AskDefine | Define Crete

Dictionary Definition

Crete n : the largest Greek island in the Mediterranean; site of the Minoan civilization that reached its peak in 1600 BC [syn: Kriti]

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Proper noun

  1. one of the 13 peripheries of Greece; an island in the Mediterranean Sea.


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Extensive Definition

Crete transliteration Krētē, modern transliteration Kriti) is one of the thirteen peripheries of Greece. It is also the largest of the Greek islands at 8,336 km² (3,219 square miles) and the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean.
Crete is a location of significant ancient history and a popular tourist destination; its attractions include the Minoan sites of Knossos and Phaistos, the classical site of Gortys, the Venetian castle at Rethymno, and the Samaria Gorge, as well as many other natural sites, monuments, and beaches. Crete was the centre of the Minoan civilization (ca. 2600–1400 BC), the oldest form of Greek and hence European civilization. For centuries it was known by its Italian name Candia, from the medieval name of its capital Heraklion, Chandax (Greek: Χάνδαξ or Χάνδακας, "moat"). In Classical Latin it was called Creta and in Turkish Kandiye or Girit.


The first human settlements on the island, dating to the aceramic Neolithic, used cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, and dogs, as well as domesticated cereals and legumes; ancient Knossos was the site of one of these major Neolithic (then later Minoan) sites. Crete was the center of Europe's most ancient civilization; the Minoan. Little is known about the rise of ancient Cretan society, as very limited written records remain, and many are written in the undecipherable script known as Linear A. This contrasts with the superb houses, palaces, roads, paintings and sculptures that do remain. Early Cretan history is replete with legends such as those of King Minos, Theseus, Minotaur, Daedalus and Icarus passed on orally via poets such as Homer. Crete was involved in the Mithridatic Wars, initially repelling an attack by Roman general Marcus Antonius Creticus in 71 BC. Nevertheless, a ferocious three-year campaign soon followed under Quintus Caecilius Metellus, equipped with three legions, and Crete was finally conquered by Rome in 69 BC, earning for Metellus the title "Creticus". Gortyn was made capital of the island, and Crete became a Roman province, along with Cyrenaica.
Crete was under Byzantine empire's, control when it fell into at hands of Iberian Muslims led by Abo Hafs Omer Al-Baloty who established an emirate on the island. In 960 Nicephorus Phocas reconquered the island and held it under Byzantine control till 1204, when it fell into the hands of the Venetians at the time of the Fourth Crusade. During Venice's rule, - more than four centuries long - Renaissance swept through the island as is evident from the plethora of artistic works dating to that period. The most notable fruits of the Cretan renaissance were El Greco and Vitsentzos Kornaros. In 1669 after a 21-year siege Candia fell to the Ottoman empire.
Cretan participation in the Greek War of Independence was extensive. Uprising by Christians were met with fierce response from the Ottoman authorities who several times executed bishops, regarded as ringleaders. Between 1821 and 1828, the island was the scene of repeated hostilities. Crete eventually was left out of the modern Greek state by the London Protocol of 1830, and soon it was yielded to Egyptian Khedivate by the Ottoman sultan. Egyptian rule was short-lived and sovereignty was returned to the Ottoman Empire by the Treaty of London on July 3 1840.
Several more Christian uprisings between 1833 and 1897 took place, granting eventually in 1898, Crete a complex autonomous state under Ottoman suzerainty, nevertheless garrisoned by an international military force, and with a High Commissioner provided by Greece. During these years Cretan volunteers played an important role in the Greek struggle for Macedonia and in Balkan wars, forming highly acclaimed army bands. Finally, in the aftermath of Balkan wars Crete joined Greece on 1 December 1913. Muslim presence in the island started with the Arab but was cemented by the Ottoman conquest. Many natives albeit sharing a Greek language, culture and ancestry as the Christians, converted either voluntarily or forcefully to Islam, thus regarded by the rest as Turks. It must be noted that many Cretan Muslims didn't even know Turkish, something evident especially to those who fled to Syria during the turmoil in the island. Contemporary estimates vary, but on the eve of the Greek War of Independence a minority of not more than 40% may have been Muslim. Many among them were crypto-Christians who converted back to Christianity in the years to come while many others fled Crete because of the unrest, settling in Turkey, Rhodes, Syria and elsewhere. By 1900, 11% of the population was Muslim. Those remaining were forced to leave in 1924 as part of the Population exchange between Greece and Turkey.
During World War II, the island of Crete was the scene of the famous Battle of Crete where in May 1941, German paratroopers, meeting fierce resistance by the locals and the British Commonwealth force -commanded by General Sir Bernard Freyberg- sustained almost 7,000 casualties, subsequently forcing Adolf Hitler to forbade further large scale airborne operations during the war.


