The history of Crete goes back to the 7th Millennium BC, preceding the ancient Minoan civilization by more than four millennia. The Minoan civilization was the first civilization in Europe and the first in Europe to build a palace.
After the Minoan civilization was devastated by the Thera eruption, Crete developed an Ancient Greece-influenced organization of city states, then successively became part of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Venetian Republic, the Ottoman Empire and then the modern state of Greece.
1. Knossos 6. Agia Triada
2. Phaistos 7. Rethymno
3. Zakros 8. Chania
4. Arcadi 9. Heraklion Museum
5. Preveli 10. Rethymno Museum
Crete is the cradle of the Minoan civilization, a Bronze Age civilization which flourished between 27c. - 15c. BC. Of the dozen excavated Minoan towns and palace complexes and around 64 sites in total, Knossos (1) is the best to start. Purists will prefer Phaistos (2) and Zakros (3).
Knossos was the capital of Minoan Crete. It is grander, more complex, and more sophisticated than any of the other palaces built by the Minoans. Some of it has been restored under the direction of Arthur Evans. Knossos is located about twenty minutes south of Heraklion.
Phaistos is not as lavishly decorated, but its architectural plan is exquisite in its design. In 1908, Pernier found at the palace the Phaistos Hieroglyphic Disc dated around 1400 BC. Phaistos is located in the fertile Messara plain near the south coast of Crete.
Zakros is strategically located at the East shore of Crete. Many vessels coming from the East unloaded their cargo at Zakros. The palace was originally built around 1900 BC, rebuilt around 1600 BC, and destroyed around 1450 BC along with the other major centers of Minoan civilization.
MONASTERIES AND CHURCHES
Orthodoxy was institutionalised in Byzantine times. Crete's Orthodoxy heritage is immense and reflects a tradition of over 1600 years. Monasteries and churches have played an important historical role during the long struggles of the Cretans for freedom amongst them Arcadi Monastery (4), Preveli Monastery (5), Agia Triada Monastery (6) and many more.
4. ARCADI MONASTERY
Built in 1587, during the Venetian period, Arcadi is one of the finest examples of the late Renaissance architectural tradition in Crete. Arcadi became a symbol of freedom after the rebels’ self-sacrifice during the revolution of 1866-1869 against the Turks.
5. PREVELI MONASTERY
The oldest moni was built around the 10c. or the beginning of the 11c. with later sections added during the Venetian period. Preveli became a great religious and cultural and centre throughout the centuries and played an important role tin he revolution of 1866-1869.
6. AGIA TRADA MONASTERY
The monastery of Agia Triada of Tzagarolon is one of the richest and most beautiful monasteries in Crete. The monastery was built by the Venetian nobles Jeremiah and Lawrence Tzagarolo and today is managed directly by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.
THE VENETIAN PAST
The Venetian period 13-15c. left a permanent mark on Crete. Contact with Venice led to close intertwining of Cretan and Venetian cultures, without, however, the Cretans losing their Greek Orthodox nature which could be seen in Rethymno (7) and Chania (8).
Built on Minoan foundations, Rethymno began a period of growth when the Venetians built an intermediate commercial station between Heraklion and Chania. Today's old town is almost entirely built by the Venetians. It is one of the best preserved old towns in Crete.
Chania is a blend of Byzantine, Venetian, and Classical Greek cultural elements. Many of the important buildings of the town were built during the Venetian period when the town became La Canea and fortifications were built, giving Chania the form that it still has today.
The Archaelogical Museums of Crete are multi-faceted narrating seventeen centuries of history on the island, from the Bronze Age and Early Christian and Byzantine times through the Venetian Period to the modern era. The larges collections are held at Heraklion Museum (9) and Rethymno Museum (10).
9. HERAKLION MUSEUM
The Heraklion Archaeological Museum houses artifacts from all the periods of Cretan history, covering a chronological span of over 5,500 years. The singularly important Minoan collection contains unique examples of Minoan art, many of them true masterpieces.
10. RETHYMNO MUSEUM
The museum hosts collections from the late Neolitic and Minoan periods to findings from the Hellenistic and Roman periods. It was founded in 1887 by the Society of the Friends of Education. Today it is housed in the pentagonal bastion in front of the central, east gate of the Fortezza.
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