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(krēt), Gr. Kríti, island (1991 pop. 539,938), c.3,235 sq mi (8,380 sq km), SE Greece, in the E Mediterranean Sea, c.60 mi (100 km) from the Greek mainland. The largest of the Greek islands, it extends c.160 mi (260 km) from east to west and marks the southern limit of the Aegean Sea, the southern part of which is also called the Sea of Crete. The rocky northern coast of Crete is deeply indented, and the interior is largely mountainous, culminating in Mt. Ida (8,058 ft/2,456 m). IráklionIráklion
or Candia
, city (1991 pop. 116,178), capital of Crete governorate and Iráklion prefecture, N Crete, Greece, a port on the Sea of Crete. It is the largest city on Crete and ships wine, olive oil, raisins, and almonds.
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 is the capital of the Crete governorate and is the island's largest city; KhaniáKhaniá
or Canea
, ancient Gr. Cydonia , city (1991 pop. 50,077), capital of Khaniá prefecture, NW Crete, Greece, a port on the Gulf of Khaniá, an arm of the Sea of Crete. Olives, citrus fruits, and wine are shipped.
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 is the only other large city.

Crete has many small farms, whose chief crops are grains, olives, and oranges, and food processing is its main industry. Sheep, goats, and dairy cattle are also raised. The island has few mineral deposits, but tourism is an increasingly important industry. Transportation facilities include a developed highway system and an airport.


Crete had one of the world's earliest civilizations, the Minoan civilizationMinoan civilization
, ancient Cretan culture representing a stage in the development of the Aegean civilization. It was named for the legendary King Minos of Crete by Sir Arthur Evans, the English archaeologist who conducted excavations there in the early 20th cent.
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, named after King MinosMinos
, in Greek mythology, king of Crete, son of Zeus and Europa. He was the husband of Pasiphaë, who bore him Androgeus, Glaucus, Ariadne, and Phaedra. Because Minos failed to sacrifice a beautiful white bull to Poseidon, the god caused Pasiphaë to conceive a lustful
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, the legendary author of Cretan institutions; in the ruined palace at KnossosKnossos
or Cnossus
, ancient city of Crete, on the north coast, near modern Iráklion. The site was occupied long before 3000 B.C., and it was the center of an important Bronze Age culture.
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 invaluable finds have been made. The Cretan kingdom reached its greatest power, prosperity, and civilization c.1600 B.C. Later, for reasons still obscure, its power suddenly collapsed; but Crete flourished again after the Dorian Greeks settled on the island in large numbers and established city-states. Among the most powerful of the cities (110 in number, according to Homer) were Knossos and Cydonia (modern Khaniá). Although important as a trade center, Crete played no significant part in the political history of ancient Greece. It became a pirate haven in the 3d cent. B.C. but was conquered (68 B.C.–67 B.C.) by the Romans under Quintus Metellus.

It passed (A.D. 395) to the Byzantines, fell (824) to the Arabs, but was reconquered by Nicephorus Phocas (later Nicephorus II) in 961. As a result of the Fourth Crusade, the island passed to Venice in 1204; and in 1212, after expelling rival Genoese colonists, the Venetians set up a new administration, headed by a duke. Under Venetian rule Crete was generally known as Candia (Iráklion) for the duke's residence. Insurrections against the arbitrary Venetians were frequent, and the Cretans were not displeased at changing masters when the Ottoman Turks conquered (1669) virtually the whole island after a 24-year war. Two offshore island fortresses remained in Venetian hands until 1715.

A series of revolts against the Turks in the 19th cent. reached a climax in the insurrection of 1896–97 that led to war (1897) between Greece and Turkey. The European powers intervened in the war, forcing Turkey to evacuate (1898) Crete. An autonomous Cretan state was formed under nominal Turkish rule, but it was governed by a high commission of the occupying powers (England, France, Russia, and Italy). The Cretan national assembly, led by Eleutherios VenizelosVenizelos, Eleutherios
, 1864–1936, Greek statesman, b. Crete. After studying at the Univ. of Athens, he returned to Crete and played a prominent part in the Cretan insurrection of 1896–97.
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, declared in favor of union with Greece, but the powers rejected its demand. The Young Turk revolution of 1908, however, enabled the Cretans to proclaim their union with Greece, and in 1909 foreign occupation troops were withdrawn.

Cretan representatives were admitted to the Greek parliament in 1912, and in 1913, as a result of the Balkan Wars, Crete was officially incorporated into Greece. The followers of Venizelos controlled Crete during their uprising (1935) against the imminent restoration of the monarchy but were defeated by Gen. George Kondylis. A new revolt (1938) against the dictatorship of John Metaxas was also suppressed.

In World War II, Crete was used as a British military and naval base late in 1940. The British and Greek forces on the Greek mainland evacuated to Crete in 1941, but they were quickly overwhelmed by the Germans in a large-scale airborne invasion, the first of its kind. Late in 1944, British ships isolated the German occupation troops, who eventually surrendered. In the postwar period there was some Communist guerrilla activity on the island.


See R. F. Willetts, The Civilization of Ancient Crete (1978); J. W. Graham et al., The Palaces of Crete (1987); J. Freely, Crete (1989). See also bibliographies under Aegean civilizationAegean civilization
, term for the Bronze Age cultures of pre-Hellenic Greece. The complexity of those early civilizations was not suspected before the excavations of archaeologists in the late 19th cent.
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 and Minoan civilizationMinoan civilization
, ancient Cretan culture representing a stage in the development of the Aegean civilization. It was named for the legendary King Minos of Crete by Sir Arthur Evans, the English archaeologist who conducted excavations there in the early 20th cent.
..... Click the link for more information.

