is no place on earth like Crete. This view is strongly supported by those fortunate enough to have visited the island. Crete, with a population of approximately 500,000, is not just sun, sea and sand; it is a quite distinct place full of vitality, warmth, hospitality, culture and of course an excellent infrastructure.
|Crete has two airports, one at Heraklion and the other at Chania, which serve domestic direct flights to and from Athens and Thessaloniki. There are also services connecting Heraklion with Rhodes, Santorini, Mykonos and Paros. Direct international scheduled and charter flights link the island with a number of European cities, particularly during the tourist season. .
The five main ports of Heraklion, Chania, Rethymno, Aghios Nikolaos and Sitia connect Crete with the rest of Greece. There are daily ferry services to and from Athens, usually in the evening, as well as in the morning during the summer months. The trip takes about 10 hours. In addition, there are ferry services to and from the northern Greek port city of Thessaloniki and many islands of the Dodecanese and Cyclades. .
Crete has a good road network and a regular bus service linking the major towns while also providing transportation to beaches, villages, archaeological and historical sites and places of natural beauty, Taxis are widely available all over Crete, Comparatively cheap by European standards, they can be found at taxi ranks, stopped in the street or booked by phone. .
Another solution for visitors who want to travel around and get to know the island is to join one of the many organized tours operated by travel agencies, many of which have attractive one or two-day sightseeing programmes. In addition, there are many offices all over Crete offering competitive rates for car, motorbike and even bicycle hire.
A particularly interesting way not only to reach Crete, but also to get to know the island is by yacht There are a number of well-equipped marinas on Crete, as well as many picturesque harbours that provide safe mooring.
|The island's unique geographical position at the crossroad of different civilizations played a decisive role in its historical development The ancient history of Crete mirrors the myths and legends about the island which have been handed down from generation to generation.
It is said to be the birthplace of Zeus who, according to legend, assumed the form of a white bull to seduce the Phoenician princess Europa and take her to Crete, where she bore him several famous sons, including Minos.
Archaeologists, including Sir Arthur Evans who discovered and reconstructed the ancient city of Knossos, have established that many of the stories were more than mere myth. The ruins of Knossos provided striking evidence of a rich and highly developed civilisation that flourished around 2000 BC. Evans named the civilisation Minoan, after the legendary King Minos. The ruins of other great cities of this period have been uncovered at Zakros, Malia, Archanes, Gortys and Phaestos.
There is evidence of settlement on the island as far back as the Neolithic Period (7000-3000 BC). The inhabitants lived in caves, many of which subsequently became religious sanctuaries, as well as in simple stone structures. They lived by hunting and fishing and later introduced agriculture and stockbreeding. Stone was used for tools and weapons and their pottery was characterised by incised geometric motifs filled with red or white paste. The simple, relatively primitive figurines discovered in excavations around the island indicate that the inhabitants worshipped a female fertility goddess..
The magnificent palaces of Minoan culture were built around 2000 BC.
Finds from this period include pottery and stone fragments, bronze statuettes, seal stones and cult objects, many of which are now on display in the island's many museums. During this period, the inhabitants developed maritime activities and commerce, establishing significant trade relations with Africa, Asia and the islands of the Cyclades.
The development of art was nothing short of remarkable for the era. Pottery was handmade, fired, painted and decorated with a variety of geometric shapes or animal figures. Later on in the period, the potter's wheel was introduced and the quality of gold ware reached new heights, with elaborate, richly decorated jewellery, such as the pieces from Mohlos, the vaulted tombs of Messara and the magnificent 'Pendant of the bees' from Chryssolakkos, Malia. Equally outstanding are the early examples of seal stones made from ivory and steatite. The fine reputation of Cretan craftsmen extended beyond the domestic markets - spreading throughout the entire eastern Mediterranean - and played a decisive role in the development of the island's commerce.
Around 1700 BC the palaces were destroyed by a disaster which affected the entire island. Some experts believe it was a series of powerful earthquakes, while others suggest it was an invasion from mainland Greece. Whatever the reason, the palaces were rebuilt on an even grander scale using more sophisticated techniques and striking decoration including frescoes and sculptures. The paintings on the interior walls of buildings are characterized by a delicacy and variety that evidence the attainment of an extraordinarily high level of culture for such an early civilization. Apart from their advanced architecture and rich decoration, the palaces and other important buildings were also notable for their highly efficient water supply and drainage systems. Long paved roads and bridges were built, the graves of important figures became monumental and shrines were constructed in the palaces.
