Crete is the place where myths look like history and history is like a myth. From the distant past to the present day, every place on the island has a short or long story to tell. 

"There is a land called Crete, at the sea, which is like wine.

It is very rich, surrounded by sea, very beautiful.

It has ninety cities,

countless people live on it

and they speak a mix of many languages.

Crete raises Acheans, real Cretan men with brave hearts, Dorians, who live in three tribes,

Kydons and noble Pelasgians".
The Odyssey, Rhapsody Τ (172-177)

(Translation into modern Greek: N. Kazantzakis & I. Kakridis)

prince of lilliesDue to its strategic geographical position, Crete, apart from a crossroads of three continents, has been from the beginning of its history the apple of discord for every conqueror.
The ancestors of the Cretans are the Minoans. However the island was also colonized by Achaeans, Dorians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Venetians and Turks. Also, for a long time the pirates of the Mediterranean Sea were infesting its shores.
knossos ruins
The fortifications that you can find in all modern cities of Crete, as well as the fortresses raised as observatories on the capes and the islets that surround it, witness the island’s endless adventures.
Live your own fairytale…

Cretan Pre-history and History

The prehistory and early history of Crete is today known thanks to the extensive archaeological researches and excavations conducted in the island by Greek and foreign archaeologists, since the last decades of the 19th century. Crete, the ruler of the seas of King Minos, is no longer a mysterious myth. Homer’s “island with a hundred cities” (“ekatompolis”), the name under which Crete became known to ancient writers, was proved to be a historical reality of the 2nd millennium. The great Minoan Civilization of ancient Crete was developed on the island’s Neolithic background and is contemporary and equivalent to the civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia.
festos disk
The history of Crete extends over an 8.000-year period. According to archaeological archaeological evidence, the island was inhabited since the Neolithic Times Period. Neolithic settlements known in Heraklion were those of Knossos, Phaistos and Katsambas. It is probable that some caves were also periodically inhabited, among which the Stravomyti Cave on Mount Juktas, Eileithyia Cave in the region Gouves, Trapeza Cave in the region Tylissos and others. The privileged position of Heraklion and the terrain that favor the development of multiple crops, constituted a fertile ground for the creation of a civilization under the name “Minoan Civilization” which flourished for a long time (during the Bronze Age – 3000-1100 B.C.). Knossos was its center and it reached its peak of prosperity between 1900 and 1500 B.C.
statueAfter 1500 B.C., the Acheans and the Dorians invaded the island. They were followed by the Romans in 67 B.C., and then the Byzantines, who became the rulers of the island by 1252 A.D. There had been a period of Arab rule before that, from 824 to 961 A.D. In 1252 A.D. the Venetian rule began, which lasted until 1645 A.D. Then the Ottomans occupy Crete and maintain their domination until 1897, with a short interval of 10 years, during which the island was ceded to Egypt (1830- 1840). In 1898 the Cretan State was established with capital in Chania. The island remained autonomous until December 1st 1913, which is the date of its official unification with Greece.

A trip in time

minoan bull fighting
The first humans appeared in Crete in around 6000 B.C. In around 2.600 B.C. colonists from Asia Minor arrived on the island, bringing bronze with them. The new inhabitants, who had a strong shipping tradition, created the Minoan Civilization and made important cultural achievements. In around 1950 B.C. the first palaces were built in Knossos, Phaistos and Malia. They palaces were the headquarters of the local leaders or princes besides being the administrative and religious centres. 

