If you want history, then ancient Crete is the place to go. From one of the oldest civilizations, the Minoans, down through Mycenaeans, Romans, Byzantine and Venetian, even to modern times and WW2 – Crete has it all.
The archaeological sites are world renowned. The scenery is magnificent, from sun drenched beaches to snow covered mountains. There are quiet areas for those in search of tranquility, and noisy places for the night-life seekers. The interior is fertile, full of wonderful walks and ancient remains. Crete is a ‘must’ for every traveler.
History of Crete
The earliest remains in ancient Crete are thought to be from the 7th to the 3rd C BC. This era then blossomed into the famous ‘Minoan’ civilization between about 2000 and 1600 BC. Experts are not sure what caused the downfall of this sea power, but around 1400 BC Mycenaeans from mainland Greece invaded the island.
The Dorians then invaded in 1000 BC (no one seems to know who these Dorians were or where they came from). The Romans occupied the island about 70 BC, and it was an important base for them as it controlled the eastern Mediterranean. The Byzantines, Saracens and Venetians all had their day in Crete. They were followed by the Ottoman Turks, and the island was annexed by the new Kingdom of Greece in 1913.
It’s probably not wise to think of Crete as just part of Greece. The inhabitants are very proud of their island, and think of themselves as Cretans first and foremost.
Where to go and what to see
There’s so much to do on Crete, and here we’ve listed the main archaeological sites. We’ve also provided some information for some of the main towns. They have interesting museums, and Rethymnon and Chania are good centres to stay in, and from there to explore the local countryside.
No review of ancient Crete would be complete without something about the Minoans. Were they ancient Greeks? Take a look at the page on the Minoan civilization. This will give you good background information so you can appreciate the importance of the many Minoan sites on the island.
The largest and best known of the Minoan sites is Knossos. If ancient stuff is your ‘thing’ you could easily spend a day here, and still not see everything.
The smaller site of Phaistos has to my mind a more atmospheric setting. The views over the surrounding Messara countryside give it a unique tranquil air.
Smaller than Knossos and Phaestos is the site of Malia. To the casual visitor it doesn’t look that interesting, but if you have an interest in ancient Greece then it is well worth a visit.
Situated on the north coast is the capital of Crete, Iraklio (often spelt Heraklion), and has a number of interesting museums. Rethymnon lies to the west of Heraklion, and has some attractive Venetian structures. On the north west coast you’ll find Chania, my favourite town in Crete. The old Venetian quarter is a great place to spend a few hours.
The page showing the Crete map also has some travel information.