10 Days, 9 Nights|
Guides, ground transportation, support vehicle, lodging, most meals (breakfasts and dinners), and entry fee into Samarian and other Gorges.|
Air or ferry to Heraklion, lunches, drinks and one dinner, personal clothing and accessories, full medical, baggage and trip cancellation insurance, airport taxes and gratuities.
Designed to meet the needs of our many repeat clients and to welcome new participants with a more extensive exploration of the south coast of Crete, this special edition kayak tour offers more time at the best locations. Then we add thrilling additional explorations to the pristine beaches and crystalline waters farther south of Matala and to the west of Agia Roumeli. You'll never regret spending extra time on this extraordinary journey in the warm waters around Crete!
Day 1: Our trip officially begins in the morning at the Heraklion Airport where Northwest Passage staff will meet you. Exact meeting time will be determined once flight schedules from Athens to Heraklion have been finalized. From the airport, we will head to Knossos, the mysterious ancient Minoan palace just outside Heraklion. We will then enjoy a scenic drive across Crete down to the beach town of Matala on the south coast. There will be an optional kayak instruction session, and we'll enjoy welcome drinks while viewing the incredible sunset and make our introductions. Over our first delightful dinner together at an authentic Greek taverna, we will review the itinerary for the week and answer whatever questions you may have.
Day 2: After breakfast, we will outfit everyone with paddle, PFD and spray skirt, then head across the street to the beach where we will offer basic kayaking instruction. The protected bay in Matala provides us with a perfect spot for instruction, surrounded by the famous caves - legendary homes to Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens, Bob Dylan and others in the 1960s. We will then paddle to two neighboring beaches, the Red Beach and Kommos Beach. After enjoying lunch and visiting the Minoan-era ruins at Kommos, we will paddle back to Matala for cliff-jumping into the bay and our highly recommended Sunset Hike. We’ll end the day with a great meal of local specialties and a chance to experience the rousing night life of Matala.
Day 3: Today we will include a longer paddle south along the coast to some of the most remote regions of Crete, with the chance to stop along the shore at some of our favorite hidden gems. You will pack a picnic lunch to enjoy along the way. We'll travel to a secret cove far down the coast, with a shuttle to return us to Matala. If we’re fortunate, we may have the chance to enjoy some authentic Cretan music at a concealed settlement beyond the beach. Returning to Matala, you'll have some free time, followed by an optional sunset hike to a different viewspot.
Day 4: We’ll get an early start today in order to stop and visit the breathtaking site of the Minoan Palace of Phaistos on our way to the trailhead for the Samaria Gorge. The Samaria Gorge is a “must see” for every visitor to Crete; this incredible national park draws thousands of visitors each day. We have designed our itinerary to be able to experience the Gorge after the vast majority of hikers have already headed down. While most visitors to the Gorge rush to catch the last ferry, we will spend the night in Agia Roumeli, a charming and traditional town where the Gorge ends. We’ll celebrate our accomplishments with a wonderful dinner on the seaside terrace of our hotel on the beach, and we will fall asleep to the soothing sound of the sea. In the morning, we'll awaken to the gentle dinging of goat bells from the herds on the hillside.
Day 5: Today we head farther west to visit several secluded beaches, including one with a dramatic cave with a double opening shaped like the Greek letter “A”. There will be time to lie on the beaches, paddle the turquoise-and-teal colored waters, and explore the coastline before returning to Agia Roumeli for the night. We may take a moment to explore the scattered remains of the ancient town of Tara located along the shore of the town.
Day 6: As the ascending sun brightens the cliffs along the bay, we will depart from Roumeli in our kayaks, heading along the coastline to Agios Pavlos for our cappuccino stop. The small 10th Century chapel built in honor of St. Paul is a remarkable site and traditionally wonderful photo opportunity. From Agios Pavlos, we’ll continue along the coastline to Marmara Beach, one of our prettiest lunch stops offering additional cliff-jumping opportunities from the wind-carved marble rocks. We then paddle to the water-access-only town of Loutro where we will spend two nights. Rounding the point to catch your first glimpse of this idyllic town has been a highlight of the trip for all past participants. We won’t ruin the moment by saying any more now- you’ll just have to see for yourself!
Day 7: Today is a day with multiple options. From Loutro, we may continue up the coastline to Sweetwater Beach where the freshwater springs bubbling out of the sand provide a unique experience. After stretching our legs, enjoying a refreshing swim and a cup of cappuccino, we can paddle on to Hora Sfakia for our lunch stop before paddling back to Loutro. There is also the option of a challenging all-day hike up into the traditional villages in the hills and descending through the beautiful Aradena Gorge before walking back to Loutro through ancient olive groves. Then we join up for another Sunset Hike to a uniquely beautiful spot on the coast, followed by dinner at one of the excellent bayside tavernas.
Day 8: You will have an option today to paddle to Hora Sfakia or to go there by hiking the dazzlingly beautiful trail which follows the coastline. Regrouping in Sfakia, we will then continue paddling or there will be the option of shuttling by van along the coast to the Venetian-era fortress at Frangokastello for a brief tour before continuing our journey along the coast to the busy town of Plakias. Plakias provides some upbeat nightlife and great shopping opportunities as well as the chance to visit one of our favorite bakeries on the island (the “Cretan Specialty” is another highlight of the trip!). Dinner is on your own tonight to give you a choice of the numerous restaurant possibilities in town as well as a chance to set your own schedule for the evening, including the chance to dance at local nightclubs. But remember it's an early paddling morning tomorrow!
Day 9: Heading out from Plakias, our next stop is Palm Beach, where native Cretan palms line a picturesque stream that joins with the sea. An optional short paddle up the inland freshwater creek provides a glimpse of river turtles, local birds, and darting dragonflies. Our lunch stop today is near Triopetra beach, renowned for its beautiful rock formations. After lunch, we will paddle on to the beach at Agios Pavlos. At this point, you can opt to shuttle the last section or paddle the final 7-mile stretch along the dramatic cliffs leading to the harbor o Agia Galini. In the evening, we will celebrate with a final dinner overlooking the harbor at Agia Galini.
Day 10: Those wishing to complete the paddling circle may choose to launch early in the morning and paddle across the bay from Agia Galini into Matala (approximately 8 miles in an open water crossing). Others will sleep a little later and take the van in to Matala where we will have a brief stop to pick up any luggage you may have chosen to leave at the hotel, unload boats, and do any last minute shopping. The van will depart for Heraklion between 11 a.m. and noon, giving time for a visit the renowned Heraklion Archaeological Museum before catching late afternoon flights back to Athens.
**This itinerary is subject to change. As with all adventure travel, some activities are dependent on appropriate wind and water conditions. But fear not -we have many alternative activities available in case the weather is not cooperative.
Didn't get quite enough time on the water? Some day kayak outings or custom lessons may be available prior to or after your journey, depending on schedule and equipment availability. Ask your guides for details and pricing.
