Crete is the largest island in Greece, and the fifth largest in the Mediterranean Sea. Here, the visitor can admire the remnants of brilliant civilisations, explore glorious beaches, impressive mountainscapes, fertile valleys and steep gorges, and enjoy the island’s rich gastronomic culture. Crete is a small universe full of beauty and charm that you will probably need a lifetime to uncover.
Crete is divided in to four prefectures:
The region of Chania on the western side of the island is dominated by the impressive White Mountains (in Greek: Lefka Ori) and its famous National Park. The Prefecture of Chania provides tourist services and activities of all kinds, satisfying all demands.
Rethymno region is Crete’s smallest prefecture and is located between the White Mountains and Mount Psilorítis (also called Ida). It is synonymous with fantastic mountainscapes, marvellous beaches, Cretan music, food, myths and legends, monasteries and monuments, traditional mountain villages and luxurious holiday resorts.
The largest and most densely populated region on the island of Crete is Heraklion. Nestling picturesquely among two imposing mountain ranges – Ida (Mt Psiloritis) to the west and Dikti to the east – Heraklion boasts exceptional archaeological treasures, significant coastal settlements, a series of picturesque villages, vast valleys with olive groves and vineyards as well as the best organised tourist infrastructure in Crete. A unique combination of urban scenery and natural wealth makes the region of Heraklion an appealing all-year-round destination.
Lasithi region is the easternmost and least mountainous region of Crete. It is noted for its semi-urban centres: Agios Nikolaos, Ierapetra, Sitia and Neapoli as well as the palm tree forest of Vaï, the Gulf of Mirabello, the windmills on the Lasíthi Plateau, beaches lapped by crystalline water and luxurious hotel resorts.
Due to its geographical position between Africa, Europe and Asia Minor and its mild climate, Crete became a centre of culture as early as Neolithic times. The first prehistoric settlements appeared in Crete around 6000 BC while in 2600 BC settlers who knew how to craft bronze arrived in Crete. It was then that the illustrious course of the Minoan Civilisation began, reaching its peak around 1950 BC with the building of the great palaces in Knossos, Faistos, and Malia.
Mythology has it that it was in a cave in Crete that the goddess Rhea hid the new-born Zeus, where he was raised by nymphs; while Rhea’s male devotees, the Kouretes, were said during their war dances to strike their shields loudly so that the Titan Cronus would not hear the baby Zeus crying and kill him. It was also to Crete that Zeus, disguised as a bull, took Europa so that they might enjoy their love together. Their union produced a son, Minos, who became king of Crete and turned the island into a mighty empire that ruled the Aegean Sea. In Minoan times, Athens was obliged to pay a tribute tax to Crete – in the form of seven Athenian youths and seven Athenian maidens, sent every nine years to be devoured by the half-bull, half-man Minotaur – until Theseus, the Athenian prince, killed the Minotaur. The myth reveals the existence of a powerful and wealthy civilisation, which is considered the oldest on the European continent.
In 1450 BC and again in 1400 BC Minoan civilisation was devastated, possibly due to the eruption of the volcano of Santorini. In the wake of the devastation Dorian Greeks settled on the island. After Roman rule, Crete became a province of the Byzantine Empire until the arrival of the Arabs who occupied the island for an entire century (824-961 BC). During Arab domination, Crete became the lair of pirates who were based out of Handakas, present day Heraklion.
Crete was eventually liberated from the Arabs by the Byzantines, until the arrival of the Venetians who occupied the island for some 500 years, leaving their stamp on the island’s culture. The island fell to the Ottomans in 1669. Turkish occupation was marked by frequent bloody uprisings. At the end of the 19th century Turkish rule came to an end. An independent Cretan state was created in 1897 with the King of Greece as the island’s high commissioner. In 1913, Crete was finally united with Greece.