Crystal sea waters; ragged and lofty mountains; famous museums and ancient settlements; awe-inspiring caves and ravines known since prehistoric times; frescoes rendered in vibrant colors; clement weather; captivating beach fronts offering luxury hotel accommodations; a magical island interior composed of picturesque villages; traditional and heartfelt hospitality; and an outstanding local cuisine (with meat, virgin olive oil, fruit, vegetables, and legumes holding the leading role) which research has shown to increase the average life expectancy: All compose an island that is unique and the largest one among Greek islands with a total surface area of 8,336 sq. km and over 1,000 kilometers of coastline. All are what Crete is all about.
Due to its geographical position between Africa, Europe, and Asia Minor and due to its mild climate, Crete became a center of culture as early as Neolithic times. The first prehistoric settlements appeared in Crete around 6000 BC while in 2600 BC settlers who knew how to craft bronze arrived in Crete. It was then that the illustrious course of the Minoan Civilization began, reaching its peak around 1950 BC with the erection of the imposing palaces in Knossos, Faistos, and Malia. Mythology has it that it was in a cave of Crete where the goddess Rhea hid the newborn Zeus. In that cave, Zeus was brought up by the nymphs while the demonical Kouretes would strike their shields loudly so that Cronus may not hear the crying of the baby Zeus and eat it. It was also to Crete that Zeus, disguised as a bull, took Europa so that they may enjoy their love together. Their union produced a son, Minos, who ruled Crete and turned it into a mighty island empire of the seas. In Minoan times, even Attica would pay a tribute tax to Crete, until Theseus, the Athenian prince, killed the Minotaur. The truth behind the myth is the existence of a mighty and wealthy kingdom and of a civilization that is considered the most ancient one on the European continent.
In 1450 BC and again in 1400 BC the Minoan Civilization was successively devastated possibly due to the eruption of the volcano of Thera and was eventually led to its decline. In the wake of the devastation the Dorians arrived to settle on the island. They were later followed by the Romans. After the Roman rule, Crete becomes a province of Byzantium until the arrival of the Arabs who occupied the island for an entire century (824-961 BC). During the Arab domination, Crete became the lair of pirates who were based out of Handakas, present day Iraklion. Next, Crete fell under Byzantine rule again until the arrival of the Venetians who occupied the island for approximately 5 centuries leaving their stamp on the island’s culture. After the fall of Handakas in 1669, the Turkish Occupation began marked by ferocious and bloody uprisings. At the end of the 19th century Turkish rule came to an end. The Cretan State was created with the King of Greece as the island’s High Commissioner. In 1913, Crete was finally joined officially with Greece.