Mythology has it that it was in a cave of Crete where the goddess Rhea hid the newborn Zeus. In that cave, Zeus was brought up by the nymphs while the demonical Kouretes would strike their shields loudly so that Cronus may not hear the crying of the baby Zeus and eat it. It was also to Crete that Zeus, disguised as a bull, took Europa so that they may enjoy their love together. Their union produced a son, Minos, who ruled Crete and turned it into a mighty island empire of the seas. In Minoan times, even Attica would pay a tribute tax to Crete, until Theseus, the Athenian prince, killed the Minotaur. The truth behind the myth is the existence of a mighty and wealthy kingdom and of a civilization that is considered the most ancient ones on the European continent.


The first humans appeared in Crete in around 6,000 B.C. In around 2,600 B.C. colonists from Asia Minor arrived on the island, bringing bronze with them. The new inhabitants, who had a strong shipping tradition, created the Minoan Civilization and made important cultural achievements. In around 1950 B.C. the first palaces were built in Knossos, Phaistos and Malia. These palaces were the headquarters of the local leaders or princes as well as the administrative and religious centers. A strong earthquake in around 1700 B.C. destroyed all three palaces but new, more luxurious ones, were built to take their place. One more palace was added to them, the palace of Zakros. In 1450 B.C., after the eruption of the volcano of Thira, the Minoan centers were destroyed completely.

Immediately afterwards the Myceneans invaded Crete and established their own dynasty in Knossos. In around 1400 B.C. Knossos was destroyed by an unknown cause and the time of its decline began. In around 900 B.C., city-states begun to be created, according to the Hellenic model. The most powerful ancient city, Kydonia, which was later than Gortys and much later than Knossos, maintained its predominance in the area until the Arab invasion, when it was destroyed. In the meantime, the Dorians had arrived on the island and systematically assimilated the local people. Life was organized according to the models of the Spartans. During this period Crete produced admirable works of sculpture and metalwork. In 480 B.C. this civilization declined, too.

Pirates from Cilice used the coasts of Crete as their base, which gave the Romans the opportunity to conquer the island. In 824 A.D. the Arabs conquered Crete and organized it as an independent Arab state, the center of which was Khandax (modern Heraklion).The Byzantines conducted many unsuccessful campaigns, until the Byzantine Emperor Nikoforos Fokas invaded the island (960 A.D.), occupied Khandax (961 A.D.) after a bloody siege and liberated it.

However, the liberty of Khandax was interrupted by the 4th Crusade, when the Venetians became the rulers and occupied the island for approximately 5 centuries leaving their stamp on the island`s culture. The reaction of the Cretans was fierce, including 27 revolutions and many local movements. One of the revolutions, in which the Venetian residents of the island participated, managed to prevail and declare the island independent under the name 'Republic of Saint Titus'. In 1645 the Ottomans invaded Crete. After the fall of Chandakas in 1669, the Turkish Occupation began marked by ferocious and bloody uprisings. At the end of the 19th century Turkish rule came to an end. The Cretan State was created with the King of Greece as the island's High Commissioner. In 1913, Crete was finally joined officially with Greece.