Why Crete? [English]  

Famous Cretans
What is special about the island?


A few words about the island of Crete.

Crowning the southern-most part of the Aegean, Crete has been standing there for centuries, proud bearer of its past; a past that blends myth and historical fact, power and demise, leadership and defeat, but never subjugation, never weakness. Its terrain unpredictable... filled with mountain ranges, intense and defying, serene plateaus - blessed with the rich vegetation that only gods could bestow on this island - interspersed with wide expanses of serene valleys and gentle hills, that meet the waters of the sea, some times with fierce determination, others with quiet resolve. The island of King Minos and a civilization that left its mark on the world, faced the voracious appetite of conquerors from mainland Greece, Rome, Byzantium, the Ottoman Empire, the Venetians, was raided by pirates and invaded by armies who cruised the Mediterranean in search of riches and power. The proof of this in every corner of the land; in Chania, Rethymno, Iraklio, Lassithi. Finds of long-forgotten civilizations, castles with thick walls and deep moats, monasteries and churches, standing along-side minarets and mosques, they are all testaments to the turbulent past of this corner of Greece. And the people!!!... Proud as the mountains, strong as the waves that beat upon its shores, yet gentle and generous, bearers of age-old traditions and culture. This is the birthplace of gods and heroes, divine artists and inspired politicians: Zeus and Minos, El Greco, Kornaros, Kazantzakis, Venizelos ... From myth, to antiquity, to renaissance, to modern Greek history, figures who contributed of themselves to what today makes up Crete, Greece and to some extend Western civilization.











Cretan Civilization

The most brilliant Aegean island civilization was the Cretan or Minoan civilization which flourished in Crete mainly in the 3rd and 2nd millennia B C. and took its name from the legendary king of Knossos, Minos, In 1450 B.C Crete had become a mighty sea power and had amassed great riches and treasures which allowed it to build, between 2200 and 1550 B.C. the renowned Cretan palaces of Knossos and Phaestos where the arts flourished. The Cretans taught the art of seamanship to the Phoenicians and the Greeks. They imposed themselves in the Cyclades and in Attica and exercised great influence over Mycenae and Tiryns. It is said that the Cretan kings granted "protection", on payment of a fee, to various other cities, as one gathers from certain myths and particularly the legend of Theseus. They also developed trade with Egypt and set up colonies in Cythera and later in Miletus. In 1893, the archaeologist Arthur Evans brought to light almost the entire Minoan civilization. The excavations uncovered a bright and colorful world. The frescoes not only in the palaces but In humble dwellings as well bear witness to the gay character of the Cretans, their love for life, for nature, for fun and dancing. A peaceful people, it is said they had concluded a "Pax Minoica" with their neighbors. Their art is marked by colour, movement and liveliness. It shows scenes of religious processions, games and bullfights as well as themes from the world of plants and the sea. Their technical knowledge is to be admired even today. Their script was hieroglyphic. The value of the Minoan civilization is very great. it was the first true civilization in Europe and formed the basis for the later, brilliant, Greek civilization, the Mycenaean. It disappeared at the end of 1500 B C. after the volcanic eruption of Thera which, according to one view, also caused the destruction of Crete. It was a chronological milestone, since from that date onwards the techniques and aesthetics of mainland Greece prevailed over the entire Aegean and in Crete.