This is all you will need - anything else is unnecessary baggage and will only be extra weight to carry.
- 3-7 t-shirts, some synthetic for paddling
- 1 shirt, long sleeved
- 2-3 pair shorts (some quick drying)
- Sun/rain hat
- Sneakers/cross trainers hiking; some prefer hiking in Tevas or other sandals with socks
- Rain gear just in case! Paddling jacket works well as an alternative, or windbreaker jacket
- 1 pair sport sandals; Tevas, water socks, etc. (Paddling booties are great!)
- Bathing suit(s)
- Underwear, socks
- Casual clothes for evenings (shorts/summer dresses are fine!)
- Clean change of clothing for the trip home
- Passport (be sure to check expiration date)
- Toiletry kit- toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, sunscreen, face cream, nail clippers, moleskin, baby powder, soap, washcloth (most hotels don’t provide them), etc.
- Personal medication kit- ibuprofen, aspirin, vitamins, band-aids, Dramamine®, cold/sinus meds if prone to colds
- Daypack/fanny pack for hiking options
- Collapsible walking stick for optional hikes
- Chums/Croakies® to keep glasses on your head are imperative
- Water bottle (optional- bottled water is plentiful and cheap)
- Small dry bag with carabiner clip (clear ones are very useful)
- Headlamp for sea caves Camera, film, waterproof container
- Paddling gloves (for the tender of palm- not neoprene but any open fingered glove can help e.g. biking gloves etc)
- Small towel (e.g. PackTowel® works well)
- Small travel alarm clock
- Mask and snorkel (can be purchased inexpensively)
- Field glasses – binoculars
- Your own Paddle/PFD- we will supply paddles and PFD’s for group but, if you prefer your own paddle and PFD, feel free to bring them along
- Ziploc® storage bags (to keep stuff extra dry in dry bag)
What’s special about this trip?
Incredible coastline, spectacular sunsets, the friendliest innkeepers and taverna owners you’ll ever meet, warm waters in tremendously varied shades of blue and green, amazing sea caves, cliff jumping for all confidence levels, never-ending sunshine, phenomenal food, an opportunity to see the Crete that few tourists see. Rick Sweitzer, founder and Adventurer-in-Chief of The Northwest Passage, fell in love with Crete in the late 60’s and has been exploring the backroads and coastline of this incredible island ever since. The Northwest Passage has been touring Crete by kayak, bicycle and foot for many years and in the process, we have developed great friendships with our local hosts. You’ll feel like part of the family as we share with you our most popular international trip.
How do I get there?
Our adventure begins in Heraklion, the capital of Crete. To reach Heraklion, most participants fly into Athens. From there, you have a choice of flying to Heraklion (a one hour flight offered by several carriers including Aegean and Olympic Air) or taking an overnight ferry. If you choose to fly, most U.S. travel agents can book Olympic Air, but are not as familiar with Aegean. The airport code is HER and the airport is also known by the name "Nikos Kazantzakis Airport", sometimes abbreviated "N.Kazantzakis Airport". You can book flights online for either Olympic (www.olympic-airways.gr) or Aegean (www.aegeanair.com). You can also make reservations through Pacific Travel (www.pacifictravel.gr firstname.lastname@example.org). We have been working with Pacific Travel for many years and they are quite helpful. They have an office at the Athens Airport that is staffed 24 hours a day. You can also call our office to get more details regarding the travel options. It is important to confirm your return flights, both the flight to Athens and the flight from Athens to the US, 48-72 hours prior to the flight. If you choose to take the ferry, you can purchase tickets right at the port or in advance through a travel agent. The port (Piraeus) can be reached by taxi or bus from the airport. The cost for the ferry will vary depending on level of accommodation (private cabin with bath, semi-private, reserved airplane-type seats, open seating, etc). It's a good idea to have sufficient Euros in cash to pay for your ticket if you have not purchased it already. Not all of the ticket agents at the port will take credit cards.
What papers do I need for travel?
All US citizens require a valid passport to enter Greece. Your passport expiration date should be at least 6 months after your intended departure date from Greece. A visa is not required for citizens of the United States, Canada, and the European Union. If you are a citizen of another country, please check with your nearest Greek embassy for visa requirements.
Do I need to get any shots before traveling?
No inoculations are required when entering or leaving Greece.
How and where will you meet me?
We will ask for a copy of your travel itinerary prior to your departure. We will meet the morning of the first day of the trip at the Heraklion Airport; the airport is a quick taxi or bus ride from both central Heraklion hotels and from the ferry port. Exact meeting time will be determined once flight schedules from Athens to Heraklion are finalized for that season. We have found over the years that the schedules vary somewhat year to year. The airport is quite small and we will be wearing Northwest Passage shirts and carrying an NWP sign. We will meet in the arrivals area of the Heraklion airport.
How long will it take me to get there?
The flight to Athens is usually an overnight flight, leaving the U.S. in the late afternoon and arriving mid-day to late afternoon in Athens. Depending on the carrier and connection, you may overnight in another city en-route. There are flights out of Athens to Heraklion starting at 6 a.m. and continuing throughout the day and evening until 11:45 p.m. Returning from Athens, most flights back to the U.S. are in the early morning, requiring an overnight in Athens the last day of the trip. Generally, participants will book flights out of Heraklion late afternoon on the last day. If you want to visit the Archaelogical Museum in Heraklion, you should not book a flight before 4:00 p.m. on the last day of the trip.
Where should I stay overnight around there?
There are many hotel options in Athens in varying price ranges. The Plaka area of Athens (near the Acropolis, etc.) is the most popular area and not too far from the airport (45+ min. cab ride depending on traffic; buses are also an option). Please feel free to contact our office for hotel suggestions. If you choose to overnight in Heraklion either at the beginning or the end of the trip, there are hotel options downtown as well as just outside of town, again in varying price ranges. We can give you suggestions based on your preferences and budget.
What money should I take?
The trip fee covers most of your costs. The only things you will be responsible for are lunches, drinks, one dinner, personal purchases, and gratuities. Lunches generally range 7-10 Euro. Dinner ranges 12-20 Euro. Personal purchases again vary- one can buy unique souvenirs made of olive wood for 5 Euro or get fine jewelry for significantly more… it’s up to you.
What’s the currency? Exchange rate? Where can I exchange money?
What's the currency? Exchange rate? Where can I exchange money? The Euro is the currency of Greece, and while some predict they will return to the drachma, this is unlikely and, in any case, Euros would continue to be accepted. For the most current exchange rate, there are several helpful websites. Oanda (www.oanda.com) will give you a handy conversion cheat sheet to take with you. You can exchange money at the airport (either Athens or Heraklion). Exchange rates at the airport may not be the most favorable and they often have higher commission rates and/or minimum commissions. There are ATMs at the airports which can be handy as there is not a commission, just the ATM service charge. Some of the hotels where we stay will also exchange. Some shops do exchange money but their rates are often high. In the main towns there will be ATMs, but it's always a good idea to have a couple of days' worth of cash on hand.
