The Cretan People


The multicultural and distant past of Crete is reflected in all aspects of modern Cretan people, such as language, dance, music, food, arts and crafts.

Folk tradition of Crete constitutes an inexhaustible contemporary cultural entity with customs, materials, spiritual features and ancient habits that have formed the core of the modern Cretan life over the years.

The Cretan dialect is considered the oldest in Greece and has been a subject of study and research. Dozens of words have ancient or archaic origin or come from linguistic influences from Arabs, Venetians and Ottomans.

  • The character of Cretans is generally hardened by the difficulties of life. However, they are always authentic, smiling and they love sharing their feelings and hospitality with their guests.

    The Greek word for hospitality, philoxenia, derives from the words filos (friend) and xenos (stranger) and means to become friend with the stranger.

    Cretans are the genuine descendants of the Cretan-born Zeus, the god of gods, humans and hospitality. Indeed, Cretans are famous for their hospitality, induced solely by respect for their fellow men.

    Most locals will offer you a shot of raki when you ask for directions at any village.

  • Myths Crete is inseparable from myths and legends, which stem from its ancient past. In Crete, Rhea gave birth to Zeus, the most important god of antiquity, father of the gods, people and hospitality. The Diktaean and Idaean Caves are connected to his birth and upbringing.

    Later, Zeus in the form of a white bull, abducted the beautiful nymph from Phoenicia, Europa, and moved her to Crete. They mated below the evergreen plane tree of Gortys, which is still alive. Afterwards, Europa gave birth to Minos, the king of the first brilliant European civilization, the Minoan, and therefore, the continent was named Europe.

    It was Crete where for the first time the ingenious craftsman Daedalus, designed and built the famous Labyrinth, where the monstrous Minotaur was imprisoned. Later on, Daedalus ignored the law of gravity and escaped Crete by flying away with his son Icarus. In the dark Labyrinth, Theseus killed the Minotaur and found the exit by following the thread of Ariadne.

    Crete was guarded by the bronze giant Talos, the first robot in mythology. Talos wandered around the island three times a day and protected it from invaders, but it was exterminated by the Argonauts.

    Even today there exist are legends with the most famous ones being Drosoulites, shadows that walk at the break of dawn between May and June outside the fortress Fragokastello. These are the souls of soldiers who lost their lives there.

  • The island has a long and rich musical tradition with deep roots in antiquity, strongly influenced by the Byzantine music and enriched by the musical culture of the wider eastern Mediterranean. During feasts and celebrations, locals and visitors get involved with the special musical culture of Crete.

    Cretan music is considered the most vibrant in Greece, because it not only it continues to evolve and incorporate creative contemporary musical features, but it also manages to express modern reality.

    Improvisation is one of the characteristics of Cretan artists. Musicians are not limited to repeating basic melodies, but enrich their playing with improvisations that accompany dancers, who in turn spontaneously contrive new moves.

    Mantinades, small poems, reflect the emotions of Cretans and express sorrow, love and any feeling that arises from the sensitive Cretan soul. One of the most impressive “scenes”during a typical Cretan feat, is when two or more improvisers exchange mantinades for hours.

    Hugged men in West Crete sing the rizitika (rebel songs), some of the most primitive samples of musical and poetic tradition.

  • Greek dances and music first appeared in Crete, where the mother of the Gods, Rhea, taught them to Curetes who venerated her. The most famous Cretan dance was the Pyrrhic. Very famous throughout Greece, Cretan dances are echoes of the dances of the Curetes.

    Traditional Cretan dances are danced by men and women, who wear their wonderful Cretan costumes in formal events. They are either fast or slow, but always vivid and imposing. When danced by groups of men, they remind of the war dances of Curetes.

    With the lyre or the violin as a guide, accompanied by the lute and rarer instruments, such as the bulgari, the askomandoura or the thiamboli, dancers present the complex steps and the first of the cycle, usually a man, performs skillful dance movements called talimia.

    Each area of the island has its own traditional dances, most of which retain the primitive circular pattern. Main dances are pentozalis, kastrinos, pidichtos, sousta, siganos and syrtos.

    The famous melody of Zorbas is based on an old version of the Cretan dance syrtos.
  • Cretans have always loved arts and events, through which they can come into contact with their social environment and share their emotions.

    On summer nights, various cities of the island organize art exhibitions and festivals of theater, music, film and dance. Concerts are performed in stadiums, archaeological sites, on the Venetian walls of Heraklion and Chania or in small theaters in the countryside.

    The religious celebrations are always framed with Cretan music and dance in at village squares or near the churches, reviving customs of the Minoan ages.

    There are many events that have been associated with local products and are always an occasion for a big celebration. Feasts of potato, raki, zucchini, bread, wheat, wine, cheese, snail, cherry and apple include free tasting of the traditional products of each region.

    When winter arrives, celebrations do not stop. Groups of friends gather in kazania (raki distilleries), where the rite of distilling raki soon turns into a traditional feast with dance and music.

