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 Crete Info


Crete lies at the point where the continents of Europe, Asia and Africa meet. It is the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean with an area of 8,335 square kilometers. It has an elongated shape with an east-west axis and a length of 257km. The island of Crete flanks the southern entrance to the Aegean basin and must always have been a focus for sea - travellers between the coast fingers of Europe, Asia and Africa. Its widest points in the centre are about 60km apart and its narrowest near Ierapetra in the east, only about 12km. Crete is set in an area which is geologically unstable and has consequently been affected by frequent earthquakes, some of which in Bronze Age, account for severe destructions of palaces and towns. There have been other environmental changes of a less dramatic kind which have had their influence throughout the island's long history. For example, the Mediterranean being virtually tideless, the evidence of submerged settlements, houses and harbour installations in many places around its shore indicates that the level of the sea has risen since ancient times.

The geological composition of the island and the sismic upheavals it has suffered over the ages have caused it to be honeycombed with many hundreds of caves and rock - shelters, some of them small, others vast, not a few of extreme archaeological and religious importance. In recent times, as so often in the past, caves have been used by the Cretans as places of refuge and focal points of survival and resistance. Many have been associated with the Christian religion; and even today there are said to be over a hundred churches in Cretan caves. Roughly two - thirds of the whole surface of the island consists of the mountainous regions now so conspicuously rugged and barren; nowadays nearly half the land area is only suitable for romantic grazing.
 The island has no navigable rivers, for the streams which can be called rivers are too swallow and rocky.

Prefectures and Provinces
Crete is divided into four prefectures (nomos). From west to east they are: Chania, Rethimnon, Iraklion and Lassithi. Each one of the prefectures is subdivided into provinces (eparchies). The Nomos Chanion is subdivided into Kydonia, Apokoronas, Sfakia, Kissamos and Selino. The Nomos Rethimnou is subdivided into Rethimnon, Milopotamos, Amari and Agios Vasilios. The Nomos Irakliou is subdivided into Malevizi, Temenos, Pediada, Pirgiotisa, Kainourio, Monofatsi and Vianos. The Nomos Lassithiou is subdivided into Mirabelo, Lassithi, Ierapetra and Sitia.

  Chania Prefecture
The prefecture (nomos) of Chania covers the western section of the island. It has an area of 2,376 square km. Chania is subdivided into five provinces (eparhies): Kydonia, Kissamos, Apokoronas, Selino, and Sfakia. The main cities of the prefecture are Chania, the capital, and Kastelli in Kissamos. The main towns are Paleochora and Kandanos in Selino, and Hora Sfakion in Sfakia.
The prefecture of Chania offers a wide variety of tourist services and activities of all classes and types.
The city of Chania has also maintained characteristics of the Venetian era. The Lefka Ori rise behind Chania and drop to the Libyan Sea in Sfakia and contain many gorges and canyons for the nature or hiking enthusiast. The sandy beaches and clear waters of Falasarna, Paleohora and Georgioupolis offer pleasant swims. The Minoan, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian and Turkish archaeological sites attract those seeking cultural and historical information.

The province of Kissamos in the northwest of the prefecture of Chania lies between the two peninsulas of western Crete. It extends west to the sea and south to Elafonisi Island. Kastelli is the main city of this area. The city has a variety of tourist services. On the coastal road from Kastelli to Elafonisi Island you can see the wild beauty of western Crete. The beaches at Elafonisi, Falasarna, and Gramvousa are among the finest in Crete.
The province of Sfakia occupies the southeast area of the prefecture of Chania. The Lefka Ori cover most of the area. Sfakia has the highest peaks of the Lefka Ori: Pahnes (2,450m); Kastro (2,218m), and Troharis (2,409m). This wild terrain is one of the most impressive in Crete. The visitor may enjoy the panoramic view going from Chania to Sfakia by road. Very impressive also is the Samaria Gorge excursion and the subsequent boat trip to Hora Sfakion.

 Rethymno Prefecture
Rethimnon is one of the four prefectures (nomos) of Crete. It lies between the prefecture of Iraklion and the prefecture of Chania, and consists of four provinces (eparhies): Rethimnon, Milopotamos, Amari, and Agios Vasilios. The main cities of the Nomos are Rethimnon, Agia Galini, Anogia, Amari. These two provinces of Rethimnon and Milopotamos occupy all the area on the north coast of the prefecture of Rethimnon. The entire area is easily reached from the city of Rethimnon.
The roads in the provinces are good, usually paved, but narrow and winding. The excursions in this area go east and west along the picturesque Old Road between Rethimnon and Chania and Rethimnon and Iraklion. The construction of the National Road isolated these small villages in the 70s but this adds to their attraction. Hidden among these villages are Minoan sanctuaries, cemeteries, villas, and palaces.

There are many Byzantine churches in the prefecture of Rethimnon. Some of the later churches have interesting frescoes such as the Panagia Kardiotissa in Miriokefala. The church in Moni Arkadiou is one of the finest examples of Venetian influence on the architecture of the time and the monastery a symbol of the love of and sacrifice for freedom. Rethimnon is an area of traditional villages (Anogia), Byzantine churches, and ancient sites. The Oropedio Nida, one of the most beautiful and historic plateaus in Crete, is high in the Psiloritis Mountains. The Ideon Andron Cave in Nida is reputed to be the birthplace of Zeus or the place where Zeus was raised, according to others.