Cities became even larger and Linear A script, which has not yet been deciphered, dates from this period. The island became united around the capital, Knossos and Minoan political power and trade spread to mainland Greece, the Cyclades, Rhodes, Kos, Asia Minor, Egypt and Cyprus. Colonies were established not by invasion, but through trade on the islands of Milos, Kea and Santorini. The colonies and trading posts were protected by the powerful Minoan navy.
Among the products exported were oil and wine, medicinal plants, weapons, jewellery, pottery, seal stones and cloth. Imports included obsidian from the island of Milos. The Minoans also acted as intermediaries, transporting goods for others, such as Phoenician timber to Egypt
The cities and palaces were destroyed by a great catastrophe which hit the entire island around 1450 BC. Some historians have linked it with the eruption on the volcanic island of Santorini, suggesting that this destroyed Crete in combination with earthquakes and tidal waves, Others maintain that the cause was a regional quake, while some experts support the view that Achaeans invaded and destroyed the island.
By 1400 BC, Minoan culture had lost its influence and a wave of Dorian setters around I100 BC forced the Minoans to retreat to ""accessible mountain refuges, where they were by and large cut off from the outside world.
The newcomers, who called themselves Eteocretans ('true Cretans'), built new towns in the east of the island, examples being those of Lato, Axos, Prinias, Falasarna, Dreros and Gortyna, During the Classical and Hellenistic periods (500-69 BC), Crete did not develop along with mainland Greece and the other islands because of rivalry and conflict between the various towns, Despite this, the population of Crete increased during the period.
After prolonged resistance, the Romans finally managed to occupy Crete in 67 BC and made Gortys the capital. Christianity was brought to the island by the Apostle Paul and his companion Titus, who established the first Christian church on Crete at Gortys.
After the division of the Roman Empire, Crete was a separate province, remaining under the influence of Byzantium until 824 when it was taken by the Arabs, who destroyed Gortys and other towns, burned down churches and committed a number of atrocities against the population, The Arabs founded Rabd-el-Kandak (Candia, present-day Heraklion). Nikiforos Fokas retook Crete for the Byzantine Empire in 961 after a grueling eight-month siege of Candia. In the late 12th century new settlers were sent to the island from Constantinople.
In 1204, Crete was sold to the Venetians, who ruled the island for 450 years. Their harsh rule provoked repeated revolts by the Cretans. After Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453, many Greeks moved to the island, providing a fresh boost for Byzantine culture. As the Turkish threat loomed, the Venetians began to treat the Cretans more leniently, but to no avail. In a series of expeditions against the island, the Turks first captured Chania and Rethymno in 1645 before finally taking Candia in 1669 after a 22-year siege.
The Turkish occupation of Crete was the harshest of all. Two-and-a half centuries of indiscriminate killing, rape, heavy taxation, slavery, injustice, corrupt rule and of course the countless skirmishes and battles that marked the bloody struggle of the Cretans against the Ottoman conquerors.
The Declaration of Independence of 1821 in mainland Greece prompted the Turks to commit atrocities throughout Crete, which in turn provoked a response from the Cretans and soon the Turks were confined to their forts, The Treaty of Adrianople (1829) excluded Crete from now independent Greece and the Cretans were forced to continue fighting until 1898, when the Great Powers declared the island's autonomy under Turkish suzerainty, subject to the withdrawal of Ottoman forces from the island, Crete at long last managed to unite with the rest of Greece in 1913. Fierce Cretan resistance to foreign invasion was repeated in 1941 when German paratroops landed on and took control of the island. It was eventually liberated in 1944.
Knossos is the most famous archaeological site on Crete, Lying at a distance of 5 km, from the centre of Heraklion beside the road to Archanes, it contains the ruins of the largest and most luxurious Minoan palace that was built in the middle of a large town, The first palace was built around 2000 BC and destroyed around 1700 BC The second one was built immediately afterwards and was even more magnificent than the first, This too was destroyed, around 1500 BC, possibly as a result of the terrible volcanic eruption on Santorini, Excavations were begun in 1900 by the English archaeologist Arthur Evans, who over the course of 25 years reconstructed certain sections of the ruins, According to legend, a hideous monster known as the Minotaur, with the head of a bull and the body of a man, was kept at Knossos in a labyrinth built by the famous Greek architect Daedalus, The palace complex is extremely large for such an early structure, with a very high degree of technical sophistication, architectural skill and magnificent frescos, A large number of other structures have been excavated around the palace, including the House of the Sacrificial Oxen, the Viaduct, the Caravanserai, the Small Palace, the Royal Villa, the House of Frescos and the Temple Tomb.
