Crete is the fifth biggest Mediterranean island is the the biggest of the Greek islands. It covers an area of thirty-two hundred square miles and has a population of over six hundred and twenty-five thousand people. Crete can trace its roots back to the Aceramic Neolithic Period. Human settlements at this time raised grains and legumes and raided farm animals such as goats, sheep, cattle and pigs. In 69 BC, Crete was conquered by the Roman Empire and became an important province.
Roman rule of the island would last until the tenth century, when it fell under the control of the Byzantine Empire. During the thirteenth century, the Venetians would conquer the island and would remain under its control for four hundred years. Under Venetian rule, Crete experience a renaissance as evidenced by the many works of art created during this time. During the seventeenth century, Crete was conquered by the Ottomans and this Muslim influence can still be witnessed to this day.
Today, Crete has an economy that is based upon agriculture, food processing and the service industry. Unemployment on the island is usually pretty consistent and runs about four percent, with a Per Capita income that rivals most of Greece. A major industry on the island, as with much of Greece, is olive farming. The island is perfect for the growing of olives because it lies across two climatic zones. These are the North African and the Mediterranean zones.
This makes the climate of the island very temperate, though at times humidity can be problematic. Between December and May, snowfall is common in the mountain regions, but in lower areas of the island is very rare. The summer months have an average temperature of about eighty degrees Fahrenheit and during the winter months temperatures are around the mid-sixties.
Of all the geographic locations of Greece, Crete is one of the most popular among tourist. Each and every year more than two million visitors come to the island. This increase in tourism has spawned a similiar increase in the accomodations on the island. Between the mid 1980s and the mid 1990s, the number of hotel beds on the island increased a dramatic fifty-five percent. Contrast this to the twenty-five percent increase seen elsewhere in Greece and you begin to get an understanding of just how popular this island has become in relation to the rest of the country.
Hotels on the island have also increased the number of amenities they offer to guests. These include swimming pools, gym facilities, camping accommodations and recreational courts. Visitors can enter the island through either the Chania or Heraklion airports, or by boat at the ports of Agios Nikolaos, Heraklion, Rethimno and Chania.
A popular attraction on the island of Crete is Samaria Gorge National Park. This national park is situated in the Chania Prefecture and was created by a river that flows between Mount Volakias and the White Mountains. The gorge is almost ten miles long and runs from the northern entrance of the park to Agia Roumeli. During the 1960s, it was made into a national park. This was done to protect the rare species of Cretan goats that live here. Inside the gorge is Samaria Village.
This village was abandoned when the park was opened. Another prominent attraction is Knossos. This is the archaeological site that was created during the Bronze Age and is one of the largest sites of its kind on the island. It has a palace (Knossos Palace) that is a complex of mazes that are close to a center square. Knossos Palace is three hundred and ninety feet long and is believed to be the setting for the legend of the Minotaur (a half man, half bull creature that was eventually slain by Theseus). It is also believed to have been built between the seventeenth and fourteenth centuries BC.
The Historical Museum of Crete is another attraction that is a must see for any visitor to Crete. This museum is located In Haraklion and represents Cretan history that dates from pre-Christian times all the way to the poresent. It was founded by the Society of Cretan Historical Studies in 1953 and its primary purpose is to gather together and preserve historical, archaeological and ethnographic material of the island. It is situated in a two story building that was erected in 1903.
Permanent collections at the Historical Museum of Crete include the A.G. Kalokerinos Room, Ceramics and Sculpture Collections, the Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Collection, Numismatic Collection, the Ethnographic Collection and the Nikos Kazantzakis Rooms. The museum also contains a library which houses local newspaper clippings, historical archives and rare editions of books. Spinalonga Island is another prominent attraction. The name of the island means “long thorn” and probably dates back to the era of Venetian rule. The island is unoccupied, but is visited by a great number of tourists each and every year. The island is known for its beaches, as well as the abandoned fortress and leper colony that was located here. The island can be reached by boats that leave from Agios Nikolaos and Elounda.