 Heraklion Prefecture
The prefecture of Iraklion is the largest in area, has the greatest population and the highest per capita income of Crete. There are seven provinces (eparhies) in this prefecture: Malevizi, Temenos, and Pediada on the north coast and Pirgiotisa, Kainourio, Monofatsi, and Viannos in the centre and on the south coast. The main cities are Timbaki, Ano Viannos, Matala and Mires. Iraklion is the main city. The valleys of the prefecture are the largest of grape - producing areas of Crete and its main products are sultana raisins, Malevizi (Malmsey) wine, and table grapes (Rosaki).

In these valleys Sir Arthur Evans, the British archaeologist, excavated the Minoan Palace of Knossos the remains of a great civilization.

A low mountain range rises in the middle of the prefecture and descends into the Mesara Plain. These fertile plains have been cultivated for thousands of years and have important Minoan, Greek, and Roman archaeological sites -- Festos, Agia Triada, and Gortyn are the major ones. The imposing peak of Psiloritis, 2,456 metres above sea level, is visible from almost all points of the prefecture of Iraklion. It is especially impressive during the winter months when it is snow-capped.

The prefecture of Iraklion has many cultural and historical features to offer the visitor. The finest collection of Minoan artefacts in the world and the sites of one of history's greatest civilizations may be of interest as well as the numerous Byzantine churches and Venetian castles and fountains.

The historical aspects combine with the scenic landscapes of mountains, valleys, and sea to make this a beautiful and fascinating area. The beaches of Agia Pelagia and Limin Hersonisou on the north coast and Matala and Kali Limenes on the south coast will attract the visitor with their warm, clear seas. There are many fine restaurants and tavernas offering Cretan specialities throughout the area.

The eastern part of the Iraklion prefecture has some major resorts near the sea (Limin Hersonissou), some major archaeological sites (Malia), and many important Byzantine churches.

The southern area of the prefecture of Iraklion includes the four provinces of Pirgiotisa, Kainourio, Monofatsi, and Viannos. The most prominent physical feature here is the Pediada Mesaras. It stretches east from Timbaki to Ano Viannos. The plain is between the low mountain ranges of the south and north. The main products of Mesara are cereals, olives, and fruits. and cultivation goes on year-round, aided by the use of hothouses to increase productivity

 Lasithi Prefecture
The prefecture of Lassithi covers the eastern end of the island. The mountain range in this area is the Dikte. Its tallest peak is Mount Dikte, 2,148 metres above sea level. The prefecture has four provinces: Mirabelo, Lassithi, Ierapetra, and Sitia. The major cities are Agios Nikolaos, Ierapetra, and Sitia. The earliest settlements in Crete are in this prefecture, including the palaces of Zakros, Praisos, Mochlos, Vassiliki, and Gournia. An important early Greek city, Lato, is near Kritsa. The fine Archaeological Museums of Agios Nikolaos and Sitia display some of the artefacts from these and other excavations. According to legend, the Dikteon Andron Cave, on the Lassithi Plateau, was the birthplace of Zeus. The area around Agios Nikolaos is not only the most developed area for tourism but one of the most interesting. The church of the Panagia Kera near Kritsacontains some of the best-preserved Byzantine frescoes in Crete.

Elounda has one of the strongest Venetian forts built on Crete. The area of Sitia is full of Byzantine churches and Venetian villas, as well as ancient Minoan sites. The famous Toplou Monastery has a museum displaying its well-known icon collection. The area also has very good beaches with many coves between Ierapetra and the Kapsa Monastery that offer excellent swimming. The area of Vai has a unique palm grove that attracts many people.

Ierapetra is one of the four provinces of Lassithi. Its capital is the city of Ierapetra. The province of Ierapetra has many good examples of Byzantine churches with frescoes in them There are two monasteries of note, Exakousti Monastery and Faneromeni Monastery. East of Ierapetra there are many fine beaches in the Makrigialos Bay.

Sitia is the largest province of Lassithi in area and population. Its capital is the city of Sitia. The mountains are lower then in other parts of the island, but have a distinctive and varied landscape. The earliest Minoan settlements are here at Mochlos, Palaikastro, and the Minoan palace of Zakros. The Kilada ton Nekron (Valley of the Dead) in Zakros and the Hellenistic site of Itanos near Vai are also of interest.

The Minoans ruled not only Crete but other Aegean Islands and various cities on the mainland. The great palaces that we see today at Knossos, Festos, Malia and Zakros were constructed during this period. Arts and crafts also reached their pinnacle also during this "Golden Age". At this time, the great Minoan fleet ruled the Mediterranean, providing wealth to the island from trade and commerce as well as providing protection from invaders.
A new disaster hit Crete around 1450 B.C., causing large-scale destruction to the palaces and settlements and resulting in the total demise of the great civilization. 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. Crete was a strategic point in the eastern Mediterranean and one that the Roman Empire needed. Crete fell to the Romans and was a Roman province until 369 A.D.

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. After the final fall of Constantinople in 1453, Byzantine scholars took refuge in Crete. Thus, the island became a centre for Byzantine arts. During this time the renowned icon painter Damaskinos studied with Dominikos Theotokopoulos, "El Greco", at the school of Agia Ekaterini in Iraklion.
By 1648, the Ottoman Empire was in control of Crete, except for Iraklion where the siege lasted twenty-one years. The Greek War of Independence began in 1821 and Cretan participation was extensive. The "Great Cretan Revolution" began in 1866 and the rebels scored a series of victories. Finally, after years of struggle, the Great Powers (Britain, France, Italy and Russia) decided that Turkey could no longer maintain control and intervened with the expulsion of Turkish forces in 1898 which led to the formation of the independent Cretan Republic. Finally, in 1913, union with Greece was realised under the Treaty of London.
In April of 1941, Nazi Germany began its attack against mainland Greece, rapidly penetrated the Greek defences, and occupied the country. 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.