The outstanding Archaeological Museum in Heraklion is second in size and importance only to the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, Its rich collection of exhibits includes pottery, jewellery, figurines and sarcophagi, as well as the famous frescos from Knossos, which testify to the remarkable imagination and skills of the Minoans, The Historical and Ethnographical Museum of Crete has significant exhibits ranging from early Christian times to the present.
Other sites of interest in Heraklion are the 19th century Cathedral of St Minas in the centre of town, The right transept has four icons by Michael Damaskinos, who is regarded as the teacher of Domenicus Theotokopoulos (El Greco), Near the cathedral are the 18th century Church of St Minas and the small 17th century Church of St Catherine which is now an icon museum with outstanding paintings, Dating from 1628, the two-storey Loggia was the exchange used by Venetian traders. The nearby Sagredo Fountain was built in 1602, while the Morosini Fountain, opposite the basilica of St Mark, was built in 1628. The old town of Heraklion is surrounded by massive Venetian walls and the St George gate, with an inscription dating from 1565, is particularly noteworthy. The Martinengo bastion contains the tomb of the famous Cretan writer Nikos Kazantzakis, who came from Heraklion. The tomb bears the inscription "I do not hope for anything, I am free". The old Venetian Harbor dates from 1303 and still has a 13th century mole, The 16th century Venetian fortress guards the sea entrance to the harbour.
To the south of Heraklion, another large Minoan palace has been excavated at Archanes. At Myrtia, 19 km. southeast of Heraklion, is the Kazantzakis Museum. Other important sites in the environs of Heraklion are located at Arkalochori, where a Minoan cult cave was found that yielded rich finds, at Tylissos with the remains of a Minoan villa and at Amnissos, near to which is the Cave of Eileithyia, a cult site of extreme antiquity in existence since about 5000 BC Fodele, a picturesque location in a gorge west of Heraklion, is the birthplace of El Greco, Crete's most famous painter. The house in which he was born is near the 12th century Church of the Virgin. From Fodele, one can visit Anogeia, a traditional mountain village built on the slopes of Psiloritis, The extensive remains at Gortys give a clear picture of the ancient city's importance in Hellenistic and Roman times. Near Moires, 53 km. southwest of Heraklion, is the archaeological site of Phaestos, where the remains of important Minoan
palaces have been discovered. It was here that the Phaestos Disc was found, dating from about 1650 BC. Both sides of the fired clay disc are covered with hieroglyphics comprising symbols such as the sun, a ship, a flower.
The disc, which has still not been deciphered, is on display at the Archaeological Museum in Heraklion with other finds from Phaestos. The ancient port of Phaestos, Matala, is a picturesque village made famous as the most popular hippy hang-out on Crete in the 60s.
Apart from a great beach, the place is known for its numerous caves dotting the cliff face at the end of the beach.
The capital of Lassithi prefecture, Aghios Nikolaos, is a picturesque town in the eastern part of the island, named after the charming 7th century Byzantine chapel of St Nicholas with its bell tower, drum and dome, which has a number of well-preserved frescos of the 9th, 10thand 11th centuries. The town has a small Archaeological Museum with a fine collection of Minoan finds. The single-aisle Church of Our Lady has some splendid 14th century frescos.
One of the loveliest villages in Crete, Elounda, lies twelve kilometres from Aghios Nikolaos. To the northeast of Elounda is the peninsula of Spinalonga, a rocky place dominated by an impressive,
well-preserved Venetian fortress. The now-submerged ancient city of Olus is located at the point where the peninsula joins the land. An early Christian basilica has been excavated with a fine mosaic floor with ornamental decoration, fish and plants. Just outside the town of Neapolis, 15 km. northwest of Aghios Nikolaos, are the ruins of two small Byzantine churches and a small archaeological collection of finds from the Hellenic site of Dreros and Elounda. At Dreros, about 4 km. from Neapolis, the ruins of a Hellenic settlement dating from 700 BC have been found. Excavations have focused on two acropolises, a temple, an agora, a necropolis and a cult site.