  • Major cities of Crete are home to impressive architectural structures, mainly from the Venetian and the Ottoman Era. Forts, scenic harbors, palaces, fountains and temples are the main attractions of the cities. On the other hand, the interesting attractions in the hinterland include arched bridges, water and wind mills, aqueducts, cisterns and chapels.

    Venetian and Ottoman architectural patterns, combined with features of folklore architecture, are evident in contemporary houses. Arched gates since the Venetian era, and sahnisi (protruding covered balcony) since the Ottoman era, are some of the features used even today.

    The traditional rural house is an evolution of the prehistoric home dwelling; it is constructed with stone, branches and soil, while wooden beams support the roof. To the interior, there is space for animals, while the main features include a stone-built wine press covered by with a wooden platform, a fireplace for cooking and heating, and some niches in the walls for storing household utensils.

    Some of the most interesting traditional buildings, perfectly adapted to the needs and particularities of the mountainous areas of Crete, are mitata. They are round domed buildings, made solely of dry stone, being an evolution of the domed Minoan tombs. Mitata provided shelter to shepherds and were used for milking goats and cheese-making. They are met in all ranges of Crete, but Nida plateau by Anogia is the most famous place to come across such constructions.

  • Travelers of Crete can visit very interesting art collections and exhibitions throughout the year. Temporary exhibitions of painting, photography and other forms of art are frequently hosted in galleries in Heraklion, Chania, Agios Nikolaos, Panormos and other towns. It is worth mentioning the southernmost gallery of Europe which is housed at Keratokambos and the museum of engravings, named Xotaris, in Arhanes.

    Museums and art galleries with permanent collections of utmost importance include the Museum of Visual Arts in Heraklion, the Art Factory Eleourgion in Dromonero, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Rethymnon and more. Important collections of wood and stone sculpture operate in Axos, Asteri, Venerato and Marathos. There is also a Wax museum in Zoniana.

    Museums and collections that highlight the life and work of great Cretan authors, artists and politicians are met all over the island. Venues associated with the life and work of the national leader Eleftherios Venizelos are open to visitors. These include the house where he was born in Mournies, his house at Halepa, the Historical Museum in Therisso and the Museum of Venizelos at the village Agios Georgios. A very interesting museum dedicated to the great author Nikos Kazantzakis operates at his birthplace, Myrtia. Moreover, visitors can visit the house, where the great Cretan painter El Greco is believed to have been born in Fodele, and the Gate Bethlehem at the Walls of Heraklion, where objects used for the film El Greco are exposed. Lastly, Viannos houses a museum dedicated to the author Ioannis Kondylakis.

  • Limited water resources in Crete, due to its geographical position, forced its inhabitants to construct colossal projects for water supply in cities. Even today, the surviving parts of the long aqueduct of Lyktos, that brought water to ancient Hersonissos, and the giant Venetian aqueduct, which brought water to the center of Candia (the contemporary city of Heraklion) from springs in Arhanes and Skalani, are awe-inspiring.

    In major cities, water was provided through elaborate fountains, with the most famous being the surviving Morosini Fountain in the center of Heraklion. In many areas of Crete where water is scarce, such as the north mountainous part of the province Mirabello, large cisterns and wells are still used.

    Although rivers in Crete are mainly seasonal, visitors will be impressed by some of the most beautiful stone bridges in Greece. The most famous is the arched bridge of Preveli. The ancient bridges of Eleftherna, built in the ekforic system, and Elliniki Kamara (Greek Bridge) at Vrysses have are of great archaeological importance.

    In western Crete, where rainfalls are quite frequent, water mills were used for grinding grain. However, in drier Eastern Crete residents used the wind for their needs. Indeed, many clusters of windmills, called milotopi, are met in most places, especially at northern Mirabelo. The windmills of Ambelos at Lassithi Plateau form the largest milotopi in Greece. Apart from grinding grain, the need for pumping water to irrigate crops at the plateaus of Lassithi and Ziros inspired the construction of lightweight metal windmills that pumped water from wells.

    About 12.000 metal windmills operated in the middle of the previous century at Lassithi Plateau, forming the first wind farm in the world with estimated installed power of 5MW.

Major cities of Crete are home to impressive architectural structures, mainly from the Venetian and the Ottoman Era. Forts,

Rural Life
Smells from kneading and vintage, agricultural works in olive groves and vineyards, wandering in the whitewashed streets and through the village squares, voices of children playing around, bleating animals. Pictures that today are like distant memories. Yet the visitor of Crete can still come in contact with this traditional way of life, while staying in one of the rural villages or one of the many agritourism cottages scattered all over the island, which can offer similar...

Traditional Occupations
Many primitive crafts remain alive on the island, while they have become obsolete in other parts of Greece. There are still several areas of the island resisting to the invasion of modern technology. Potters at Thrapsano, Kentri and Margarites mold clay just like the Minoans did thousands years ago. Hundreds of vessels, identical to those found in the Minoan palaces, are still used for storing olive oil, grains and other agricultural...

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