Aug 9, 2012

Nikos Deja Vu - Η Ιστορία της Κρήτης - History of Crete (Greece)


Crowning the southern-most part of the Aegean, Crete has been standing there for centuries, proud bearer of its past; a past that blends myth and historical fact, power and demise, leadership and defeat, but never subjugation, never weakness. Its terrain unpredictable... filled with mountain ranges, intense and defying, serene plateaus - blessed with the rich vegetation that only gods could  bestow on this island - interspersed with wide expanses of serene valleys and gentle hills, that meet the waters of the sea, some times with fierce determination, others with quiet resolve.

The island of King Minos and a civilization that left its mark on the world, faced the voracious appetite of conquerors from mainland Greece, Rome, Byzantium, the Ottoman Empire, the Venetians, was raided by pirates and invaded by armies who cruised the Mediterranean in search of riches and power.

The proof of this in every corner of the land; in Chania, Rethymno, Iraklio, Lassithi. Finds of long-forgotten civilizations, castles with thick walls and deep moats, monasteries and churches, standing along-side minarets and mosques, they are all testaments to the turbulent past of this corner of Greece. And the people!!!... Proud as the mountains, strong as the waves that beat upon its shores, yet gentle and generous, bearers of age-old traditions and culture.

This is the birthplace of gods and heroes, divine artists and inspired politicians: Zeus and Minos, El Greco, Kornaros, Kazatzakis, Venizelos ... From myth, to antiquity, to renaissance, to modern Greek history, figures who contributed of themselves to what today makes up Crete, Greece and to some extend Western civilization.

Modern Map of Crete

Photo The Cretans are known for their generosity of spirit. They like strangers, they are pleasant, graceful and hospitable. As their glorious and turbulent history indicates, they are driven by a powerful desire for freedom and independence, which is reflected in every expression of their daily life. Their intense character, combined with a strong sense of family loyalty, often leads them to actions that may be viewed as extreme by outsiders. The ultimate expression of this behaviour is the famous "vendetta," where the rivalry between different families can continue for generations on end. The Cretans keep the local customs and traditions alive. Many still wear the traditional costumes, sing traditional Cretan songs and dance the local dances. Their income derives from agriculture, stock- breeding, commerce and in recent years from tourism, which has developed quite a bit. Cretan girls make beautiful folk-art objects, like ceramics, embroideries and woven fabrics, which can be purchased at most shops on the island.

Extension & Population

PhotoFound in the crossroads of of three continents, Crete is surrounded be the Lybian Sea, the Cretan Seam the Karpatian Sea and the Myrtoon Sea. Its geostrategic poistions is of great importance, a fact explaining its adventurous history. The shape of the island is narrow but long, with a a length of 260 km. and width of 60 km. and just 12 km. in its most narrow part, which is located in the area of Ierapetra. Crete is the biggest among the greek islands, with a total area of 8,303 square km., including the reas of the little islands of Dia and Gavdos. The latter represents the southernmost point of Greece. Its extensive beaches - of great variety of terrain - have a total length of 1,064.4 km. The population of the island amounts up to about 500.000 residents, who live mainly off agriculture, animal husbandry and as of lately off tourism. Administratively, the island is divided into four Counties. The County of Chania, with Chania as its capital City, the County of Rethymon with thw homonemous capital city, the County of Lasithi, with Aghios Nikolaos as its capital, and the County of Heraklion, with its capital, the city of Heraklion being the largest city on the island with about 100.000 inhabitants.

The Place


PhotoIn the mountains of Crete there have been formed many caves, owing to the terrain of the island. Archaelogical and paleohistoric findings testify to the fact that most of these caves were used during the prehistoric era as sites of worship and religious observances. Among those caves, we distinguish the Dikteo Andro and the Ideo Andro, connected with many local legends, the Caves of Melidoniou Apokoronou, of Sendoni Rethymnou, of Ilithieas, the Cave of Aghios Ioannis the Hermit and thew Caves of Omalos Chanion.


PhotoThe coastline of Crete spans an area of 1,046.4 km and is adorned by capes, bays, picturesque harbours, gulfs, steep cliffs and lovely sandy beaches. The southern coast is less developed as far as tourism goes, thus more peaceful and secluded. The northern coast, though rougher, tends to get more crowded.


PhotoSome of the most characteristic natural beauties of the cretan scenery consist of the famous cretan gorges which begin at the mountainous areas of the island and end to the sea. The green gogrges aabound with rare species of flora and fauna which are protected by strict rules, as they are unique throughout Greece. Among them, one can admire rare species of cypress-trees, platans, pine-trees and wildflowers. The most famous and significant gorge of Crete is the infamous gorge of Samaria, which impresses with its size and unique natural beauty, while on its slopes, one can adire the famous wildgoat of Crete which is found nowhere else in Greece. other significant gorges are the gorges of Kourtaliotis river, of Nimbros and Tipoliano.


PhotoThe mountainous areas of Crete form many plateaux. Some of them are very fertile with abundant water and are systematically used to cultivate garden produce and fruit. Others are used for pasturing. Among the better known ones are the Plateau of Lassithi on mountain Dikta, at a 900 m altitude, the very popular Omalos Plateau, on Lefka Ori (700 m altitude), made famous in folk songs, Plateau of Askifou and, finally, the plateau of Nida, on Psiloritis mountain, (1,400 m altitude).