Kritsa, 11 km. southwest of Aghios Nikolaos, is an attractive, traditional town and was the location for the film 'Zorba the Greek'. The town's churches contain some excellent 14th century frescos. One of the island's most famous churches, Panaghia Kera, lies just outside Kritsa. The vaulted building was constructed in four phases between the 13th and the 15th century. The nave has 55 frescos dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Between Aghios Nikolaos and Kritsa, are the ruins of Lato, which was originally built in the 18th century BC.
At Gournia, at the island's narrowest point, 19 km. from Aghios Nikolaos, are the remains of the only entire Minoan town to have been excavated. The ruins prove what had already been suggested by the magnificent palaces at Knossos, Phaestos and Malia, namely that Crete was the home of the earliest advanced European civilization.
One of the most important Minoan palaces was discovered 4 km. east of Kato Zakros on the east coast of Crete, impressive finds from which are on display at the Archaeological Museum in Heraklion, including pottery, hand-carved works in gilded slate, marble and quartz crystal.
On the south side of the island, 36 km. from Aghios Nikolaos, is the charming town of Ierapetra surrounded by mountain scenery. The town's small museum houses interesting finds from the surrounding
area, including a marvellous Cretan-Mycenaean sarcophagus dating from between 1450 and 1350 BC. Other sites of interest in the town are the Turkish mosque, the church on the harbour square, the Church of St. John (formerly a mosque) and the well situated Venetian fortress in the harbour which was built in 1508. Sixteen kilometres from Ierapetra, there are remains of an early Minoan settlement at Myrtos.
The attractive harbour town of Sitia lies near the northeast tip of the island. A popular tourist destination, Sitia has a fine Folk Museum and Archaeological Museum. Just 21 km. to the east of Sitia lays the historic monastery of Toplou which dates back to the 13th century. The complex in its present form was built from 1718 onwards. At a short distance to the southeast is Palaiokastro, where archaeologists discovered the Minoan town of Heleia. Excavations indicate that Heleia was one of the most important settlements of the Minoans.
The beautiful port town of Rethymno stands out for its Renaissance architecture, Venetian fortress, Turkish monuments, fine museums and sandy beaches.
The Archaeological Museum, which is housed in the beautiful early 17th century Venetian Loggia, has interesting exhibits from the town and surrounding region from the Neolithic to the Roman period, including architectural elements, bronze and marble sculpture, coins, inscriptions and sarcophagi. The History and Folklore Museum features examples of weaving and techniques as well as traditional costumes, ceramic art and traditional tools.
Like the Venetian Harbour, which dates back to 1300, the Old Town of Rethymno is well preserved, with buildings and monuments of the Venetian, Turkish and later periods which give it a distinct medieval and Renaissance character. The old Venetian-Ottoman quarter is a maze of narrow streets, graceful houses with wooden balconies and ornate Venetian monuments. An eastern flavors is provided by several minarets. Standing high on a rocky spur, the Venetian 'Fortezza' fortress was built after 1573 to protect the city. It comprises four bastions and three entrances, with three look-out points to the north. The most important of the surviving buildings is the Ibrahim Han Mosque, which had originally been built by the Venetians as a cathedral.
The architecturally ornate Rimondi Fountain with three fine lion spouts was rebuilt in 1626 on the foundations of an earlier one. Rethymno has a number of interesting Christian churches, one of the most notable being that of St. Franciscus, which was originally the church of a Franciscan monastery. It has asingle-aisle, wooden roofed basilica with an impressively decorated entrance door. The 18th century Great Mosque in the centre of Rethymno with its fine minaret, the Neratzes Mosque, the Kara Mousa Mosque and the Veli Pasa Mosque are vivid reminders of the long Turkish occupation. Of the four buildings, only the Neratzes Mosque can be visited at present.
Not far from the town of Rethymno there are a number of historic monasteries, Byzantine churches and interesting archaeological sites, The most significant monastery, located 23 km. from Rethymno is that of Arkadi, Established in the 14th or 15th century, it was an important centre for Cretan resistance to the Turkish occupation, In 1866, its valiant defenders, far outnumbered by the Turks, chose to die by blowing themselves up rather than surrender, Preveli Monastery, situated in a beautiful setting 40 km, south of Rethymno, is dedicated to St John the Evangelist, Built by the Venetians in the early 17th century, it too was used by Cretans during the struggle for independence, The church contains the beautifully decorated and reputedly miraculous Cross of Christ.