Do they take plastic there? Are there cash stations? Most of the larger restaurants and shops accept major credit cards, but some do not. You often can negotiate a better price using cash. There are also ATMs in Matala, Plakias and Agia Galini. Some of the hotels where we stay will also exchange. Some shops do exchange money but their rates are often high.
How much should I tip my guides?
Within the adventure travel industry, "tipping" is a standard practice, and it is welcomed by our guides. Our highly-trained and competent guides are on duty 24/7 for your safety and convenience, and recognizing their efforts is encouraged. Though it is not required and varies substantially, many participants tip approximately 10%-15% of their trip price.
What’s the weather like?
The weather in fall and spring is generally around 80° with lots of sunshine. Be sure to pack plenty of sunscreen, including lip protection. A broad-brimmed hat that secures on your head can also be very helpful. Water temperatures in fall tend to be in the mid to upper 70’s. Spring water temperatures are significantly cooler (high 60’s). Air temperatures cool off at night to the point you may want a light jacket. Rain is unusual but does sometimes occur. A light rain jacket can be handy.
What are the accommodations like?
We choose the nicest inns/hotels in each of the towns where we stay. That said, we are avoiding the major touristy towns of Crete so options are somewhat limited. All of the hotels are clean and rooms have private baths. Bathtubs are a rarity in Crete but all rooms have showers.
What do I need to bring?
Upon registering, we will provide you with a detailed clothing and equipment list to guide you in your packing. Casual clothes are the order of the day- no need for anything fancy. A walking stick can be extremely helpful on your hike through the Samaria Gorge. Full hiking boots are definitely not necessary and can be much too warm. Many find that cross trainers/sneakers work well. We have also found that many prefer sandals (e.g. Tevas) with socks. Having your feet get overheated is the most common source of blisters. Keep in mind that the Samaria Gorge is all downhill which takes its toll on knees and ankles.
While paddling, your needs in the boat will be minimal. A small dry bag with a carabiner clip to keep it attached to the boat is very handy. Clear bags are helpful to be able to find what you need. During the day, you will want to have sunscreen, some Euros for lunch and the cappuccino stop, sunglasses with something to keep them tied on with (Croakies®, Chums®, etc.), water bottle (most folks will buy cold bottled water in the morning, eliminating the need to bring a water bottle), camera, mask and snorkel (if you enjoy snorkeling), small binoculars if you already have some, and a small pack towel. A headlamp is handy for exploring the sea caves we may encounter along the way. A pair of gloves can be helpful to prevent blisters. You do not need neoprene paddling gloves- these can be too warm. Any open fingered glove (including bike gloves, sailing gloves, golfing gloves) can work well (just realize that they will get quite wet). The key is to protect your palm between your thumb and index finger as that tends to receive the most friction. The rest of your gear can be loaded in the van in the morning. Packing your gear in flexible bags (e.g. duffle bags vs. hard suitcases) is preferable. A common comment from participants at the end of the trip is that they brought much more than they needed- added extra clothing to what was on the clothing/equipment checklist and regretted it in the end. Simplicity is the order of the day- less is more! You will have an option to safely leave a bag at the hotel in Matala where we stay provided you have a flight out of Heraklion in the afternoon of the last day or are overnighting in Heraklion after the trip. On the final morning, we will be returning to Matala before heading into Heraklion, giving you a chance to pick up any bags left in Matala. This has been a popular option as folks often have more than they need for the week of paddling.
If you bring any items requiring electricity, be sure to bring both a converter and adapter plugs. These can be purchased at Radio Shack®, other electronics stores, travel stores etc. Let the salesperson know you are traveling to Greece and they can help you select the appropriate converter and adapter plugs for your equipment. Note that hair dryers, irons, and any other heat producing devices require a stronger converter than other devices. It is helpful to know the wattage of your particular equipment when purchasing the appropriate converter. Some items may not require a converter at all - check the labels to see if they are listed for 120-220V. Most tech-dependent travelers bring two adapter plugs so that they can charge or use more than one device at a time.
Can I drink the water?
The water is safe to drink in all the areas we visit. However, in Loutro, the water is safe to drink but has a slightly salty taste. Bottled water is readily available everywhere and quite inexpensive so most folks choose to drink bottled water.
What’s the food like?
Breakfast generally consists of fresh Greek yogurt with honey, bread, cheese, juice, coffee or tea, with eggs as an occasional option. Lunches and dinners are ordered off the menu which typically consists of Greek specialties such as moussaka, pastitsio, grilled meats and fish, spaghetti (doesn’t sound Greek but very popular), stifada (generally beef stew), etc. Selections for vegetarians are more limited but previous vegetarian clients have not gone hungry, enjoying dolmades (grape leaves), eggplant, zucchini, tzatziki (yogurt/cucumber/garlic dip), saganaki (fried feta), Greek salads etc.
What time zone will I be in?
Greece is two hours ahead of Greenwich Time, which makes it 7 hours ahead of US Eastern Time, 8 hours ahead of Central Time, 9 hours ahead of Mountain Time, and 10 hours ahead of Pacific Time.
How can people reach me in an emergency? Can I call home?
We will provide you with a list of our hotels including phone and fax numbers. You should also provide family/friends with The Northwest Passage number (800-RECREATE, 732-7328) as NWP staff will always be notified of any changes in the itinerary. You can call home using a calling card. Many of the hotels will have phones in the rooms. Keep in mind the time difference listed above. It can be helpful to remind family and friends about this also. MCI access code for calls from Crete is 00-800-1211. AT&T access code is 00-800-1311, Sprint access code is 00-800-1411. Greek cell phones can be purchased with some minutes for local calls for about $50. Please check with your cell phone company in the U.S. if you intend to use your usual phone in Europe - rates can be unexpectedly high if you don't have an international calling/data plan.
How much time do we spend traveling each day? How many miles? Do I have free time?
We will generally kayak 5-6 hours per day. The paddling is broken into multiple sections with plenty of time to explore the coastline, paddle in and out of sea caves and jump in and out of the water to cool off. We generally begin paddling at 8:30 each morning, then take a cappuccino break at a seaside taverna after an hour or so. We stop again for lunch after another hour or so and generally reach our next hotel between 3:30 and 4:30 in the afternoon. Distance traveled varies each day, ranging from 6-24 miles. Once we reach our destination, you will have some free time to shower, relax, and/or explore the town. We will generally offer some additional skill training for folks who are interested at the end of the day. Some participants have wanted to work on Eskimo rolling, paddling techniques, etc. Each day, the van will be following our route, meeting us at the cappuccino stops and lunch stops, offering multiple options. You can paddle to the cappuccino break, then hop in the van to the lunch stop, then paddle again in the afternoon. Or start with a van ride and paddle later in the day. The choices are endless!
What kind of equipment do you use?
We have a combination of hard shell plastic doubles, singles and folding doubles. Some participants prefer to paddle in the doubles the whole time (paddling is a bit easier with two people powering the boat and the doubles tend to be more stable) and some prefer to trade on and off with the singles. We will provide kayaks, paddles, spray skirts and PFDs (personal flotation devices) for all participants. If you prefer to bring your own paddle and/or PFD, you are most welcome to. Please let us know in advance so that we can pack the appropriate gear, especially if you have a particular need or unusual size.
How many people are on this trip? How many guides? Who are the guides/ what are their qualifications?
Our group sizes for this trip range from 6 to 16 participants. We generally have at least two guides on the water and one or two additional staff members as van drivers. Your other guides will be knowledgeable Northwest Passage staff members who are highly skilled in all aspects of sea kayaking and wilderness travel and have years of experience leading groups. They all have training and/or certification in Wilderness First Aid.
How can I prepare physically for the trip? How much prior experience is needed?
We have had participants on this trip who have never been in a kayak before and others who have been paddling for years. We have found that all levels of kayakers have enjoyed this adventure. A good level of personal fitness makes the journey more enjoyable. For kayaking, upper body exercises that strengthen your shoulders, back and arms are recommended. Strengthening exercises with free weights can be very beneficial. Upper body stretches and exercises such as rowing are also useful. Keep in mind that we have had folks at all different levels of physical conditioning thoroughly enjoy this trip and the van is always an option! It is important that you know how to swim and are comfortable in the water. Please don’t hesitate to contact our office if you have any questions or concerns about your physical capabilities for this trip.
Read what others have written about this trip:
New York Times: In Crete, Mobility with a Guide and a Glide
About.com Greece - Trip Review - Crete Inn to Inn Sea Kayaking
THE ISLAND OF CRETE, GREECE - The Historical Framework
The discovery of the Minoan civilization has tended to overshadow every other aspect of Cretan history. And indeed it would be hard for any other period to rival what was, in effect, the first truly European civilization. It was in Crete that the developed societies of the east met influences of the west and north, and here that "Western culture", as synthesized in Classical Greece and Rome, first developed.
Yet this was no accident: Crete's position as a meeting place of east and west, and its strategic setting in the middle of the Mediterranean, has thrust the island to the center stage of world history more often than seems comfortable. Long before Arthur Evans arrived to unearth Knossos, and for some time after, the island's struggle for freedom, and the great powers' inactivity, was the subject of Europe-wide scandal. The battle for the island when the Turks arrived had similarly aroused world-wide interest, and represented at the time a significant change in the balance of power between Islam and Christianity. In fact, from Minoan times to World War II, there has rarely been a sustained period when Crete didn't have some role to play in world affairs
The Stone Age:
Crete's first inhabitants, Neolithic cave dwellers, apparently reached the island around 7000 BC. They came, most probably, from Asia Minor, or less likely from Syria, Palestine or North Africa, bringing with them the basics of Stone Age culture -- tools of wood, stone and bone, crude pottery and simple cloth. A possible clue to the origins of these people may lie in the importance of bull cults at certain centers of Neolithic Anatolia.
Development of the next three thousand years was almost imperceptibly slow, but gradually, whether through new migrations and influences or internal dynamics, advances were made. Elementary agriculture was practiced, with domestic animals and basic crops. Pottery (the oldest samples of which were found beneath the palace of Knossos) became more sophisticated, with better made utensils and clay figurines of humans, animals and, especially, a fat mother goddess or fertility figure. Obsidian imported from the island of Milos was used too. And though caves continued to be inhabited, simple rectangular huts of mud bricks were also built, with increasing skill and complexity as the era wore on. One of the most important of the Neolithic settlements was at Knossos, where two remarkable dwellings have been revealed below the Central Court, and there is abundant evidence that many other sites of later habitation were used at this time -- Malia, Festos, Ayia Triada, the Chania area -- as were most of the caves which later came to assume religious significance.
The Bronze Age:
|Minoan Crete has been the subject of intense and constant study since its emergence from myth to archeological reality at the beginning of the twentieth century. Yet there is still enormous controversy even over such fundamental details as who the Minoans were and what language they spoke. No written historical records from the time survive (or if they do, they have yet to be deciphered) so almost everything we know is deduced from physical remains, fleshed out somewhat by writings from Classical Greece, almost one thousand years after the destruction of Knossos. Nevertheless it is not hard to forge some kind of consensus from the theories about the Minoans, and this is what is set out below: fresh discoveries may yet radically change this view.||
Pre-Palatial: 3000-1900 BC
Among the more important puzzles of Minoan society is its comparatively sudden emergence. During the centuries before 2600 BC, there were important changes on the island, and thereafter very rapid progress in almost every area of life. Villages and towns grew up where previously there had been only isolated settlements, and with them came craft specialists: potters, stone cutters, metal workers, jewelers and weavers. Many of these new settlements were in the east and south of the island, and there was significant habitation on the coast and near natural harbors for the first time.
It seems safe to assume that these changes were wrought by a new migration of people from the east, bringing with them new technologies, methods of agriculture and styles of pottery, but most importantly perhaps, a knowledge of seafaring and trade. The olive and the vine -- which need little tending and therefore help free a labor force -- began to be produced alongside cereal crops. Copper tools replaced stone ones and were themselves later refined with the introduction of bronze. Art developed rapidly, with characteristic Vasiliki ware and other pottery styles, as well as gold jewelry, and stone jars of exceptional quality, based originally on Egyptian styles. Significantly, large quantities of seal stones have been found too, almost certainly the mark of mercantile people. They were used to sign letters and documents, but especially to seal packets, boxes or doors as proof that they had not been opened: the designs -- scorpions or poisonous spiders -- were often meant as a further deterrent to robbery.
At the same time, new methods of burial appeared -- tholos and chamber tombs in which riches were buried with the dead. These appear to have been communal, as, probably, was daily life, based perhaps on clan or kinship groupings.
The First Palaces: 1900-1700 BC
Shortly before 1900 BC, the first of the palaces were built, at Knossos, Festos, Malia and Zakros. They represent another significant and apparently abrupt change: a shift of power back to the centre of the island and the emergence of a much more heirarchical, ordered society. The sites of these palaces were also no accident: Festos and Malia both dominate fertile plains, whilst Zakros had a superbly sited harbour for trade with the east. Knossos, occupying a strategic position above another plain to the south and west of Iraklion, was perhaps as much a religious centre as a base of secular power. Certainly religion at this point took on new importance, with the wide-spread use of mountain top sanctuaries and caves as cult centres. At the same time, much larger towns were growing up, especially around the palaces, and in the countryside substantial "villas" appeared.