PhotoThe mountains of Crete present a wide variety of geological formations, valleys, gorges, caves and plateaux. They are part of the Dinarotauric Arrow, which begins at the Dinaric Alps. The western side of Crete includes Lefka Ori (White Mountains), or Madares, with Pachnes being the highest peak at 2,453 m. The central part of the island is dominated by Psiloritis, or Ida mountain, Crete’s tallest, Timios Stavros (2,456 m) being the highest peak. In the eastern part of island one can admire Dikta, or Lassithiotika (2,148 m). Apart from these mountain chains there are other, less high ranges, such as Kedros (1,777 m), the ridge of Kouloukonas alias Talea Ori (as it was known in the ancient years), mount Kofinas (1,231 m) and the Sitia mountains where the tallest peaks are 1,320 m and 1,476 m high. The Cretan mountains are for the most part covered with forests. In the recent years, severe damage has been caused by fire and the intensive timber trade and the forest density has been significantly reduced. Still, Roura Forest on mount Ida and Selekano Forest on mount Dikta, are well preserved. Yet, the most beautiful forest on the island is the famous palm-forest of Vai, where the palm-trees reach the beach giving a tropical touch and unique beauty to the area.

Rivers & Lakes

PhotoDue to its narrow width, the island of Crete has view rivers, which begin from its central, mountains region and end at the Libyan and the Cretan Seas. Most of them have little water during the winter months, and they dry up in the summer. The biggest rivers on the island are the Geropotamos and the Anapodiaris, in the Messara area, the Tyflos and the Kolenis in the valley of Chania, the Kilaris, the Mega Potamos and the Kourtaliotis, at the delta of which we find an area of exquisite beauty. The island does not have big lakes as well, except for some very small ones as well as the lake of Koyurna in the Apokoronou area. There also exists the small but picturesque harbour-side lake of Voulismeni, next to the port of Aghios Nikolaos.

Cultivation & Production

PhotoA great variety of agricultural products is produced in the numerous valleys found on the island of Crete. The lowlands of the island spread along its north side, where we find the valleys of Kastellion Kisamou, of Kydonia, of Aghia, of Georgioupolis, of Rethymnon, of Chania, of Malia, of Ierapetra as well as the Mesara Valley, known since antiquity for the bounteous production of cereals. Due to the yielding climate of the island, agriculture is greatly developed and during the last few years big greenhouse cultivations were created here, from where all kinds of products are shipped to the rest of Greece. Among other products, Crete is famous for its olives - from which the high quality cretan oil is produced - the grape vines, the groceries, the oranges, lemons and other products of the kind, as well as for the production of "tropical" fruits, such as bananas, avocadoes and kiwi, as well as thwe famous cretan raisins, known by the name of Soultanina. In the mountains areas, there is bounteous production of of mountain tea, chestnuts, walnuts and other products. On the island there is also production - in great quantities - of high quality honey and cheeses, such as the cretan anthotyro, the mizithra and the graviera, while local fishermen sell all kinds of fish and sea food.


PhotoCrete is known for the wide variety of its natural flora. It is estimated that the island is home to 2,000 different kinds of plants, many of which only grow on Cretan land, such as the famous evergreen, Platanus orientalis. Along the Cretan land spread green areas of unique natural beauty. One can admire beautiful wildflowers, anemones, daffodils, osiers and the wild ranunculus. On the mountain slopes grow cypress-, plane-, chestnut-, and oak-trees. The greatest variety of rare plants grows in the gorges, especially in the famous Samaria gorge, which is a known National Park. Here, one comes across rare plants, like the Ebenus cretica, Campanula pelviformis, Gladolius italicus, Linum arboreum, Staechelina arborea, Cyclamen creticum, Chrysanthemum coronarium, Cistus villosuscreticus and Petromarcula pinnata. In the rest of the island varieties such as Tulipa bakeri, Anchusa caespitosa, Erysinum raulinu, Dianthus juniperinus, Dianthus pulviniformis, Asperula idaea and Scabiosa minoana can be found. Finally, of singular natural beauty is the palm-forest of Vai, where Phoenix theophrastu grows, a variety unique to this part of Greece.


PhotoCrete is well known for the cretan goat, otherwise called "kri - kri" which is found mainly in the Gorge of Samaria. The archaeological excavations, which have brouth to light many a wall paintings of the "kri - kri", testify to the view that this animal was worshiped on the island during antiquity. Its rareness is one of the reasons that led to the Gorge of Samaria becoming a national park. However, "kri - kri" have been spotted in the nearby islands of Dia, Theodoros and Aghioi Pantes. From the Cretan countryside, there could not been absent animals less rare, which are found in many parts of Greece. Among them, the rabbit, the wild cat or fourogatos and a unique kind of mouse. Among the birds, in the Cretan mountains we distinguish the golden eagle and the eagle Gyps Fulvus, while there are many kinds of travelling birds which make a stop on the island as they travel to the south.


PhotoThe climate in Crete can be described as typical Mediterranea. Summer is hot and dry with sparce clouds and lots of sunshine. Winter is mild, although in certain areas there may be snow and temperature may drop to unusually low levels.

History and Culture


Minotaur lived of human blood and King Minos had ordered the city of Athens, that blaimed for his son's Androgeos death, to offer young boys and girls as food for the supernatural creature. Among them was Theseus, the son of King Aegeas, whose mission was to kill Minotaur and releaved his country from this "blood tax". To his aid came Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos, who was in love with him and offered her help; in return, Theseus would have to marry her and take her home to Athens. Thus, Theseus succeeded in his mission by killing the Minotaur and coming out of the labyrinth wrapping the "Mitos of Ariadne", a ball of thread he had unwrapped when entering the maze. According to myth, Theseus after being united with Ariadne at the islet of Zeus and having two children with her, deserted her. According to mythology, he left her because he was in love with Egli. Another theory is that goddess Athena asked him todo so and yet another one is that god Dionysus fell in love with Ariadne. It is said that Ariadne is the impersonation of the goddess of vegetation, dying and being born again, every year. Theseus' return had an unfortunate ending, as the young hero forgot to take the black sail off the boat as he had promised his father, Aegea. The latter, thinking that the Minotaur had won and killed Theseus, committed suicide by drawing in the Aegean Sea.