Myths of Crete



Knossos is the site of the most important and better known palace of Minoan civilization. According to tradition, it was the seat of the legendary king Minos. The Palace is also connected with thrilling legends,such as the myth of the Labyrinth with the Minotaur, and the story of Daidalos and Icaros. The site was continuously inhabited from the Neolithic period (7000-3000 B.C.) until Roman times. The Linear B tablets (Mycenaean script) of the 14th century B.C. mention the city as ko-no-so. Intensive habitation occured mostly in the Minoan period, when the so-called first (19th-17th centuries B.C.) and second palaces (16th-14th centuries B.C.) were built along with luxurious houses, a hospice and various other structures. After its partial destruction in 1450 B.C., Knossos was settled by Mycenaeans from the GreekMainland. The city flourished again during the Hellenistic period (sanctuaries of Glaukos, Demeter, other sanctuaries, chamber tombs, north cemetery, defensive towers) and in 67 B.C. it was captured by the Roman Quintus Caecilius Metelus Creticus. The "Villa of Dionysos", a private house with splendid mosaics was built in the same period. Knossos was discovered in 1878 by Minos Kalokairinos. Arthur Evans conducted systematic excavations at the site between 1900 and 1931, bringing to light the palace, a large section of the Minoan city, and the cemeteries. Since then, the site and the surrounding area have been excavated by the British School of Archaeology at Athens and the 23rd E.P.C.A. The restoration of the palace to its present form was carried out by Arthur Evans. The interventions were mostly imposed by the need to preserve the monuments uncovered. The Archaeological Service of the Ministry of Culture carries out only consolidation work, whenever necessary.

The most important monuments of the site are:

The Palace of Knossos. It is the largest of the preserved Minoan palatial centres. Four wings are arranged around a central courtyard, containing the royal quarters, workshops, shrines, storerooms, repositories, the throne room and banquet halls. Dated to 2000-1350 B.C.

The Little Palace. It lies to the west of the main palace and has all the features of palatial architecture: scraped wall masonry, reception rooms, a pristyle hall, a double megaron with polythyra (pi er-and-door partitions) and a lustral basin-shrine. Dated to the 17th-15th centuries B.C.

The Royal Villa. It lies to the NE of the palace and its architectural form is distinguished by the polythyra, the pillar crypt and the double staircase, with two flights of stairs. It is strongly religious in character and might have been the residence of an aristocrat or a high priest. Dated to the 14th century B.C.

House of the Frescoes. It is located to the NW of the palace and is a small urban mansion with rich decoration on the walls. Dated to the 15th, 14th-12th centuries B.C.

Caravanserai. It lies to the south of the palace and was interpreted as a reception hall and hospice. Some of the rooms are equipped with baths and decorated with wall paintings.

The "Unexplored Mansion" Private building, probably of private-industrial function, to the NW of the palace. It is rectangular, with a central, four-pillared hall, corridors, storerooms and remains of a staircase. Dated to the 14th-12th centuries B.C.

Temple Tomb. It is located almost 600 m. to the south of the palace and was connected with the "House of the High Priest" by means of a paved street. It seems that one of the last kings of Knossos (17th-14th centuries B.C.) was buried here. Typical features of its architecture are the hypostyle, two-pillar crypt, the entrance with the courtyard, the portico and a small anteroom.

House of the High Priest. It lies 300 m. to the south of Caravanserai and contains a stone altar with two columns, framed by the bases of double axes. The South Mansion. Private civic house, located to the south of the palace. It is a three-storeyed building with a lustral basin and a hypostyle crypt, dating from the 17th-15th centuries B.C.

Villa of Dionysos. Private, peristyle house of the Roman period. It is decorated with splendid mosaics by Apollinarius, depicting Dionysos. The house contains special rooms employed for the Dionysiac cult. Dated to the 2nd century A.D.



Historic Persons


What is special about the island?


The Cretans are known for their generosity of spirit. They like strangers, they are pleasant, graceful and hospitable. As their glorious and turbulent history indicates, they are driven by a powerful desire for freedom and independence, which is reflected in every expression of their daily life. Their intense character, combined with a strong sense of family loyalty, often leads them to actions that may be viewed as extreme by outsiders. The ultimate expression of this behaviour is the famous "vendetta," where the rivalry between different families can continue for generations on end. The Cretans keep the local customs and traditions alive. Many still wear the traditional costumes, sing traditional Cretan songs and dance the local dances. Their income derives fromagriculture, stock- breeding, commerce and in recent years from tourism, which has developed quite a bit. Cretan girls make beautiful folk-art objects, like ceramics, embroideries and woven fabrics, which can be purchased at most shops on the island.