The palaces themselves are proof of the island's great prosperity at this period, and the artifacts found within offer further evidence. Advances were made in almost every field of artistic and craft endeavor. From the First Palace era came the famous Kamarea ware pottery -- actually two distinct styles, one eggshell-thin and delicate, the other sturdier with bold-coloured designs. The true potter's wheel (as against the turntable) was introduced for the first time, along with a simple form of hieroglyphic writing. Elaborate jewelry, seals and bronzework were also being produced.
Cretan bronze was used throughout the Mediterranean, and its production and distribution were dependent on wide-ranging maritime economy. Though Crete may have produced some copper at this time, it never yielded tin, the nearest significant sources of which were as distant as Iran to the east, central Europe in the north, Italy, Spain, Brittany, and even Britain in the west. While some claim that Minoan ships actually sailed as far as the Atlantic, it seems more likely that the more exotic goods were obtained through middlemen. Nevertheless, Crete controlled the trade routes in the Mediterranean, importing tin, copper, pottery, gold, silver, and precious stones of every kind, exporting timber from its rich cypress forests, olive oil, wine, bronze goods, and fine pottery, especially to Egypt. Minoan colonies and trading posts were established on many Cycladic islands as well as the island of Kithira off the Peloponnese, Rhodes and the coast of Asia Minor; a fleet of merchant vessels maintained regular trade links between these centres, and, above all, with Egypt and the east.
Around 1700 BC, the palaces were destroyed for the first time, probably by earthquake, although raiders from the early Mycenaean Greek mainland may also have seized this opportunity to raid the island while it was temporarily defenceless; this may well account for the wealth of gold and other treasure -- much of it obviously Cretan -- found in the later royal shaft graves at Mycenae.
The New Palaces: 1700 - 1450 BC
Though the destruction must have been a setback, Minoan culture continued to flourish, and with the palaces reconstructed on a still grander scale, the society entered its golden age. It is the new palaces that provide us with most of our picture of Minoan life and most of what is seen at the great sites -- Knossos, Festos, Malia, Zakros -- dates from this period.
The architecture of the new palaces was of an unprecedented sophistication: complex, multistory structures in which the use of space and light was as luxurious as the construction materials. Grand stairways, colonnaded porticoes and courtyards, brightly frescoed walls, elaborate plumbing and drainage, and great magazines in which to store the society's accumulation of wealth, were all integral, as were workshops for the technicians and craftsmen and areas set aside for ritual and worship.
Obviously it was only the elite who enjoyed these comforts, but conditions for the ordinary people who kept Minos and attendants in such style appear to have improved too: towns around the palaces and at sites such as Gournia and Palekastro werre growing as well. (It was Arthur Evans who named Minoan society after the legendary King Minos, but there is little doubt that Minos was in fact the title of a dynasty of priest/kings, a word rather than pharaoh.)
Very little is known of how the society was organized, or indeed whether it was a single entity ruled from Knossos or simply several city-states with a common cultural heritage. However, in an intriguing reference to Crete in his politics, Aristotle implied that a caste system had operated in the time of Minos. Clearly, though, it was a society in which religion played an important part. The great Corridor of the Procession fresco at Knossos depicted an annual delivery of tribute, apparently to a Mother Goddess; bull-leaping had a religious significance too; and in all the palaces substantial chambers were set aside for ritual purposes. Secular leaders were also religious leaders.
That Minoan society was a very open one was apparent too. There are virtually no defenses, internal or external, at any Minoan site, and apparently the rulers felt no threat either from within or without, which has led scholars to emphasise a military strength based on seapower. As far as internal dissent goes, it seems safe to assume that the wealth of the island filtered down, to some extent at least, to all its inhabitants: the lot of a Minoan peasant may have been little different from that of a Cretan villager as little as fifty years ago.
Externally, maritime supremacy was further extended: objects of Cretan manufacture turn up all over the Mediterranean and have even been claimed as far afield as Britain and Scandinavia (amber from the Baltic certainly found its way to Crete). Behind their seapower, the Minoans clearly felt safe, and the threat of attack or piracy was further reduced by the network of colonies or close allies throughout the Cycladic islands -- Thira most famously but also at Milos, Naxos, Paros, Mikonos, Andhros, and Dilos -- and in Rhodes, Cyprus, Syria and North Africa. Nevertheless, this appears to have remained a trading empire rather than a military one.
If the New Palaces period was a high point of Minoan power, it also marked the apogee of arts and crafts in the island; again, the bulk of the objects you'll admire in the museums dates from this era. The frescoes -- startling in their freshness and vitality -- are the most famous and obviously visable demonstrations of this florescence. But they were just the highly visable tip of an artistic iceberg. It was in intricate small-scale work that the Minoans excelled above all. Naturalistic sculpted figures of humans and animals include the superb ivory bull-leaper, the leopard-head axe and the famous snake goddesses or priestesses, all of them on show at the Heraklion Archeological Museum. The carvings on seal stones of this era are of exceptional delicacy -- a skill carried over into beautifully delicate gold jewelry. Examples of stone vessels include the bull's head rhyton from Knossos and three black vases from Ayia Triadha, which are among the museum's most valuable posessions. And pottery broke out in an enormous variety of new shapes and design motifs, drawing inspiration especially from scenes of nature and marine life.
The other great advance was in writing. A new form of script, Linear A, had appeared at the end of the First Palace period, but in the new palaces its use became widespread. Still undeciphered, Linear A must record the original, unknown language of the Minoans: it seems to have been used in written form almost exclusively for administrative records -- stock lists, records of transactions and tax payments. Even were it understood, it seems unlikely that the language would reveal much. The pieces which have survived were never intended as permanent records, and have been found intact only where clay tablets used were baked solid in the fires which destroyed the palaces. It is possible that a more formal record, an abstract of the annual accounts, was kept on a more valuable but also more perishable material such as imported papyrus or even paper produced from native date-palm leaves.
Around 1600 BC the island again saw minor earthquake damage, though this was swiftly repaired. But in about 1450 BC came destruction on a calamitous scale: the palaces were smashed and (with the exception of Knossos itself) burned, and smaller settlements across the island were devastated. The cause of this disaster is still the most controversial of all Minoan riddles, but the most convincing theory links with the explosion of the volcano of Thira in about 1500 BC: a blast which may have been five times as powerful as that of Krakatoa. The explosion threw up great clouds of black ash and a huge tidal wave, or waves. Coastal settlements would have been directly smashed by the wave, and perhaps further burnt by the overturn of lamps lighted on a day made unnaturally dark by the clouds of ash. Blast, panic and accompanying earth tremmors would have contributed to the wreck. And then, as the ash fell, it apparently coated the center and east of the island in a poisonous blanket under which nothing could grow, or would grow again, for as much as fifty years.
Only at Knossos was there any real continuity of habitation, and here it was with Mycenaean Greeks in control, bringing with them new styles of art, a greater number of weapons and above all keeping records in a form of writing known as Linear B, an adaptation of Linear A now used to write in an early Greek dialect. In about 1370 BC, Knossos was itself burnt, whether by rebellious Cretans, a new wave of Mycenaeans or perhaps as a result of another natural disaster on a smaller scale.
