A walk in the island of Crete is a scent of spring flowers growing in the yards of the houses. Generations of Minoan, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian, Turkish, Jewish and Egyptian people lived here. History is alive in Crete, breathing through the bow strokes of the lyra and the violin, the sound of the lute and the bagpipe.
Finally, it is the tastes of a history of eastern spices, unique greens and herbs, blessed oil and wine. Here, in these cultural crossroads, a lot of memories are alive and a large number of elements of other cultures still form a part of the everydayness of the Cretan people.
Mythology – Antiquity
Cretan-Born Zeus was born and raised in the mountains of Crete. Minos is referred to in mythology as the son of Zeus and Europe. Minoan Crete, with its ninety cities and their brave young men are also mentioned by Homer in Ilias. There is evidence that the island was inhabited ever since the Neolithic times. During the Copper Age the Minoan civilization developed, especially from 1900 BC until its sudden disappearance around 1500 BC. Knossos was the centre of it.
The Minoans controlled the trade in the eastern Mediterranean Sea and accumulated great wealth. Apart from Knossos, many cities were also important and the excavation findings indicate a great civilization.
Hellenistic era to Byzantium
Then Greek tribes, the Dorians and the Achaeans, arrived on the island, followed by the Romans in 67 BC and then the Byzantines, with an interval between 824-961AD, when the island fell into the hands of Arab (Saracen) pirates. In 1204 Crete was conquered by the Venetians, who where ousted by the Turks in 1669.
From the Venetian period a lot of important buildings, like castles, mansions and fortifications have survived to the present day, not only in the well-known towns and harbours of Chania, Rethymno and Heraklion but also in every corner of the island. After the fall of Constantinople many scholars and artists of the Byzantium took refuge in Crete. So letters and arts flourished on the island, in a period critical to the maintenance of the Greek culture.
Following struggles of almost two centuries, the Ottomans conquered the island in 1669. The Cretans strongly resisted the Ottoman invaders paying a bloody death toll for their love of freedom. Uncountable revolutions set the island on fire. One of the first revolts was the revolt of 1770, led by Daskalogiannis from Sfakia, who died a martyric death at the hands of the Ottomans. In 1822 the Ottoman invaders had to ask the Egyptians for help, in order to suppress the revolt. As a result, Crete went under the rule of the Egyptians in 1831.
19th – 20th century
At the end of the 19th century the ottoman troops left the island, which was autonomous until its Union with Greece in 1913. The great politician Eleftherios Venizelos played an important role in the Union of Crete.
Crete strongly resisted the German invaders as well. The Battle of Crete constitutes a brilliant page in world history, as simple citizens, elderly people and children resisted the heavily armed invaders. The Cretans paid their bravery with executions, tortures and destructions of entire villages by the Nazi regime.