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Crete is its own beast. Even Greeks can find themselves adrift when they come face-to-face with a new dialect, distinct customs, complex local dances, and the warm, welcoming, yet fiery temperament of the locals. Crete is the land of mythology, the home of the Minotaur; it’s the place where the Minoan civilization emerged and thrived. It’s where seaside caves transfixed alternative travelers like Joni Mitchell in the 1960s, and where village life still revolves around the kafeneio. In fact, it’s so large, diverse and culturally rich that when you try to talk about Crete as a whole, you quickly find yourself surrounded by a labyrinth of contrasts. Crete can all too easily seem overwhelming. Perhaps the best way is to grab this mythical beast its horns
After our night cruise from Piraeus, we arrived at Heraklion horbour, more than happy to get back to this beautiful island we are crazy about. Cretans are known for their hospitality and vitality, and much emphasis is placed on bonds between family members.
. How to introduce Crete to you ?
Crete, Modern Greek Kríti, Ancient Greek Crete or Krete, Latin Creta, Turkish Kirid, Venetian Candia, island in the eastern Mediterranean Sea that is one of 13 administrative regions (periféreies) of Greece.
Located οn the southern side of the Aegean Sea, Crete is the biggest island in Greece. Its beauty, though, is even bigger than its size! Let us paint the scene: Just imagine enthralling natural beauty meeting rich culture and worldwide famous gastronomy, to create the most dreamy holiday paradise!
The mythical Crete island is one of the most popular Greek destinations, thanks to its unreal Crete beaches, its amazing historical sites, such as Knossos palace and Spinalonga islet and its mesmerizing natural landscapes.
The island of Crete, in Greece, is large in size and divided in four administrational regions: Chania and Rethymno on the western side, Heraklion and Lassithi on the eastern side. The northern coasts of Crete are more developed in tourism, while the southern coasts keep a more secluded environment
Crete played a supporting role in the revival of Greek civilization that began in the 9th century BCE, and during Athens’s heyday in the 5th century BCE Crete fascinated the Greeks as a source of myths, legends, and laws. By 67 BCE the Romans appeared and completed their conquest of Crete by converting it into Cyrenaica, a province linked with North Africa. In 395 CE the island passed to Byzantium (the Eastern Roman Empire); the Arabs gained control over parts of Crete after 824 but lost them back to the Byzantines in 961. In 1204, in the aftermath of the Fourth Crusade, Crusaders sold the island to Venice, which fitted Crete into its growing commercial empire. The native Cretans, however, never abandoned their Orthodox religion, Greek language, and popular lore. The Ottoman Turks, who were already in control of parts of Crete, wrested the capital city of Candia (now Irákleio- Heraklion) from the Venetians in 1669 after one of the longest sieges in history. Crete stagnated under Turkish rule, and native uprisings were always foiled, including those in 1821 and 1866. The Turks were finally expelled by Greece in 1898, after which the island held autonomous status until its union with Greece in 1913
Cretan cuisine has become internationally renowned for its healthfulness. It is based on the use of fresh vegetables and fruits, olive oil, freshly caught fish that is either grilled or baked, and such local cheeses as graviera and myzithra. Meals typically are accompanied by homemade wine and such desserts as patouda (a nut-filled tart) and yogurt made from sheep’s milk with honey. But we are going to investigate further this time and it will be the subject of another chronicle.
The island of Crete in Greece has a rich mythology mostly connected with ancient gods and thus the Minoan civilization. According to Greek Mythology, The Psychro cave at Mount Dikti was the birthplace of Zeus.
The Paximadia islands were the birthplace of Artemis and Apollo. Their mother Leto was worshipped at Phaistos.