Such at least is the prevailing theory. But it has its problems -- why, for example, should Festos have been burnt when it was safe from waves and blast on the southside of the island? And why should the eruption that volcanologists now date to 1500 BC have had such a dramatic effect only fifty years later -- indeed there are signs that away from the worst effects of the devastation many areas on Crete experienced comparative prosperity after it. As the debate continues, the best that can be said currently is that the volcano theory fits the available evidence better than most of its rivals. But many scholars still claim that the facts are more consistent with destruction by human rather than natural causes. The main counter-theory assumes invasion by the Mycenaeans, and points to some evidence that Linear B was in use at Knossos before 1450 BC. But if the Mycenaeans came to conquer, they would have gained nothing by destroying the society already flourishing on Crete; nor would they have subsequently left the former population centres deserted for a generation or more.
A third theory attempts to answer these inconsistencies, suggesting that an internal revolt by the populace against its rulers (possibly in the wake of the chaos caused by the Thira eruption) could provide an explanation. This theory would fit the evidence from sites such as Mirtos Pirgos on the south coast, where a villa dominating the site was burned down while the surrounding settlement remained untouched. Needless to say this theory does not find favor with those who see Minoan civilization as a haven of tranquil splendor, but it does fit with the later Greek tradition of a tyrannical Minos oppressing not only his own people but those abroad as well. Further archeological investigation both on Crete and other islands in the Aegean may ultimately resolve the Minoan mystery.
Post-Palatial: 1450 - 1100 BC
From their bridgehead at Knossos, the Mycenaeans gradually spread their influences across the island as it became habital again. By the early fourteenth century BC they controlled much of Crete, and some of the earlier sites, including Gournia, Ayia Triadha, Tilissos and Palekastro, were reoccupied. It is a period which is still little-known and which was written off by the early Minoan scholars almost entirely. However, more recent excavations are revealing that the island remained productive, albeit in a role peripheral to the mainland.
In particular western Crete now came into its own, as the area least affected by the volcano. Kydonia became the chief city of the island, still with a considerable international trade and continuing, in its art and architecture, very much in the Minoan style. But Kydonia lies beneath modern Hania and has never been (nor is ever likely to be) properly excavated -- another reason that far less is known of this period than those which preceded. In central Crete, the main charge was a retreat from the coasts, a sign of the island's decline in international affairs and trade and perhaps of an increase in piracy. Even here, however, despite the presence of new influences, much of the art is recognizably Minoan. Most of the famous clay and stone larnakes (sarcophagi) -- which were a distinctly new method of burial -- date from this final Minoan era.
More direct evidence of the survival of Crete comes in Homer's account of the Trojan War, when he talks of a Cretan contingent taking part under King Idomeneus (according to him, the grandson of Minos). The war and its aftermath -- a period of widespread change -- also affected Crete. In the north of Greece the Mycenaeans were being overrun by peoples moving down from the Balkans, in particular the Dorians. Around 1200 BC the relative peace was disrupted again: many sites were abandoned again for the last time, others burnt. Briefly, Mycenaean influence became yet more widespread, as refugees arrived on the island. But by the end of the twelfth century BC, Minoan culture was in terminal decline, and Crete was entering into the period of confusion which engulfed most of the Greek world. Some of the original population of the island, later known as Eteo-Cretans (true Cretans), retreated at this time to mountain fastnesses at sites such as Presos and Karfi, where they survived, along with elements of Minoan culture and language, for almost another millennium.
The Iron Age: Dorian and Classical Crete
The bulk of the island, however, was taken over by the Dorians: there may have been an invasion, but it seems more probable that the process was a gradual one, by settlement. In any event, over the succeeding centuries the Dorians came to dominate the central lowlands, with substantial new cities such as Lato near modern Ayios Nikalaos.
Dorian Crete was not in any real sense a unified society: its cities warred with each other and there may, as well as the Dorians and Eteo-Cretans, have been other cultural groupings in the west, at Kydonia and sites such as Falasarna and Polyrinia. Nevertheless the island saw another minor artistic renaissance, with styles now mostly shared with the rest of the Greek world; in the making of tools and weapons iron gradually came to replace bronze.
Much the most important survival of this period, however, is the celebrated law code from Gortys. The code was set down around 450 BC, but it reflects laws which had already been in force for hundreds of years: the society described is a strictly hierarchical one, clearly divided into a ruling class, free men, serfs and slaves. For the ruler, life followed a harsh, militaristic regime similar to that of Sparta: the original population, presumably, had been reduced to the level of serf.
As mainland Greece approached its Classical Age, Crete advanced little. It remained a populous island, but one where a multitude of small city-states were constantly vying for power. Towns of this period are characterized by their heavy defenses, and most reflected the Gortys laws (Gortys remained the most powerful among them) in tough oligarchical or aristocratic regimes. At best, Crete was a minor player in Greek affairs, increasingly known as the den of pirates and as a valuable source of mercenaries unrivalled in guerrilla tactics. The island must have retained influence though, for it was still regarded by Classical Athenians as the source of much of their culture, and its strict institutions were admired by many philosophers. In addition, many Cretan shrines show unbroken use from Minoan through to Roman times, and those associated with the birth and early life of Zeus (the Dhiktean and Ikean caves especially) were important centres of pilgrimage.
The multitude of small, independent city-states is well illustrated by the Confederation of Oreoi, an accord formed around 300 BC between Elyros, Lissos, Hyrtakina, Tarra, Syia (modern Souyia) and Pikilassos: six towns in a now barely populated area of the southwest. They were later joined in the Confederation by Gortys and Cyrenaica (in North Africa). Meanwhile Roman power was growing in the Mediterranean, and Crete's strategic position and turbulent reputation drew her inexorably into the struggle.
Rome and Byzantium
From the second century BC onwards, Rome was drawn into wars on mainland Greece, and the involvement of Cretan troops on one or often both sides became an increasing irritation. Hannibal was staying at Gortys at the time of one Roman attempt to pacify the island, around 188 BC. More than a century passed with only minor interventions, however, before Rome could turn its full attention to Crete -- the last important part of the Greek world not under its sway.
In 71 BC Marcus Antonius (father of Mark Antony) attempted to invade but was heavily defeated by the Kydonians. A fresh attempt was made under Quintus Metellus (afterwards called Creticus) in 69 BC. This time, a bridgehead was successfully established by exploiting divisions among the Cretans: Metellus was supported in his initial campaign against Kydonia by its rivals at Polyrinia. The tactic of setting Cretan against Cretan served him well, but even so it took almost three years of bitter and brutal warfare before the island was subdued in 67 BC. It was a campaign marked by infighting not only among the Cretans -- Gortys was among those to take Metellus's side -- but also between Romans, with further forces sent from Rome in an unsuccessful bid to curb Metellus's excesses and his growing power.
