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Crete ( , transliteration: Krētē, modern transliteration Kriti) is the largest of the Greek islands and the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Seamarker at 8,336 km² (3,219 square miles). Crete is one of the 13 peripheries of Greece and covers the same area as the Greek region of Crete from before the 1987 administrative reform It forms a significant part of the economy and cultural heritage of Greece; while it retains its own local cultural traits (such as its own music and dialect), Cretans identify themselves as Greeks. Heraklionmarker is the largest city and capital of Crete.

Crete was the centre of the Minoan civilization (circa 2600–1454 BC), the oldest Greek civilization. The island is the location of significant ancient history, which provides popular modern day tourist destinations. They include the Minoan sites of Knossosmarker and Phaistosmarker, the classical site of Gortys, the Venetian old city and port of Chaniamarker, the Venetian castle at Rethymnomarker and the Samaria Gorgemarker. The Nikos Kazantzakis International Airportmarker is located just outside Heraklion.

For centuries, Crete was known by its Italianmarker name Candia, from the medieval name of Heraklion, Chandax (Greek: Χάνδαξ or Χάνδακας, "moat", Turkish: Kandiye). In Classical Latin it was called Creta and in Turkish Girit.


The first human settlements on the island, dating to the aceramic Neolithic, used cattle, sheep, goat, pigs and dogs as well as domesticated cereals and legumes; ancient Knossosmarker was the site of one of these major Neolithic (then later Minoan) sites. Crete was the centre of Europe's most ancient civilisation; the Minoan. Early Cretanmarker history is replete with legends such as those of King Minos, Theseus, Minotaur, Daedalus and Icarus passed on orally via poets such as Homer.Crete was involved in the Mithridatic Wars, initially repelling an attack by Roman general Marcus Antonius Creticus in 71 BC. Nevertheless, a ferocious three-year campaign soon followed under Quintus Caecilius Metellus, equipped with three legions and Crete was finally conquered by Rome in 69 BC, earning for Metellus the title "Creticus". Gortynmarker was made capital of the island, and Crete became a Roman province, along with Cyrenaica.

Crete was part of the Byzantine empire, but then was captured by Iberian Muslims led by Abo Hafs Omer Al-Baloty who established a piratical emirate on the island. In 960 Nicephorus Phocas reconquered the island, which remained under Byzantine control until 1204, when it fell into the hands of the Venetiansmarker at the time of the Fourth Crusade. During Venicemarker's rule, which lasted more than four centuries, a Renaissance swept through the island as is evident from the plethora of artistic works dating to that period. The most notable representatives of this Cretan renaissance were the painter El Greco and the writers Nicholas Kalliakis (1645-1707) and Vitsentzos Kornaros.

Under the rule of Christian Venetiansmarker, the city of Candia was reputed to be the best fortified city of the Eastern Mediterranean. Jewish Armeniansmarker were the largest minority group living in Crete. The Jews were attracted during the period of the mass expulsion from Spain in 1492. In 1627, there were 800 Jews in the city of Candiamarker, about seven percent of the city's population. In 1574–77, Crete was under the rule of Giacomo Foscarini as Proveditor General, Sindace and Inquistor. According to Starr (1942), the rule of Giacomo Foscarini was the dark age for Jews and Greeks. Under his rule, non-Catholics had to pay high taxes with no allowances. This practice ended when the Ottomans conquered Crete in 1669, after a 21-year siege of the capital, Candia.

During Ottoman rule, many churches and monasteries were converted to mosques. However, freedoms and rights were still provided. Church attendance was permitted. Still, many Christians converted to Islam. The city was surrounded by high walls and bastions and extended westward and southward by the 17th century. The most opulent area of the city was the northeastern quadrant where all the elite were gathered together. The city had received another name under the rule of the Ottomans, the deserted city. The urban policy that the Ottoman applied to Candia was a two-pronged approach. The first was the religious endowments. It made the Ottoman elite contribute to building and rehabilitating the ruined city. The other method was to boost the population and the urban revenue by selling off urban properties. According to Molly Greene (2001) there were numerous records of real-estate transactions during the Ottoman rule. In the deserted city, minorities received equal rights in purchasing property. Christians and Jews were also able to buy and sell in the real-estate market.

Muslim presence on the island started with the Arab occupation but was cemented by the Ottoman conquest. Most Cretan Muslims were local Greek converts who spoke Cretan Greek, but in the island's 19th century political context they came to be viewed by the Christian population as Turks. 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. Many amongst them were crypto-Christians who converted back to Christianity in subsequent years, while many others fled Crete because of the unrest, settling in Turkey, Rhodes, Syria and elsewhere. By 1900, 11% of the population was Muslim. Those remaining were forced to leave in 1924 in the Population exchange between Greece and Turkey.

Uprisings by Christians were met with a fierce response from the Ottoman authorities who executed bishops, regarded as ringleaders on several occasions. .Crete was left out of the modern Greek state by the London Protocol of 1830, and soon it was yielded to Egyptmarker by the Ottoman sultan. Egyptian rule was short-lived and sovereignty was returned to the Ottoman Empire by the Convention of London on July 3, 1840.

Between 1833 and 1897, several more Christian uprisings took place, and in 1898, Crete, a complex autonomous Cretan Statemarker under Ottoman suzerainty, was nevertheless garrisoned by an international military force, with a High Commissioner (Armostis), chosen by Greece . Finally, Crete was joined with Greece on 1 December 1913.

During World War II, the island was the scene of the famous Battle of Crete where, in May 1941, Germanmarker paratroopers sustained almost 7,000 casualties, meeting fierce resistance from both locals and the British Commonwealth force, commanded by General Sir Bernard Freyberg. As a result, Adolf Hitler forbade further large scale airborne operations.


Greece and Crete

Komos Beach on the south coast of Crete, near Matala

Crete, with a population of 650,000 in year 2005, is one of the 13 regions into which Greecemarker is divided. It forms the largest island in Greece and the second largest (after Cyprusmarker) in the Eastern Mediterranean.The island has an elongated shape : it spans 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 reaches a width of only 12 km. Crete covers an area of 8,336 km², with a coastline of 1046 km ; to the north it broaches the Sea of Crete (Greek: Κρητικό Πέλαγος); to the south the Libyan Seamarker (Greek: Λιβυκό Πέλαγος); in the west the Myrtoan Seamarker, and toward the east the Karpathion Sea. It lies approximately 160 km south of the Greek mainland.

Crete is extremely mountainous, and its character is defined by a high mountain range crossing from west to east, formed by three different groups of mountains. These are:
  • the White Mountains or Lefka Orimarker (2,452 m);
  • the Idi Range (Psiloritismarker ( ) 2,456 m);
  • the Dikti Mountains (2,148 m);
  • Kedros (1,777 m);
  • Thripti (1,489 m)

These mountains gifted Crete with fertile plateaux, such as Lasithi, Omalos and Nidha; caves, such as Diktaion and Idaion; and gorges, such as the famous gorge of Samaria. The protected area of the Samaria Gorgemarker is the home of kri-kri, while Cretan mountains and gorges are refuges for the endangered vulture Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus).

There are a number of rivers on Crete, including the Ieropotamos River on the southern part of the island.


Crete straddles two climatic zones, the Mediterraneanmarker 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, while winter is fairly mild. Snowfall is common on the mountains between November and May, but rare in the low lying areas, especially near the coast when it only stays on the ground for a few minutes or hours. However, a truly exceptional cold snap swept the island in February 2004, during which period the whole island was blanketed with snow. During the Cretan summer, average temperatures reach the high 20s-low 30s Celsius (mid 80s to mid 90s Fahrenheit), with maxima touching the upper 30s to mid 40s (above 110 Fahrenheit).