The goddess Athena bathed in Lake Voulismeni. The ancient Greek god Zeus launched a lightning bolt at a giant lizard that was threatening Crete. The lizard immediately turned to stone and became the island of Dia. It can be seen from Knossos, having the shape of a giant lizard. The islets of Lefkai were the result of a musical contest between the Sirens and the Muses. The Muses were so anguished to have lost that they plucked the feathers from the wings of their rivals; the Sirens turned white and fell into the sea at Aptera (“featherless”) where they formed the islands in the bay that were called Lefkai (the islands of Souda and Leon). Hercules, in one of his labors, took the Cretan bull to the Peloponnese. Europa and Zeus made love at Gortys and conceived the demi-gods and kings of Crete, Minos the eldest, then Rhadamanthys, and finally Sarpedon as well as Carnus and Alagonia, and Minos.The labyrinth of the Palace of Knossos was the setting for the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur in which the Minotaur was slain by Theseus. Icarus and Daedalus were captives of King Minos ( not the son of zeus) and crafted wings to escape. After his death King Minos became a judge of the dead in Hades, along with his brother Prince Rhadamanthys and their half brother Aiacos . For he was so righteous, Rhadamanthys became the ruler of the Elysean fiels along with his grand- father Chronos
In the Roman period Cretan piracy was still rife, and it would take two wars in 71 and 69-67 BCE before the ever-determined Romans could finally stamp it out. Crete, thereafter, became something of a pawn in wider Roman regional politics as the Republic went through its death throes. In 36 BCE, for example, Mark Antony gave the island to Cleopatra as a gift. With the succession of Augustus, though, Crete was officially incorporated into the Roman empire. The emperor created a colony at Knossos, and the city, along with the island in general, benefitted from an influx of immigrants which brought a prosperity Crete had not seen for centuries. Prominent settlers included veterans from the legions, traders, and Jews in what became a thriving Roman province with its governor residing at Gortyn. At least 15 cities prospered in this period, oil and wine production increased massively, amphitheatres, temples, Roman baths and aqueducts were built, and the island minted its own coinage. The famed Cretan archers became an important fixture in the Roman army across the empire, but no Roman troops were stationed on Crete itself.
An early Christian community was established at Gortyn c. 60 CE whose first bishop was Titus, a disciple of Saint Paul. Gortyn, in particular, thrived with a population reaching 300,000 and its status confirmed as a major Roman town when the future emperor Trajanwas appointed quaestor there in 81 CE. The 3rd century CE saw several infamous persecutions of Christians including ten martyrs during a wild animal hunt in Gortyn’s amphitheatre in 249 CE. When the Roman Empire split into two, Crete was made part of the Eastern empire although the Christian church was under the jurisdiction of the Pope at Thessaloniki. The island continued to prosper throughout this period until the Byzantine era when it faced repeated Arab raids and, ultimately, full conquest c. 827 CE.
A study from scholar Nikos Apostolakis, reveals very interesting facts about Greek family names . They are “patronyms”, that is they derive from the father’s name with the addition
of a diminutive signifying “little one” or “son of”. But in Greek names, the ending varies based on what part of Greece your ancestors came from. For example, the ending -poulos as in Antonopoulos indicates Peloponnesian origin, meaning the son of Antonis. The same meaning would be Antoniades in Macedonia, Antonakos in Mani, Antonatos in Kefalonia, Antonides in Pontos, Antonakis in Crete, etc.
The “-akis” in the majority of the Cretan names has an interesting historical origin. According to Professor Hatzidakis, uncle of the celebrated composer Manos Hatzidakis of the “Never on Sunday”movie fame, when the Turks occupied Crete, they addressed the Cretan men [as Muslims, they were forbidden to address women] using the neuter diminutive “-aki” along with a neuter article in front. This was made to insult them and belittle them. So the Turks would say “To Antonaki”. They had a special animosity against the Cretans because of the frequent uprisings rebellions and riots against the occupation.
The Cretans however decided to turn the “insult” to a badge of honor. They “masculinized” the name by adding an “s”. Thus, it became “O Antonakis” instead of “To Antonaki”. The spelling varied. Most spell it with an “eta” [Αντωνακης], but some insist on using “iota” [Αντωνακις]. A proof of professor Hatzidakis theory is the fact that in most mountainous villages of Crete, which were not occupied by the Turks, some of the names do not have the -akis ending, for example, in Anogia, [a village up the slopes of Psiloritis, the highest mountain in Crete, and a hotbed of revolutionaries, even to this day], one finds names like Skordlis, Kallergis, Xylouris [the famous “lyraris” and folk singer Ξυλουρης, who popularized Cretan music in the 1970s].
Tzagournis is a name from Ano Viano even in the 1940s the Germans could not subdue that region of the inaccessible mountain ranges in the South coasts of Crete], and so on.
Nowadays, Cretans are proud that their names have the –akis ending that distinguishes them from everyone else! Of course, when Cretans started immigrating to America early last century, the Anglicized names they were given sometimes reflected more the ignorance of the immigration officials than the geographical area from which the immigrants came. For example, Michelakis became Meshel, which, fortuitously, proved useful for a Cretan who entered Ohio politics and rose to the top of the legislative ladder.