According to mythology, Zeus, the God of gods, was born in Crete. Cronus, his father, trying to avoid his parents' curse that one of his children would take away from him the ruling of the sky, murdered his children one-by-one, by eating them. His wife, Rhea, terrified and chased by her husband, sought refuge in a cave in the ancient "Aegean Mountain", and, with the help of Uranus and Gaia, gave birth to her last child. Cronus was fooled with a rock in dipers and the loud singing and dancing of demons "Kourites", covering the noise of the newborn's cry. Zeus was rased by the Nymphs, drinking milk from goat Amalthia, the later became a star and her skin was Zeus' shield. When Zeus grew up, he defeated Cronus and became the ruler of the sky. The rock that had fooled his father was put in Delfphi, to remind mortals and gods of his glorious power.


In the prime of the minoan civilization, Crete was visited by Daedalus, one of the period's greatest inventors and constructors. He is said to have built the labyrinth with the numerous corridors and rooms, from where no-one could come out. He is also said to have constructed the wooden cow in which Pasiphae, Minos' wife, was united with the legendary white bull and gave birth to the Minotaur. To avoid King Minos' rage, Daedalus and his son Icarus dared to fly like birds, adjusting to their arms wax wings. Unfortunately, Icarus, impressed by the height and speed, went too high, close to the sun, thus burning his wings and drowned into the Icarian Sea. According to another aspect, Pasiphae gave a boat to Daedalus to help him escape from Crete. The boat was so fast that the sails looked like wings, so it was believed that Daedalus and Icarus had flown, but Icarus fell in the sea and drowned and the island, where he was burried, was name Icaria. According to another myth, Minos irritated by Daedalus' flee, started to look for him asking people wrap a snail in a thread, something he knew only Daedalus could do. Travelling around, he went to Cicely, at the palace of King Kokalus where Daedalus had sought refuge. The King accepted to pass the thread through the snail and gave it to Daedalus who made a small hole in the snail and put in an ant tied to the thread. The ant came out the other side of the snail, thus proving to Minos that Daedalus was there. The Cretan King demanded from Daedalus to surrender, but the daughters of King Kokalus killed him by putting very hot water in his bath, thus ending the adventures of Daedalus.


One of Zeus and Europe's sons was King Minos. Minos replaced Asterios, the fromer King of Crete and husband of Europe, and became one of the most powerful rulers of the island, ever. "Minos" was probably a royal title symbolising the power and authority of a great ruler, judge and representative of the gods. The Kingdom of Minos united all the Cretan cities, the biggest being Knossos and Phaestos, and became a great naval power with tremendous cultural and economic development. The Kingdom was divided in three parts, the first including Knossos, the second including Phaestos and the third including Cydonia. The minoan civilization spread and influenced throughout the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, created new cities and progressed in art and literature. Life was based upon strict and fair rules that Zeus indicated to his son, or so is said. Minos legislation was so fair, that he was later appointed superior judge in Ades, judging the sins of the dead. Minos' assistant in administation was his brother Radamanthys, who was equally good at ruling and judging people.


Minos bewed Pasiphae, the daughter of Sun and nymph Crete and together had eight children, Androgeos, Katreas, Glafkos, Dafkalion, Ariadne, Xenodiki, Akalli and Phaedra. According to mythology, when Minos asked Neptune for a sign that would mean he would become the King of Crete, from the sea emerged a beautiful bull that Minos refused to sacrifice, thus irritating Neptune who punished Minos by making his wife Pasiphae fall in love with the white bull. Pasiphae, with the help of a wooden cow made by Daedalus, was united with the bull and gave birth to Minotaur, who had the body of a human and the head of a bull. According to myth, this creature lived in the Labyrinth, in the palace's underground and was fed with the blood of youngsters. The famous Athenean hero Theseus defeated Minotaur and releaved Athens from the harsh "blood tax" that paid to this supernatural creature.


When Zeus was united with Europe, to show her his love he gave her three presents, one of which was the bronze giant Talos, created by Hephaestus. According to mythology, Talos was the son of Cris and father of Phaestos or, according to another version, he was Minos' brother. His duty was to travel around the island with his bronze slates with the laws and make sure that they were obeyed. He also protected Crete from the enemy, throwing rocks to the enemy ships or burning them with his hot bronze body. Despite his power, Talos didn't resist Media's promises for immortality, thus being framed and letting the ship of "Argo" pass by Crete without being destroyed. As he stood peacefully, Media stroke his weak vain and killed him, extracting the divine fluid that had inside him, instead of blood. According to another version, Talos died from the arrow of Pias, Philoctete's father.


According to mythology, Zeus fell in love with princess Europe of Phoenicia. So, he turned into a white bull with firm body, golden horns and innocent eyes and tricked the princess and her friends who were peaking flowers. He brought Europe to Crete and, as tokens of his love, he gave to the girl: giant Talos to protect the island, a quiver of arrows that always succeeded in hitting their goal and a golden dog as her guardian angel. Mythology claims that Zeus and Europe were united in the area of Gortys, under a platan which became evergreen, or at Diktaion Andron where the nymphs had prepared the bridal bed. Zeus and Europe bore three sons: Radamanthys, Sarpedon and king Minos.

