Crete called Candia in the Venetian period and Turkish Girit is the largest of the Greek islands and the fifth largest in the Mediterranean Sea.
Tourist attractions in Crete include archeological sites at Knossos, Phaistos, Gortys and many other places, the Venetian castle in Rethymno, the Samaria Gorge and many other minor gorges (Agia Irini, Aradena, etc).
Crete was the center of the Minoan civilization (ca. 2600–1400 BCE), the oldest civilization in Europe.
Crete is one of the 13 regions into which Greece is divided. It is the largest island in Greece and the second largest (after Cyprus) of the East Mediterranean. Crete has an elongated shape 260 km from east to west and 60 km at its widest, although the island is narrower at certain points, such as in the region close to Ierapetra where it has a width of only 12 km. It covers an area of 8,336 km² and has a coastline of 1046 km.
To the north Crete borders with the Sea of Crete, to the south it is bordered by the Libyan Sea, to the west the Myrtoon Sea, to the east the Karpathion Sea. Its population is 650,000 people (as of 2005). The island lies approximately 160 km south of the Greek mainland.
Crete is extremely mountainous and is defined by a high mountain range crossing it from West to East, formed by three different groups of mountains. These are:
- White Mountains or Lefka Ori (2,452 m high)
- Idi range (Psiloritis (35.18° N 24.82° E) 2,456 m)
- Dikti mountains (2,148 m high)
- Kedros (1,777 m high)
- Thripti (1489 m)
These mountains gifted Crete with fertile plateaus like Lasithi, Omalos and Nidha, caves like Diktaion and Idaion cave, and gorges like the famous Gorge of Samaria. The protected area of the Samaria Gorge is the home of kri-kri. Cretan mountains and gorges are refuges of the endangered spieces of Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus).
Crete was the centre of Europe's most ancient civilization, the Minoan. Referred to often as the cradle of European civilization. Little is known about the rise of ancient Cretan society, because very few written records remain, and many of them are written in the undeciphered script known as Linear A. This contrasts with the superb palaces, houses, roads, paintings and sculptures that do remain. Though early Cretan history is surrounded by legends (such as those of King Minos Theseus and the Minotaur and Daedalus and Icarus) that have been passed to us via Greek historians poets (such as Homer), it is known that the first human settlement in Crete, dating to the aceramic Neolithic, introduced cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, and dogs, as well as domesticated cereals and legumes.
In Ancient Roman times, Crete was involved in the Mithridatic Wars as Rome suspected them of backing Mithridates VI of Pontus. Marcus Antonius Creticus attacked Crete in 71 BCE and was repelled. Rome sent Quintus Caecilius Metellus with three legions to the island. After a ferocious three-year campaign Crete was conquered for Rome in 69 BCE, earning this Metellus the agnomen Creticus. The result was Gortyn being made the capital of a province that at times joined Cyrenaica to Crete. Crete continued to be part of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine empire, a quiet cultural backwater, until it fell into the hands of Arabs (see Al-Hakam I) in 824, who established an emirate on the island. In 960 Nicephorus Phocas reconquered Crete for the Byzantines, who held it until 1204, when it fell into the hands of the Venetians at the time of the Fourth Crusade. The Venetians retained the island until 1669, when the Ottoman Turks took possession of it.
In the partition of the Byzantine empire after the capture of Constantinople by the armies of the Fourth Crusade in 1204, Crete was eventually acquired by Venice, which held it for more than four centuries. During Venetian rule, the Greek population of Crete was exposed to Renaissance culture. During the 17th century, Venice was pushed out of Crete by the Ottoman Empire, with most of the island lost after the siege of Candia (1648–1669), possibly the longest siege in history.
The Greek War of Independence began in 1821 and Cretan participation was extensive. An uprising by Christians met with a fierce response from the Ottoman authorities and the execution of several bishops, regarded as ringleaders. Between 1821 and 1828, the island was the scene of repeated hostilities. Contemporary estimates vary, but on the eve of the Greek War of Independence as much as 45% of the population of the island may have been Muslim. Some of them were crypto-Christians who converted back to Christianity many others fled Crete because of the unrest. By the 1900, only 11% of the population was Muslim they were usually called Turks regardless of language, culture, and ancestry. Those remaining were forced to leave in 1924 in the Population exchange between Greece and Turkey.
Crete straddles two climatic zones, the Mediterranean and the North African, mainly falling within the former. As such, the climate in Crete is primarily temperate. The atmosphere can be quite humid, depending on the proximity to the sea. The winter is fairly mild. Snowfall had been practically unknown to the plains until the truly exceptional cold snap of February 2004, during which the whole island was blanketed with snow.
During summer, average temperatures are in the high 20's-low 30's (Celsius). The exception can be the south coast, including the Messara plain and Asterousia mountains, which fall in the North African climatic zone and thus enjoys significantly more sunny days and high temperatures during the summer, as well as very mild winters—consequently in southern Crete date palms bear fruit and swallows stay year-long, instead of migrating to Africa.
The economy of Crete, which was mainly based on farming, started changing visibly during the 1970s. While there is still an emphasis on farming and stock breeding, due to the climate and the terrain of the island, there is a drop in manufacturing and a big increase on the services industry (mainly tourism related). All three sectors of the Cretan economy (agriculture, processing-packaging, services), are directly connected and interdependent. Crete has an average per capita income which is close to 100% of the Greek average. Unemployment is at approximately 4%, half of that of Greece. As in other regions of Greece, olive growing is also a significant industry.
The island has three significant airports, Nikos Kazantzakis at Heraklion, the Daskalogiannis airport at Chania and a smaller in Sitia. The first two are international serving as the main gates to the island for thousands of tourists.
Crete is one of the most popular holiday destinations in Greece. Fifteen percent of all arrivals in Greece come through the city of Heraklion (port and airport), while charter flights to Heraklion were last year 20% of the total of charter flights in Greece. In sum more than two million tourists visited Crete last year. This increase in tourism is reflected on the number of hotel beds, which increased in Crete by 53% from 1986 to 1991 while in the rest of Greece the increase was 25%.
Today the tourism infrastructure in Crete caters to all tastes. There is accommodation of every possible category, from large luxury hotels with all the facilities (swimming pools, sports and recreation facilities etc.), to smaller family owned apartments, to camping facilities. Visitors can arrive at the island through two international airports in Heraklion and Hania, or by boat to the ports of Heraklion, Hania, Rethimno and Agios Nikolaos.
Expatriate E.U. Communities on Crete
Crete's mild climate is attracting growing interest from Northern Europeans to have a holiday home or residence on the island. E.U. citizens have the right to freely buy property and reside with little formality. A growing number of real estate companies cater to mainly British expatriates, followed by German, Dutch, Scandinavian and other European nationalities wishing to own a home in the sun.
The British expatriates are concentrated in the western prefectures of Chania and Rethymnon and to a lesser extent in Heraklion and Lassithi. Some 40 per cent of Britons in late 2006 said they were planning to live outside the United Kingdom or retire abroad due to socio-economic changes in the country. One in ten Britons do so already. There are several informative sources of information for intending British expatriate residents in Crete.
The island of Crete is a periphery of Greece, consisting of four prefectures: