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H I S T O R Y

 

Sir Arthur Evans, the archaeologist who excavated the palace of Knossos, named this age after the mythological ruler of Knossos, King Minos. This period lasted for about 1,500 years and included the "Golden Age" of Crete.

The Minoans ruled not only Crete but other Aegean Islands and various cities on the mainland. The great palaces that we see today at Knossos, Festos, Malia and Zakros were constructed during this period. Arts and crafts also reached their pinnacle also during this "Golden Age". At this time, the great Minoan fleet ruled the Mediterranean, providing wealth to the island from trade and commerce as well as providing protection from invaders.
 

 

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A new disaster hit Crete around 1450 B.C., causing large-scale destruction to the palaces and settlements and resulting in the total demise of the great civilization. The palaces were smashed and burned, while smaller settlements were devastated. The factors leading to this destruction are still unknown and still widely debated. One theory is that a volcanic eruption on the island of Thira (Santorini) was powerful enough to devastate Crete. Whatever the cause, the Minoan civilization came to an abrupt halt.

Greek mainland tribes have migrated to Crete over the years. The form of writing in Knossos (Linear B) was later proved to be Greek language, although the symbols used for its writing are not Greek letters.

 

The next wave of settlers, the Dorian Greeks, destroyed Mycenae on the mainland and invaded Crete about 1100 B.C. They established an aristocratic form of rule.

For some time around the seventh century B.C., Crete once more became an important centre, but it declined again when the major emphasis of the Greek civilization was shifted to the centres of Athens, Sparta, and Macedonia.

Crete was a strategic point in the eastern Mediterranean and one that the Roman Empire needed. In 74 B.C. the consul Mark Antony began a campaign against the island, but the Cretans were well-prepared and defeated him at sea. Yet, in 69 B.C., Crete fell to the Romans and was a Roman province until 369 A.D.
 

The first period of Byzantine rule lasted from 395 A.D. until 824 A.D. During this period Crete was part of the Byzantine Empire, which had its capital in Constantinople.

Arab Saracens conquered the island in 824 A.D., destroying the capital Gortyn and building a new one in present day Iraklion. They dug a moat (Khandak) all the way around the city and named it El Khandak.

 

The Byzantine general, Nikiforos Fokas, liberated Crete from Arab rule in 961 A.D. Iraklion fell into Byzantine hands after a four month siege, with Arab losses estimated at 200,000.

Also, during this time, Byzantine noble families and many of General Fokas' troops settled on the island and built new villages.
 

 

In 1204 the Crusaders took Constantinople and dismantled the Byzantine Empire. Crete fell into the hands of Boniface of Monferrat, who then sold it to the Venetians for about 1000 pieces of silver. Crete was necessary to the Venetians as a cross-road for their commercial interests in the East.

After the final fall of Constantinople in 1453, Byzantine scholars took refuge in Crete. Thus, the island became a centre for Byzantine arts. During this time the renowned icon painter Damaskinos studied with Dominikos Theotokopoulos, "El Greco", at the school of Agia Ekaterini in Iraklion.

As education flourished, so did the written word. The main literary figures during this time were Georgios Hortatzis, author of the dramatic work Erophile and Vincezos Kornaros with his work, Erotokritos. This is a masterpiece of Cretan literature that is still recited throughout the island.

In the sixteenth century, with the threat of Turkish invasion imminent, work began on rebuilding the large fortresses. Over the course of a century, forced labour built the "Megalo Kastro" -- the fortification of Iraklion, still standing today. All the major towns and harbours of Crete had such fortresses.
 

By 1648, the Ottoman Empire was in control of Crete, except for Iraklion where the siege lasted twenty-one years. Finally, on 27 September 1669, Iraklion surrendered. The lengthy battle had cost 117,000 Turkish lives and nearly 30,000 lives among the Cretans and Venetians.

 

Many inhabitants fled Crete to escape the persecution of the Ottoman government, while thousands of others became prisoners or fled to the mountains.

These slave-like conditions led to almost constant uprisings against Turkish control. Daskaloyannis led the first major rebellion in 1770, which was initially successful but was eventually put down by the Turkish forces. Severe reprisals against the Christian population followed this and most other uprisings.

The Greek War of Independence began in 1821 and Cretan participation was extensive. The Turks responded by seeking the aid of the Pasha of Egypt, and brutal campaigns crushed the island's resistance. In 1832 a Greek state was established which, however, did not include Crete and the island passed to the Egyptians, in acknowledgement of their assistance.

Aided by volunteers and reinforcements from free Greece, the "Great Cretan Revolution" began in 1866 and the rebels scored a series of victories. However, as more Turkish forces landed on the island, reprisals, usually against non-combatants, became common.

Finally, after years of struggle, the Great Powers (Britain, France, Italy and Russia) decided that Turkey could no longer maintain control and intervened with the expulsion of Turkish forces in 1898 which led to the formation of the independent Cretan Republic.
 

 

Finally, in 1913, union with Greece was realised. Under the Treaty of London, Sultan Mohammed II relinquished his formal rights to the island. In December, the Greek flag was raised at the Firkas fortress in Chania, with Venizelos and King Constantine in attendance, and Crete was unified with mainland Greece.

The Cretan desire for independence, combined with the tendency for resistance, resurfaced in 1940. The Cretan Division took part in the fight to repel the Italian forces of Mussolini from northern Greece. After Mussolini's failure, Greece became the target of Hitler's forces. In April of 1941, Nazi Germany began its attack against mainland Greece, rapidly penetrated the Greek defences, and occupied the country.

With Cretan troops trapped, the Germans began their assault on largely unprotected Crete. The elite German airborne forces landed by parachute and glider on 20 May 1941. Only about 30,000 poorly equipped troops of the British Commonwealth and 12,000 Greeks defended the island along with the local population.

The German occupation lasted for four years, a period once again marked by constant local opposition (such as in the villages of Kanadanos and Koustogerako in western Crete and the area of Arvi in central Crete).
 

At the end of World War II, Crete began reconstruction while the rest of the country was embroiled in a civil war. Due to this period of peace and also due to its favourable climate, the island became one of the most prosperous areas of Greece with agricultural products becoming a mainstay of Cretan economy.

 

Today, tourism provides another economic boost to the island. Infrastructure built in the last twenty years accommodates this latest influx of foreigners. The superb climate and diverse beauty of the island beckon to visitors from all over Europe.

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