The south coast, including the Mesara Plainmarker and Asterousia Mountains, falls in the North African climatic zone, and thus enjoys significantly more sunny days and high temperatures throughout the year. In southern Crete date palms bear fruit and swallows remain year around, not migrating to Africa.

Population genetics

A recent analysis of Y-chromosome haplogroups determined that Crete shows affinity with central/Mediterranean Anatolia. Y-Dna haplogroups were found at the following frequencies : J (38.90% including 8.30% J1), R1 (25.80%), I (13.00%), G (10.90%), E1b1b (8.80%), K2 (2.10%), L (0.5%). J, G and E1b1b haplogroups consist of lineages with differential distribution within Middle East, North Africa and Europe while R1 and I are typical in West European populations.

Cretan culture

View of Archanes

For centuries Crete has held intact its own distinctive rich and proud culture. Cretan Greek has been maintained as the spoken dialect, and Cretan wine is a traditional drink. The island is known for its music, and it has many indigenous dances, the most noted of which is probably the Pentozali.


The economy of Crete, which was mainly based on farming, and fishing, began to change visibly during the 1970s. While an emphasis remains on farming and stock breeding, due to the climate and terrain of the island, there has been a drop in manufacturing and an observable expansion in its service industries (mainly tourism-related). All three sectors of the Cretan economy (agriculture, processing-packaging, services), are directly connected and interdependent. The island has a per capita income close to 100% of the Greek average, while unemployment is at approximately 4%, half of that of the country overall. As in other regions of Greece, olive growing is also a significant industry; a small amount of citrons are still cultivated on the island.

The island has three significant airports, Nikos Kazantzakis at Heraklionmarker, the Daskalogiannismarker airport at Chaniamarker and a smaller one in Sitiamarker. The first two serve international routes, as the main gateways to the island for travellers.


Crete is one of the most popular holiday destinations in Greece. Fifteen percent of all arrivals in Greece come through the city of Heraklionmarker (port and airport), while charter journeys to Heraklionmarker last year made up 20% of all charter flights in Greece. Overall, more than two million tourists visited Crete last year, and this increase in tourism is reflected on the number of hotel beds, rising by 53% in the period between 1986 to 1991, when the rest of Greece saw increases of only 25%. Today, the island's tourism infrastructure caters to all tastes, including a very wide range of accommodation; the island's facilities take in large luxury hotels with their complete facilities, swimming pools, sports and recreation, smaller family-owned apartments, camping facilities and others. Visitors reach the island via two international airports in Heraklion and Chaniamarker, or by boat to the main ports of Heraklion, Chania, Rethimnomarker and Agios Nikolaos.

Plans for a container port

Newspapers have reported that the Ministry of Mercantile Marine is ready to support the agreement between Greece, South Koreamarker, Dubai Ports Worldmarker and Chinamarker for the construction of a large international container port and free trade zone in southern Crete near Tympakimarker; the plan is to expropriate 850 ha of land. The port would handle 2 million containers per year, while as of 2007, there has been no official announcement of a project not universally welcomed due to its environmental, economic and cultural impact.

Notable Cretans


Crete's principal cities are:

Political organization

The island of Crete is a periphery of Greece, consisting of four prefectures ( ):

For amateur radio purposes it is considered to be a separate "entity," ITU prefix SV9.

Expatriate EU communities

Crete's mild climate is attracting growing interest from Northern Europeans to have a holiday home or residence on the island. EU 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 Germanmarker, Dutchmarker, Scandinavian and other European nationalities wishing to own a home in Crete.

The Britishmarker expatriates are concentrated in the western prefectures of Chania and Rethymno and to a lesser extent in Heraklion and Lasithimarker. Some 40% of Britons in late 2006 said they were planning to live outside the United Kingdommarker or retire abroad due to socio-economic changes in the country. One in ten Britons do so already.

See also


External links

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