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General information on Crete

(updated November 18, 2007)


Crete is the largest Greek island. It has a surface area of 8340 square kilometers (about half the size of Wales) and the coastline has a length of 1050 kilometers. The length of Crete is about 260 kilometers. The smallest point of Crete lies near Ierapetra where the island is 12 miles wide, while the island is 60 kilometers at its widest point. Crete has a Mediterranean climate. That means that the summers are long and hot and the winters are mild. Rain falls mainly in winter.

Crete in EuropeCrete in Europe

Crete in GreeceCrete in Greece

After the isle of Gavdos, the most southern island of Europe, Crete is the second most southern island of Greece. The capital of Crete, Heraklion, is located about 300 kilometers southeast of Athens, which is the capital of Greece. The distance from London to Heraklion is about 2690 kilometers. 350 kilometers south of Crete lies the continent of Africa. To the north of Crete you'll find the Aegean Sea and south of Crete lies the Libyan Sea.

Crete is mountainous and has 3 mountain ranges: The Lefka Ori (in the west), the Ida Mountains (in the center of the island) and the Oros Dikti Mountains (in the east). The highest point on the island is the top of Mount Ida Psiloritis which has an elevation of 2456 meters. This mountain is just slightly higher than the mountain Pachnes which has an elevation of 2453 meters. The mountains consist mainly of limestone. You can find snow on the peaks of these mountains during the winter. There's even a ski slope in Crete.

Crete is divided into 4 administrative provinces / districts which bear the names of cities on the island (from west to east) Chania, Rethymno, Heraklion and Lasithi. There are approximately 550,000 people living on Crete. Heraklion has a population of just fewer than 150,000 and is the largest city on the island. The exact amount of people living on Crete is unknown, because there are also many people who are staying on the island illegal and are not counted in the census.


The isle of Crete arose from the sea millions of years ago. This happened because the continental plates of Europe and Africa slide over each other.

In the early Stone Age (Neolithic) people from Anatolia, which is approximately equal to the present Turkey, went to the island. During this period humanity changed. There was a transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture and animal husbandry. The first forms of civilization on the island of Crete, dating from around 5700 years before the beginning of our era and the Neolithic civilization. This period ends about 3400 years later.

About 2800 years before the beginning of our era came the Minoan civilization. The Minoans were powerful traders and dominated a large part of the Mediterranean Sea. They were good sailors and farmers. They had hardly any enemies and had control of many materials that were important during that period. It developed a very high civilization. They had running water, sewerage and it is also known that they had handwriting.

The Minoans are best known for their ceramics and frescoes. Many Greek Myths and legends come from the Minoans. The Minoans were led by King Minos. It is still not clear if this was the name of only one or King Minos was a title. The empire was ruled from Knossos near Heraklion.

There came an end to the Minoan civilization when the Mycenaean's conquered the island from the Greek mainland. The Minoan civilization at that time was already largely destroyed by an eruption of the volcano Santorini (Thira) in the year 1628 B.C. The eruption caused very powerful earthquakes and tidal waves, in which many of the Minoan palaces were destroyed.

The Mycenaean's were more primitive than the Minoans, but they knew a kind of handwriting, which is seen as a precursor of the Modern Greek. The Mycenaean's were displaced by the Dorian's at about 1100 B.C. The Dorian's had iron weapons, while the Mycenaean's used weapons made of bronze. This way the Dorian's could easily defeat the Mycenaean's. The Dorian's plundered and destroyed the most of the Greek cities at that time.

After the Dorian's the came island came under Roman rule. This happened in about 67 B.C. In the year 325, Crete became part of the Byzantine Empire. At this time, the Christian faith was introduced in Crete. In 824 the Arabs occupied the island. They founded the city Chandax (Heraklion). In 961, the city was liberated by the Byzantines. They ruled until the year 1204. In that year, the island was sold to the Venetians. The Ottomans (Turks) conquered the island in 1669.

During the rule of the Turks, the Cretan people fought for independence. Often these fights were unfair. The supremacy of the Turks, who were also assisted by the Egyptians, was overwhelming. But from a lot of villages partisans fought a guerrilla war. When in 1830 the Greek state was declared, Crete was given to Egypt. This meant a lot of progress for the Cretan people. They received a lot more freedom. But when the Egyptians lost the war over Syria from Turkey in 1840, the Island can back under the rule of the Turks. The resistance against the Turks arose. The Turkish retaliations were severe. With the tragedy in the Arkadi monastery, where over 2,000 people died, the political problem gained worldwide attention. When in 1877 the Turkish-Russian war broke out, the Greek government started to help the Cretan people in their fight against the Turks. From 1878 was Crete a semi autonomic region. The resistance against the Turks came to a height until in 1898 the British navy arrived in the harbor of Heraklion. With great display of power they made clear to the Turks it was better to leave the Island. Hereby the Turkisch domination came to an end.

In the period after 1898 Crete decame independent. Especially president Eleftherios Venizelos was important in this period. In the treaty of Budapest in 1913 (following the war of Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia against the Ottomans) was arranged that Crete itself could join Greece. What they also did.

During the first invasion through the air ever until then, on May 20, 1941, German paratroopers attempted to conquer Crete. There were heavy casualties on both sides of the warring parties. Despite the brave resistance Crete was conquered by the Germans. The allies fled of the island from Hora Sfakion. The remaining partisans resisting fiercely from the many gorges and caves on the island until the war in Crete ended in 1945.

After a military coup on April 21, 1967, there was a military dictatorship in Greece. George Papadopoulos came to power. This made an end to many political freedoms and the king needed to flee. In 1974, the monarchy was abolished and Greece became a parliamentary republic. The first democratic elections were held, which were won by the party of Karamanlis of the New Democracy Party. Under Karamanlis Greece joined the European Union in 1981.

At this time Crete of course is still part of the Hellenic Republic (Greece). Karolos Papoulias is the president since March 12, 2005. He is a member and co-founder of the Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (PA.SO.K). During the last election PA.SO.K also was the largest party in all four constituencies on Crete.


The main sources of income of Crete are agriculture and tourism. It is the main agricultural area of Greece. Olives, grapes and oranges are the main agricultural export products of the island. On Crete there are more goats than people. They provide export products like goat's milk and feta cheese.

Because of the good climate and the diversity of the island Crete is very popular among tourists. Each year about 8 million people visit the island. Especially in the summer the island is very busy. Countless hotels and resorts were built to accommodate the tourists. After agriculture tourism is the largest source of income for the residents.

Flora and Fauna

Crete houses a huge variety of plants, flowers and trees. 2,000 different types of plants grow on the island, of which about 150 are found nowhere else. Especially in the spring many of these plants grow. During the seasons, places on the island get a different face by the variety of vegetation. A lot of different spices grow on the island. They often distribute a strong smell. Of course there are also a lot of olive trees on the island. Also fruit trees grow everywhere on the island.

On Crete there are more goats than people. These goats often walk about freely, but belong to farmers and are livestock. Even sheep and cows are held on the island. The famous Kri - Kri goat exists only on Crete. There is also a sort wild cat living on the island. They are so rare that the chance that you encounter one of them does not exist. On some beaches you can find sea turtles. They lay their eggs on the beaches. In addition there are a number of bird species living on the island. You can see both indigenous and migratory birds..