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Real Estate, Civil Engineering & Tourism in Greece

Information on the Island of Crete

Crete Island Greece, Crete History, Wildlife & Vegetation

This island - the largest in Greece - separates the Aegean from the Libyan Sea, marks the boundary between Europe and Africa. Majestic mountains rise in its center - the White Mountains, Psiloritis, Dicti. Its plateaus are split by deep gorges and up in fertile valleys.

The scenery is constantly changing. In one place harsh and barren, in another wooden and gentle. Its villages smothered in greenery.

Olive trees, orange groves, vineyards, early vegetable market gardens.

Old stone farmhouses, monasteries and villages perched on mountain ridges, castles and chapels forgotten on steep slopes.

Shores lined with forbidding rocks, often inaccessible, but also lots of endless sandy or pebbly beaches.

Crete is renowned for the variety of its vegetation and wildlife in its chestnut, oak and cypress forests. Not to mention its palm forests (at Vai and Preveli) and its cedar forests (at Gavdos and Hrissi).

Medical herbs and fragrant shrumbs - laudanum, dittany, marjoram and thyme - grow in rocky areas and the mountaintops are home of the "Kri-Kri" or Cretan Goat.

The main cities-port on Crete - Chania, Rethimno, Iraklio, Agios Nikolaos, Sitia - all grew up on the north side, which is more benign topographically. Ierapetra is the only port on the south coast, on the shores of the Libyan Sea, facing Africa.

The island´s fertile soil and towering peaks witnessed the development of one of the most important civilizations on Earth, the Minoan (2800-1150 B.C.).

Christianity came to the island early. During the Byzantine era the wealth of Crete was shown off in the mosaic floors of its basilicas and in half the churches of Greece.

But many others had their eye on these riches. First Crete fell into the hands of Arabs (824) for one and a half centuries (961).Handak, present-day Iraklio was founded. Then in 1204, the island passed to the Venetians.

They fortified the old castles at Handak and built new ones at Gramvoussa, Spinalonga, Frangokastello, Ierapetra, Paleochora. They broke the ground for new cities ( Chania and Rethimno) and built the fortifications essential to their defense. Inside the walls the cities developed with narrow, convoluted alleyways and small residential blocks, interspersed with decorative piazzas, fountains, churches and palaces, remains of which can still be seen today.

Although the rebellious populace shook the island from time to time, it continued to develop both economically and culturally. Painting and literature flourished.

Domenicos Theotokopoulos (El Greco), Damaskinos and other iconographers painted exquisite portraits of the Virgin and the Crist. Under the vaulted gates and arched windows troubadours passed singing ballads by Hortantzis about the suffering of Erotokritos and Erophili.

In 1645 the Muslim conquerors set foot on the island for the first time. In 1669 the whole of Crete fell to the Turks. Not until 1913 was the island under with the rest of Greece.

This island with its clear, warm sea, boundless beaches and mild starry night has more to offer than its past, its gorges, unscaled peaks and climate.

Today it continuous to live fully and develop, its cities particularly changing in appearance from one day to the next, in contrast to the many unchanging villages where life goes on in the same rhythm it has for centuries.

There are hundreds of cafes where one can sit in the shade of spreading plane, oak or mulberry tree and sip a "sweet" or "medium" coffee, or a glass of "tsikoudia" (raki) while playing a game of cards or "tavli" (backgammon).

There are dozens of tavernas and ouzeries serving some tasty "meze" a speciality of the area. Yogurt and honey, sweets tarts (kalitsounia), pies made of wild greens flavored with fennel, fried cheese (staka) rabbit stew, cheese pie form Hora Sfakion, cockles, boiled goat. In the city of Chania, at Malaxa, at Vrisses, and other villages in the area, in Rethimno, in Iraklio and its villages, and in the whole district of Lassithi. Fish, sea urchins, octopus and cuttlefish cooked on charcoal and fried squid to be tasted at seaside tavernas. and everywhere the delectable Cretan wine.

Every saint´s feastday is celebrated with gusto at dozens of villages throughout the island; all Crete throbbing to the sound of the Cretan Lyre and the rhythm of local dances, the pentozali and the sousta. Meanwhile the housewives are preparing a steamed Cretan pilaf and special holiday fritters (xerotigana).

In the shop windows of busting Iraklio, picturesque Rethimno, and Chania, elegant furs, precious jewellery and artistic silverware attract the visitor´s attention.

In to shops of lovely Sitia and tranquil Ierapetra and the mountainous Anogia one is impressed by the spread out "patanies" traditional local woven fabrics in dazzling colors, and everywhere one sees skillfully crafted ceramics and leather goods.

In the "stivanadika" district of Chania (Skridlof St.) traditional boots (stivania) are still made in the old-fashioned way, because though it may seem strange even today there are Cretans who still wear their traditional costume. In the marketplace of the same city, the only one of its kind, but also in similar shops all over the island, every kind of food, fruit and vegetable produced in the fertile valleys, hot houses and mountain regions, is laid out on display. Exotic avocadoes, Belgian endive and bananas, juicy oranges and fragrant melons, succulent figs and tasty prickly pears, delicious grapes, sweet tomatoes, tender cucumbers, fresh-picked greens from the hillsides, snails, mouthwatering sardines, tempting lobster, kid from the islet of Gavdos, honey perfumed with thyme, and wonderful cheeses - graviera (gruyere), myzithra (ricotta), fresh white cheese, and soft luscious staka.

The evenings are enchanting spent next to the intoxicating aroma of a jasmine vine in an open-air cinema, seated in the comfortable chairs of a pastry shop, gathered round the table of a fish -taverna right by the sea, strolling in solitude on a remote, deserted beach, or why not, enjoying the rhythms of rock in a discotheque or a bar or conversing in the spacious lounge of luxury hotel.


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