Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek Islands, the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean sea. Crete was once the centre of the Minoan Civilization (c. 2700–1420 BC), which is currently regarded as the earliest recorded civilizations in the world. It is located in the southern part of the Aegean Sea separating the Aegean from the Libyan Sea. The island has an elongated shape: it spans 260 km (160 mi) from east to west and is extremely mountainous that’s why its character is defined by a high mountain range crossing from west to east, formed by three different groups of mountains. The island has a number of gorges, such as the gorge of Samaria, Imbros gorge, Kourtaliotiko gorge e.t.c.The rivers of Crete include the Ieropotamos River, the Koiliaris, the Anapodiaris, the Almiros, and Megas Potamos. There are only two freshwater lakes: Lake Kournas and Lake Agia, which are both in Chania regional unit. A large number of islands, islets, and rocks hug the coast of Crete. Many are visited by tourists, some are visited only by archaeologists and biologists. Some are environmentally protected. A small sample of the islands include: Gramvousa, Elafonisi, Chrysi, Paximadia, Spinalonga and some other smaller. Crete with its nearby islands form the Crete Region one of the 13 regions of Greece. From west to east these are: Chania, Rethymno, Heraklion, and Lasithi. These are subdivided into 24 municipalities.
Crete has two climatic zones, the Mediterranean and the North African, mainly falling within the former. As such, the climate in Crete is mostly temperate. The atmosphere can be quite humid, depending on the proximity to the sea, while winter is fairly not so wild. Snowfall is common on the mountains between November and April, but rare in the low lying areas. During the Cretan summer, average temperatures reach the high 20s-low 30s Celsius (mid 80s to mid 90s Fahrenheit), with maximum touching the 30s-mid 40s.
Culture and Archaeological sites
Crete has its own distinctive Mantinades poetry. The island is known for its Mantinades-based music (typically performed with the Cretan lyra and the laouto) and has many dances, the most noted of which is the Pentozali.
Cretan authors have made important contributions to Greek Literature throughout the modern period. Major names of it are Vitsentzos Kornaros, creator of the 17th century epic romance Erotokritos, and in the 20th century Nikos Kazantzakis. In the Renaissance, Crete was the home of the Cretan School of icon painting, which influenced El Greco and through him subsequent European painting.
Cretans are fiercely proud of their island and customs, and men often don elements of traditional dress in everyday life: knee-high black riding boots (stivania), vráka breeches tucked into the boots at the knee, black shirt and black headdress consisting of a fishnet-weave kerchief worn wrapped around the head or draped on the shoulders (the sariki). Black is the color of mourning, and since Cretan families are notionally considered so extended as to include great-grandparents or second cousins. On festive occasions those who are not in mourning wear white, most notably white boots and headdress. In the small villages in the mountains some men unabashedly carry weapons including knives and guns which also appear at special occasions such as weddings.
There is a number of archaeological sites such as the Minoan sites of Knossos and Phaistos, the classical site of Gortys, and the diverse archaeology of the island of Koufonisi which includes Minoan, Roman, and World War II ruins. There are a number of museums throughout Crete. The Heraklion Archaeological Museum displays most of the archaeological finds of the Minoan era. At present the museum in the capital of the island is closed for refurbishment.
Economy and Tourism
The economy of Crete is based on agriculture and is one of the few Greek islands that can support itself independently without a tourism industry. The economy began to change visibly during the 1970s as tourism gained in importance. While an emphasis remains on agriculture 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 . All three sectors of the Cretan economy (agriculture/farming, processing-packaging, services), are directly connected and interdependent.
As in many regions of Greece, viticulture and olive groves are significant; oranges and citrons are also cultivated. Dairy products are important to the local economy and there are a number of special cheeses such as mizithra, anthotyros, and kefalotyri.
Crete is one of the most popular holiday destinations in Greece. Around fifteen percent of all arrivals in Greece come through the city of Heraklion (port and airport), while charter journeys to Heraklion are too many. 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 Chania and a smaller airport in Sitia (international charter and domestic flights starting May 2012) or by boat to the main ports of Heraklion, Chania, Rethimno, Agios Nikolaos and Sitia. Popular tourist attractions include the archaeological sites of the Minoan civilisation, the Venetian old city and port of Chania, the Venetian castle at Rethymno, the gorge of Samaria, the islands of Chrysi, Elafonisi, Gramvousa, and Spinalonga and the Palm Beach of Vai, which is the largest natural palm forest in Europe.