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The Island of Crete

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Ancient Rome
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Some tips on
Living Simply

The Island of Crete

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By Pat Hunter
June 20, 2004

To be honest, before I went to Crete, I knew very little about it except for the ancient civilization that flourished there.

I’ll begin by giving you a few facts about Crete. With a length of 250 kilometres from west to east, it’s the largest of the Greek Islands, and an average 300 days of sunshine per year helps several million olive trees produce 20% of the world’s olive oil. The majority of the half million population live on the north coast, in the cities of Heraklion (the capital), Chania and Rethymno. Crete has over 1000 kilometres of coastline, and a mountainous, rugged interior punctuated with beautiful and fertile valleys. Zeus, the king of the Greek gods, was born on Mt Ida, Crete’s highest peak, and some people admitted to me that they still offer prayers to him.


The pleasure-loving Minoans (named after the legendary King Minos) were famed for their gold jewellery and architecture around the same time as Egypt’s civilisation was at its height, i.e. 4000 BC. Knossos, their chief city, was discovered in 1900 by an English archaeologist, Sir Arthur Evans, who devoted his life to uncovering and restoring its ruined buildings and magnificent frescoes.


Charred walls in the vicinity of an area where oil was stored show that a fire once started there, and there is evidence that the city itself suffered from earthquakes several times, but its eventual demise was caused by a volcano.

Four hours’ sail to the north of Crete are the remains of the Island of Santorini, known in ancient times as Thera. About 3500 BC, Thera was blown apart by the most violent eruption in history, and the resulting tidal wave engulfed Crete, putting an end to the Minoans. The inhabitants of Santorini believe that it was once the site of fabled Atlantis, and as you stare into the lagoon (caldera) of the non-extinct volcano and see the sinister, jagged cliffs around it, you are convinced that this is true.


Crete boasts Europe’s longest gorge, the Samaria. I did climb to its rocky entrance, but having lost my nerve at the thought of slogging for 16 kilometres, I promptly retired to a taverna! I’m much happier strolling round Greek Orthodox monasteries and churches!


Many mountain villages were razed during World War 2 or simply abandoned. The advent of tourism has brought prosperity to Crete, and new hotels and holiday apartments have sprung up everywhere.

Rethymno is a delightful old seaside town, with a Venetian lighhouse. No matter where you go, you will find the Cretans warm and friendly. But go easy with the local spirit, raki – it will blow your socks off!




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