Crete is one of the 13 regions into which Greece is divided. It forms the largest island in Greece and the second largest (after Cyprus) in the East Mediterranean, with a population of 650,000 (2005). The island has an elongated shape : it spans 260 km from east to west and 60 km at its widest, although the island is narrower at certain points, such as in the region close to Ierapetra , where it reaches a width of only 12 km. Crete covers an area of 8,336 km², with a coastline of 1046 km ; to the north it broaches the Sea of Crete (Greek: Κρητικό Πέλαγος) ; to the south the Libyan Sea (Greek: Λιβυκό Πέλαγος) ; in the west the Myrtoan Sea, and toward the east the Karpathion Sea. It lies approximately 160 km south of the Greek mainland.
Crete is extremely mountainous, and its character is defined by a high mountain range crossing from West to East, formed by three different groups of mountains. These are:
  • the White Mountains or Lefka Ori (2,452 m);
  • the Idi range (Psiloritis () 2,456 m);
  • the Dikti mountains (2,148 m);
  • Kedros (1,777 m);
  • Thripti (1,489 m)
These mountains gifted Crete with fertile plateaus, such as Lasithi, Omalos and Nidha ; caves, such as Diktaion and Idaion ; and gorges such as the famous Gorge of Samaria. The protected area of the Samaria Gorge is the home of kri-kri, while Cretan mountains and gorges are refuges for the endangered vulture Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus).
There are a number of rivers on Crete including the Ieropotamos River on the southern part of the island.


Crete straddles two climatic zones, the Mediterranean and the North African, mainly falling within the former ; as such, the climate in Crete is primarily temperate. The atmosphere can be quite humid, depending on the proximity to the sea, while winter is fairly mild. Snowfall is common on the mountains between November and May, but rare at the low lying areas - especially near the coast when it only stays on the ground for a few minutes or hours. However, a truly exceptional cold snap swept the island in February 2004, during which period the whole island was blanketed with snow. During the Cretan summer, average temperatures reach the high 20s-low 30s (Celsius), with maxima touching the upper 30s to mid 40s.
The south coast, including the Messara plain and Asterousia mountains, falls in the North African climatic zone, and thus enjoys significantly more sunny days and high temperatures throughout the year. In southern Crete date palms bear fruit and swallows remain year-long, without migrating to Africa.

Cretan Culture

For centuries Crete has held intact its own distinctive rich and proud culture. Cretan Greek has been maintained as the spoken language, and Cretan wine is a traditional drink. The Island is known for the Music of Crete, and there are many indigenous dances to the Island, the most noted of which is probably the Pentozali.


The economy of Crete, which was mainly based on farming, began to change visibly during the 1970s. While an emphasis remains on farming and stock breeding, due to the climate and terrain of the island, there has been a drop in manufacturing and an observable expansion in its service industries (mainly tourism-related). All three sectors of the Cretan economy (agriculture, processing-packaging, services), are directly connected and interdependent. The island has a per capita income close to 100% of the Greek average, while unemployment is at approximately 4%, half of that of the country overall. As in other regions of Greece, olive growing is also a significant industry; a small amount of citrons are still cultivated on the island.
The island has three significant airports, Nikos Kazantzakis at Heraklion, the Daskalogiannis airport at Chania and a smaller in Sitia. The first two serve international routes, as the main gateways to the island for travellers.


