Located in the sapphire waters of the Mediterranean Sea, Crete is Greece’s largest and most southerly island. With a picturesque coastline that stretches over 1000 kilometres, you could spend your entire holiday in Crete soaking up the sun on the beach, but if you’re looking for a holiday that offers something a little extra, you’ll certainly find it on this fascinating island.
Crete and Greek mythology
With such beautiful surroundings, it’s not surprising that Rhea, the mother of the Greek god Zeus, chose a cave on the east of Crete as the auspicious location to give birth to her son. According to legend, her husband Cronos had already swallowed their first five children in order to ensure they could never take his throne, so here, amongst the stalagmites and stalactites of Dikteon Cave, she hid to have her sixth child in safety.
Of course, anywhere said to be the birthplace of a Greek god is likely to have many other intriguing myths and legends attached to it, and Crete doesn’t disappoint. King Minos, said to be one of Zeus’ many children, and well known for the story of the Minotaur and the Labyrinth from which Dedalus and his son Icarus literally flew, was said to live at the ancient Minoan Palace of Knossós.
Believed to be more than 4,000 years old, the extensive complex of buildings is laid out on four levels on Kefála Hill and dates back to 2,500 BC. The remains now visible belong mainly to the Third Palace that was built after 1700 BC. Knossós was excavated and partly reconstructed by Sir Arthur Evans from 1899 onwards – it was he who first named this period ‘Minoan’.
Minos had two brothers; Rhadamanthys, who is said to have ruled the ancient city of Phaistos, and Sarpedon, who lived at the Minoan palace site at Malia, the third largest after Knossós and Phaistos. First built around 1900 BC, it was destroyed in 1650 BC then immediately rebuilt on the ruins of the original palace before being destroyed again in 1450 BC.
The link to King Minos doesn’t end there, either; together with his wife Pasiphae (herself the daughter of Helios, the sun-god), Minos had several children and grandchildren, one of whom was King Cydon, who founded Kydonia, now known as Chania. During the Minaon period, Kydonia with its small but important port was one of the most important cities in western Crete; in subsequent years its strategic position has seen it conquered by, amongst others, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Venetians, the Turks and the Germans.
In the lovely and traffic-free old town you can see the remains of Venetian fortifications and explore the beautifully crumbling Venetian harbour. The Archaeological Museum here has many interesting pieces, including toys that once belonged to Minoan children and a Roman floor mosaic.
Discover this intriguing part of the world for yourself on a Special Interest archaeology holiday to Crete.