Greek Islands: Crete

January 31, 2008
by findingDulcinea Staff
Although the largest of all the Greek islands—it even has its own sea— at just over 3,000 square miles, Crete is still pretty small in relation to its importance in world civilization. Crete, as the center of the Minoan civilization which flourished here beginning about 3,000 BC, could be credited as the birthplace of European civilization.

A Labyrinth of Myth

During this time, palaces were built at Knossos, Phaistos, Malia, and Zakros. A naval base was established, and trade with other civilizations flourished, evidenced by traces of Minoan pottery in the ancient world. King Minos (from whence came the name of the Minoans; we actually don’t know what they called themselves) had the legendary labyrinth erected to house and contain the Minotaur. And here’s where things get fuzzy.

Separating fact from myth is about as easy as sorting through the ruins that cover the island. But on Crete, traversing this blurry line is like being in a pleasant, dreamlike state, much like the intermingling of the turquoise and indigo waters that surround the island. For all the Minoan splendor came to an end with the Santorini earthquake around 1500 BC.

After that, the island was occupied by various cultures, from the Mycenaeans to the Turks and the Italians. Now you wander freely between the centuries; the late-Minoan tombs at Phylaki or Stylos; the magnificent 5th-century Arkadiou Monastery; the stunning 13th-century, Venetian Renaissance town of Rethymno; and skate the thin membrane of history and mystery. Don’t forget, Crete is the legendary birthplace of Zeus. Wander up into the mountains, and it’s said, you can see his sleeping head.

A Modern Fantasy

There is plenty in modern-day Crete to savor, as well, in lovely towns like Chania and fantastic local food and wine. And there’s more on the way, it seems, with a planned eco-tourism resort, although the irony is that the island has a severe water shortage. (Although in February 2004, for possibly the first time in history, the whole of Crete was covered with snow! It gave the island quite a different aspect.)

But wherever you choose to roam, in the fantasy or reality of Crete, or somewhere in between, the sun will warm you and the moonlight will ensure pleasant dreams along the way.

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