Crete is the largest of the Greek islands, offers yet another acceptable impression of life-enhancing friendliness, beauty, fertility, and the accumulated spoils of time.
An Island of larger space and population ( 500,000 inhabitants ), Crete has almost unlimited advantages for a holiday. The obvious ones are well known by now, but less common is the knowledge that it is fast developing into a splendidly planned holiday island, providing excellent accommodation in first-class hotels, holiday island, providing excellent accommodation in first-class hotels, holiday villages, and garden-enclosed beach bungalow resorts designed to suit their picturesque settings. Soft sandy beaches and seas as gentle and vividly blue-to-green as any in the Mediterranean are a special delight for carefree relaxation in the sun. Yet for all the progress Crete has made in recent years, it remains a rugged and unspoiled island.
The Cretans still live a simple life in the wild mountainous regions, or downland where vineyards and vast orchards of oranges and citrus fruit slope gently to villages and townships.
An east to west road roughly follows the northern coast with well-surfaced access roads branching off at various points to lead to towns and places of historical and sightseeing interest. Remains of every period of Crete’s history lie scattered everywhere, dating from the early Cretan and Minoan cultures to the more recent shelled buildings of the epic Battle of Crete in May 1941.
One can get to Crete either by air from Athens or by ship from Piraeus. The superb Minoan civilization, destroyed sometime in 1400 B.C., was developed in Crete. The many ruins of that civilization that exist on the island have stirred world interest for many years.
In comparison with that ancient civilization and the heights it reached we can say that the later Classical and Roman ages were periods of decline for Crete.
In 824 A.D. it was captured by the Arabs who turned it into a Saracen Pirates lair from where they launched their raids in the Mediterranean regions.
They were driven away by the Byzantine General Nicephorus Phocas ( who later became Emperor of the Byzantine Empire ). About 250 years later the Venetians came to Crete. Under their rule, the island knew economic and intellectual development, but this was curtailed when the Turks occupied the island in 1699. For as long as the Turkish yoke lasted the Cretans never ceased fighting for their freedom which they finally regained in 1912 when the island became part of the Greek nation.
A mountainous, elongated island, averaging about 55 km in width and stretching for some 264 km from east to west, Crete is as diverse in character as the rest of Greece. A chain of high mountains ( Dikti 2,142 m., Idi 2,456 m., and the White Mountains or Lefka Ori 2,454 m. ), divide it into four distinct regions whose alternating scenery combines to form the impressive beauty of the Cretan landscape. These high mountain ranges, with their natural divisions, form the island’s four provinces: Chania, Rethymnon, Heraklion, and Lassithi.
Crete’s greatest attraction is indisputably Knossos, just 5 km outside Heraklion. The most interesting ruins are the reconstructed palace and the regions around it, including the Propylaea, the long passageways, the storehouses, porches, and courtyards. The palace of Minos included the magnificent pillared flight of stairs the maze of rooms, and the throne-room of the oldest of the great kingdoms of Europe.
The graceful, high-backed throne, carved in stone is still in the position where it had been flanked by frescoes of griffins. But to the modern mind, the great marvel in Knossos is the elaborate sanitary system of the palace.
Heraklion the medieval Candia, is Crete’s main port of entry for visitors arriving by sea or air. This flourishing town is doubtless of some importance since it is in its vicinities that the splendid finds and art treasures of the Cretan cultures have been found. Heraklion itself was once a Venetian leading port in the Eastern Mediterranean and the remains of the 16th-century wall they built around the city are still well preserved.
Other interesting sights include Morosini’s Fountain, St. Mark’s Church, the Venetian Fortress, the Loggia, St. Minas Church, and the bazaar.