Crete is the place where myths look like history and history is like a myth. From the distant past to the present day, every place on the island has a short or long story to tell.
The first human settlement in Crete dates before 130.000 years ago, during the Paleolithic age. No remains from the pre-neolithic period nave been found, though, on Crete. People must have lived in caves, back in those times, and supported themselves by hunting and fishing, using stone and bone tools, and they must have known how to make simple clay pots.
Known history in Crete, however, starts during the Neolithic ages (6.000 – 3.000 B.C.). Recent excavations have revealed the existence of various small communities during that period.
During the Bronze Age (3.000 – 1.100 B.C.) the first advanced civilization and the most ancient one on the European continent, was developed, the Minoan Civilization. The Minoans established a naval empire in the Mediterranean during this period. During this time, art and science flourished.
The concentration of wealth and power, in the hands of the ruling families, lead to the construction of the first palaces at Knossos, Phaestos and Malia, between the period 2.000 – 1.700 B.C. Increasing trade with the other Aegean islands, Egypt and the rest of Africa, Asia Minor and the entire Mediterranean led to the emergence of Crete as a sea power. The import, processing and re-export of metal, together with intermediate trade, amassed wealth for the island.
The palaces were destroyed, apparently by earthquakes, in 1700 BC but this did not interrupt the development of civilization. That was the time about where a new form of writing, which is still undeciphered, Linear A, appeared.
In the period 1.700 – 1.400 B.C., the palaces at Knossos, Phaestos and Malia were rebuilt on a much grander scale. The Minoan power was centered now around Knossos.
By about 1.500 B.C. a new form of writing, called Linear Β, had come into use. Archaeologists have recognized it as Greek, which shows that there was a connection between the inhabitants of mainland Greece, the Achaeans (Mycenaeans) and those of Crete.
In about 1.450 B.C. a terrible disaster laid waste all the centers of Minoan Crete. Their civilisation vanished abruptly, the most probable explanation being that the sudden eruption of the volcano in Thira (Thera or Santorini) created huge tidal waves that swept away all traces of civilisation.
The Bronze Age and its world came to an end. Wars, social struggles, financial exhaustion all paved the way for the Mycenaean civilization (1.420 – 1.100 B.C.).
In about 1.100 B.C. the Dorians put an end to the Mycenaean state. With the occupation of Crete by the Dorians armed with iron weapons, the local population was reduced to slave status. Endless skirmishes, raids and wars brought the island into disrepute and at this time Crete was known as a refuge for pirates. All this till 67 B.C.
Crete was occupied from 67 B.C. till 325 A.C. by the Romans, who arrived on the island as mediators and settled in as conquerors. Gortys, became the capital of the roman province of Crete. The island enjoyed a period of peace, autonomy and prosperity, as the many Roman remains show.
Crete, becomes part of the Byzantine empire from 325 A.D. to 824 A.D. During this period Christianity spread and many churches were built on Crete.
Crete comes under Arab occupation between 824 -961 A.D., when the city of Chandax or Candia (today called Heraklion) was founded. Apart from coins, no remains have been found from this period.
Crete was liberated from the Arabs at 961 A.D., by the Byzantine emperor Nikiforos Fokas. This marked the beginning of the Second Byzantine Period of Crete which ended at 1.204 A.D. Noble families from Byzantium, merchants from Europe and Christians from eastern countries settled in Crete, during this second Byzantium period of occupation, and Crete became of some significance again.
At 1204 A.D., during the Fourth Crusade, Constantinople falls to the Crusaders and Crete was sold to the Venetians. In the almost 450 years of venetian occupation that followed, there were numerous unsuccessful attempts by the Cretans to liberate the island. Under the rule of the Catholic Venetians, the city of Candia was reputed to be the best fortified city of the Eastern Mediterranean. The three main forts were located at Gramvousa, Spinalonga, and Fortezza at Rethymnon. After the fall of Constantinople to the Turks (1453 A.D.) and the declination of Byzantine Empire, artists and scholars from all parts of the former Byzantine Empire found refuge in Crete. Arts and science flourished again, with the biggest representative of this renaissance being the painter “El Greco” (Domenicos Theotokopoulos) who was born in Crete but actually spend most of his life in Spain. They established schools and Orthodox monasteries and literature and art flourished. Despite the Venetian influence, Cretan traditions continued.
The Ottomans conquered Crete in 1669 A.D., after the siege of Candia. This occupation lasted until 1898 A.D. During these years the Cretans organised numerous revolutions that were always put down by the Turks. Crete was then shared out among the pashas, with the exception of Sfakia which, although it paid a symbolic tax to the Turks, remained independent and became a refuge for insurgents and persecuted Cretans. During Easter of 1770 A.D., a notable revolt against Ottoman rule, in Crete, was started by Daskalogiannis, a shipowner from Sfakia who was promised support by Orlov’s fleet which never arrived. Daskalogiannis eventually surrendered to the Ottoman authorities. Today, the airport at Chania is named after him. When the Greek Revolution started in 1821 A.D., Crete rose too but was shameful abandoned by the Great Powers and ceded to the Egyptians, who had been called in by the Turks to help them. In 1830 A.D. Crete was ceded to Egypt for ten years. Then the Ottomans took over again in 1840 A.D., but the Cretans did not give up and the revolution continued, with its unsparing outpouring of blood. The Cretan Revolt of 1866–1869 A.D. or Great Cretan Revolution was a three-year uprising against Ottoman rule, the third and largest in a series of revolts between the end of the Greek War of Independence in 1830 and the establishment of the independent autonomous Cretan State in 1898 A.D., with the intervention of the then Great Powers. A particular event which caused strong reactions among the liberal circles of western Europe was the Holocaust of Arkadi. The event occurred in November 1866 A.D., as a large Ottoman force besieged the Arkadi Monastery, which served as the headquarters of the rebellion. In addition to its 259 defenders, over 700 women and children had taken refuge in the monastery. After a few days of hard fighting, the Ottomans broke into the monastery. At that point, the abbot of the monastery set fire to the gunpowder stored in the monastery’s vaults, causing the death of most of the rebels and the women and children sheltered there.
In 1898 Prince George settled in Chania, a Parliament was founded and Crete became an autonomous Cretan State. Crete remained autonomous from 1898 until 1913 A.D. when it united with Greece.
No sooner had the island begun to recover and even to prosper, than World War II began, in 1914 A.D. and lasted 4 years, till 1918 A.D.
Crete was the last stand off of the Allied forces in Greece during the Second World War (1939 – 1945 A.D.). The Cretans paid dearly (like most of Greece) for their resistance to the Axis forces. For four years, Crete was occupied once again, but the island fought on in spite of forced labour, starvation, inhuman cruelty, the burning of entire villages and the execution of thousands of Cretans. In July 1945 and the long-suffering island of Crete was free again.
After the end of World War II, Crete began reconstruction efforts, at a time when the rest of Greece torn apart by Civil War (1946 – 1949 A.D.). Because this period of peace and the wonderful climate of Crete, the island became one of the richest areas of the country.
The polarization and instability of Greek politics in the mid-1960s was a direct result of the Civil War and the deep divide between the leftist and rightist sections of Greek society.
On April 21, 1967 A.D., a group of rightist and anti-communist army officers executed a coup d’état and seized power from the government, using the political instability and tension of the time as a pretext. The military junta collapsed in 1974 A.D.
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