The prefecture of Rethymno is dotted with Byzantine churches, more than 250 of which have wall paintings, Among the most interesting are those of the Panaghia at the village of Thronos, the two Byzantine churches at Amari with frescos dating from I 196, the well preserved three-aisle Vizari basilica and the early Christian Panonrno basilica just outside the village of the same name. Outside the village of Anrneni, 9 km. from Rethymno, is the Minoan necropolis of Phalanna which was also used during the Mycenaean period, The ancient town of Elefthema, 10 km, from the village of Panonrnos, was important up until the 8th century BC In addition to a beautiful bridge, there are remains of the acropolis, on which a Byzantine tower was built, as well as Roman cisterns.
Built on the site of ancient Kydonia, the beautiful town of Chania, has a distinctly Venetian atmosphere, The second largest town and former capital of Crete has numerous attractions for the visitor, The lovely Venetian quarter of the town, which is built around the picturesque Old Harbour, is one of the most striking attractions on the island.
The Archaeological Museum has a rich collection of idols, clay sarcophagi, statues, weapons, ceramics, coins, inscriptions and jewellery, The town's Naval Museum exhibits different types of cannon, navigation equipment, ship models, portraits and even a collection of rare shells. The War Museum contains rare photographic material and heirlooms from the fight for independence against the Turks, the Balkan Wars and the Asia Minor catastrophe, It also has memorabilia from the Second World War and the Battle of Crete which began at nearby Maleme.
Among the most interesting Venetian and Turkish monuments in the town of Chania are the Neoria, a series of buildings used to protect, repair and build Venetian galleys, Of the original 25 arsenals, nine are still standing, The Loggia and the San Francesco church are two of the most important Venetian monuments, The latter is a 14th century Gothic building with a nave and two aisles which now houses the Archaeological Museum.
The Church of St Nicholas originally belonged to a Dominican monastery and for a long period was used as a mosque, The 13th century church of San Salvatore also served as a mosque during the Turkish occupation, The Mosque of the Janissaries, which dates from 1645, stands next to the attractive Venetian harbour with its old lighthouse and breakwater, Opposite the lighthouse stands the Firka Fortress, where the Turks imprisoned captured Cretan rebels, The minaret at the Church of St Nicholas, the Turkish baths, the Court House and the Italian anrny barracks all originated from the period of the Turkish occupation.
Like elsewhere in Crete, the prefecture of Chania has many interesting archaeological sites, monasteries and churches.
Overlooking the plain and bay of Souda, 15 km, from Chania, Aptera was one of the most important ancient towns of Western Crete, The ruins of a small ancient temple and the walls of the 7th century BC town still stand, along with the remains of an ancient Greek theatre, Roman cisterns, a Venetian monastery and a Turkish fortress.
At Polyrrinia, 49 km. northwest of Chania, stand the ruins from the walls and the acropolis of an 8th century BC Dorian settlement and an ancient sanctuary dedicated to Artemis, The Venetian church of 99 Martyrs was built on the foundations of a Greek temple, with building materials dating from Roman times, Nearby Falassarna. Polyrrinia's ancient rival, has remains of Cyclopean walls, house foundations and sculptures carved into rocks.
Other important ancient sites in Chania prefecture are located at Elyros (near Rodovani), Irtakina, Lissos and Syia (at Sougia), Kandanos and Kadros (Minoan graves carved into rocks), Tarra (Aghia Roumeli), Araden and Anopolis (in Sfakia), Hippokoroneon (Apokoronas) and Karidi.
The well preserved Venetian fortress of Frangokastello is located to the east of Chora Sfakion on the south coast of Crete, Built in 1371 for protection against pirates and Cretan rebels, the fortress is associated with a number of local traditions, According to one of these, the strange human shadows ('Drosoulites') that appear at dawn in May and September are the ghosts of the Cretan defenders of the fortress.
The 17th century castle-like Monastery of Aghia Triada Tsangarolon, 16 km. northeast of Chania features a monumental portal with beautiful steps and a small museum. Four kilometres to the north, the Monastery ofthe Lady of Angels (Gouverneto), built in 1548, also has a striking fortress-like appearance.
|Crete offers an unlimited variety of sports and leisure activities, from regular excursions and sightseeing trips to adventurous trekking and mountaineering. The sharply contrasting natural beauty of the island features steep, rugged terrain, deep gorges, vast plateaux, dense oak forests, long sandy beaches and secluded coves. All this, together with clear blue skies and seemingly endless sunshine over 300 days a year, offers unique opportunities for recreation and relaxation.
