Crete forms a significant part of the economy and cultural heritage of Greece, while retaining its own local cultural traits. It was once the centre of the Minoan civilization, which is currently regarded as the earliest recorded civilization in Europe.
The island is first referred to as Kaptara in texts from the Syrian city of Mari dating from the 18th century BC, repeated later in Neo-Assyrian records and the Bible (Caphtor). It was also known in ancient Egyptian as Keftiu, strongly suggesting a similar Minoan name for the island.
The current name of Crete is thought to be first attested in Mycenaean Greek texts written in Linear B, through the words 𐀐𐀩𐀳, ke-re-te (*Krētes; later Greek: Κρῆτες, plural of Κρής), and 𐀐𐀩𐀯𐀍, ke-re-si-jo (*Krēsijos; later Greek: Κρήσιος), "Cretan". In Ancient Greek, the name Crete (Κρήτη) first appears in Homer's Odyssey. Its etymology is unknown. One proposal derives it from a hypothetical Luvian word *kursatta (cf. kursawar "island", kursattar "cutting, sliver"). In Latin, it became Creta.
The original Arabic name of Crete was Iqrīṭiš (Arabic: اقريطش < (της) Κρήτης), but after the Emirate of Crete's establishment of its new capital at ربض الخندق Rabḍ al-Ḫandaq (modern Iraklion), both the city and the island became known as Χάνδαξ (Khandhax) or Χάνδακας (Khandhakas), which gave Latin and Venetian Candia, from which were derived French Candie and English Candy or Candia. Under Ottoman rule, in Ottoman Turkish, Crete was called Girit (كريت).
Crete is the largest island in Greece and the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. It is located in the southern part of the Aegean Sea separating the Aegean from the Libyan Sea.
The island has an elongated shape: it spans 260 km (160 mi) from east to west, is 60 km (37 mi) at its widest point, and narrows to as little as 12 km (7.5 mi) (close to Ierapetra). Crete covers an area of 8,336 km2 (3,219 sq mi), with a coastline of 1,046 km (650 mi); to the north, it broaches the Sea of Crete (Greek: Κρητικό Πέλαγος); to the south, the Libyan Sea (Greek: Λιβυκό Πέλαγος); in the west, the Myrtoan Sea, and toward the east the Karpathian Sea. It lies approximately 160 km (99 mi) south of the Greek mainland.
Crete is mountainous, and its character is defined by a high mountain range crossing from west to east, formed by three different groups of mountains:
These mountains lavished Crete with valleys, such as Amari valley, fertile plateaus, such as Lasithi plateau, Omalos and Nidha; caves, such as Gourgouthakas, Diktaion, and Idaion (the birthplace of the ancient Greek god Zeus); and a number of gorges.
The island has a number of gorges, such as the Samariá Gorge, Imbros Gorge, Kourtaliotiko Gorge, Ha Gorge, Platania Gorge, the Gorge of the Dead (at Kato Zakros, Sitia) and Richtis Gorge and (Richtis) waterfall at Exo Mouliana in Sitia.
The rivers of Crete include the Ieropotamos River, the Koiliaris, the Anapodiaris, the Almiros, the Giofyros, and Megas Potamos. There are only two freshwater lakes in Crete: Lake Kournas and Lake Agia, which are both in Chania regional unit. Lake Voulismeni at the coast, at Aghios Nikolaos, was formerly a freshwater lake but is now connected to the sea, in Lasithi. Lakes that were created by dams also exist in Crete. There are three: the lake of Aposelemis dam, the lake of Potamos dam, and the lake of Mpramiana dam.
A large number of islands, islets, and rocks hug the coast of Crete. Many are visited by tourists, some are only visited by archaeologists and biologists. Some are environmentally protected. A small sample of the islands include:
Off the south coast, the island of Gavdos is located 26 nautical miles (48 km) south of Hora Sfakion and is the southernmost point of Europe.
Crete straddles two climatic zones, the Mediterranean and the North African, mainly falling within the former. As such, the climate in Crete is primarily Mediterranean. The atmosphere can be quite humid, depending on the proximity to the sea, while winter is fairly mild. Snowfall is common on the mountains between November and May, but rare in the low-lying areas. While some mountain tops are snow-capped for most of the year, near the coast snow only stays on the ground for a few minutes or hours. However, a truly exceptional cold snap swept the island in February 2004, during which period the whole island was blanketed with snow. During the Cretan summer, average temperatures reach the high 20s-low 30s Celsius (mid 80s to mid 90s Fahrenheit), with maxima touching the upper 30s-mid 40s.
The south coast, including the Mesara Plain and Asterousia Mountains, falls in the North African climatic zone, and thus enjoys significantly more sunny days and high temperatures throughout the year. There, date palms bear fruit, and swallows remain year-round rather than migrate to Africa. The fertile region around Ierapetra, on the southeastern corner of the island, is renowned for its exceptional year-round agricultural production, with all kinds of summer vegetables and fruit produced in greenhouses throughout the winter.
Crete is the most populous island in Greece with a population of more than 600,000 people. Approximately 42% live in Crete's main cities and towns whilst 45% live in rural areas.
Crete with its nearby islands form the Crete Region (Greek: Περιφέρεια Κρήτης, Periféria Krítis), one of the 13 regions of Greece which were established in the 1987 administrative reform. With the 2010 Kallikratis plan, the powers and authority of the regions were redefined and extended. The region is based at Heraklion and is divided into four regional units (pre-Kallikratis prefectures). From west to east these are: Chania, Rethymno, Heraklion, and Lasithi. These are further subdivided into 24 municipalities.
The region's governor is, since 1 January 2011, Stavros Arnaoutakis, who was elected in the November 2010 local administration elections for the Panhellenic Socialist Movement.
Heraklion is the largest city and capital of Crete. The principal cities are:
Further information: Economy of Greece
The economy of Crete is predominantly based on services and tourism. However, agriculture also plays an important role and Crete is one of the few Greek islands that can support itself independently without a tourism industry. The economy began to change visibly during the 1970s as tourism gained in importance. Although an emphasis remains on agriculture and stock breeding, because of the climate and terrain of the island, there has been a drop in manufacturing, and an observable expansion in its service industries (mainly tourism-related). All three sectors of the Cretan economy (agriculture/farming, processing-packaging, services), are directly connected and interdependent. The island has a per capita income much higher than the Greek average, whereas unemployment is at approximately 4%, one-sixth of that of the country overall.
As in many regions of Greece, viticulture and olive groves are significant; oranges and citrons are also cultivated. Until recently there were restrictions on the import of bananas to Greece, therefore bananas were grown on the island, predominantly in greenhouses. Dairy products are important to the local economy and there are a number of speciality cheeses such as mizithra, anthotyros, and kefalotyri.
The island has three significant airports, Nikos Kazantzakis at Heraklion, the Daskalogiannis airport at Chania and a smaller one in Sitia. The first two serve international routes, acting as the main gateways to the island for travellers. There is a long-standing plan to replace Heraklion airport with a completely new airport at Kastelli, where there is presently an air force base.
The island is well served by ferries, mostly from Athens, by ferry companies such as Minoan Lines and ANEK Lines.
Although the road network leads almost everywhere, there is a lack of modern highways, although this is gradually changing with the completion of the northern coastal spine highway.
Also, during the 1930s there was a narrow-gauge industrial railway in Heraklion, from Giofyros in the west side of the city to the port. There are now no railway lines on Crete. The government is planning the construction of a line from Chania to Heraklion via Rethymno.
Newspapers have reported that the Ministry of Mercantile Marine is ready to support the agreement between Greece, South Korea, Dubai Ports World and China for the construction of a large international container port and free trade zone in southern Crete near Tympaki; the plan is to expropriate 850 ha of land. The port would handle 2 million containers per year, but the project has not been universally welcomed because of its environmental, economic and cultural impact. As of January 2013, the project has still not been confirmed, although there is mounting pressure to approve it, arising from Greece's difficult economic situation.
Hominids settled in Crete at least 130,000 years ago. In the later Neolithic and Bronze Age periods, under the Minoans, Crete had a highly developed, literate civilization. It has been ruled by various ancient Greek entities, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Emirate of Crete, the Republic of Venice and the Ottoman Empire. After a brief period of autonomy (1897–1913) under a provisional Cretan government, it joined the Kingdom of Greece. It was occupied by Nazi Germany during the Second World War.
The first human settlement in Crete dates before 130,000 years ago, during the Paleolithic age. Settlements dating to the aceramic Neolithic in the 7th millennium BC, used cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and dogs as well as domesticated cereals and legumes; ancient Knossos was the site of one of these major Neolithic (then later Minoan) sites. Other neolithic settlements include those at Kephala, Magasa, and Trapeza.
Crete was the centre of Europe's first advanced civilisation, the Minoan (c. 2700–1420 BC). This civilization wrote in the undeciphered script known as Linear A. Early Cretan history is replete with legends such as those of King Minos, Theseus and the Minotaur, passed on orally via poets such as Homer. The volcanic eruption of Thera may have been the cause of the downfall of the Minoan civilization.
In 1420 BC, the Minoan civilization was overrun by the Mycenean civilization from mainland Greece. The oldest samples of writing in the Greek language, as identified by Michael Ventris, is the Linear B archive from Knossos, dated approximately to 1425–1375 BC.
After the Bronze Age collapse, Crete was settled by new waves of Greeks from the mainland. A number of city states developed in the Archaic period. There was very limited contact with mainland Greece, and Greek historiography shows little interest in Crete, so that there are very few literary sources.
During the 6th to 4th centuries BC, Crete was comparatively free from warfare. The Gortyn code (5th century BC) is evidence for how codified civil law established a balance between aristocratic power and civil rights.
In the late 4th century BC, the aristocratic order began to collapse due to endemic infighting among the elite, and Crete's economy was weakened by prolonged wars between city states. During the 3rd century BC, Gortyn, Kydonia (Chania), Lyttos and Polyrrhenia challenged the primacy of ancient Knossos.
While the cities continued to prey upon one another, they invited into their feuds mainland powers like Macedon and its rivals Rhodes and Ptolemaic Egypt. In 220 BC the island was tormented by a war between two opposing coalitions of cities. As a result, the Macedonian king Philip V gained hegemony over Crete which lasted to the end of the Cretan War (205–200 BC), when the Rhodians opposed the rise of Macedon and the Romans started to interfere in Cretan affairs.
In the 2nd century BC Ierapytna (Ierapetra) gained supremacy on eastern Crete.
Crete was involved in the Mithridatic Wars, initially repelling an attack by Roman general Marcus Antonius Creticus in 71 BC. Nevertheless, a ferocious three-year campaign soon followed under Quintus Caecilius Metellus, equipped with three legions and Crete was finally conquered by Rome in 69 BC, earning for Metellus the title "Creticus". Gortyn was made capital of the island, and Crete became a Roman province, along with Cyrenaica that was called Creta et Cyrenaica. When Diocletian redivided the Empire, Crete was placed, along with Cyrene, under the diocese of Moesia, and later by Constantine I to the diocese of Macedonia.
Crete was separated from Cyrenaica c. 297. It remained a province within the eastern half of the Roman Empire, usually referred to as the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire after the establishment of a second capital in Constantinople by Constantine in 330 AD. Crete was subjected to an attack by Vandals in 467, the great earthquakes of 365 and 415, a raid by Slavs in 623, Arab raids in 654 and the 670s, and again in the 8th century. Circa 732, the Emperor Leo III the Isaurian transferred the island from the jurisdiction of the Pope to that of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
In the 820s, after 900 years as a Roman, and then Eastern Roman (Byzantine) island, Crete was captured by Andalusian Muladis led by Abu Hafs, who established the Emirate of Crete. The Byzantines launched a campaign that took most of the island back in 842 and 843 under Theoktistos. Further Byzantine campaigns in 911 and 949 failed. In 960/1, Nikephoros Phokas' campaign completely restored Crete to the Byzantine Empire, after a century and a half of predominantly Arab control.
In 961, Nikephoros Phokas returned the island to Byzantine rule after expelling the Arabs. In 1204, the Fourth Crusade seized and sacked the imperial capital of Constantinople. Crete was initially granted to leading Crusader Boniface of Montferrat in the partition of spoils that followed. However, Boniface sold his claim to the Republic of Venice, whose forces made up the majority of the Crusade. Venice's rival the Republic of Genoa immediately seized the island and it was not until 1212 that Venice secured Crete as a colony.
From 1212, during Venice's rule, which lasted more than four centuries, a Renaissance swept through the island as is evident from the plethora of artistic works dating to that period. Known as The Cretan School or Post-Byzantine Art, it is among the last flowerings of the artistic traditions of the fallen empire. The most notable representatives of this Cretan renaissance were the painter El Greco and the writers Nicholas Kalliakis (1645–1707), Georgios Kalafatis (professor) (c. 1652–1720), Andreas Musalus (c. 1665–1721) and Vitsentzos Kornaros.
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. Other fortifications include the Kazarma fortress at Sitia. In 1492, Jews expelled from Spain settled on the island. In 1574–77, Crete was under the rule of Giacomo Foscarini as Proveditor General, Sindace and Inquistor. According to Starr's 1942 article, the rule of Giacomo Foscarini was a dark age for Jews and Greeks. Under his rule, non-Catholics had to pay high taxes with no allowances. In 1627, there were 800 Jews in the city of Candia, about seven percent of the city's population. Marco Foscarini was the Doge of Venice during this time period.
The Ottomans conquered Crete in 1669, after the siege of Candia. Many Greek Cretans fled to other regions of the Republic of Venice after the Ottoman–Venetian Wars, some even prospering such as the family of Simone Stratigo (c. 1733 – c. 1824) who migrated to Dalmatia from Crete in 1669. Islamic presence on the island, aside from the interlude of the Arab occupation, was cemented by the Ottoman conquest. Most Cretan Muslims were local Greek converts who spoke Cretan Greek, but in the island's 19th-century political context they came to be viewed by the Christian population as Turks. Contemporary estimates vary, but on the eve of the Greek War of Independence, as much as 45% of the population of the island may have been Muslim. A number of Sufi orders were widespread throughout the island, the Bektashi order being the most prevalent, possessing at least five tekkes. Many among them were crypto-Christians who converted back to Christianity in subsequent years, while many Cretan Turks fled Crete because of the unrest, settling in Turkey, Rhodes, Syria, Libya and elsewhere. By 1900, 11% of the population was Muslim. Those remaining were relocated in 1924 Population exchange between Greece and Turkey.
During Easter of 1770, 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.
Crete was left out of the modern Greek state by the London Protocol of 1830, and soon it was yielded to Egypt by the Ottoman sultan. Egyptian rule was short-lived and sovereignty was returned to the Ottoman Empire by the Convention of London on 3 July 1840.
Heraklion was surrounded by high walls and bastions and extended westward and southward by the 17th century. The most opulent area of the city was the northeastern quadrant where all the elite were gathered together. The city had received another name under the rule of the Ottomans, "the deserted city". The urban policy that the Ottoman applied to Candia was a two-pronged approach. The first was the religious endowments. It made the Ottoman elite contribute to building and rehabilitating the ruined city. The other method was to boost the population and the urban revenue by selling off urban properties. According to Molly Greene (2001) there were numerous records of real-estate transactions during the Ottoman rule. In the deserted city, minorities received equal rights in purchasing property. Christians and Jews were also able to buy and sell in the real-estate market.
The Cretan Revolt of 1866–1869 or Great Cretan Revolution (Greek: Κρητική Επανάσταση του 1866) 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 Cretan State in 1898. 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, 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.
Following the repeated uprisings by the Cretan people, who wanted to join Greece in 1841, 1858, 1889, 1895 and 1897, the Great Powers decided to restore order by governing the island temporarily through a committee of four admirals.
On 25 August 1898, a Turkish mob massacred hundreds of Cretan Greeks, the British Consul and 17 British soldiers. As a result, the Turkish forces were expelled from the island by the Great Powers in November 1898, and an autonomous Cretan State was founded, under Ottoman suzerainty, symbolized by the white star in the red quadrant of the flag. It was garrisoned by an international military force, and its High Commissioner was Prince George of Greece, who took charge on 9 December 1898.
Prince George was replaced as High Commissioner by Alexandros Zaimis in 1906, and in 1908, taking advantage of domestic turmoil in Turkey as well as the timing of Zaimis's vacation away from the island, the Cretan deputies unilaterally declared union with Greece. However, this was not recognised internationally until 1 December 1913.