Crete is one of the most popular holiday destinations in Greece; fifteen percent of all arrivals in Greece come through the city of Heraklion (port and airport), while charter journeys to Iraklion last year made up 20% of all charter flights in Greece. Overall, more than two million tourists visited Crete last year, and this increase in tourism is reflected on the number of hotel beds, rising by 53% in the period between 1986 to 1991, when the rest of Greece saw increases of only 25%. Today, the island's tourism infrastructure caters to all tastes, including a very wide range of accommodation; the island's facilities take in large luxury hotels with their complete facilities swimming pools, sports and recreation, smaller family-owned apartments, camping facilities and others. Visitors reach the island via two international airports in Heraklion and Chania, or by boat to the main ports of Heraklion, Chania, Rethimno, and Agios Nikolaos.

Plans for a container port

Newspapers have reported that the ministry of Mercantile Marine is ready to support the agreement between Greece, South Korea, Dubai Ports World and China for the construction of a large international container port and free trade zone in southern Crete near Tympaki; the plan is to expropriate 850 ha of land. The port would handle 2 million containers per year, while as of 2007, there has been no official announcement of a project not universally welcomed due to its environmental, economic and cultural impact.

Famous Cretans


Crete's principal cities are:

Political organization

The island of Crete is a periphery of Greece, consisting of four prefectures (Greek: νομοί):
For amateur radio purposes it is considered to be a separate "entity," ITU prefix SV9.

Expatriate E.U. Communities

Crete's mild climate is attracting growing interest from Northern Europeans to have a holiday home or residence on the island. E.U. citizens have the right to freely buy property and reside with little formality. A growing number of real estate companies cater to mainly British expatriates, followed by German, Dutch, Scandinavian and other European nationalities wishing to own a home in Crete.
The British expatriates are concentrated in the western prefectures of Chania and Rethymno and to a lesser extent in Heraklion and Lassithi. Some 40% of Britons in late 2006 said they were planning to live outside the United Kingdom or retire abroad due to socio-economic changes in the country. One in ten Britons do so already.


External links

Crete in Arabic: إقريطش
Crete in Asturian: Creta
Crete in Bosnian: Kreta
Crete in Breton: Kreta
Crete in Bulgarian: Крит
Crete in Catalan: Creta
Crete in Chuvash: Крит
Crete in Czech: Kréta
Crete in Welsh: Creta
Crete in Danish: Kreta
Crete in German: Kreta
Crete in Estonian: Kreeta
Crete in Modern Greek (1453-): Κρήτη
Crete in Spanish: Creta
Crete in Esperanto: Kreto
Crete in Basque: Kreta
Crete in Persian: کرت
Crete in French: Crète
Crete in Korean: 크리티 지역
Crete in Croatian: Kreta
Crete in Indonesian: Kreta
Crete in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Creta
Crete in Icelandic: Krít (eyja)
Crete in Italian: Creta
Crete in Hebrew: כרתים
Crete in Javanese: Kreta
Crete in Kurdish: Kreta
Crete in Latin: Creta
Crete in Latvian: Krēta
Crete in Luxembourgish: Kreta
Crete in Lithuanian: Kreta
Crete in Hungarian: Kréta
Crete in Macedonian: Крит
Crete in Dutch: Kreta
Crete in Japanese: クレタ島
Crete in Norwegian: Kreta
Crete in Norwegian Nynorsk: Kreta
Crete in Low German: Kreta
Crete in Polish: Kreta
Crete in Portuguese: Creta
Crete in Romanian: Creta (insulă)
Crete in Quechua: Kriti
Crete in Russian: Крит
Crete in Simple English: Crete
Crete in Slovak: Kréta
Crete in Slovenian: Kreta
Crete in Serbian: Крит
Crete in Finnish: Kreeta
Crete in Swedish: Kreta
Crete in Vietnamese: Crete
Crete in Turkish: Girit
Crete in Ukrainian: Крит
Crete in Urdu: کریٹ
Crete in Venetian: Candia
Crete in Chinese: 克里特
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