26 October 2020
Crete, Greece’s largest island, is known for its varied terrain, which ranges from fine-sand beaches at Elafonisi to the White Mountains. Mt. Ida (2,456m), the tallest of the range, is home to the Ideon Cave, which was the birthplace of Zeus, according to Greek mythology. The capital, Heraklion, is home to the renowned Heraklion Archaeological Museum, housing Minoan artifacts, and Knossos, a Bronze Age settlement.
Crète’s colourful history goes back 5000 years and is evident across the island, from ancient palaces and Roman cities to spectacular Byzantine churches, Venetian fortresses and Ottoman buildings. Crète’s prominent place in the world history dates back to the illustrious Minoans, who were lording over lavish palaces at a time when other Europeans were huddled in primitive huts. Ever since, Crète’s strategic location in the middle of the Mediterranean has involved it in a parade of momentous world events.
Nature & Wildlife
Crète is an island of geographical contrasts, to say the least – you could swim in Vaï’s palm-fringed bay and hike in the snow of the Lefka Ori (White Mountains) on the same day. As you pass through its myriad caves, gorges and plateaux, and up and down its stickleback mountains and vast coastline, Crète feels like many countries rolled into one. It’s no surprise that the island has a dizzying biodiversity of flora and fauna, from monk seals to golden eagles.
Crète is a powerhouse for music, dance and the visual arts, going back millennia. From priceless Minoan sculptures to towngrown mountain musicians playing the lyra in tavernas, this massive island has developed its own ways of living, loving, lamenting and showing it all to the world through the arts.
Minoan Art & Culture
The Minoans’ palaces were lavishly decorated with art, and the surviving paintings, sculptures, mosaics, pottery and jewellery at archeological sites and museums across Crète demonstrate the Minoans’s extraordinary artistry. Minoan art inspired the invading Mycenaeans and its influence spread to Santorini and beyond.
[sources: LonelyPlanet. Crète]
The Leper Island
Spinalonga is an arid and barren rocky islet lying at the mouth of the natural port of Elounda in the Lasithi prefecture of Crète. Due to its strategic location, it was fortified and served a variety of roles and purposes over the centuries.
In antiquity the islet was walled to protect the ancient city of Olous.
In the late 16th Century, the Venetians built one of the most important defensive sea fortresses in the Mediterranean with the context of the major fortification works, they carried out to defend Crète. Construction began in 1579, and the initial building phase lasted until 1586.
During the Cretan war (1645-1669) refugees and rebels took refuge here and harassed the Turks, using the islet as their base. At the end of the war, Spinalonga remained a Venetian possession.
In 1715 the islet was surrendered to the Turks following a siege. Muslim settled afterwards and built thier houses atop the foundations of Venetian buildings.
In 1903, the Cretan State established a leper colony on the island, its first 251 patients settled there from 1904.
After the leper colony closed in 1957, the islet remainded desolated and inhabited until it became a museum.