The E4 trekking route, which starts in Portugal, ends in Crete after crossing the entire length of the island from Elafonisi to Kato Zakros. It is marked with black and yellow posts and signs.
Crete has an estimated 155 kilometres of sandy beaches, making it an ideal destination for water sport aficionados and those who simply enjoy soaking up the sun and taking refreshing dips in clear blue water.
Naturally, there are countless opportunities for windsurfing, scuba diving, fishing and sailing. Chania prefecture has two outstanding beaches on the west coast, at Elafonisi in the southwest and Phalasarna in the northwest.
One of the longest, uninterrupted sandy beaches is at Georgioupolis between Rethymno and Chania. In the northeast of the island, one of the most popular beaches is the magnificent beach ofVai, which has Europe's only natural palm grove. South of Heraklion on the southern coast, Matala is famous not only for its caves but also its pleasant sandy beach.
Wherever you go on Crete, you will never be far from an organized beach or secluded cove. Among the most attractive around the island are those at Frangokastello, Makrygialos, Kato Zakros, Preveli, Paleochora, Aghia Pelagia, lstro and Malia.
Yachting is well catered for at organised marinas and small harbours which dot the Cretan coastline. Sailboats also provide access to remote beaches and a number of small islands not far from the coast.
|Since antiquity, the Cretan diet appears to have included all the necessary ingredients for balanced nutrition. According to studies, Cretans have some of the lowest percentages in Europe for deaths caused by heart attacks and different kinds of cancer and live longer on average. The traditional diet is characterised by simplicity, consisting olive oil, cereals, pulses, vegetables and fruit, supplemented less frequently by dairy products, fish and a glass of red wine.
Fresh produce is abundant on Crete, where roughly 30 per cent of the land is available for cultivation. With an estimated 13 million olive trees, representing over one-third of the entire Greek crop, it is hardly surprising that Crete is renowned for its excellent quality olive oil.
The island's largest export however is grapes and Cretan wine has enjoyed a fine reputation since antiquity. Traditional methods and machinery are still used to make the potent local drink called Tsikoudia.
As in other areas of Greece, Crete boasts awide variety oftraditional local dishes and methods of preparing food. One of the most characteristic Cretan specialities is the Sarikopita, a cheese pie made with sour mizithra cheese. The shape of the pie is very similar to that of the sariki, the traditional head-dress of Cretan men, from which it took its name.
The rich variety of ingredients used in traditional Cretan cuisine extends to snails and rabbit meat. Many delicacies are based on entrails and special soups are made with cereals. Different types of herbs are used liberally, including dittany, marjoram and sage.
Visitors to Crete can enjoy fresh fish, village salads, fresh greens from the fertile Cretan soil and traditional dishes, choosing from a wide selection of seaside restaurants and mountain tavernas. For something different, try the delicious pilafi (rice with boiled meat).
Crete has an impressive variety of goods to offer shoppers, from top designer labels and exquisite jewellery to high quality leather goods and fine antiques.
Local artisans are renowned for their high quality pottery and handicrafts, while the traditional embroidery, woven and needlework products of Cretan women are always in great demand.
|Crete has been the birthplace of some of the greatest Greek artists and literary figures. In icon painting, two outstanding artists were Michail Damaskinos and Domenicus Theotokopoulos, who left the island and became famous in Toledo, Spain as El Greco. In literature, the names of Vitsentzos Kornaros from Sitia and George Hortatzis from Rethymno stand out. In contemporary times, the voluminous work of the great thinker and writer Nikos Kazantzakis included poetry, travel impressions, tragedies, philosophical treatises and novels such as "Zorba the Greek" (1946) with which he gained international fame.
Many traditions are preserved in villages all over Crete, especially in the more remote ones. Baptisms and weddings are very special occasions of the utmost importance that may go on for days. In the west of Crete they are accompanied by rizitika - very old songs, some of Byzantine origin. The celebrations involve dancing, eating and drinking, with unbridled enthusiasm often being expressed by gunshots.
There are many local feast days, particularly during the summer months, some involving large groups of people hiking or taking small boats to a remote church or monastery. Christmas, Easter and the Assumption are considered to be the most important religious feasts.
On Saint George's Day at Asigonia, Chania, the shepherds bring their sheep and goats from the high mountain pastures to be blessed by the local priest. The animals are milked in front of the church and the milk is then boiled and served to the congregation.
Some festivals are held to celebrate special events like the new wine, the orange harvest or chestnut-picking and provide an opportunity to taste products, renew acquaintances with friends and make merry.