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Krete), an island possession of Greece in the eastern Mediterranean. Length from west to east, 260 km; width, 12–55 km. Area, 8,300 sq km. Length of coastline, 1,046 km.

Geography. The northern coast of Crete is dissected by gulfs. Most of the southern shore, which was formed by faults, is steep. The terrain is mountainous. The island’s major massifs are Levka in the west (maximum elevation, 2,452 m), Idhi in the central region (maximum elevation, 2,456 m), and Dhikti in the east (maximum elevation, 2,148 m). Composed primarily of limestones (in the west, schists), the mountains are distinguished by their extremely steep slopes, which are deeply dissected by gorges and have well-developed karst. Earthquakes occur frequently. Coastal lowlands are negligible. The largest of them is the Mesara on the southern coast, the island’s granary.

The climate is Mediterranean, with summer droughts. (Sirocco winds often blow in June.) On the coast the average January temperature is 12°C and the average July temperature, 26°C. Frosts occur frequently in the mountains in winter, and often there is snow on the peaks until May. The annual precipitation is 600–700 mm on the coasts and 1,000–1,600 mm in the mountains. The maximum precipitation falls in winter.

Friganas. (xerophytic shrub and semishrub vegetation) prevail on Crete. Forests (oak, pine, and cypress) occupy only 2 percent of the territory. There are meadows at the summits of the mountains. On the plains and in the foothills there are vineyards, olive plantations, and wheat and corn fields. Livestock is raised. Fishing is important, and sponges are gathered. The main ports are Iraklion (Candia) and Khania.

History. The first traces of man on Crete date to the Paleolithic age. The island is one of the oldest centers of European culture. In the third millennium B.C., early slaveholding states, including Cnossus and Phaestos, emerged on Crete. Their economic flowering in the 20th through the 15th century B.C. was accompanied by a political and cultural upswing. In the 14th century B.C. part of the island was conquered by a coalition of Achaean kingdoms from mainland Greece. The Dorian penetration of the island began in the 12th century B.C.

In the first millennium B.C. Crete played an important role in the political and cultural life of Greece. The Cretan city-states painstakingly drew up a code of laws (the Gortyna Laws). In 67 B.C. the Romans conquered the island, which became part of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) after the division of the Roman Empire in 395. From 823 to 961 it belonged to the Arabs, and between 961 and 1204 it was again part of Byzantium. Seized by the Crusaders in 1204, Crete was sold to Venice in that same year. In 1669 (and finally in 1715) it was captured by the Ottoman Empire.

Although the Cretan peasants took an active part in the Greek National Liberation Revolution of 1821–29, Crete remained out-side the independent Greek state established in 1830. In the 19th century a number of national liberation uprisings against Turkish feudal and national oppression (the Cretan uprisings) took place on Crete. Under pressure from the European powers, who were competing in a struggle to strengthen their positions in the Balkans, the Ottoman Empire granted Crete administrative autonomy “under the auspices of the Great Powers” in 1898. After the Balkan Wars of 1912–13 the London Peace Treaty of 1913 made Crete a part of Greece. This was confirmed by the Greco-Turkish Treaty of 1913.

On July 29, 1938, the Greek Liberal Party organized an uprising in Khania, demanding the resignation of the fascist government of Ioannis Metaxas and the establishment of a “government of national salvation.” The uprising was suppressed. From May 20 to June 1, 1941, Crete was occupied by fascist German troops. During the occupation, subunits of the 5th division of the Greek People’s Liberation Army were activated. In November 1944, Crete was liberated from the invaders.

Architecture and fine arts. The oldest monuments of art on Crete date to the seventh millennium B.C. Art flourished particularly in the second millennium B.C., when Crete (particularly Cnossus and other cities) was one of the centers of Aegean culture. Monuments of classical Greek architecture (the temples of Apollo in Dreros and Gortyna) have been preserved, as well as examples of ancient Roman architecture (the ruins of a palace, an odeum, and thermae in Gortyna). Important pieces of Greek archaic sculpture and vase paintings have been found on Crete.

In the Middle Ages numerous Byzantine artworks were created on the island, including fortresses, basilicas (from the fifth through the seventh century), and cruciform domed churches (from the tenth through the 12th century). Byzantine traditions were preserved under Venetian rule. In the 13th through 15th centuries monasteries and churches (mostly simple, one-aisle types) were built. Icons and frescoes belonging to different schools of Byzantine painting, including the folk school (artist loannis Pagomenos, first half of the 14th century), were created.

The Cretan school of painting developed in the 16th through 17th centuries, bringing together Byzantine traditions and the devices of Venetian painting of that era (Theophanes Vatas, Michael Damaskinos, and Emmanuel Tsane). Cretan masters worked in Greece and Venice and on the Sinai Peninsula. El Greco was an emigrant from Crete. In the 13th through 17th centuries the Venetians constructed many buildings on the island, including fortresses, churches, and residential and household buildings (the Church of St. Mark, 14th century, and the Morosini Fountain, 1628, in Iraklion). In the 16th century,

M. Sammicheli directed the fortification of the port cities of Iraklion and Khania. A number of 13th-century Genoese buildings, as well as Turkish structures, have been preserved on Crete. In modern times, Cretan art has developed along the same lines as that of Greece.


Lazarev, V. N. “’Man’era greka’ i problema kritskoi shkoly.” In his book Vizantiiskaia zhivopis’. Moscow, 1971.
Matton, R. La Crete au cours des siecles. Athens, 1957.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a mountainous island in the E Mediterranean, the largest island of Greece: of archaeological importance for the ruins of Minoan civilization. Pop.: 601 131 (2001). Area: 8331 sq. km (3216 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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