Historic Periods

NEOLITHIC PERIOD (6000- 2600 B.C.)

Archeological excavations in Crete indicated that the island had been inhabited since 6000 BC . Neolithic ruins were found in Phaestos, Knossos and Sitia, where the first settlements were formed by farmers and stock-breeders. People lived in slate houses and caves such as the caves of Ilithia, Stravouitis, Ellinospileo, Trapeza Lasithiou, etc. Excavations brought to light pottery, weapons, tools, blades made of bone or stone and offerings to the goddess of fertility.


The extensive use of copper resulted in growth of the population, as well as commercial activity in Asia Minor, Cyclades and Egypt. The island’s geographic location, the fertile ground and the long periods of peace favoured the development of a glorious civilization which thrived in the ensuing centuries. The pre-Palatial period is divided into three periods, following the Egyptian calendar, which is based on the change dynasties. In the first period, copper has not fully substituted stone and clay (utensils) and communication with the nearby areas is limited. The second period is characterized by growth in fishing, farming and shipping acctivities, as well as the trade of tin, a ingredient necessary for the production of bronze. Several cities thrived in that period, having been built in strategic positions. In Messara and Archanes, arched tombs the period provided valuable information about the locals’ worshipping habits and civilization. The third period is known for the improvement of construction techniques, while new products are used, such as precious stones, elephant bone, from Egypt and gold. The various seals, from that period, are beautiful works of art.


In 1900 BC the first palaces were built in Crete, including the magnificent palaces of Knossos, Malia and Kato Zakros. Their size and decorations are impressive still today, a fact which proves that the Minoan civilization was one of the most glorious in Greece. Findings in the areas of Monastiraki Rethimnou, Chania and Archanes are also dated in this period. The settlements around the palaces had organized watering, sewage and street system and the daily-life utensils found here are of great significance. The most important find is the well-known Disc of Phaestos (1700-1600 BC), a unique sample of hieroglyphics, excibited in the Archeological Museum of Heraklio. The period’s economy was based on agriculture and thrived on trade, as indicated by finds from Crete that have been located in Egypt as well as Cyprus. The end of this period comes after a strong earthquake in 1700 BC, which destroyed most of the palaces.


Despite the severe damage caused by the strong eartquake in 1700 BC, the palaces were restored and the Neo-Palatial Period, the thriving years of the minoan civilization, was inaugerated. The palace was the centre of the economic, social and religious life. The splendour of the palace, the wealth and the size (22000 sq.m.) impress visitors even nowadays. Around the palace, there were many other buildings such as workshops, storage-rooms, and mansions that belonged to the merchants, the priests and the higher officials. A multitude of archaeological finds testify to the way in which daily life and economy were organised, a way which varied from town to town. The locals mostly occupied with shipping and wine and perfume oil trade, as well as with farming, pottery and weaving, although not in a large scale. The commercial centers were the Port of Amnissos, Agioi Theodori, Malia, Phaestos and Agia Triada,while goods were transported from one town to another through a perfectly organised street trammel. The class of merchants, manufacturers and priests commanded respect, second only to the King who was worshipped as a High Priest, along with the Goddess of Fertility. The ruins of contemporary arched tombs provide a multitude of information regarding the worshipping and burrial customs of that period. The artistic production was of high levels, with beautiful items of pottery, painting, seal-making, lithotomy, miniatures and jewels. The daily life representations on pots and murals testify to the prominent role of women, in the minoan civilization. As expected, the thrive of the minoan civilization influenced the mainland and the Cretan colonnies. In about 1450 BC, this colourful splendor came to a sudden end. The cities and palaces of the Minoan civilization were swept away by a tidal wave, caused by a volcanic eruption in the island of Thera, while extensive fires demolished everything.


The Achaeans, exploiting the demise of the Minoan civilization, occupied Knossos and established a strong Achaean dynasty. According to tablets written in Linear B script, the Achaeans soon took control of the island. Although the economy was still based on trade with nearby Egypt and Asia Minor, the change is evident in art and daily life. All ceramics, bronze objects, jewels etc., testify to the coexistence and influence of the two populations on one another, for a long time. In 1300 BC another strong earthquake destroyed the last remains of the Minoan civilization, including the palace of Knossos. Another theory claims that the palace was destroyed during a battle between the Achaeans of the mainland and the Achaeans of Crete. After this destruction, the new conquerors became very powerful, retained the wealth of their predecessors, but failed to continue their great cultural tradition. According to historians, in 1200 BC, Crete had a powerful fleet that raided the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea. In the early 11th cent. BC, European tribes descended on Crete from the North.


In the 11th century BC, Greece was swarmed with Achaeans and Dorians who occupied the mainland and then took over Crete. The islanders, known as Eteocretans, built new settlements, in the remote areas of central and eastern Crete, such as Karfi Lasithiou and Praissos, where they tried to keep their language, customs and traditions unchanged. The new conquerors brought to the island tools, weapons and other objects made of iron, as well as new customs such as the burning of the dead.


