I spent my happiest Greek moments in Crete. It was a very restful stay. The legendary island was quiet and almost devoid of the summer crowd. Yet, every day was sunny and the skies were blue. The sunshine was warm enough to go without any woolens and the evenings were comfortable. I stayed there for nearly 2 weeks and as the local shopkeepers of Chania market said, ‘became part of the landscape’. They got used to my rolling gait, my odd status of being a solo pregnant traveler, and the fact, that despite being an ‘Indian’, I was a hearty carnivore. I think they considered me to be a bit of an oddball, a strange, but harmless creature, and in return for my friendliness, they kept a kindly eye on me. That is why there was never one morning when I was not greeted by someone and I was fed until I could burst. My landlady also was a caring soul who never grudged me a cup of free coffee in the morning and she often invited me over for cookies in the afternoons. Overall, I spent a wonderful time in Crete and if I could live somewhere for the rest of my life, I would consider Chania. Presenting a photo essay and fun facts about lovely Crete. Note that I visited in spring when the mountain tops were still dusted with snow and peach blossoms dappled the rugged countryside pink.
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Crete and its significant names
Crete or Kreta was known by many different names until the present one came to stick. It was called ‘Kaptara’ by the Syrians who first mention the island in their texts in the 18th century BC. Biblical verses referred to the island as ‘Caphtor’. Ancient Egyptians called it ‘Keftiu’. Its Arabic name was ‘Chandakas’. Under Ottoman rule, in Ottoman Turkish, Crete was called Girit.
Crete is the birthplace of Zeus
According to ancient Greek mythology, Zeus was the son of Rhea and Kronos. Worried that his children would overpower him, Kronos had the horrible habit of eating up his children as soon as they were born. In order to protect Zeus from his father, Rhea took him to Crete to hide. There Zeus was raised in a cave and was taken care of by nymphs and the goat Amalthea that provided him with milk and honey. Legend-loving locals still dispute the exact location of the cave with two possible options being the Dicteon and Ideon caves on the island.
Icarus and the island of Crete
Crete is big on mythology and it is the home of the legendary Icarus myth. It is said that Icarus, the son of Daedalus wanted to fly like a bird. So he made wings of wax and flew up into the sky. He continued his flight till he approached the sun. The scorching Cretan sunshine caused the wax in the wings to melt, thus plunging Icarus to his death in the sea.
The legend of the Minotaur is also from Crete
Don’t you just love a place that’s soaked in myths and legends? Crete is indeed one such place and it is the home of the Minotaur, the mythical monster. According to the legends, Minotaur was a fearsome half-man and half-beast that lived and breathed in Crete. The human-eating monster lived in a labyrinth under the Palace of Knossos until he was killed by Theseus.
One of the oldest civilizations in Europe
Did you know that Crete is the oldest place in Europe? Excavation work has revealed that Knossos, a city in ancient Crete was first inhabited sometime in the 7th Millennium BC. Knossos is the capital of the legendary King Minos and the principal center of the Minoan, the earliest of the Aegean civilizations about 6 million years old. The Minoans were the first civilization to introduce sheep, pigs, goats, cattle, and dogs to Crete.
A confluence of cultures
Because of its location at the crossroads of three continents, Crete has been coveted by invaders since time immemorial. Needless to say, it has also been occupied by many invaders. The whole island is redolent with tell-tale signs of various invaders who commanded Crete at various points in history. Thus Chania and Rethymno have labyrinthine lanes that are lorded over by mighty fortresses. In the island’s towns, one can see gorgeous restored Renaissance mansions located right next to medieval mosques and Turkish bathhouses. The Byzantine influence can be clearly seen in magnificent frescoed chapels, churches, and monasteries.
World War II and its effects
Because of its location, Crete was not only involved in World War II, but it was the site of some intensely tragic battles during the German occupation. The island has many ANZAC cemeteries of soldiers from Australia and New Zealand. These boys came from far and were joined by the Greek partisans. They shed their blood on the Greek soil to free Crete from the Nazis and are still annually commemorated by the islanders.
Europe’s last Leper Colony
Did you know that just off the northeast coast of Crete lies the island of Spinalonga, Europe’s last leper colony? Greek authorities utilized the small islet as a leprosy colony to treat sick patients from 1903 to 1957.
Biggest of the Greek islands
With an area of 8,336 km2, Crete is the largest island in Greece, the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Basin, and the 88th largest island on Earth. This is important to know before visiting Crete since it is the perfect place to enjoy slow traveling without getting bored. A few days in Crete are not enough to explore everything this beautiful island has to offer.
The most populated island in Greece
Crete is also the most populated of the Greek islands. Its resident population is over 600,000 people, and when you consider Greece only has 10 million overall, it’s quite impressive.
Crete and its olive craze
Crete has over 14 different varieties of olive trees. Cretans take olive oil very seriously and an average islander consumes 30 liters of olive oil per year. The island is also home to the oldest olive tree on earth. Estimated to be between 2,000 and 4,000 years old, the trunk perimeter of the Monumental Olive Tree of Vouves is 12.5 meters and it continues to be productive to this day.
Beautiful gorges and stunning beaches
Because of its size, Crete has a very diverse landscape. There are over 400 gorges on the island and the biggest of them all, the Samaria Gorge is over 18 km long. Crete also has the most pristine and clearest water in Europe. The clarity is so high that viewers can stay at a height of 40 meters above sea level and have sweeping views of the seascape. The island also has a vast number of Blue Flag Beaches in Europe. It also boasts two pink sand beaches – Balos and Elafonissi.
Home To Nikos Kazantzakis
The island was home to the famous Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis who was a 9 times nominee for the Nobel Prize in Literature. One of his most famous and well-known works is the novel “Zorba the Greek” in which he vividly describes scenes from everyday Cretan life, such as wine-making. Kazantzakis was not only a great novelist but also a traveller, poet, playwright, and philosopher. The Heraklion airport is named after him.
Follow the rest of the Greece series
- GRACEFUL AND GRUNGY ATHENS
- ACROPOLIS TRAVEL GUIDE
- TIMELESS HYDRA ISLAND
- SARONIC ISLANDS TOUR
- THE CENTER OF THE EARTH AT DELPHI
- METEORA IMPRESSIONS
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