Crete is the largest of the Greek Islands and the fifth in size in the Mediterranean. This island has had a troubled history not least 464 years under Venetian rule and ensuing centuries of Turkish domination marked by no fewer than ten major revolts. Crete was only united with Greece in 1913 so islanders tend to regard themselves as Cretan first and Greek second.
Crete is 250 kms long and has four mountain ranges. Lefka Ori near Chania, Ida (local name Psiloritis) west of Heraklion, Dikti - Lassithi plateau and the Sitia Mountain range in the east.
Crete's historical record goes back to 2000 B.C. with the Minoans. Sir Arthur Evans, an English archaeologist discovered the first remains of this advanced race at the magnificent palace of Knossos and due to his finds he was able to write a new chapter in the history at the ancient world.
Now many examples of Minoan architecture and culture have been uncovered and can be seen throughout Crete.
Crete has much beautiful and unusual scenery. In eastern Crete places such as the Lassithi plateau, a vast fertile plateau, in western Crete one of the greatest attractions is the spectacular Samaria National Park, which includes the famous Gorge of Samaria.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF CRETE
The history of Crete is both fascinating and turbulant. The first inhabitants of Crete lived in caves and open settlements. It is thought that these people possibly originated from Asia Minor and during the Neolithic period they achieved a certain degree of civilization. Remains of this era have been found which include ceramics and stone tools.
After this came the most famous of Cretan civilisations, the Minoans. It is thought that the Minoans were short in stature, of slim athletic build, with black hair and eyes and refined features, they closely resembled the Ancient Egyptians.
The Minoan civilisation had a well organised society and state, achieving peace and unity
throughout Crete with a monarch referred to as Minos and their art and culture dominated most of the Mediterranean. During the Minoan period Crete became densely populated. Homer speaks of tile island's "a hundred cities" the most important being Knossos, Phaistos, Zakros and Malia. All locations having magnificent palaces with not only splendid decor but efficient drainage and plumbing systems. The decline of the Minoan civilization came suddenly and it has never been determined how this happened. Possible explanations are a violent volcanic erruption on Santorini, an invasion of the Archaens from the Greek mainland, or some kind of internal strife.
It was at this time that the Dorians, Groek tribes from the north invaded bringing iron with them.
The Dorian occupation caused Crete to divide into many small independent city states, with regular inter- city wall are. Then in 67 B.C. the Romans conquered Crete, Gortys becoming the capital of the Roman province of Crete and residence of the Governor.
Crete flourished during the early Byzantine period until the island was conquered by Saracen Arabs in 823, who wore then defeated by the Byzantine emperor, Nikiphoras Phokas. after more than 100 years of occupation. In 1204 it was the turn of the Crusaders, who divided the Byzantine empire among themselves and Crete was sold to the Venetians. The strong fortifications of the Venetian era can been seen today in places such as Chania, Heraklion and Rethymnon.
In 1669 the Turks had conquered Chania, Rethynmon and Heraklion and shortly after this the conquest of the island was complete. The Turkish reign of terror lasted until 1898 when the Cretan revolution began against the Turks who were eventually conquered and forced to hand over the administration of the island to Prince George of Greece.
In 1913 the longed for union with Greece took place and the Turkish element left the island. Later Crete was occupied by tile Germans, and Cretans joined British forces in defence of the island.
The battle lasted ten days and when allied forces evacuated, the Cretan resistance continued to fight alongside special British agents in harassing German occupation forces.
Since the war, tourism has developed on a large scale and has brought rapid prosperity to the towns. Increasing numbers of tourists arrive each year attracted by all that this unique island has to offer.
THE CRETAN PEOPLE
It must be said the Cretans are some of the proudest and most hospitable people in the Mediterranean.
They will greet a stranger out of respect and may even want to shake hands a natural Cretan way of saying "Hello". In shops or markets, away from tourist places, a visitor may be asked to sample some food before purchasing or be onered a coffee or a drink. This is a form of appreciation.
If you are walking through a village or the countryside and meet a Cretan in passing, greet them with "Yassas" - to which the Cretan may reply "Hairete" or "Sto Kalo" a lovely phrase, meaning, 'go well'.
During the Siesta, a Cretan must not be disturbed. It is important to rest and be relaxed.
It is a Cretan's pleasure to assist someone in need. In company of locals, do not be shy to ask personal questions; this is customary and part of daily Greek conversation. They will often want to know where you are from, how many children you have, how old you are, what work you do and how much money you earn or take as a Pension.
I f you are invited out for a meal, any attempt to insist on paying or sharing the bill will be taken as an insult. If you feel strongly, then repay their kindness with something else. A gift of a box of cakes, biscuits or chocolates that all the family can share, never goes amiss.
In Crete do not feel shy to take your children everywhere you go at night. They love their children, spoil them rotten and include them in all events such as eating out late at night at a taverna. It is part of a child's growing up to participate in all aspects of life with their family.
One of the most important word in the Cretan language is, "Filoxenia" which means, 'Hospitality'.
The capital of the Lassithi prefecture, Aghios Nikolaos, occupies the site of the ancient port of Lato Pros Kamara, which was the harbour of the city Lato Etera whose ruins lie inland near the village of Kritsa. Until the early 1960's, Aghios Nikolaos was a quiet little fishing port. The town takes its modem name from the mariner's chapel on the coast just a little to the north and dedicated to the saint of the same name.
The Lake is one of the most important landmarks of Aghios Nikolaos. Its full name is Lake Voullismeni (sunken) or Xeratomeni (bottomless). According to old legend, Athena and Artemis Britomartis bathed in the Lake. In 1870 it was joined to the sea by a short canal and now forms an inner harbour for small boats. . The best views of the Lake are from the western side, above the cliff. Also, by sitting in one of the numerous cafes, tavemas and restaurants situated around the lake.
To the east of the Lake is the harbour, fun of caiques, sailing and fishing boats and from where you can take one of the many organised boat trips.
In front of the harbour and acting as natural break waters, are the small islets "Mikronissi' (small island) with its lighthouse and 'Megalonissi' (big island) with its Chapel of All Saints. On June 9th, All Saints Day, a religious feast takes place and decorated boats ferry pilgrims to this island on what is a very festive occasion.
The Archaeological Museum houses objects found in recent years during excavations at various archaeological sites all over eastern Crete. There is also a small Folklore Museum by the Lake, next to the Tourist Information Office.
During the season, the town is very lively with scores of eating and drinking places offering a wide selection of food, wines, cocktails plus plenty of souvenir shops, boutiques and nightlife.