Ever since 900 BC, following the Dorian Rule in Crete, the basic political system was monarchy. There were more than 100 city-states such as Gorty, Phaestos, Knossos, Tylissos, Littos, Rizenia, Hersonissos, Lapa, Lissos, Tara, Milatos, Terapytne, Cydonia, Itanos, Sitia, Praissos and Olounda. There were three social classes : “Periiki” who enjoyed limited political rights, but owned land and were involved in trade; “Minoites” who worked as slaves in the construction of public works and “Afamiotes” or “Klarotes” who were the personal slaves of the Dorians and did all the hard, agricultural work. Art and science were influenced by both Dorian and eastern elements, as indicated by pots, jewels, metallic items etc. Daedalus, the sculptor, created a new technique in sculpture, called “Daedalic” style. Many works of this school are exhibited in Cretan museums. During the 7th century BC, Crete was the cultural and art center of Greece. Unfortunately, the next century was characterized by the constant fight between the Cretan cities and the enemy invasions from mainland Greece and Asia. Life was based on the strict models of Sparti, as attested to by the “Laws of Gorty” (5th century BC), found during the excavation in Gorty.


During the classic period, with the cities of mainland Greece being in constant conflict with one another, Crete flourished. It did not participate in either the Persian or the Peloponnesian wars that plagued the Mainland. When the Macedonians inaugurated the Hellenistic Period, the Cretans, attempting to win the favour of the powerful new rulers, pronounced Philip E (217-216 BC) protector of the island. Yet , even the presence of an outside strong force was unable to put an end to the rivalry among the important cities in Crete. This fact was exploited by the pirates of Celichia, who dominated the Eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea. Using Crete as the base of operations, they marched against the Roman city of Ostia in the 2nd century BC. The Romans used this as reason to interfere in the island’s political life. After the failed expedition of Marcus Antonius in 71 BC, commander Cointus Caecilius Metellus marched against Crete in 69 BC, and after two years of harsh siege, finally managed to conquer the island in 67 BC.


In 67 BC, Crete was conquered by the Romans after two years of siege. This was followed by a period of peace during which the cities, Gorty being the capital, flourished. Luxurious roman buildings, temples, stadiums and baths were built. The population by then was numbering 300,00 inhabitants. The biggest cities were Knossos, Cydonia, Aptena, Ierapetra, Phaestos, Littos and Eleftherna. The presence of Romans did not influence the daily life and habits of Cretans who retained their language and worshipping customs. This is the time when Crete first heard about Christianity and the first church was founded by Agios Titus, the islands’ protector saint and apostle Paul’s student. In 330 AD after the roman empire was divided in the eastern and western parts Crete became part of Byzantium.


When the Roman empire was divided, Crete became originally part of Illyrian country, which in 395 AD became part of Byzantium, under the emperor Theodosios the Great. This is the first time that Christianity spread and the Abbey of Crete came under the Patriarchy of Constantinopole. Some of the biggest churches of the island were built then: the basilica of Agios Titus in the area of Gorty, the basilica of Panormos in Rethimno and the basilica of Almyrida Apokoronou. During the first Byzantine Period, Crete was raided by the Arabs who finally conquered the island in 824 AD.

ARAB RULE (824-961)

In 824 AC, the Saracene Arabs , led by Abbu Chaffs, conquered Crete. This period was characterized by constant raids and the island has become the biggest slave-bazaar in the East. The city of Chandia (Heraklio) was fortified, surrounded by a deep trench (Chandax) and it became the capital of Crete’s independent Arab state. During the Arab Rule, Byzantium tried to take back Crete and in 826 AD, General Karteros caused severe casualties to the Arabs. Yet the Arab Rule lasted till 961 AD, when, after months of siege, Nikiforos Fokas brought Crete back to the Byzantine empire.


The second Byzantine Period begins with Crete’s conquest by Nikiforos Fokas in May 7th 961 and its release from Arab Rule. The final battle, after several months of siege, caused severe casualties to the Arab army and the death of 200,000 Arabs. Thus began a new period of cultural and economical flourish and the revival of Christianity in Crete. Missionaries spread the word of Christianity around the island, two of them being Nikon “Metanoite”(‘repent’) and Agios Ioannis Xenos. The local population grew, as Alexios Komninos ordered the migration and settlement of Byzantine families here, in 1082. In 1204, after Constantinopole was occupied by the Franks, the Latin emperor gave Crete away to Bonifatius Momferatius who sold it to the Venetians, in 1210.

VENETIAN RULE (1204- 1669)

The Venetian Rule began with the occupation of Constantinople by the Franks, in 1204 and the offer of Crete to Bonifatius Monferaticus by the Latin emperor. The former sold it in 1210 to the Venetians who fought successfully against the Genovans and settled in the island permanently, appointing Heraklio as capital. The Venetian Rule lasted for four centuries and was divided into two periods: the first one ended in 1453, when the Turks occupied Constantinople and the second one ended in 1669 when, after 21 years of siege, Crete was conquered by the Turks. During the Venetian Rule, the population of Crete augmented, as many venetian families settled here to fortify the venetian element in Crete.The island, also known as “kingdom of Crete”, was originally divided in six “sexteria” and, later, in four counties. All power came to the hands of the Duke, his councellors and the administrators, while the locals had absolutely no authority or fortune. The Venetians appointed a Latin archbishop and tried to limit Orthodox church and confiscate its property. As expected, there were many riots against the Venetian Rule, the most significant being led by Scordilis, Callergis and Melissinos families, thus gaining some privileges for the locals, like the treaty of 1299 (Pax Alexii Callergi) that acknowledged the right to an Orthodox bishop, free settlement around the island and freedom to the slaves. The movement of Callergi brothers was supported by Venetian feudatories who, irritated by heavy taxation, helped to proclaim the island an autonomous democracy under the name “Democracy of St Titus”. Yet, despite the riot results, the feudal system was extremely suppresive of the poor farmers who worked as slaves at the property of the rich feudatories. After the decline of the feudal system, the class of the bourgeois merchants took over and the Orthodox church thrived. The basic element of the Venetian Rule was the cultural growth, as attested by significant works of the Cretan School of Painting, theater, literature and poetry. The architectural influence was impressive, with sublime castles, fortifications and public works still standing.


