KRITI, CRETE, or KRETE, Latin CRETA, Venetian CANDIA, island in the eastern Mediterranean that is an administrative region of Greece. The center of one of the oldest and most important civilizations, the ancient Minoan civilization, the southernmost point of Europe where its name originated and to which it owes so much. The meeting point of three continents - Europe, Asia and Africa - and the cradle of most of what we know as classical civilization which has been so instrumental in shaping our world today.
This is the legendary birthplace of Zeus, the king of the gods, and where he took his beloved Europa and where she gave birth to the later King Minoas, the mythical all-powerful king of Crete and creator of the fabulous palace of Knossos and the Minoan civilization. Crete has so much to offer and so much that people envy that at times Romans, Arabs, Venetians and Turks all envied it but, however much they tried, they never conquered it!. And this is where the most peripatetic of all Apostles, Apostle Paul, started his quest to bring Christianity to Europe. In fact, after he appointed Titus as bishop in 65AD, Gortyn became the first Christian community in Greece and Europe.
Crete can boast many famous sons and daughters such as the El Greco (Diminikos Theotokopoulos), the literature laureate Odysseus Elytis, Nikos Kazantzakis, the League of Nations pioneer and later Prime Minister of Greece Eleftherios Venizelos and so many other cultural and social icons of the Greek and non-Greek world, living or dead.
Crete is the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean and the largest of the islands forming part of modern Greece. It is relatively long and narrow, stretching for about 150 miles (245 km) east-west and varying in width from 7.5 to 35 miles (12 to 56 km). The island has an area of about 3,300 square miles (8,400 square km); there are two administrative centers, is Chania,in the west and Iraklion in the east.
There is no direct evidence that humans arrived on Crete before about 5000 BC but by 3000 BC, a Bronze Age culture--the Minoan civilization, named after the legendary ruler Minosówas already developed. For its first centuries the only record we have of this culture is various circular vaulted tombs and some fine stone-carved vases, but by about 2000 BC it was developed to the extent that it started to build "palaces" on the sites of Knossos, Phaestus, and Malia. This Minoan civilization was centred at Knossos and reached its peak in the 16th century BC, trading widely in the eastern Mediterranean. It produced striking sculpture, fresco painting, pottery, and metalwork. By about 1500 BC Greek mainlanders from Mycenae had assumed an influential role in Minoan affairs, however, and after Crete suffered a major earthquake (c. 1450) that destroyed Knossos and other centres, power in the region passed decisively to the Mycenaeans, with whom Crete was closely associated until the commencement of the Iron Age (1200 BC). Eventually the Dorians, Greek-speaking people from the mainland, moved in and organized Crete.
Crete still played a role in the revival of Greek civilization that began in the 9th century BC, and during Athens' heyday in the 5th century BC Crete fascinated the Greeks as the source of myths, legends, and laws. There is evidence of direct trade and cultural links between the two sides. By 67 BC the Romans had completed their conquest of Crete and converted it into Cyrenaica, a province linked with North Africa. In AD 395 the island passed to the Byzantine empire and the Arabs gained control over parts of Crete after 824, contesting with the Byzantines for several centuries thereafter. In 1204, in the aftermath of the Fourth Crusade, crusaders sold the island to Venice, which incorporated Crete into its growing commercial empire. The native Cretans, however, never abandoned their Orthodox religion, Greek language, and popular lore. The Ottoman Turks, who were already in control of parts of Crete, wrested the capital city of Candia (now Iraklion) from the Venetians in 1669 after one of the longest sieges in history. Crete stagnated under Turkish rule, as did almost all of Greece, and native uprisings were always suppressed brutally, including ones in 1821 and 1866. The Turks were finally expelled by Greece in 1898, after which the island held autonomous status until its union with motherland Greece in 1913.
The island is dominated by harsh mountains rising out of the sea. Crete's east-west mountainous spine consists of four main groups that rise to the island's highest point, the summit of Mount Idhi, Stavros, 8,058 feet (2,456 m) high. The gradually sloping northern coast provides several natural harbours and coastal plains, where major towns have grown up; Chania, Rethimnon, and Iraklion are located there. The Mesara Plain extends along the south-central part of the island for about 18 miles (29 km) and is Crete's major expanse of flatland. The island has only a few small rivers, together with springs and seasonal water courses. Crete's climate varies between temperate and tropical, with an annual average rainfall of about 25 inches (640 mm) and hot, dry summers. Winter temperatures are relatively mild. The Cretan landscape is dominated by characteristic Mediterranean scrub and olives, carobs, and orange trees are cultivated.
The population consists mostly of Cretans who speak Greek and belong to the Greek Orthodox church. It is concentrated in the cities on the northern coast and in the Mesara Plain. The administrative region of Crete is divided into four prefectures (departments - nomoi)--Chania, Rethimnon, Iraklion, and Lasithi--each of which is administered by a prefect (nomarch) appointed by the central government.
Agriculture is the economic mainstay of the island. Only about one-third of Crete's total area can be cultivated, however, and its farmers have traditionally worked small patches of land with little help from machinery. The one exception is the Mesara Plain, which is relatively well watered and one of the few areas that can be farmed efficiently using large machinery. Despite its inefficient agriculture, Crete is one of Greece's leading regions in the production of olives and olive oil, grapes, citrus fruits, and carob bean, all exported mostly to the mainland. Vegetables, fruits, nuts, and some barley and oats are grown for domestic consumption. One-fifth of the island's land is entirely unproductive, and nomadic grazing of sheep and goats is widespread.
The island's industry is largely confined to food processing (grape and olive presses), building materials (stone quarries and building blocks), and some ceramics, textiles, soap, leather, and steel-tool enterprises. Crete has to import all but the most basic items, including fuels. Tourism is an important and ever growing source of foreign income, however, on the basis of ancient Minoan remains at Knossos and other sites, a fine collection of Minoan art in the museum at Iraklion, and old Venetian and Turkish fortresses. Crete has a good road network and is served by Olympic Airways and its population is (1991 prelim.) 536,980.
Crete is well served by air at the airports of Iraklion and Chania as well as by numerous boat connections from Pireaus and other ports such as Santorini. It has direct air links with many cities in Europe.