The era of the famous great palaces of Crete begins around 1900 B.C. The most important and larger ones are concentrated in Heraklion (Knossos, Malia, Phaistos, Archanes, Monastiraki). These palaces, along with other smaller ones in other locations, were for about 600 years “centers of creation and irradiation of the Minoan palace culture, the phenomenon which has left its deep imprint on the history of Crete”.  In the same period, water supply and drainage works took place, which the visitor can admire in the above mentioned archaeological sites, while storerooms are built for the storage of food stocks. The elaborate Kamares ware, which constitute an excellent example of the perfection of the ceramic art in this period date back to the same era. These wares took their name from the famous Kamares Cave on Mount Ida, where they were they were first discovered. In the same period, there’s a breakthrough in Minoan Crete’s spiritual development: the use of the older writing in the form of engraved stylized images on seals and pottery (Ideograms or Pictographic writing). The most famous monument of this writing is the Phaistos Disk, a disk of fired clay found in the Minoan palace of Phaistos, which is located in the Messara Plain in south-central Crete. The disk hasn’t yet been deciphered.
minoan cup
A strong earthquake in around 1700 B.C. destroyed the palaces and new, more luxurious ones, were built, while one more palace was added to them, the palace of Zakros. In 1450 B.C., after the eruption of the volcano of Thira, the Minoan centers were destroyed completely. Then the Mycenaeans took over Knossos and they set up their own dynasty.
minoan bath
Immediately afterwards the Myceneans invaded Crete and established their own dynasty in Knossos. In around 1400 B.C. Knossos was destroyed by an unknown cause and the time of its decline began. In around 900 B.C., city-states begin to be created, according to the Hellenic model. The most powerful ancient city, Kydonia, which was later than Gortys and much later than Knossos, maintained its predominance in the area until the Arab invasion, when it was destroyed. In the meantime, the Dorians had arrived on the island and systematically “assimilated” the local people. Life was organized according to the models of the Spartans. During this period Crete produced admirable works of sculpture and metalwork. In 480 B.C. this civilization declined, too.

Pirates from Cilice used the coasts of Crete as their base, which gave the Romans the opportunity to conquer the island. In 824 A.D. the Arabs conquered Crete and organized it as an independent Arab state, the centre of which was Khandax (modern Heraklion).The Byzantines conducted many unsuccessful campaigns, until the Byzantine Emperor Nikoforos Fokas invaded the island (960 A.D.), occupied Khandax (961 A.D.) after a bloody siege and liberated it.

However, the liberty of Khandax was interrupted by the 4th Crusade, when the Venetians became the rulers of the island. The reaction of the Cretans was fierce, including 27 revolutions and many local movements. One of the revolutions, in which the Venetian residents of the island participated, managed to prevail and declare the island independent under the name “Republic of Saint Titus”. In 1645 the Ottomans invaded Crete.
After two years the siege of Khandax began. The Venetians and the Cretans, united, resisted for 23 years. Finally, Khandax fell to the Ottomans. Only Sfakia remained free, being forced, however, to pay a tribute to the Ottomans.

cretan flag
In 1830 Crete was ceded to Egypt for ten years. Then the Ottomans came back. The revolutions continued until 1878, when, through the intervention of the European Powers, privileges were granted to the residents. These privileges soon fell into disuse and new rebellions lead the Superpowers to appoint Prince George of Greece as High Commissioner of the island. In 1898 Prince George arrived on Crete and settled in Chania. A Parliament was founded and Crete became an autonomous Cretan State.

venizelosIn 1908 the Cretans abolished the Commissioner and declared the Union of the Island with Greece. Eleftherios Venizelos played a central role in that movement. The Superpowers reacted and the Unification officially took place after the end of the Balkan Wars (December 1st 1913). The most important historical moment of Crete after the Union with Greece was the Battle of Crete, when all the Cretan people resisted the Axis with unbelievable bravery, along with the allied forces - Englishmen, Australians and New Zealanders - that arrived on the island (May 20th – 29th 1941).