Traditional Songs

The cretan music tradition has had many influencies and is very different from others. The first samples are "Pirichii", war songs sung by giants Kourites, while, in the first post-christian century, song writer Messodemos lived and wrote cretan music. The most famous cretan songs are "mantinades", songs accompanied by lyre and lute. The singer adjusts the lyrics to the circumstance, and mantinades vary from love songs to satirical, historical, or social content songs. The rhymesters compete with each other for the best, most succesful verse which will be greeted with great enthousiasm from the audience. Another important category of cretan songs includes the historic songs which narrate facts from the islandΥs disorderly history, praising the cretan heroism and willingness to fight. Among the regional songs are the "rizitika", sung in western Crete. They are thus called, because they originate from the foot or "roots" (rizes) of Lefka Ori. There are two types of rizitika: the "table" songs (tragoudia tis tavlas), sung without music instruments at feasts and dinner parties, and the "songs of the road" (tragoudia tis stratas), sung by travellers along the way. Unlike mantinades, rizitika are not improvised, expressing an emotional state, but they are the result of a long tradition, ever since the ancient years.

Traditional Instruments

The most characteristic music instrument of the cretan musical tradition is "lyra" (the lyre), a three-string instrument with a small bow, similar to a fiddle-bow. Cretan lyre-players, self-taught in their majority, improuse and sing the cretan mantinades, adjusting the lyrics to the needs of the occasion. The cretan lyre plays along with the cretan "lagouto" (lute), an eight - string instrument, like a guitar. Other traditional instruments are the "outi", "askobandoura" - something like a bag-pipe - and "chabioli", a wind instrument played by shepherds, alone or attached to askobandoura. These instruments are taught from one generation to the next, and cretan musicians are taught from the elderlies the technique to construct the instruments and how to play music which is found in every aspect of the daily life.

Folk Dances

The traditional cretan dances constitute an expression of the bravery and dynamism of Cretan character and were highly influenced by the islandΥs disorderly history. The turns of "Siganos" are reminiscent of Theseus convolutions in the maze. The dancers have their arms intertwined at shoulder level and take small steps. As the lyre-player accelerates, the dance becomes bouncing and "Pendozalis", the most famous cretan dance, begins. Dancers dance in an open circle, move away from each other and perform many improusations and spectacular jumps. "Sirtos" or "Chaniotikos" is danced in a different way from town to town, being a variation to "Sirtos" of mainland Greece. "Sousta" is a rhythmic, courting dance, danced by men and women facing each other. Men also dance "Kastrinos" or "Maleviziotis" in open circle. This is danced at fairs and local events.

Traditional Cuisine

For the main religious feast-days, cretan house-wives kneaded, baked and decorated special breads. The "Christopsoma" or "Stavropsoma" (Christ-breads" or "Cross- breads") were the Christmas breads, "avgokouloures" or "Lambrokouloures" (eggrolls or Easter rolls) were the Easter breads, "eptazyma" (seven times leavened) were the breads made for the feast of the Dormation of Virgin Mary, on August 15th. There were also the wedding breads, christening breads etc, decorated with various motifs of dough. Local olives and cheese, mountain greens and beans are never missing from the Cretan table. Among the typical dishes are "cochlii", meat "ofto", boiled goat, "staka" (made of butter and flour), Sfakia pie (lamb with myzithra cheese cooked in pastry dough in the oven), "Kaltsounia" (small pies filled with unsalted myzithra and fried in oil) "omathies" and "tsiladia" (pork jelly). The food is accompanied by genuine cretan wine found in different local variations. Another local drink is "tsikoudia" or "raki", a strong alcoholic drink made of mulbberries.