With the conquest complete, peace came quickly and was barely disrupted even in the turbulent years of Julius Ceasar's rise and fall. Perhaps this was in part because there was little immediate change in local administration, which was simply placed under Roman supervision. At the same time, the end of the civil wars brought much greater prosperity: Crete was combined with Cyrenaica (in North Africa) as a single province whose capital was at Gortys, and though there was little contact between the two halves of the province, both were important sources of grain and agriculture produce for Rome.
Through the first and second centuries AD, public works were undertaken throughout Crete: roads, aqueducts and irrigation systems, important cities at Knossos, Aptera, Lyttos and others, as well as considerable grandeur at Gortys. Christianity arrived with St Paul's visit around 50 AD; soon after, he appointed Titus as the island's first bishop to begin the conversion in earnest. Around 250 AD, the Holy Ten -- Ayii Dheka -- were martyred at Gortys, probably during the first great persecution of the Christians initiated by the emperor Decius.
With the split of the Roman empire at the end of the fourth century, Crete found itself part of the eastern empire under Byzantium. The island continued to prosper -- as the churches which were now built everywhere would testify -- but in international terms, it was not important and Byzantine rule, here as everywhere, imposed a stiflingly ordered society, hierarchical and bureaucratic in the extreme. Of the earliest churches only traces survive, in particular of mosaic floors like those at Souyis or Thronos, though there are more substantial remains at Gortys, of the basilica of Ayios Titos.
Then in 824 Crete was invaded by a band of Arabs under Abu Hafs Omar. Essentially a piratical group who had been driven first from Spain and then Alexandria, they nevertheless managed to keep control of the island for well over a century. There was not much in the way of progress at this time -- for its new masters, the island was primarily a base from which to raid shipping and launch attacks on the Greek mainland and other islands -- but there was a fortress founded at al-Khandak, a site which later developed into Heraklion. At the same time Gortys and other Byzantine cities were sacked and destroyed.
After several failed attempts, the Byzantine general Nikiforas Fokas conquered Crete in 961, following a siege at Khandak in which he catapulted the heads of his Arab prisoners over the walls. For a while the island revived, boosted by an influx of colonists from the mainland and from Constantinople itself, including a number of aristocratic families (the Arhontopouli) whose power survived throughout the midieval era. By now, however, the entire empire was embattled by Islam and losing out in trade to the Venetians and Genoese. Frescoed churches continued to be built, but were small and parochial.
Ironically enough it was not Muslims who brought about the final end of Byzantine rule, but Crusaders. The fourth Crusade turned on Constantinople in 1204 (at the instigation of the Venetians) sacking and burning the city. The leader of the Crusade, Prince Boniface of Montferrat, ceded Crete to the Venetians for a nominal sum.
Before Venice could claim its new territory, it had to drive out its chief commercial rivals, the Genoese, who had taken control in 1206 with considerable local support. By 1210 the island had been secured, though for more than a century thereafter the Genoese persued their claim, repeatedly siding with local rebels when it looked like there was a chance of establishing a presence on the island.
|It was a system designed to exploit Crete's resources as efficiently as possible, and not surprisingly it stirred up deep resentments from the beginning. There were constant rebellions throughout the thirteenth century, led as often as not by one or other of the aristocratic Byzantine families from an earlier wave of colonization. Certainly the wealthy had the most to lose: it was their land which was confiscated to be granted to military colonists from Venice (along with the service of the people who lived on it), and their rights and privileges which were taken over by the new overlords. The rebellions were in general strictly noble affairs, ended by concessions of land or power to the Cretan leaders. But there were more fundamental resentments too. Heavy taxes and demands for feudal service were widely opposed -- by the established colonists almost as much as by the natives. And the Orthodox Church was replaced by the Roman as the "official" religion, the senior clergy expelled and much Church property siezed. Local priests and monastaries which survived helped fuel antagonism: even from this early date the monastaries were becoming known as centers of dissent.
In the mid-fourteenth century, one of the most serious revolts yet saw Cretans and second-generation Venetians fighting alongside each other, in protest of the low fixed prices for their produce, steep taxes and the continued privileges granted to the "real" Venetians. Although on this occasion the revolt was put down in a particularly fierce repression, the end result of this and the other rebellions was a gradual relaxation of the regime and integration of the two communities -- or at least their leaders. The Middle Ages were perhaps the most productive in Crete's history, with exports of corn, wine, oil and salt, the ports busy with transhipment business and the wooded hillsides being stripped for timber.
After 1453, and the final fall of Constantinople, Crete was a spectacular cultural renaissance as a stream of refugees arrived from the east. Candia -- as the island and its capital were known to the Venetians -- became the center of Byzantine art and acholarship. From this later period, and the meeting of the traditions of Byzantine and the Italian Renaissance, come the vast majority of the works of art and architecture now associated with the Venetian era. The great icon painter Dhamaskinos studied alongside El Greco in the school of Ayia Ekaterini in Heraklion; the Orthodox monasteries flourished; and in literature the island produced, among others, what is now regarded as its greatest work -- the Erotokritos.
But it was the growing external threat which stimulated the most enduring of the Venetian public works -- the island defenses. Venice's bastions in the mainland Middle East had fallen alongside Constantinople, and in 1573 Cypress too was taken by the Turks, leaving Crete well and truly in the front line. Large-scale pirate raids had already been common: in 1538 Barbarossa had destroyed Rethimnon and almost taken Hania, and in the 1560's there were further attacks. Across the island, cities were strengthened and the fortified islets defending the seaways were repaired and rebuilt. As the seventeenth century wore on however, Venice itself was in severe decline; Mediterranean trade was overshadowed by the New World, a business dominated by the Spanish, English and Dutch.
Finally, in 1645 an attack on an Ottoman convoy provided an excuse for an all-out Turkish assault on Crete. Hania fell after a siege which cost forty thousand Turkish lives, and Rethimnon rapidly followed. By 1648 the Turks controlled the whole island except Heraklion, and they settled down to a long siege. For twenty one years the city resisted, supplied from the sea and with moral support from most of Europe. The end was inevitable, though, and from the Turkish point of view there was no hurry: they controlled the island's produce, they were well supplied, and they enjoyed a fair degree of local support, having relaxed the Venetian rules -- for example, they allowed Orthodox bishops back into Crete. By 1669 the city was virtually reduced, and in a final effort the Pope managed to persuade the French to send a small army. After a couple of fruitless sorties involving heavy losses, the French withdrew in an argument over command. On September 5, the city surrendered, leaving only the three fortified islets of Soudha, Spinalonga and Gramvousa in the Venetian hands, where they remained until surrendered by treaty in 1715.
It was arguable whether the Turkish occupation was ever as stringent or arduous as the Venetian had been, but its reputation is far worse. In part this may simply be that its memory is more recent, but Turkish rule was complicated too by the religious differences involved, and by the fact that it survived into the era of resurgent Greek nationalism and Great Power politics.