During World War II, the island was the scene of the famous Battle of Crete in May 1941. The initial 11-day battle was bloody and left more than 11,000 soldiers and civilians killed or wounded. As a result of the fierce resistance from Allied forces and Cretan locals, Adolf Hitler forbade further large-scale paratroop operations. During the initial and subsequent occupation, German firing squads routinely executed male civilians in reprisal for the death of German soldiers; civilians were rounded up randomly in local villages for the mass killings, such as at the Massacre of Kondomari and the Viannos massacres. Two German generals were later tried and executed for their roles in the killing of 3,000 of the island's inhabitants.
Crete is one of the most popular holiday destinations in Greece. 15% of all arrivals in Greece come through the city of Heraklion (port and airport), while charter journeys to Heraklion last year made up 20% of all charter flights in Greece. Overall, more than two million tourists visited Crete last year, and this increase in tourism is reflected on the number of hotel beds, rising by 53% in the period between 1986 and 1991, when the rest of Greece saw increases of only 25%.
Today, the island's tourism infrastructure caters to all tastes, including a very wide range of accommodation; the island's facilities take in large luxury hotels with their complete facilities, swimming pools, sports and recreation, smaller family-owned apartments, camping facilities and others. Visitors reach the island via two international airports in Heraklion and Chania and a smaller airport in Sitia (international charter and domestic flights starting May 2012) or by boat to the main ports of Heraklion, Chania, Rethimno, Agios Nikolaos and Sitia.
Popular tourist attractions include the archaeological sites of the Minoan civilisation, the Venetian old city and port of Chania, the Venetian castle at Rethymno, the gorge of Samaria, the islands of Chrysi, Elafonisi, Gramvousa, Spinalonga and the Palm Beach of Vai, which is the largest natural palm forest in Europe.
Crete has an extensive bus system with regular services across the north of the island and from north to south. There are two regional bus stations in Heraklion. Bus routes and timetables can be found on KTEL website.
Crete's mild climate attracts interest from northern Europeans who want a holiday home or residence on the island. EU citizens have the right to freely buy property and reside with little formality. A growing number of real estate companies cater to mainly British immigrants, followed by German, Dutch, Scandinavian and other European nationalities wishing to own a home in Crete. The British immigrants are concentrated in the western regional units of Chania and Rethymno and to a lesser extent in Heraklion and Lasithi.
There is a large number of archaeological sites which include the Minoan sites of Knossos, Malia (not to be confused with the town of the same name), Petras, and Phaistos, the classical site of Gortys, and the diverse archaeology of the island of Koufonisi which includes Minoan, Roman, and World War II ruins. The latter, however, has restricted access for the last few years due to conservation concerns so it is best to check before heading to a port.
There are a number of museums throughout Crete. The Heraklion Archaeological Museum displays most of the archaeological finds of the Minoan era and was reopened in 2014.
Crete is isolated from mainland Europe, Asia, and Africa, and this is reflected in the diversity of the fauna and flora. As a result, the fauna and flora of Crete have many clues to the evolution of species. There are no animals that are dangerous to humans on the island of Crete in contrast to other parts of Greece. Indeed, the ancient Greeks attributed the lack of large mammals such as bears, wolves, jackals, and poisonous snakes, to the labour of Hercules (who took a live Cretan bull to the Peloponnese). Hercules wanted to honor the birthplace of Zeus by removing all "harmful" and "poisonous" animals from Crete. Later, Cretans believed that the island was cleared of dangerous creatures by the Apostle Paul, who lived on the island of Crete for two years, with his exorcisms and blessings. There is a Natural History Museum operating under the direction of the University of Crete and two aquariums – Aquaworld in Hersonissos and Cretaquarium in Gournes, displaying sea creatures common in Cretan waters.
Dwarf elephants, dwarf hippopotamus, dwarf deer, and giant flightless owls were native to Pleistocene Crete.
Mammals of Crete include the vulnerable kri-kri, Capra aegagrus cretica that can be seen in the national park of the Samaria Gorge and on Thodorou, Dia and Agioi Pantes (islets off the north coast), the Cretan wildcat and the Cretan spiny mouse. Other terrestrial mammals include subspecies of the Cretan marten, the Cretan weasel, the Cretan badger, the long-eared hedgehog, the edible dormouse and the Cretan shrew, an endemic mammal of Greece, which is threatened with extinction.