In 1645, 60,000 Turks led by Yussut Pasha disembarked on Crete and occupied Chania and Rethimno. After an unbelievable 21 -year siege, Chandax, the last fort of resistance, was surrendered by Francesco Morozini to Turk Ahmed Kioproulis, in September 27th 1669. Thus, Crete came under Turkish occupation. This period is characterized by destruction, raids, property confiscation, which were now handled by the Sultan and the persecution of the local Christians, despite the privileges that Mohammed B had granted the Patriarchy. Most of the churches were turned to mosques and the locals were either massacred or imprisoned. The Cretans did not leave the island, in spite of the conditions of poverty and pressure, and resisted in every possible way. In 1692, they fought together with the Venetians against the Turks, a fact that irritated the enemy and resulted in the massacre of many Christians. Another attempt at independence with the help of the Russians, in 1770 ended in bloodshed. Yet, the Brave Cretans did not quit the struggle. The biggest part of the island was liberated in 1821-1824. Unfortunately, Egyptian Ahmet Alli came to the aid of the Sultan before all of Crete was liberated. After the declaration of the Greek state, the circumstances allowed the Sultan to give Crete away to Egypt until 1840 when the extensive riots forced Egypt to grant privileges to the locals. This irritated the Turks and a series of battles began, the most important of them being the Revolution of 1895-96, the battle of Crete in 1866-68 and the holocaust of the monastery of Arkadia. These were followed by riots which led to the declaration of Crete as an independent “Cretan State” in 1898, when a period of healing for two centuries of slavery begins.

MODERN YEARS (1898- till today)

In 1898, the Great Powers declared Crete as “an independent Cretan State”, under the rule of Sultan. Yet, the administration of commander Prince George irritated the Cretans who, in 1905 revolted - the famous “Revolution of Ieriso”-, thus forcing Prince George to resign and appoint commandeer, Alexandros Zaimis. This is when Eleftherios Venizelos, the greatest politician in Greece, sealed the history of Modern Greece. During 17-30 May 1913 the final union of Crete with Greece was signed and the Greek flag was installed in Crete. During the German occupation, the Cretans fought for their liberation, the most known being the battle of Crete, dated 20-28 May 1941, when the most important German landing was rebuked by the Cretans and the Allies : Australians, New Zealanders and British. After the four years of German occupation, a period of peace and healing began for the Cretans. From that point on the island flourished, thanks to agriculture and in recent years, tourism.

Historic Persons


PhotoOne of the most significant Greek novelists, poets, drama writers and scholars. He was born in Heraklio, in 1833 and studied Law in Athens and Philosophy in Paris. He was influenced by the theories of Ion Dragoumis and Eleftherios Venizelos. His trip to Russia in 1919, acting as General Manager of the Ministry of Welfare, was the introduction of his exciting odyssey: Vienna, Berlin, Italy, Crete, Russia, Cyprus, Spain, Egypt, mount Sinah, Goethesgub (Tsechoslovakia), Nice (France). He died in Germany, in 1957. His first novel was "The Snake and the Lilly", in 1906, followed by "Foreman", "Ascetic Life", the translation of Dante's "Divina Comedy". His prime was evident by the works "Life of Alexis Zorbas", "Christ is crossed again", "Captain Michael", "The Last Temptation", "God's Poor Man" and "Reference to Greco".


PhotoAlthough there is no definite information about Vicenzos Kornaros, it is known that he lived in Sitia and Heraklio in the 17th century and died in 1677. Kornaros is said to have written the famous cretan work of literature "Erotokritos". This terrifice narrative piece was written in 10,000 15-syllable verses. There is only one remaining copy, dated back in 1710. The work was first published in Venice, in 1713. Even though the plot is trivial, it is said that Kornaros was inspired by the french medieval play "Paris et Vienne", which he turned in a literal masterpiece. Kornaros is said to have written the poetic drama "Abraham's Sacrifice" which consisted of 1,154 15-syllable verses and was first published in 1635. His ideal was the tragedy "Isaac", by Italian L. Grotto.


PhotoDomenicos Theotokopoulos was born in Heraklio, in 1541. He was first taught hagiography at a venetian workshop and was influenced by the Cretan Hagiographic School (16th century) and the byzantine art. He spent most of his life in Toledo, Spain, where he died in 1614. El Greco, as he was called, occupied with sculpture and architecture, although the only samples of his work are the sculpt icon- stands in Santo Domingo el Antiguo (1577), the chapel of San Jose in Toledo (1597-1599) and the church of Mercy Hospital in Ilieskas (1603 - 1605). El Greco's painting follows the four cities where he lived: Heraklio, Venice, Rome and Toledo. The most known of his work are: "Boy blowing the coal", "Holy Trinity", "St. John Baptist", "Mercyful Virgin Mary", "The "Ascention of Virgin Mary" and others.


