Four Towns of Crete: A Travel Guide for History Fans

Crete’s summer is hot, charming and full of things to do. The Greek island is well known for its beautiful beaches and temperate climate, as well for its vibrant nightlife. Even so, many come here not just to dance but also to immerse themselves in the island’s incredible history

The ancient Minoan civilization once prospered here. The island was also under Venetian and Ottoman rule, and suffered a series of prolonged wars between the two empires. Archeological museums such as the one Heraklion are great destinations for those wishing to appreciate the island’s history.

Crete may be famous for its abundant beach resorts but to truly enjoy an ancient civilization, you may want to treat yourself to a stay at a luxury villa with all the pampering amenities offered by modern civilization.

Heraklion – Minoan Civilization

Heraklion is the capital of the island and also its largest city and greatest cultural attraction. Knossos, the ancient capital of the Minoans, once ruled over the land here.

The palace of the Cretan king Minos is still visible in ruins just southeast of the city. It’s best known in mythology as the location of the infamous Labyrinth, constructed by Daedalus to imprison the Minotaur. To find out more about the history of the Minoan civilization, pay a visit to Heraklion’s Archaeological Museum. The largest on the island and among the most significant museums in Europe, the institution boasts an impressive collection of  artifacts collected from the Minoan civilization as well as the prehistoric population.

Many Cretan writings remain undeciphered, but even so, inscribed objects, such as altar stones and clay discs, give some insights into the life of the ancient inhabitants of the island. One of the most mysterious and famous of these is the Phaistos Disk, a clay tablet whose purpose or meaning is still being pondered by scholars.

Rethymno – Cretan Revolution

Rethymno is a unique Venetian town on the north coast of Crete. Built and fortified in the Early Byzantine period, the town’s location halfway between Chania and Heraklion helped turn it into  a major trading post.

Arkadi_explosionThe town’s history also has its share of tragedy. The nearby Arkadi Monastery town witnessed a major battle during the 1866 Cretan Revolts against Ottoman rule, where nearly a thousand Greeks seeking refuge at the monastery perished during the course of the battle. When the refugees were finally cornered in the gunpowder room, they chose to detonate the explosive barrels instead of surrender. This act of defiance is remembered to this day, seen in many memorials in the area.

Ierapetra  – Minoan Civilization

Once a Venetian stronghold, the town is now part of  the Lasithi prefecture. It is famous for its beautiful beaches, lapped by warm Mediterranean water.

Near the town is Gournia, the remnants of a Minoan palace complex. Mostly excavated in the early 20th century, the well-preserved ruins tell the tale of an unfortified town that once flourished with the help of tradesmen and artisans.

The nearby town of Sitia is also worth a visit, with its wealth of archeological artifacts. Check out this firsthand experience of Jennifer Barclay at her awesomely titled blog, An Octopus in my Ouzo.

Chania – World War II

Chania is the second largest city in Crete and capital of the Chania region. It is located on the opposite side of the island as the prefecture of Lasithi. The two regions have had different cultural and historical influences but are both worth a visit; their respective virtues are compared here.

Chania was the nearest town to the Maleme airfield, the landing point of a Nazi Germany paratrooper attack during the 1941 Battle of Crete. Allied artilllery based on a hill in the south of the city continuously pounded the attacking forces, but the invaders eventually prevailed.

Nonetheless, the valiant efforts by Allied forces, as well as massive civilian resistance, caused a huge number of German casualties, making Hitler reconsider further large-scale airborne operations.  Historical monuments are found all around Chania, ensuring that that region’s war heroics will never be forgotten.

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