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'Is it an island?'
You would almost be justified to ask this, as Crete is the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean and by far the largest and longest of all Greek islands. With a size of just under 8,500 square kilometres, that is 260 km across and between 15 and 60 km wide, this strikingly elongated island boasts 1,000 km of coastline. Its 600,000 inhabitants are concentrated primarily in the urban areas, with more than one third residing in one of the three main towns of Chania, Rethymno, Heraklio, and Aghios Nikolaos, respective capitals of the four administrative regions of Chanion, Rethymnou, Herakliou, and Lassithiou.
Cretan history spans well into the Neolithic era, some 6,000 years ago. The island has seen a series of peoples and civilizations reaching their peak and then collapsing only to be succeeded by the next one in row in their strife to hold on to the prized land. The richness of the soil and the strategic position amongst three continents seemed to have lured ambitious invaders from West and East. Thus, the Minoans and Mycenaeans of the pre-classical period were succeeded by the Athenians, then Alexandrians and soon the Romans. Before long, Byzantium took over and desperately resisted the Arab attacks, until it succumbed to the Venetian Crusaders, who in turn had to fight the Arabs and then the Turks, who eventually gained overall control in 1669. The island remained under Ottoman rule until 1913, when it finally rejoined the rest of Greece. This turbulent history and constant melting pot of cultures and civilisations competing for Crete, has left innumerable traces in the culture and landscape of the island, but has most of all, forged a distinctly independent Cretan identity which survives to this day, and proudly precedes the Cretans' Greek origin.
The island's geography couldn't be simple either! The terrain is amazingly varied, which, though a surprise to those used to the Cycladic islands or the Ionian islands to the west, is a natural consequence of the size and position of the island. Where else in Greece can you see mountain ranges towering well over 2,450 metres, snow-capped in winter and carpeted in local flora in spring and early summer. Mountain plateaus cover the rest of the island, apart from when they are slashed by spectacular gorges, or gently peter out in the low plains reaching the sea. The beaches range from your archetypal sandy paradise, to idyllic little bays and rocky coves with family friendly rock pools, or picturesque fishing harbours with mirror-sharp clean waters and pebbles underfoot.
It is the diversity and size of the island that make the impulsive wish to return a natural reaction of the first time visitor, and, as the well seasoned visitor will tell you, make car rental and even boat hire (or boat trips for the non-mariners) a very reasonable means to make the most of your holiday.
Did you know?
The unsuspecting visitor may come up against some historical and other surprises. Did you know for example that the collapse of the Minoans has been linked to the myth of the lost city of Atlantis, and what might have been the first historically documented tsunami after the great Santorini quakes? And, if you are used to thinking that bull fights are only associated with Spain, then take a look at the Minoan frescoes and artefacts in museums, showing evidence of a bull worshipping culture, with highly esteemed bull dances and fights involving the animals and exquisitely dressed and groomed youths!
But most surprising, perhaps, is the discovery of how much of Cretan history, landscape and culture is innocuously part of what is already known and cherished worldwide. So, armed with your crossword victories over 'labyrinth' and 'Minotaur', the pub quiz boast of knowing why El Greco was called 'the Greek', while enjoying a Cretan version of Greek salad (on top of olive oil and vinegar soaked rusk-type bread), treat yourself to a glass of Cretan wine or traditional blend of herbal tea with a spoonful of renowned Cretan honey, and no, don't puzzle over the Festos (or Phaistos) Disk, let the historical linguists pore over the links between hieroglyphics and Linear B, just plan your next visit to our spectacular island!!!
For more information on our offers in the individual regions of the island, check the relevant links, and adjust your searches accordingly.