If on their arrival the Turks had been welcomed, it was not a long-lived honeymoon. Once again Crete was divided, now between powerful pashas, and once again it was regarded merely as a resource to be exploited. The Ottoman Empire was less strictly ordered than the Venetian, but it demanded no less: rather than attempt to take control of trade themselves, the Turks simply imposed crippling taxes. There were fewer colonists than in the Venetian era, and they took far less interest in their conquest so long as the money continued to come in. Very little was reinvested: outside the cities there was hardly any building at all, and roads and even defenses fell into gradual disrepair. As far as local administration went, it was left to local landlords and the mercenary Janissaries they controlled to impose. At the local level, there was a further level of exploitation as these men too took their cut. Stultified by heavy taxes and tariffs, slowed by neglect, the island economy stagnated.
One of the worst ways to avoid the worst of the burden was to become a Muslim and, gradually, the majority of the Christian population was converted to Islam -- at least nominally. Conversion brought with it substantial material advantages in taxation and rights to own property, and it helped avoid the worst of the repression which inevitably followed any Christian rebellion. These Greek Muslims were not particularly religious: even among the Turks on the island, Islamic law seems to have been loosely interpreted, and many continued to worship as Christians in secret, but the mass apostasies served to further divide the island. For those who remained openly Christian the burden became increasingly heavy as there were fewer to bear it. Many took to the mountains, where Turkish authority barely reached.
As the occupation continued, the Turks strengthened their hold on the cities and the fertile plains around them, while the mountains became the stronghold of the Christian palikares. The first major rebellion came in 1770, and inevitably it was centered in Sfakia. Under Dhaskaloyiannis the Cretans had been drawn into Great Power politics: drawn in and abandoned, for the promised aid from Russia never came. With the failure of this struggle, Sfakia was itself brought under Turkish control for a while. But a pattern had been set, and the nineteenth century saw an almost constant struggle for independence.
At the beginning of the century Ottoman Empire was under severe pressure on the Greek mainland, and in 1821 full-scale revolution, the Greek War of Independence, broke out. Part of the Turkish response was to call on the pasha of Egypt, Mehmet Ali, for assistance: his price was control of Crete. By 1824, in a campaign which even by Cretan standards was brutal on both sides, he had crushed the island's resistance. When in 1832 an independent Greek state was finally established with the support of Britain, France and Russia, Crete was left in the hands of the Egyptians, reverting to Turkish control within ten years.
From now on guerilla warfare in support of union with Greece -- enosis -- was almost constant, flaring occasionally into wider revolts but mostly taking the form of incessant raids and irritations. The Cretans enjoyed widespread support, not only of the Greek mainland but throughout western Europe, and especially among expatriate Greek communities. But the Greeks alone were no match for the Ottoman armies, and the Great Powers, wary more than anything of each other, consistantly failed to intervene. There was a major rising in 1841, bloodily suppressed, and in 1858 another which ended relatively peacefully in the recall of the Turkish governor and some minor concessions of the Christian population.
In 1866 a Cretan Assembly meeting in Sfakia declared independence and union with Greece, and Egyptian troops were recalled to put down a further wave of revolts bolstered by Greek volunteers. Again the Egyptians proved ruthlessly effective, but this campaign ended in the explosion at Arkadhi, an act of defiance which aroused Europe-wide sympathy. The Great Powers -- Britain above all -- still refused to involve themselves, but privately the supply of arms and volunteers to the insurgents was redoubled. From now on some kind of solution seemed inevitable, but even in 1878 the Congress of Berlin left Crete under Turkish dominion, demanding only further reforms in the government. In 1889 and 1896 there were further violent encounters, and in 1897 a Greek force landed to annex the island. Finally, The Great Powers were forced into action, occupying Crete with an international force and dividing the island into areas controlled by British, French, Russians and Italians.
Independence and Union with Greece
The outrage which finally brought about the expulsion of Turkish troops from Crete in 1898 was a minor skirmish which led to the death of the British vice-consul. A national fovernment was set up, still nominally under Ottoman suzerainity, with Prince George, younger son of King George of Greece, as high commissioner: under him was a joint Muslim-Christian assembly, part elected, part appointed.
Euphoria at independence was muted, however, for full union with Greece remained the goal of most Cretans. A new leader of this movement rapidly emerged -- Eleftherios Venizelos. Born at Mournies, outside Chania, Venizelos had fought in the earlier independence struggles, and become a member of the Cretan Assembly and minister of justice to Prince George. Politically, however, he had little in common with his new master, and in 1905 he summoned an illegal Revolutionary Assembly at Theriso. Though the attempt to take up arms was summarily crushed, the strength of support for Venizelos was enough to force the resignation of Prince George. In 1908, the Cretan Assembly unilaterally declared enosis -- much to the embarassment of the Greek government. For in the meantime the "Young Turk" revolution looked set to revitalize the Ottoman Empire, and the Great Powers remained solidly opposed to anything that might upset the delicate balance of power in the Balkans.
The failure of the Greek government to act decisively in favor of Crete was one of the factors that led to the Military League of Young officers forcing political reform on the mainland. With their backing, Venizelos became premier of Greece in 1910. In 1912 Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria declared war on the Ottoman Empire, making spectacular advances into Turkish territory. By the Peace of 1913, Crete finally and officially became part of the Greek Nation.
Though Greece was politically riven by World War I, and succeeding decades saw frequent, sometimes violent changes of power between Venizelist and Royalist forces, Crete was little affected. On just one further occasion did the island play a significant role in Greek affairs before the outbreak of war in 1940: in July 1938 there was a popular uprising against the dictator Metaxas and in favor of Venizelos, but it was swiftly put down.
The island was, however, hit hard by the aftermath of the disastrous Greek attempt to conquer Istanbul in persuit of the "Great Idea" of rebuilding the Byzantine Empire. As part of the peace settlement that followed this military debacle, there was a forced exchange of populations in 1923: Muslims were expelled from Greece and Orthodox Christians from Turkey. In Crete many of these "Turks" were in fact Muslim Cretans, descendants of the mass apostasies of the eighteenth century. Nevertheless they left -- some thirty thousand in all -- and a similar number of Christian refugees from Turkey took their place.
War and Occupation
In the winter of 1940 Italian troops invaded northern Greece, only to be thrown back across the Albanian border by the Greek army. Mussolini's humiliation, however, only served to draw the Germans into the fight, and although an Allied army was sent to Greece, the mainland was rapidly overrun.
The Allied campaign was marked from the start by suspicion, confusion, and lack of communication between the two commands. On the Greek side Metaxas had died in January, and his successor as premier committed suicide, leaving a Cretan -- Emmanuel Tsouderos -- to organize the retreat of king and government to his native island. They were rapidly followed by thousands of evacuees, including the bulk of the Allied army, a force made up in large part of Australlian and New Zealand soldiers. Most of the native Cretan troops, a division of the Greek army, had been wiped out in defense of the mainland.