Folk Art


In Crete, basket-weaving is part of the local folk tradition. Agricultural work forced the Cretans to develop the craft of basket- weaving, in order to make their rural and domestic chores easier. The secrets of basket- weaving are taught from the old craftsmen to the young ones. Utilising material from the cretan flora, such as reed, osier and splinter, basket-weavers create original and pretty designs which can be admired throughout Crete.


Rural and domestic chores forced the Cretans to make clay jars and pots. The cretan jags, made of hard material, are known for their original beautiful design and their resistance to high temperature. As years progressed, pottery evolved and small items, flower pots, jars and decorative ornaments were created. The most important pottery centers are Margarites in Rethymno and Kentri in Ierapetra. The best -known pottery centre, however, is Thrapsano in Heraklio. Here, one can find ceramics for every possible use.


Cutlery is part of the cretan folk tradition. The islandΥs disorderly history forced the locals to fight for their freedom and be constantly armed. Today, the knife tied around the waist is only part of the traditional cretan costume. The craft of cutlery is taught from one generation to the next, with the elderly teaching the youngsters how to make and decorate knives. The majority of the cretan knives have elegant designs, curved on the handle which is made of silver or animal horn. The sharpened steel blade, for safety reasons, is put into a cup made of wood, leather or silver. A knife with a "mantinada" curved on its handle, is a beautiful souvenir from Crete.

Traditional Textiles

Cretan women are known for their skill in weaving, as in other crafts. The old traditional cretan houses were characterised by the loom - vertical or upright - where women spent a large part of their day. It was the place where they made the daily clothing of the family, blankets, towels, rugs, aprons and tablecloths. Although less women are occupied with weaving, today one can still purchase the famous cretan woven fabrics,unique samples of fok art, in beautiful colours and original designs. Many families are occupied entirely with weaving, from breeding stocks to weaving wool. The materials used are flax, cotton and silk which are dyed red from the weavers themselves, who gather for this purpose and teach their craft to the younger ones.

Wood Sculpture

The old wood-curving produced items of religious art: icons, icon-stands, pulpits, candlesticks and other objects of eastern influence, still decorating churches. Today, only few wood-carvers are still to be found, mainly constructing folk musical instruments. However, in several mountainous regions, talented amateurs create small works of art (spoons, forks, wooden stamps for impressive designs, lyres and various other objects).





Hersonisos is located 26 km east of Iraklion on the road to Agios Nikolaos. It keeps the name of the ancient city that was located in the place that the harbour of Hersonisos is today. The village of Old Hersonisos, located within a small distance to the south was built due to the fear of the pirates, that forced the inhabitants of the village to move in the inland. Near Old Chersonissos there are two picturesque small villages, Piskopiano and Koutouloufari, overlooking the busy resort of Limin Chersonissos.

Regular public transportation is available for visiting Chersonissos.




History & Sights
In the site that the harbour of Chersonissos is built today, there was the city of ancient Chersonissos. The Roman Chersonissos had wonderful marble waterfalls.The city was first built during the Minoan times but experienced great prosperity during Roman and early Byzantine period. Remnants of this period can be seen today in the area of Kastri, on a promontory where excavations have revealed an early Christian basilica. The ancient city of Chersonissos was irrigated by an aqueduct, ruins of which can be found today at Xerokamares,at the village of Potamies.

From the point of recreation there is a wonderful, sandy beach all along the coast, while a number of lovely small \ coves can be found both to the west at the area of Anissaras as well as to the east near Stalis (Stalida). There is a variety of modern hotel installations and apartments providing every comfort and offering a wide price range to suite every pocket. The harbour of Chersonissos is famous for its night life as there are many bars, restaurants and tavernas next to the beach. At the neighbouring villages a number of small hotels and apartments offer quiet and peaceful environment for family vacation. The visitor to the area of Chersonissos will find a large number of shops with jewels, furs, clothing etc. and of course many places to rent cars or bikes. Daily cruises are also organised by various travel agents, to the neighbouring island of DIA and many other small islets and beaches in the area.