The island of Crete is the cradle of European culture since Minoan civilization flourished on the island between approximately 2600 to 1400 BC. This civilization was characterized by unique artwork and architecture, notably the imposing palaces of Knossos, Phaistos and Zakros. The Minoan decline was likely initiated by tsunami waves from the eruption of a huge volcano in Santorini, Greece .
Towards the end of the Late Bronze Age, the Minoans were superseded by Mycenaeans from the Greek mainland. Thereafter, Crete very much followed the classical Greek civilization that flourished in the years that followed.
Crete was invaded by Romans from approximately 69-330 AC and this period of time plus the Byzantine era actually brought much wealth to the island. The beauty and wealth of this time can still be seen today by mosaics and monuments around the island. During the first Byzantine period, Crete became an important center for Christianity.
From 824AC to 961AC, Saracens seized the island: Chandax (today’s Heraklion) was their base for piratical raids in the Mediterranean.
Around 960 AD, the future emperor Nikephoras Phocas drove the Saracens out, so inaugurating the second Byzantine period. In the years that followed once more Crete is a strong Christian centre – and advances to a great cultural height.
From 1204 AC and after the sack of Constantinople, Crete was taken over by the Venetians. This period sees exceptional economic and intellectual prosperity: they built huge fortifications, large cities and monuments of outstanding beauty. The Cretan Renaissance gifts us with the magnificent Cretan School of painting (e.g. El Greko, Michael Damaskenos). Music and theatre flourished and have bequeathed to us the wonderful creations of the Erotokritos and the Erofili.
Crete came under repeated threats of incursion by the Ottoman Turks in the last few decades of Venetian rule. The full invasion began in 1645, with the attack on Chania. 60,000 Ottoman soldiers landed close to it: rapidly the beautiful city fell into their grasp.
Independence and Union with Greece
The last and successful uprising of the Cretans against the Ottoman rule, forced the Great Powers to pressure the Ottoman Turks to grant autonomy to Crete. However the main goal was enosis with Greece which came after Eleftherios Venizelos’s constant opposition to Prince George’s rule over Crete. Crete regained its autonomy in 1897 and was united with Greece in 1913.
World War II
Crete was the site of an airborne invasion by German troops, and a spirited resistance by Allied (mainly British, New Zealand and Australian) troops and the people of Crete during the 1941 Nazi invasion of Greece. During this invasion many Cretans were executed for initially resisting the Germans and the cities of Chania and Heraklion were bombed so heavily that you may still see the destruction even today.