A traditional Cretan wedding is staged annually at Kritsa, near Aghios Nikolaos, as well as in Rethymno.
The roots of Cretan dances go all the way back to the Minoan period. Some, danced by groups of men, are very fast and vigorous. Women's dances are often associated with weddings or courtship.
Music and dance are just as intrinsic to Cretan celebrations today as they were in ancient times. Instruments and dance steps are sometimes thousands of years old, providing a strong link with the past as knowledge is passed on from generation to generation. Known for its vitality, one of the most famous Cretan dances is the Pentozali, which was danced in antiquity by armed warriors. Another interesting dance is the Syrtos, led by a single dancer who sets the pace for the rest of the group. The Sousta is a traditional courtship dance performed by couples.
|Cretans are generally considered to be friendly, direct, honorable and hospitable. They are eager to learn, deeply patriotic about their island and its proud history and keen to preserve their traditions and customs. Some Cretans, particularly in villages, still don the traditional garb of breeches tucked into knee-high black leather boots, embroidered jackets and the black-fringed kerchiefs tied tightly round their heads. Even during long periods of foreign occupation and cruel oppression, marked by heroic resistance against overwhelming odds, the Cretans managed to nurture their own distinct culture, very often through poetry and folk music.
History speaks of a place where the inhabitants considered hospitality to be an integral part of their life, culture and tradition. According to Greek mythology, Zeus, the supreme deity and patron of hospitality was born and raised on Crete.
Nearly all Cretans are of the Eastern Orthodox faith. They make their living chiefly by farming and in tourism-related services. First they are Cretans, then Greeks. Haughty and proud, they are at the same time gentle and passionate like the lyrics of their mantinades – traditional songs unlike those heard in the rest of Greece. It's not by chance that Crete has given birth to some of the greatest men of contemporary Greece, from the politician Eleftherios Venizelos to the great composers Mikis Theodorakis and Manos Hatzidakis.
To Cretans, life is a celebration and celebrations are opportunities to communicate. Religious feasts and festivals are always accompanied by plenty of good food, music (with the lyre first and foremost) and dance. Through music and dance they express their joy and sorrow, their lust for life.
To get to know the people and customs of Crete, one must visit the villages of the island. The manifestations of the old traditions are perhaps most evident at the panigyria - celebrations held to mark the feast day of the local saint of each village. These celebrations usually involve long church services attended by nearly all the people of the village. Villagers who have moved away will often take the celebrations as an opportunity to return and visit relatives.
|Crete is a great choice for night owls. The nightlife in all the main towns and holiday resorts offers a wide choice to suit all tastes. There are lively bars and cosy tavernas, bouzouki clubs and high class restaurants, coffee shops and cinemas around every corner.
In general, Cretan nightlife is of two types. On the one hand there is the entertainment offered in the coastal resorts which mainly caters for tourists seeking cosmopolitan discotheques, night-clubs and bars and, on the other, the more traditional forms of entertainment preferred by the Cretans themselves.
In addition to well organised cultural festivals, most of which are held during the summer in the main towns of Heraklion, Chania, Rethymno and Aghios Nikolaos, there are also a large number of local events in villages all over the island.
Like elsewhere in Greece, there are regular concerts, the most popular of which are those featuring traditional music played on Crete's beloved instrument, the lyra, a three-stringed violin supported on the knee and played with a bow.
Most restaurants and tavernas have a pleasant, informal atmosphere and the food is generally of a very high standard. At the fish tavernas scattered all along the coast, diners will find some of the freshest and tastiest seafood in Greece. Particular favourites are white bream, red mullet and sea bream.
|The climate is on the whole dry throughout the year, with most rainfall occurring between October and March, The summer heat can be moderated by often strong winds, the meltemia, The sea is warm enough for swimming from the middle of April until November, At 19o C, Crete has the highest average annual temperature in Greece.