PhotoEleftherios Venizelos was born in Chania, in 1864. His family came from Sparti and came to the island when Benizelo Krevatas moved here in 1790 and gave his name to the famous family of Venizelos. Eleftherios had a difficult childhood, as the revolution forced his father to leave the island and move to Syros, where the young boy had his first education. After a PhD in Law, he left Athens in 1886 to return to his home-town. He soon was involved in politics and was elected congressman at the Cretan Council; he later became Minister of Justice. In 1905 he was the leader of United Opposition Party, while in 1908 he was again appointed Minister of Justice and Foreign Affairs. After his intervention in the negotiations between the "rebels", the Crown and the Political Parties, he was elected "President of the Greek Council of the Cretans" and Prime Minister of Crete, in 1910. Within the next months he became the leader of the Liberal Party, won the elections of the Revisory Parliament (December 1910) and thrived at the next elections (March 1912). In 1916, he established at Chania - along with Daglis and Koundouriotis - the National Triumvirate, forming a temporary government of National Defence. He lost the elections of 1920 and went abroad. In 1923, Venizelos represented Greece at the Treaty of Lozanne, signing the treaty of exchanging populations. Later in that year, he came back to Greece and became governor, only to quit within a short period of time. In the following years, Venizelos was on and off the government until he lost the elections of 1933. Later that year, someone attempted to murder him at Kifissias Ave. Venizelos died in Paris, in March 1936. He was buried at Akrotiri Chanion.

Local Architecture

PhotoExcavations indicate that Crete has been inhabited ever since the ancient years, creating a glamorous civilization. The constant change of conquerors has influenced the local architecture, with features from the Arab Rule, the Venetian Rule and the Turkish Occupation combine with the local architectural tradition. Venetian castles and public buildings, mansions belonging to nobles, Renaissance monasteries and byzantine churches, turkish mosques, are scattered around the island. The houses in the moiuntainous villages are amphitheatrically built on the sides or tops of hills, thus forming natural fortresses to safeguard the village from pirates. The amphitheatrical lay-out of the settlement follows the line of the hill and develops around the church, the square and the coffee-shop. In most cases, the house are built in dense, compact clusters while in others, the houses are seperately and sparcely built. The town house consists of a ground floor (katoghi), a mezzanine (metzao), used as an office, and the top floor (anoghi), where the family lives. The rural Cretan house is simple, built in the shape of a cube, with few openings. It is comfortable, with beautiful gardens and courtyards. The main feature is "kamarospito" (arched house), the arch of which (kamara) divides the house into two areas. The interior of the cretan house is simple in furnishing and decoration. The only furniture here: "pezoula" (the bed), "portego" (the sitting-room), the table, the chairs and the trunk, all adapted to the needs of daily life.

Local Customs

PhotoIn the villages of Crete, the parents' consent - particularly that of the father - is necessary for one to get married. The couple thus asks their parents' consent and blessing. The first step is the "pledge" or engagement ceremony, which takes place at the house of the bride-to-be and is blessed by a priest. After that, the marriage contract is drawn and signed. A few days before the wedding, the quests sent their "kaniskia" or presents, usually oil, wine, cheese or meat. Before the ceremony, the trousseau is carried from the house of the bride to the groom's house. It consists of handwoven or embroidered articles, sheets and household furnishing. It is accompanied by relatives and friends in a joyful parade, to the sounds of lyre, singing and gun fires. The ceremony includes a parade from the groom's house to the bride's house. There, a woman sings a mantinada to persuade the family to open the door. The bell calls the newly-weds to the church. After the ceremony, the couple goes to the groom's house where his mother feeds the bride with honey and walnuts and makes a cross at the front door, while the bride pours honey and breaks a pommerode, to have a sweet, "rose" marriage. Celebration starts with the couple singing and dancing, drinking and eating ends in the daylight.

Cretan Clothing


Photo Although the cretan male costume is not as popular as it was in the past, in some villages or formal occasions, there are many older men wearing it. The costume is very impressive and consists of the characteristic black kerchief with the fringes on the head, the light coloured woven shirt with the black vest known as “meidanogileko” and the traditional "vraka" (salvari) trousers, tied around the waist with a very long (10 m.) silk scarf. In the winter, the shoulders are covered with a warm cape, while the feet are protected from the cold with the white boots called “stivania”. The costume varies from area to area, not only as far as the head kerchief is concerned - it can be a fez with a navy blue tassel, known as “sfakiano” - but as to the colour of the belt, too - it can be black or red. The formal costume is made of higher quality fabrics than the daily one. Silk is used and the shirt and the cape are decorated with many embroideries.


Photo The female traditional costume can be seen today at feasts, cultural events and laographic museums. The most usual type consists of a kind of vraka (apomesoroucho), the "sakofoustano" on top and the beautifully embroidered and decorated apron called "brostopodia". On the head, there is a kerchief (tsemberi) or, in some places, a little red fez called "papazi". Women also wear low heel boots called “stivania” or high heel black shoes. The costume varies from area to area. The mountainous mainland areas prefer the variation of Anogia, while the plain and urban areas prefer “soforia”. Soforia replaces apomesoroucho with a red skirt, while the shirt is covered with "meidani" or "saltamarka". The costume of Anogia also includes an embroidered double apron, tied round the waist, decorating sakofoustano. The formal costume has more ornaments, gold coins and embroideries on the apron and the kerchief, than the daily one.

Folk Art


PhotoIn Crete, basket-weaving is part of the local folk tradition. Agricultural work forced the Cretans to develop the craft of basket- weaving, in order to make their rural and domestic chores easier. The secrets of basket- weaving are taught from the old craftsmen to the young ones. Utilising material from the cretan flora, such as reed, osier and splinter, basket-weavers create original and pretty designs which can be admired throughout Crete.