Historic Times

In 1100 A.D., Crete enters in a new historical period. The cultural continuity is disrupted and the substantial decline and fall of the old culture is taking place. The new regime has an aristocratic character. The island is divided into city-states, which are often involved into long lasting wars between them.  The new organization of the Cretan society follows the model of the corresponding organization of Sparta and the other Dorian centers of Greece. Despite its neutral status during this period, Crete took part in the fall of Troy with 80 ships. Also, many Cretan mercenaries serve in Alexander the Great’s army in later times. Admiral Nearchus from Lato and messenger Philonides from Hersonissos are known for their role in Alexander the Great’s army.
golden coin
Then follows the Hellenistic period, when the institution of the Cretan Koinon (federation of Cretan cities) is created, with a loose relationship between its cities. The Cretan Koinon was maintained until the 4th century A.D. The population lives also in lower positions, in the plains, without the fear of war. This period, judging by the number of positions where impressive remains of settlements were discovered, it seems that Crete was densely populated. Large farmhouses are rebuilt in many positions, many years after the Neopalatial period. Great and impressive public technical works of this period are the aqueducts of Gortys, Lyktos and Hersonissos.
nfokas coin
In 67 B.C. the conquest of Greece is completed with the occupation of Crete by the Romans. Crete becomes a Roman province until 330 A.D., with Gortys being its capital city, which evolves to a powerful, wealthy and populous city. Under the Roman rule, Crete experienced prosperity again. Knossos now plays a secondary role, as Augustus unites Crete with the peninsula of Cyrene, founding a province with its capital at Gortys, in the Messara Plein. Other cities in the region of Heraklion which flourished during these years are Lyktos and Hersonissos, as well as the ancient city of Levina with the Temple of Asclepius.

Byzantine Period – Venentian Domination

byzantine church
After the first Byzantine period (330 A.D to 824 A.D), Crete is a “theme” of the Byzantine Empire, with Gortys being its administrative, military and religious center. In 824 A.D., after a series of Arab raids and the landing of Arabs in Crete in around 822-823 A.D aiming to the progressive conquest of the island, the city of Heraklion falls into the hands of the conquerors. The city is now called Rabdh el Khandaq, which means “Fortress of the Ditch”.
byzantine church2
In 960 A.D. the Byzantine general and later Byzantine Emperor Nikephoros Phokas conducts a campaign against the Arabs.  Crete is set free and the Arabs are confined within the well-fortified Chandax. After months of siege, in the spring 961 A.D., the Byzantines made a general attack, which resulted in the successful recapture of the city. After the abolition of the Byzantine Empire by Crusaders of the Fourth Crusade in 1204, the island is disputed between the Genoese and the Venetians. Crete passes through a short-lived occupation by the Genoese and finally into the hands of the Venetians in 1211.
byzantine church3
The new acquisition becomes the most significant colony of Venice. The governor of the island (Duke of Candia) and the Latin Archbishop have their seat in Chandax, which was renamed Candia and gave its name to the entire island, which becomes the “Venice of the East”. Crete is divided into four administrative regions which correspond approximately to today’s prefectures. The Venetian’s oppression and the arbitrariness with the heavy taxation, the unequal treatment, the granting of large lands to the Venetian colonists and the harsh drudgeries provoke the reaction of the Cretan people, which is manifested through a series of revolts. The Cretan people revolted 27 in total. With the Revolt of St. Titus (Titus is the patron saint of Crete), the Venetian authority is violently overthrown and the Duke is captured and imprisoned along with his advisors. This rebellion finally failed due to the direct and dynamic intervention of Venice. After the first two centuries, which are marked by successive revolutionary uprisings, things start to calm down and a remarkable intellectual and artistic blossoming makes its appearance in the island. In the late years of Venetocracy, coinciding with the fall of Constantinople, Cretan literature reaches its apogee. The period of Venetocracy lasts until 1669.
During these years some of the greatest technical and architectural works of the island were built. The most characteristic examples of these works are found in the city of Heraklion, which has the largest fortification works, not only of Crete, but of the Eastern Mediterranean area. This is a monumental work, which constitutes a gem for the town and preserves important memories, despite the city’s modernity. This enormous defensive work is complemented by the amazing Koules Fortress in city’s port and by the majestic buildings of unique value, such as Loggia and the Morosini Fountain. Of course, there are innumerable monasteries and churches scattered throughout the island, such as the monasteries Kera, Paliani, Agaranthos, Odigitria, Kalyviani and others.
At that time, the period of the Cretan renaissance began, during which Crete experienced a flourishing in the arts and letters. In the first years of the Venetian domination the city of Heraklion creates the conditions to accept a significant intellectual development which will be enhanced shortly before the fall of Constantinople. Many Byzantine scholars, having perceived the danger of the conquest by the Turks, take refuge in European, mainly Italian, cities as well as in Crete and mainly in Heraklion (Candia). This migration wave of Byzantine scholars assists the cultural development of the city in all sectors. The Monastery of Saint Catherine of the Sinaites, becomes a great spiritual and cultural center of the city, where great scholars such as Meletios Vlastos, Ioannis Mortzinos, Cyril Loukaris and others being the teachers of the Monastery’s school.
el grecoA large number of the city’s young people travels to Venice and to other Italian cities for studies and little by little, the city of Heraklion is influenced by the early renaissance and a significant autonomous local production appears, mainly in the fields of painting, poetry and theater.
el greco painting
Especially in the last years of the Venetian domination (1594 - 1669), Cretan literature reaches the peak of its development, so from now on we can speak of the “Cretan theater”.
In the same period the ‘Cretan School” of painting was created, with Theophanes the Cretan, Georgios Klontzas and Michael Damaskenos being its top representatives. Damaskenos will later study next to the most famous Greek painter, Domenikos Theotokopoulos (El Greco). Literature also flourished, with Georgios Chortatzis and Vitsentzos Kornaros, who left behind them the famous works “Erofili”, “Erotokritos” and “The Sacrifice of Abraham”.