Bat species include: Blasius's horseshoe bat, the lesser horseshoe bat, the greater horseshoe bat, the lesser mouse-eared bat, Geoffroy's bat, the whiskered bat, Kuhl's pipistrelle, the common pipistrelle, Savi's pipistrelle, the serotine bat, the long-eared bat, Schreibers' bat and the European free-tailed bat.
A large variety of birds includes eagles (can be seen in Lasithi), swallows (throughout Crete in the summer and all the year in the south of the island), pelicans (along the coast), and cranes (including Gavdos and Gavdopoula). The Cretan mountains and gorges are refuges for the endangered lammergeier vulture. Bird species include: the golden eagle, Bonelli's eagle, the bearded vulture or lammergeier, the griffon vulture, Eleanora's falcon, peregrine falcon, lanner falcon, European kestrel, tawny owl, little owl, hooded crow, alpine chough, red-billed chough, and the hoopoe.
Tortoises can be seen throughout the island. Snakes can be found hiding under rocks. Toads and frogs reveal themselves when it rains.
Reptiles include the aegean wall lizard, balkan green lizard, Chamaeleo chamaeleon, ocellated skink, snake-eyed skink, moorish gecko, turkish gecko, Kotschy's gecko, spur-thighed tortoise, and the stripe-necked terrapin.
There are four species of snake on the island and these are not dangerous to humans. The four species include the leopard snake (locally known as Ochendra), the Balkan whip snake (locally called Dendrogallia), the dice snake (called Nerofido in Greek), and the only venomous snake is the nocturnal cat snake which has evolved to deliver a weak venom at the back of its mouth to paralyse geckos and small lizards, and is not dangerous to humans.
Turtles include the green turtle and the loggerhead turtle which are both endangered species. The loggerhead turtle nests and hatches on north-coast beaches around Rethymno and Chania, and south-coast beaches along the gulf of Mesara.
Amphibians include the green toad, American toad, common tree frog, and the Cretan marsh frog.
Crete has an unusual variety of insects. Cicadas, known locally as Tzitzikia, make a distinctive repetitive tzi tzi Butterfly species include the swallowtail butterfly. Moth species include the hummingbird moth. There are several species of scorpion such as Euscorpius carpathicus whose venom is generally no more potent than a mosquito bite.
River crabs include the semi-terrestrial potamon potamios crab. Edible snails are widespread and can cluster in the hundreds waiting for rainfall to reinvigorate them.
Apart from terrestrial mammals, the seas around Crete are rich in large marine mammals, a fact unknown to most Greeks at present, although reported since ancient times. Indeed, the Minoan frescoes depicting dolphins in Queen's Megaron at Knossos indicate that Minoans were well aware of and celebrated these creatures. Apart from the famous endangered Mediterranean monk seal, which lives in almost all the coasts of the country, Greece hosts whales, sperm whales, dolphins and porpoises. These are either permanent residents of the Mediterranean or just occasional visitors. The area south of Crete, known as the Greek Abyss, hosts many of them. Squid and octopus can be found along the coast and sea turtles and hammerhead sharks swim in the sea around the coast. The Cretaquarium and the Aquaworld Aquarium, are two of only three aquariums in the whole of Greece. They are located in Gournes and Hersonissos respectively. Examples of the local sealife can be seen there.
Some of the fish that can be seen in the waters around Crete include: scorpion fish, dusky grouper, east Atlantic peacock wrasse, five-spotted wrasse, weever fish, common stingray, brown ray, mediterranean black goby, pearly razorfish, star-gazer, painted comber, damselfish, and the flying gurnard.
Common wildflowers include: camomile, daisy, gladiolus, hyacinth, iris, poppy, cyclamen and tulip, among others. There are more than 200 different species of wild orchid on the island and this includes 14 varieties of Ophrys Cretica. Crete has a rich variety of indigenous herbs including common sage, rosemary, thyme, and oregano. Rare herbs include the endemic Cretan dittany. and ironwort, Sideritis syriaca, known as Malotira (Μαλοτήρα). Varieties of cactus include the edible prickly pear. Common trees on the island include the chestnut, cypress, oak, olive tree, pine, plane, and tamarisk. Trees tend to be taller to the west of the island where water is more abundant.