PhotoRural and domestic chores forced the Cretans to make clay jars and pots. The cretan jags, made of hard material, are known for their original beautiful design and their resistance to high temperature. As years progressed, pottery evolved and small items, flower pots, jars and decorative ornaments were created. The most important pottery centers are Margarites in Rethymno and Kentri in Ierapetra. The best -known pottery centre, however, is Thrapsano in Heraklio. Here, one can find ceramics for every possible use.


PhotoCutlery is part of the cretan folk tradition. The island’s disorderly history forced the locals to fight for their freedom and be constantly armed. Today, the knife tied around the waist is only part of the traditional cretan costume. The craft of cutlery is taught from one generation to the next, with the elderly teaching the youngsters how to make and decorate knives. The majority of the cretan knives have elegant designs, curved on the handle which is made of silver or animal horn. The sharpened steel blade, for safety reasons, is put into a cup made of wood, leather or silver. A knife with a “mantinada” curved on its handle, is a beautiful souvenir from Crete.


PhotoCretan women are known for their skill in weaving, as in other crafts. The old traditional cretan houses were characterised by the loom - vertical or upright - where women spent a large part of their day. It was the place where they made the daily clothing of the family, blankets, towels, rugs, aprons and tablecloths. Although less women are occupied with weaving, today one can still purchase the famous cretan woven fabrics,unique samples of fok art, in beautiful colours and original designs. Many families are occupied entirely with weaving, from breeding stocks to weaving wool. The materials used are flax, cotton and silk which are dyed red from the weavers themselves, who gather for this purpose and teach their craft to the younger ones.


PhotoThe old wood-curving produced items of religious art: icons, icon-stands, pulpits, candlesticks and other objects of eastern influence, still decorating churches. Today, only few wood-carvers are still to be found, mainly constructing folk musical instruments. However, in several mountainous regions, talented amateurs create small works of art (spoons, forks, wooden stamps for impressive designs, lyres and various other objects).

Traditional Songs

PhotoThe cretan music tradition has had many influencies and is very different from others. The first samples are “Pirichii”, war songs sung by giants Kourites, while, in the first post-christian century, song writer Messodemos lived and wrote cretan music. The most famous cretan songs are "mantinades", songs accompanied by lyre and lute. The singer adjusts the lyrics to the circumstance, and mantinades vary from love songs to satirical, historical, or social content songs. The rhymesters compete with each other for the best, most succesful verse which will be greeted with great enthousiasm from the audience. Another important category of cretan songs includes the historic songs which narrate facts from the island’s disorderly history, praising the cretan heroism and willingness to fight. Among the regional songs are the "rizitika", sung in western Crete. They are thus called, because they originate from the foot or "roots" (rizes) of Lefka Ori. There are two types of rizitika: the "table" songs (tragoudia tis tavlas), sung without music instruments at feasts and dinner parties, and the "songs of the road" (tragoudia tis stratas), sung by travellers along the way. Unlike mantinades, rizitika are not improvised, expressing an emotional state, but they are the result of a long tradition, ever since the ancient years.

Traditional Instruments

PhotoThe most characteristic music instrument of the cretan musical tradition is "lyra" (the lyre), a three-string instrument with a small bow, similar to a fiddle-bow. Cretan lyre-players, self-taught in their majority, improuse and sing the cretan mantinades, adjusting the lyrics to the needs of the occasion. The cretan lyre plays along with the cretan "lagouto" (lute), an eight - string instrument, like a guitar. Other traditional instruments are the "outi", "askobandoura" - something like a bag-pipe - and "chabioli", a wind instrument played by shepherds, alone or attached to askobandoura. These instruments are taught from one generation to the next, and cretan musicians are taught from the elderlies the technique to construct the instruments and how to play music which is found in every aspect of the daily life.

Folk Dances

PhotoThe traditional cretan dances constitute an expression of the bravery and dynamism of Cretan character and were highly influenced by the island’s disorderly history. The turns of “Siganos” are reminiscent of Theseus’ convolutions in the maze. The dancers have their arms intertwined at shoulder level and take small steps. As the lyre-player accelerates, the dance becomes bouncing and "Pendozalis", the most famous cretan dance, begins. Dancers dance in an open circle, move away from each other and perform many improusations and spectacular jumps. "Sirtos" or "Chaniotikos" is danced in a different way from town to town, being a variation to “Sirtos” of mainland Greece. "Sousta" is a rhythmic, courting dance, danced by men and women facing each other. Men also dance "Kastrinos" or "Maleviziotis" in open circle. This is danced at fairs and local events.

Traditional Cuisine

PhotoFor the main religious feast-days, cretan house-wives kneaded, baked and decorated special breads. The "Christopsoma" or "Stavropsoma" (Christ-breads" or "Cross- breads") were the Christmas breads, "avgokouloures" or "Lambrokouloures" (eggrolls or Easter rolls) were the Easter breads, "eptazyma" (seven times leavened) were the breads made for the feast of the Dormation of Virgin Mary, on August 15th. There were also the wedding breads, christening breads etc, decorated with various motifs of dough. Local olives and cheese, mountain greens and beans are never missing from the Cretan table. Among the typical dishes are "cochlii", meat "ofto", boiled goat, "staka" (made of butter and flour), Sfakia pie (lamb with myzithra cheese cooked in pastry dough in the oven), "Kaltsounia" (small pies filled with unsalted myzithra and fried in oil) "omathies" and "tsiladia" (pork jelly). The food is accompanied by genuine cretan wine found in different local variations. Another local drink is "tsikoudia" or "raki", a strong alcoholic drink made of mulbberries.

Nikos Deja Vu

No comments:

Post a Comment