 Modern Times

cretan rebel pic
In 1669, Heraklion, Crete’s last stronghold, fell into the hands of the Ottomans. This means the fall of the last stronghold of Christian Europe in the Eastern Mediterranean. Candia withstood a siege which lasted 21 years. But the Christian element and especially the residents of Candia paid the heavy price of the siege with many human and material losses. The French poet Tournefor, who visits the city 30 years later, he characterized it as a “carcass of a city”. With the conquest of Candia, Turkey achieved its purpose, which was the geographical and economic unity of the empire in the Eastern Mediterranean area. So, almost the entire area -land and insular – was incorporated in the Ottoman Empire and Crete became one of its provinces. 

cretan rebel statue
Mismanagement, arbitrariness, heavy taxation and drudgeries constituted the ordinary Turkish tactic. From the early until the last years of the Turkish domination, there are many uprisings to throw off the Turkish yoke. In November 1898, the last Turkish soldier leaves the island and one month later, the High Commissioner, Prince George of Greece, disembarked at Souda Bay and in this way the autonomous Cretan State is created, under the "high protection" of England, Italy, France and Russia, until 1913, when the union with Greece is achieved.
battle of crete
The epic Battle of Crete is also a part of the modern history’s events, holding a unique position in the shocking developments of World War II. The strategic position of Crete and the occupation of the rest of Greece ensured the stabilization of the German air domination in the Mediterranean, while facilitating their military plans. The elite German paratroopers manage to occupy Crete, with significant loses. Heraklion, which is in the midst of the war, strongly resists. Its airport was occupied only after the withdrawal of the British garrison, which had undertaken its defense and after Maleme had been already occupied.
Some important military events with global impact that occurred in Heraklion, were the bombing of the Heraklion airport in June 1942, the kidnapping of the German General Karl Kreipe in April 1944 and the formation of the first armed resistance organizations of Crete, which occurred almost simultaneously with its occupation. Finally, on May 9th 1945 the local capitulation of the involved forces was signed at the Villa Ariadne at Knossos.

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