The Minoan Period.
Sir Arthur Evans is often credited with 'discovering' Knossos; he did not: A
Greek, Minos Kalokairinos knew of the site (as did the likes of Robert Pashley who visited
the island in 1834) and sent pithoi and other artefacts to museums around Europe hoping
that they would send a team of archaeologists to dig there, rather than allow the Turks to
do so and in the process lose all remains to Istanbul. Heinrich Schliemann, the excavator
of Troy and Mycenae, very nearly purchased the site, but after agreeing a price he
apparently felt that the Ottoman landlords had tried to dupe him over the quantity of
olive trees on the land and went away in a huff! What Evans did was excavate Knossos and,
while these excavations are not to everybody's taste, his four-volume (in 6 books) work
The Palace of Minos is testimony to the tremendous efforts he put into the dig.
Knossos, to some, is also a bit of a travesty as most of what you
see is not contemporaneous with Minoan civilisation, but more in tune with Evan's
perception of the Minoans as "Victoians"- though a lot of these 'cosmetic'
changes were forced upon Evans. If you wish to see a site without any of the repainting
and plastering that Knossos is famous for (or infamous depending on your point of view),
take a trip to the south coast and pay a visit to the site of Phaistos. This was
unearthed by the Italian school of Archaeology and famous for the one and only 'Phaistos
disk'. For around 500 years, from 1900 to 1400 BC, Crete was the most powerful and
prosperous island in the Aegean and the centre of commerce, trade and industry for the
Mediterranean (in no small way due to its geographical location - equidistant from North
Africa and mainland Greece).
The Minoans were tremendous seafarers and this marine expertise
kept away the pirates, brought in taxes from islands they had colonised and, of course,
helped them to achieve dominance in trade. The first great palaces were built at Knossos,
in around 1900 BC, only to be destroyed by causes unknown around 1700 BC. The palaces were
rebuilt, more grandly and splendidly than before only, once again (and this time finally)
to be destroyed by causes unknown in around 1450 BCthough a popular theory regarding
this later destruction was the eruption of the volcano on the nearby island of Thera
(Santorini and some would say "Atlantis") brings its own problems as the dates
don't correspond with the events in current chronological dating.
The Byzantine period from 324 AD to the arrival of the Venetians
in 1204. Churches were built as Crete became a member of the Eastern Roman Empire. After a
few Slav incursions during the 7th century an increasing threat of invasion came from the
Arab world. Regular raids by Arabs continued until a group of around 10,000, who had come
from Spain and had tried unsuccessfully to hold onto Alexandria in Egypt after they had
captured it, finally took the island in 824. The Saracens, as they were called, led pirate
attacks from Herakleion, which they called Chandrax. The Byzantines made several attempts
at reclaiming Crete until Nikephoras Phokas finally succeeded in 961. The siege lasted
nine months and when finally the Arab defences were broken the Byzantines stormed through
massacring the population. The Byzantine Empire held on to Crete until 1204.
The Crusaders, on their way to the holy
land for the fourth Crusade that year, suddenly turned their attention on the Christian
city of Constantinople; massacring the population and effectively destroying the Byzantine
state. Crete was given to the Boniface of Montferrat who quickly sold it (on the cheap) to
the Venetians. The Genoese stepped in for a while as a period of Venetian inactivity
allowed Enrico Pascatore to set up shop there, refortifying the castles as he did so. For
the next eight years the Venetians desperately tried to gain back Crete until they finally
managed it in 1217. The Venetians were probably pretty much on par with the Arabs as far
as popularity among the locals was concerned and held on to Crete with the type of
brutality normally associated with the Ottoman Empire who, until late in their occupation,
were far fairer rulers than the Venetians.
6000-1100BC 1100BC-324AD 324-1217 1217-1669 1669-1940 WWII
The Venetians divided Crete into six
provinces (sexteria) and the 'Parte di Commune de Venice' which controlled the Candia
(Herakleion) and its environs.
In the early 14th century this was changed
to the four districts roughly the same as they are today. The architecture was the
distinctive Venetian style with its narrow winding streets still to be seen in three of
the present day cities.
That the Venetians were not popular
landlords would be an enormous understatement, with the locals and the Orthodox Church
subjugated by their conquerors. In less than 200 years there were 27 uprisings against
them and, while it was a unanimous dislike among the Cretans, it might be said that the
reason these uprisings failed was they tended to be localised with one Cretan family
refusing to support another against their common enemy.
In June 1645 began a long and bloody war
between Venice and the Ottoman Empire. Crete held a great deal of importance for many a
European leader as it was now the furthest east of the Christian church's outposts. Chania
was the first to be attacked with a huge force reported to be over 50,000 men under Yusuf
Pasha. They landed just outside Chania and easily made it to the walls of the city itself.