Heraklion: birthplace of the olympic games ?
Located in southern Greece on the northern coast of Crete. It was founded by Saracens in the ninth century and passed to the Byzantines, Venetians, and Ottoman Turks before becoming part of Greece in 1913.
Archaeological evidence shows that the settlement named Heraklion probably arose during the first millennium BC (9th century BC), in the area between Daidalou and Epimendou Streets, i.e. at the top of the hill on which the centre of Heraklion now stands.
Concerning the name “Heraklion”, according to mythology Rhea, the mother of Zeus, entrusted the Curetes with guarding her newborn son, in an attempt to conceal him from his father, Cronos.
One of the Dactyls, the Idaean Herakles (not to be confused with the famous hero of the Twelve Labours), went to Olympia, where he and his brothers (Paeonaeos, Epimedes, Iassius and Idas) organised the first footrace in the world. The Idaean Herakles crowned the victor with the branch of an olive tree he had planted there himself. This was the origin of the custom of crowning Olympic winners with olive.
Later Clysmenes, a descendant of the Idaean Herakles, founded the Olympic Games and built an altar to his forebears on the site of ancient Olympia. Heraklion is named after the Idaean Herakles.
The above myth may be intended to show that Minoan Crete was the birthplace of athletics. We know from archaeological finds and fragments of frescoes from Knossos that the Minoans loved sports, including gymnastics, archery, chariot racing, boxing, wrestling and swimming. Other, special events such as the tavrokathapsia (bull-leaping) were held at festivals.
The capital of Crete, Heraklion is a port with a long and compelling story to tell. Over the centuries the city has been controlled by the Byzantines, Moors, Venetians and Ottomans before joining modern Greece in the 20th century.
The Venetians were in charge all through the late Medieval and Renaissance periods, when they built sophisticated, four kilometre defences that would withstand an Ottoman siege for 21 years.
We’ll let you know the 10 best things to do in Heraklion Friday August 16th .
The Lion fountain Heraklion
Things you must see and do while in Crete
The tiny island of Spinalonga is so close to Crete and easily reached by a little boat over to the island. An arid and rocky island, Spinalonga lies at the mouth of the natural port of Elounda in Crete. The islet forms a natural defence for Elounda harbour, and in 1579 the Venetians built a mighty fortress here on the ruins of an ancient acropolis, keeping control of the island even after the rest of Crete fell to the Ottomans in 1669. Spinalonga remained under Venetian control until 1715. Today it is the most popular archaeological site in Crete after Knossos – and thousands flock to it by boat from nearby seaside towns Ayios Nikolaos, Elounda and Plaka.
Dive at Seitan Limania Beach
Close to Chania (and Chania Airport), this tiny little beach with its turquoise waters is a great spot to have fun and relax .
Loutro the hidden gem
On the south coast of Crete, Loutro is a tiny little fishing village that you have to visit especially if you want to know how Crete was back in the days. It is very seculed with very very few touristic structures.
You will just love this place
There is nothing pretentious about this place, on the contrary here you will find authenticity at its best. This picturesque humble village caters to all tastes and budgets. Visitors may choose to stay in one of the few small hotels, studios and apartments. For those who prefer to experience the natural surroundings — may do so at a campsite. There is a daily bus service to Sissi but it is not regular. If you are traveling from Heraklion then you can take the Heraklion – Sissi — Milatos route
The gorge of Samaria is situated in the National park of Samaria, in the White Mountains in West Crete. This majestuous gorge is considered one of the great attractions of Crete and many tourists want to visit it. But you must realise that it is a long (5 to 7 hours) walk on rough terrain so you will need to have a certain degree of fitness and walking experience in order to enjoy it.
You’ll find out in another post
Sources and practical information
How to get to Heraklion Crete
By Air: Heraklion international airport “Nikos Kazantzakis” is located just 4km away from Heraklion city centre.
By ferry: Heraklion port is the biggest port in Crete. There is a daily connection from Heraklion Port to Piraeus port in Athens. Also from Heraklion port there is a connection to other Greek islands like Santorini. Also at the port arrive a lot of cruise ships. The port of Heraklion offers a lot of services like luggage storage lockers, wi-fi and check – in service for your flight
From the airport to Iraklio (ΗΡΑΚΛΕΙΟ) : 20-30 minutes for 2€
Info Point Heraklion Address: Nikiforou Foka Square (Lions Square), Heraklion, Crete 712 01, Greece.
John Freely Crete Discovering the great island ( book)