History

Crete is the largest and most populous island of Greece and the fifth-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea.

It forms a significant part of the economy and cultural heritage of Greece while retaining its own local cultural traits (such as its own distinct cuisine, poetry, and music). It’s not just Greece’s largest island, but arguably its most fascinating and diverse. Its remarkable history is evident across the island, from the ruins of the Minoan palace of Knossos to the Venetian fortresses of Rethymo; from old mosques and Byzantine monasteries to the cave that is the legendary birthplace of Zeus. The Venetian port of Hania in Western Crete is one of Greece’s most evocative cities and the capital, Iraklio, is a dynamic city, the fifth largest in Greece. It hosts nearly a quarter of Greece’s tourists each year.

The island has an elongated shape: it spans 260km from east to west, is 60km from north to south at its widest point, and narrows to as little as 12km. Crete covers an area of 8,336 km2, with a coastline of 1046km.

Crete is renowned for its natural beauty and diverse landscape. Spectacular mountain ranges dotted with caves are sliced by dramatic gorges that spill out to sea. The rugged interior is interspersed with vast plateaus and fertile plains. The east boasts Europe’s only palm-tree forest beach and the south coast has some of the most stunning beaches and isolated coves.

Cretans are proud and hospitable people who maintain their culture and customs, particularly their strong musical tradition. Crete has its own distinctive Mantinades poetry. The island is known for its Mantinades-based music (typically performed with the Cretan lyra and the laouto) and has many indigenous dances, the most noted of which is the Pentozali. Throughout the island you will come across traditional mountain villages and agricultural settlements unaffected by tourism. You will still pass shepherds tending their flocks and come across men in traditional dress.

Crete has a long and varied history. It was once the centre of the Minoan civilisation (circa 2700–1420 BC), which is currently regarded as the earliest recorded civilisation in Europe. It has undergone Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman Turk rule. In 1821 Greece finally achieved independence after 400 years of Ottoman occupation; however Crete was left behind under Turkish governance. After a series of further revolts, Crete finally achieved full independence in 1898 and was unified with Greece as one state in 1913. On 1st December, 2013 the 100-year anniversary of the union of Crete with Greece was celebrated.