The Turks then proceeded to bombard the city relentlessly.
By August 1645, a full two months after
the siege had begun, the Venetians surrendered and they never recaptured Chania. Rethymnon
was next. The Turks set siege to the city in September 1646 and within two months it too
had fallen. The Turks bided their time before embarking on what they knew would be a far
more difficult task than the two previous, that of taking the capital Candia.
With the fortifications of the main city
believed to be virtually impregnable, the Turks took the rest of the island setting huge
taxes for the locals and forcing many to convert to Islam. In May 1648 the siege began on
Candia. Within three months the Turks had the capital completely surrounded by land and
had cut off the city's spring water supply from outside.
There was a kind of stalemate for 16 years
as the Turks bombarded Candia but could gain no access. After the treaty of Vasvar was
signed in August 1664, however, the Ottoman army that had been fighting another battle in
the Balkans were free to join the fray.
In 1666 the Turks renewed their heavy
bombardment of Candia, under the command of Grand Vezir Koprulu, and still the walls
didn't tumble. The turning point was the decision of the French to abandon Candia in
August 1669, leaving Francesco Morosini, who was in command of the Venetian forces, little
choice other than to surrender. All the Christians were allowed to leave the city with
whatever they could carry with them and most left the island for good.
The book above charts the relationship between Muslims and
Christians on Crete under Ottoman rule.
The period of Ottoman rule started quite
brightly as the Ottomans had the same type of feudal system that the Cretans were used to.
However, this wasn't to last long and the population of Crete found themselves forced to
become Muslims to avoid extremely heavy taxation and other punitive measures brought in by
their new landlords.
In 1770 there was a rebellion against the
Turks organised by Yannis Vlachos (also known as 'teacher John' or 'Daskaloyannis') who
led an uprising of around 2000 Sphakians (from the mountains around Sphakia).
Daskaloyannis had hoped for Russian help with the uprising but this never came to fruition
and the following year the Turks forced the rebels to accept certain terms in return for
amnesty. There were further uprisings during the Greek war of Independence (1821-1830)
which failed and were met with harsh reprisals from the Turks.
The Egyptians helped the Turks out in 1822
when the Ottoman forces were being stretched by uprisings in the Greek mainland. Crete was
not included within the newly independent Greece in 1830. Instead it was granted to Egypt
(by a treaty in London) who ran the island for 10 years before another treaty (again in
London) handed the island back to the Turks. This, of course, was met by another uprising
by the Cretans. A further uprising occurred in 1858 before 'The Great Cretan Rebellion' of
1866-1869. This rebellion was halted when the Turks promised the Cretans all sorts of
concessions, including Christian parity with Islam (known as the Organic Act).
These concessions, however, never
materialised and in 1878 the Cretans rebelled yet again. With the Turks at war with
Russia, Greece threw her hand in to support this latest Cretan uprising. The Turks,
severely weakened by the Russian war, again tried to appease the locals with further
concessions within the framework of the organic act. Needless to say this, once again,
failed and an uprising in 1889 was followed by a five year period of bloodshed and
violence on a regular basis then another uprising in 1895 until final liberation from the
Ottoman empire was achieved in 1898. A period of autonomy followed until 1913 when at last
Crete was unified with the rest of Greece.
World War II
Crete's part in WWII has been well
documented and includes acts of extreme daring and bravery by the Australian, New Zealand
and British troops as well as the courage and dignity of the Cretans themselves.
The Germans invaded on May 20 1941, after
a week of bombing strategic sites on the island, with parachute regiments landing at
Herakleion, Rethymnon and Chania in an attempt to take the airport at Meleme. The battle
for Crete only lasted 10 days but during that period the Germans lost 4000 men, had whole
parachute divisions wiped out and lost a great deal of the momentum that had seen them
sweep their way through the rest of Europe.
This battle pretty much stopped the
Germans from continuing on to the Middle East and was the last significant parachute
invasion of the Second World War. There have been many books written about the battle of
Crete, some of which are listed below. It must be remembered that the resistance against
the occupiers went on well after the island had been conquered, despite the brutal
reprisals meted out against the Cretan villagers. Tales of derring-do can be found in the
book Ill met by Moonlight, the story of the kidnap of the German commander of operations.
The courage of the Cretan resistance is best illustrated by George Psychondakis' The
Books on this period
what about now?
few facts and figures.
lies 174 nautical miles from the Athenian port of Piraeus
covers an area of 8.336 square kms, which is 6.3% of the total area of Greece.
the war Crete has undergone some major changes. The demography since the war has altered
dramatically from a village based rural economy to city life.
of Crete 1991: 536,980 (5.2% of Greece's), which is reportedly less than half of what it
was in Minoan times. In 1951 the population of Crete 1951: 462,124