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Crete - cradle of Europe
Crete, the fifth-largest Mediterranean island and largest island of Greece, controlled the eastern Mediterranean area with its location between Europe, Asia and Africa since antiquity. With a surface of 8241m² it extends over a length of well over 200 km and a width between 60 km and 12 km. In the east the Karpati sea strikes to lonely beaches, the Myrtoi sea in the west is wild and cool in the winter, the Cretan sea in the north is characterized from the Meltemi and in the south the warm Lybian is good for swimming even in winter.

Kreta aus dem Weltraum
Crete - seen from space

It is still unclear when the island was first settled. The oldest proofs originate from the time around 5000 to 6000 B.C.. It is unknown if there where human beings on the island before then. Today it is assumed that the first settling wave came from Anatolia and Africa. First housings are dated around 5000 B.C..and at the same time humans inhabitants began to form simple vessels and figures out of clay/bone.

The Pre-Palace period
[ 2600 to 2000 B.C. ]
Around 2600 B.C. a substantial settling of the island begins. It is assumed that the settlers came from the area of little Asia to the island. The immigrants are developed in their artistic skill and abilities relating to crafts. Settlers are interbreeding with the former inhabitants. With the so called "former palace period " the Minoan culture begins.
Culture and infrastructure on the island develop like an explosion. With the introduction of the potters wheel the Cretans learn to manufacture artful ceramics and customs ceramics. The development of the bronze production sets the second economic boom in motion. First palaces develop, even double floor houses are built. At the same time the island develops to the commercial centre of the eastern Mediterranean area. Export and import flourish.

The Old Palace Period
[ 2000 to 1700 B.C. ]
From the simpler palaces of the former palace period large centres of power are created. The palaces of Knossos, Malia, Festos and Kato Zakros are built. Obviously the Minoans felt very safe because none of the palaces were fortified. One assumes today that the Minoans controlled the entire eastern Mediterranean area at this time and on their homeland there was no danger by military conflict.
As a sign of their power the rulers of the island build large dome graves.

At the same time extraordinary artistic styles develop. On their seals animals are abstracted, the frescoes of the palaces live by expression-strong colours and sensuality. The Linear 'A' characters are founded. At app. 1700 B.C. the old palace period ends suddenly. One assumes that an enormous earthquake destroyed all buildings at one blow.

The New Palace Period
[ 1700 to 1400 B.C. ]
On the ruins of the old palaces the Minoans built new ones. Larger and more magnificent than ever, with several floors providing full multicolored frescoes. Around the palaces cities are developing and trade and culture reach new heights In this phase also the Minoans lived their lives completely without defences, which suggests that the people carried on in peace and liberty, trading and developing their culture further.
Like the old palace the new palace only lasted three hundred years, when again a natural disaster of tremendous extent destroyed almost everything that humans on the island had built. Still disagreement prevails what led to the collapse of the newer palace time. While some say that the volcanic eruption on the island Thira (today Santorin) led to the destruction of the culture others see the reason rather in a second disastrous earthquake.

Palace of Zakros - Eastern Crete

Post Palace period
Greek mainland tribes have migrated to Crete over the years. The form of writing in Knossos (Linear B) was later proved to be Greek language, although the symbols used for its writing are not Greek letters. The great Minoan civilization started its final decline after 1300 B.C. following new earthquakes and fires on the island. The next wave of settlers, the Dorian Greeks, destroyed Mycenae on the mainland and invaded Crete about 1100 B.C. They established an aristocratic form of rule.
Under the Dorian's, Cretan society was divided into three social classes: the free citizens, those who submitted to the invaders; the landholders, those who kept their land and paid exorbitant taxes; and the slaves. The famous Law Code of Gortyn, indicates the absolute authority of the rulers in all aspects of life. Minoan civilization still lived in isolated cities and villages, particularly in the eastern part of Crete. The Greek city-states, such as Lato, Gortyn, Praisos, Itanos, Kydonia, Aptera and Knossos, were in constant strife among themselves, and civil wars raged continuously across the island. However, when a foreign enemy made advances, the island's people stood united. Despite this unity, the island fell to the Romans in 69 B.C.

Byzantine and Arabic occupation
The first period of Byzantine rule lasted from 395 A.D. until 824 A.D. During this period Crete was part of the Byzantine Empire, which had its capital in Constantinople. It became a separate province in the empire and had a Byzantine general as its governor. This allowed Crete to participate in the building of the Greek Byzantine Empire. Christianity spread to the island and became established.
Arab Saracens conquered the island in 824 A.D., destroying the capital Gortyn and building a new one in present day Iraklion. They dug a moat (Khandak) all the way around the city and named it El Khandak. Thus began almost a century and a half of Arab rule. Crete became the stronghold of the Saracen pirates in the eastern Mediterranean. The native Christian population was persecuted but continued to survive, especially in the mountainous areas

Crete today
In 1898 a Cretan government was set up in Crete with Prince George, the younger son of King George of Greece, as High Commissioner. However, the goal of most Cretans was unity with Greece. Angry reaction followed whenever the High Commissioner imposed restrictions on the people's freedoms or changed methods of administration. This unquenchable revolutionary spirit led to the "Revolution of Therisos" in 1905. The leader was Eleftherios Venizelos who had fought in the earlier independence struggles and had become Minister of Justice to Prince George. The revolution was short-lived, but support for Venizelos was widespread enough to force the resignation of Prince George.

The Great Powers withdrew their forces from Crete, the post of High Commissioner was abolished and after elections Venizelos emerged as the leader. When the Military League of Athens came to power, Venizelos was asked to become Prime Minister of Greece. Finally, in 1913, union with Greece was realised. Under the Treaty of London, Sultan Mohammed II relinquished his formal rights to the island. In December, the Greek flag was raised at the Firkas fortress in Chania, with Venizelos and King Constantine in attendance, and Crete was unified with mainland Greece.

At the end of World War II, Crete began reconstruction while the rest of the country was embroiled in a civil war. Due to this period of peace and also due to its favourable climate, the island became one of the most prosperous areas of Greece with agricultural products becoming a mainstay of Cretan economy.
Today, tourism provides another economic boost to the island. Infrastructure built in the last twenty years accommodates this latest influx of foreigners. The superb climate and diverse beauty of the island beckon to visitors from all over Europe. But should building graze go on like it does these days the island will loose its personality.

[Thanks to Paul Hooper for helping me with precise use of English.]

The Rough Guide to Crete - buy at Amazon
The Rough Guide to Crete
Click and buy
@ Amazon

The largest Greek island is well described in this entertaining book, which is very thorough in its coverage of all the major and minor sites. An essential aid for any visitor.
By John Fisher, Geoff Garvey