The island is home to a rich variety of fiora, including 130 species of wild flowers and herbs which are unique to it Among these are dictamo (Origanum dictamnus), the herb made famous by Aristotle for its medicinal properties, Another unusual feature is the evergreen Cretan plane-tree (platanus oriental is, var, cretica),
Spring is probably the best time to enjoy the flora, when the fields are ablaze with red poppies and the scent of orange and lemon blossoms fills the air. The landscape is dominated by dry scrub in the summer, while oleander and osier bloom in the ravines, Anemones are abundant in the winter, Equally varied is the fauna of Crete, The unique Cretan wild goat (Capra aegagrus-cretica) has a distinctive and impressive appearance, A protected species, the agrimi or "kri-kri" lives in the White Mountains, the Samaria National Forest and on the islets of Dia, Aghioi Pantes and Thodoros, Other interesting mammals on the island are the Cretan marten (Martes foina-bunites), the very rare Cretan wildcat (Felis silvestris agrius) and the Cretan badger (Melesmeles-arcalus), Alert visitors may also spot hares and hedgehogs and, if very lucky, the endangered loggerhead (caretta-caretta) sea turtle, which lay their eggs on a number of quiet beaches around the island. The magnificent Cretan golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetus) and the lammergeyer (Gypaetus barbatus), a subspecies unique to Crete, stand out among the birds, The mountains and many ravines are home to griffon vultures, Swallows and warblers are common and goldfinches are occasionally sighted. Crete is also a stopover each spring for birds migrating from Africa to Europe as well as In the autumn as they make the return flight.
Crete has two freshwater lakes - Lake Kournas in Chania prefecture and Lake Aghia in the middle of the fertile plain of Kydonia. Sheltered by the hills in an idyllic setting. Lake Kournas has an area of 160,000 square metres and interesting flora and fauna. Lake Aghla is the nesting place for many birds and myriad wild flowers create a kaleidoscope of colour in the spring.
The same geological forces that created the mountain ranges also created a large number of truly remarkable gorges throughout the island. Perhaps the most famous is the Samaria Gorge at the westernmost edge of the Omalos plateau in Chania prefecture. With a length of 18 km., it is the longest gorge in Europe and annually draws thousands of tourists’ intent on taking the 6- to 7- hour walk to the exit at the coastal village of Aghia Roumeli. The less known Imbros Gorge begins at the plain of Imbros and winds to the sea near Chora Sfakion. The Kotsifou and Kourtaliotiko gorges are Just a few kilometres apart near Plakias in Rethymno prefecture. In eastern Crete, the Valley of the Dead was so named, because of the Minoan graves found there. . .
The geological composition of the island and centuries of seismic activity have caused it to be literally honeycombed with an estimated 3,500 caves, many of which are of extreme archaeological and religious significance. In the past and even more recently, caves were used by Cretans as places of refuge, cult sites and centres of resistance to invaders. There are believed to be over one hundred churches in caves around the island.
According to legend, the Dikteon Andron on the Lassithi plateau was the birthplace of Zeus, the supreme deity who later grew up In the Ideon Andron on Mount Psiloritis. The Eileithyia Cave near Amnisos was a cult centre which, according to tradition, was devoted to Eileithyia, a fertility goddess and daughter of Hera. Relics found in the cave date back to Neolithic times. The Melidoni Cave, 28 km. east of Rethymno, was a cult site in ancient times and the scene of a great tragedy during the fight for independence. In 1823, 370 Cretan women and children took refuge in the cave from Turkish soldiers.
When they refused to come out, the Turks blocked the entrance with bushes and set them alight. All 370 died a horrible death from suffocation. The Psychro Cave, situated at an altitude of 1,025 m. on a mountainside above the picturesque Lassithi plateau, is one of the most beautiful on Crete. Excavations have revealed significant finds, including numerous votive offerings, which prove that the cave was one of the most important cult sites in Minoan Crete.
|With its marvelous climate, unique natural beauty and vast conference and tourist infrastructure, Crete is the ideal destination for every kind of congress, summit, business meeting, incentive, seminar and product presentation. In addition, the. island offers unique opportunities for research Into Mlnoan, Byzantine and more recent cultures, as well as studies relating to natural sCiences and folklore.
In addition to a number of specialised conference centres, there is an enormous variety of facilities at hotels in the main towns and resorts, fully equipped with state-of-the-art sound and lighting installations, simultaneous translation systems and other amenities. Many of the hotels also provide technical and secretarial support, plus a full range of office machines, computer and telecommunications systems. Some travel agencies based on Crete also specialize in organizing conferences and incentives, offering complete packages that include all necessary arrangements from start to finish, as well as special programmes for delegates and accompanying persons before, during and after the event. These programmes typically compose sightseeing trips or short tours and entertainment, all tailor-made to meet the requirements of each particular group. . .
The standards of professionalism of the people Involved In the congress organisation sector on Crete is very high, owing to the experience acquired following the island's success In attracting many major Greek and international events.