There are a number of environmentally protected areas. One such area is located at the island of Elafonisi on the coast of southwestern Crete. Also, the palm forest of Vai in eastern Crete and the Dionysades (both in the municipality of Sitia, Lasithi), have diverse animal and plant life. Vai has a palm beach and is the largest natural palm forest in Europe. The island of Chrysi, 15 kilometres (9 miles) south of Ierapetra, has the largest naturally grown Juniperus macrocarpa forest in Europe. Samaria Gorge is a World Biosphere Reserve and Richtis Gorge is protected for its landscape diversity.
Crete has a rich mythology mostly connected with the ancient Greek Gods but also connected with the Minoan civilization.
According to Greek Mythology, The Diktaean Cave at Mount Dikti was the birthplace of the god Zeus. The Paximadia islands were the birthplace of the goddess Artemis and the god Apollo. Their mother, the goddess Leto, was worshipped at Phaistos. The goddess Athena bathed in Lake Voulismeni. The ancient Greek god Zeus launched a lightning bolt at a giant lizard that was threatening Crete. The lizard immediately turned to stone and became the island of Dia. The island can be seen from Knossos and it has the shape of a giant lizard. The islets of Lefkai were the result of a musical contest between the Sirens and the Muses. The Muses were so anguished to have lost that they plucked the feathers from the wings of their rivals; the Sirens turned white and fell into the sea at Aptera ("featherless") where they formed the islands in the bay that were called Lefkai (the islands of Souda and Leon). Hercules, in one of his labors, took the Cretan bull to the Peloponnese. Europa and Zeus made love at Gortys and conceived the kings of Crete, Rhadamanthys, Sarpedon, and Minos.
The labyrinth of the Palace of Knossos was the setting for the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur in which the Minotaur was slain by Theseus. Icarus and Daedalus were captives of King Minos and crafted wings to escape. After his death King Minos became a judge of the dead in Hades, while Rhadamanthys became the ruler of the Elysian fields.
Crete has its own distinctive Mantinades poetry. The island is known for its Mantinades-based music (typically performed with the Cretan lyra and the laouto) and has many indigenous dances, the most noted of which is the Pentozali.
Cretan authors have made important contributions to Greek Literature throughout the modern period; major names include Vikentios Kornaros, creator of the 17th-century epic romance Erotokritos (Greek Ερωτόκριτος), and, in the 20th century, Nikos Kazantzakis. In the Renaissance, Crete was the home of the Cretan School of icon painting, which influenced El Greco and through him subsequent European painting. Crete is also famous for its traditional cuisine. The nutritional value of the Cretan cuisine was discovered by the American epidemiologist Ancel Keys in the 1960, being later often mentioned by epidemiologists as one of the best examples of the Mediterranean diet.
Cretans are fiercely proud of their island and customs, and men often don elements of traditional dress in everyday life: knee-high black riding boots (stivania), vráka breeches tucked into the boots at the knee, black shirt and black headdress consisting of a fishnet-weave kerchief worn wrapped around the head or draped on the shoulders (sariki). Men often grow large mustaches as a mark of masculinity.
Cretan society is well known for notorious family and clan vendettas which persist on the island to date. Cretans also have a tradition of keeping firearms at home, a tradition lasting from the era of resistance against the Ottoman Empire. Nearly every rural household on Crete has at least one unregistered gun. Guns are subject to strict regulation from the Greek government, and in recent years a great deal of effort to control firearms in Crete has been undertaken by the Greek police.
Crete has many football clubs playing in the local leagues. During the 2011–12 season, OFI Crete, which plays at Theodoros Vardinogiannis Stadium (Iraklion), and Ergotelis F.C., which plays at the Pankritio Stadium (Iraklion) were both members of the Greek Superleague. During the 2012–13 season, OFI Crete, which plays at Theodoros Vardinogiannis Stadium (Iraklion), and Platanias F.C., which plays at the Perivolia Municipal Stadium, near Chania, are both members of the Greek Superleague.
Notable people from Crete include:
The island had a Muslim community until 1923. They all left with the Population exchange between Greece and Turkey.