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           CRETE     crete greece car rental, crete greece rent a car, creta
This island - the largest in Greece - separates the Aegean from the  Libyan Sea, marks the boundary between Europe and Africa. Majestic mountains  rise in its center - the White Mountains, Psiloritis, Dikti. Its plateaus are  split by deep gorges and end up in fertile valleys.
The scenery is constantly changing. In one place harsh and barren, in another  wooded and gentle. Its villages smothered in greenery.
Olive trees, orange groves, vineyards, early vegetable market gardens. Old  stone farmhouses, monasteries and villages perched on mountain ridges, castles  and chapels forgotten on steep slopes. Shores lined with forbidding rocks, often  inaccessible, but also lots of endless sandy or pebbly beaches.
  Crete is renowned for the variety of its vegetation and the wildlife in its  chestnut, oak and cypress forests. Not to mention its palm forests (at Vai and  Preveli) and its cedar forests (at Gavdos and Hrissi).
Medicinal herbs and fragrant shrubs - laudanum, dittany, marjoram and thyme -  grow in rocky areas and the mountain tops are home to the "kri-kri" or Cretan  goat.
The main cities-ports on Crete - Hania, Rethimno, Iraklio, Agios Nikolaos,  Sitia - all grew up on the north side, which is more benign topographically.  Ierapetra is the only port on the south coast, on the shores of the Libyan Sea,  facing Africa.


History
This island's fertile soil and towering peaks witnessed the  development of one of the most important civilizations on Earth, the Minoan  (2800 - 1150 B.C.). In successive phase, the Minoans built palace-states - the  famous palatial centers of Knossos, Phaistos, Malia, Zakros (1700 - 1450 B.C.).  Their painters and ceramists show us the limits the refinement of art can  reach.Their frescoes bring us close to the soul of that world, peace-loving,  light-hearted, but also powerful. They bring us close to the sea and its wealth.  A geological catastrophe - the eruption of the volcano of Santorini in 1450 B.C.  - halted the Minoan civilization at its height. But life did not cease. Through  shipping, commerce and trade with other peoples - the Phoenicians, Syrians,  Egyptians - opened up new horizons. With the invasion of the Achaians and the  Dorians on the island the new cities of Lato and Aptera were founded. Lato  became the most important city on Crete (7th century B.C.). Until the Roman  occupation (69 - 330 A.D.). The most distinguished center in those days was  Gortyn.                                                                                   But Christianity came to the island early. During the Byzantine era the  wealth of Crete was shown off in the mosaic floors of its basilicas and in half  the churches of Greece. But many others had their eye on these riches. First  Crete fell into the hands of the Arabs (824) for one and a half centuries (961).  Handak, present-day Iraklio was founded. Then in 1204, the island passed to the  Venetians. They fortified the old castles at Handak and built new ones at  Gramvoussa, Spinalonga, Frangokastello, Ierapetra, Paleohora. They broke the  ground for new cities (Hania and Rethimno) and built the fortifications  essential to their defense. Inside the walls the cities developed with narrow,  convoluted alleyways and small residential blocks, interspersed with decorative  piazzas, fountains, churches and palaces, remains of which can still be seen  today. Although the island was shaken from time to time by the rebellious  populace, it continued to develop both economically and culturally. Painting and  literature flourished. Domenicos Theotocopoulos (El Greco), Damaskinos and other  iconographers painted exquisite portraits of the Virgin and Christ. Under the  vaulted gates and arched windows troubadours passed singing ballads by  Hortantzis about the suffering of Erotokritos and Erophili. In 1645 the Muslim  conquerors set foot on the island for the first time. In 1669 the whole of Crete  fell to the Turks. Not until 1913 was the island united with the rest of Greece.

 

Today
 This  island with its clear, warm sea, boundless beaches lined with tamarisks,  splendid plateaus and mild starry nights has more to offer than its past, its  gorges, unskilled peaks and climate. Today it continues to live fully and to  develop, its cities particularly changing in appearance from one day to the  next, in contrast to the many unchanging villages where life goes on in the same  rhythm it has for centuries.

There are hundreds of cafes where one can sit in the shade of a spreading  plane, oak or mulberry tree and sip a "sweat" or "medium" coffee, or a glass of  "tsikoudia" (raki) while playing a game of cards or "tavli" (backgammon).

There are dozens of tavernas and ouzeries serving some tasty "meze", a  specialty of the area. Yogurt and honey, sweet tarts (kaltzounia), pies made of  wild greens flavored with fennel, fried cheese (staka), rabbit stew, cheese pie  from Hora Sfakion, cockles, boiled goat. In the city of Hania, at Malaxa, at  Vrisses, and other villages in the area, in Rethimno, in Iraklio and its  villages, and in the whole district of Lassithi. Fish, sea urchins, octopus and  cuttlefish cooked on charcoal and fried squid to be tasted at seaside tavernas.

And everywhere the delectable Cretan wine. Every saint's feastday is  celebrated with gusto at dozens of villages throughout the island; all Crete  throbbing to the sound of the Cretan lyre and the rhythm of the local dances,  the pentozali and the sousta. Meanwhile the housewives are preparing a steamed  Cretan pilaff and special holiday fritters (xerotigana).

In the shop windows of bustling Iraklio, cosmopolitan Agios Nikolaos,  picturesque Rethimno, and Hania, elegant furs, precious jewelry and artistic  silverware attract the visitor's attention. In the shops of lovely Sitia and  tranquil Ierapetra and in mountainous Anogia one is impressed by the spread out  patanies, traditional local woven fabrics in dazzling colors, and everywhere one  sees skillfully crafted ceramics and leather goods. In the "Stivanadika"  district of Hania (Skridlof St.) traditional boots (stivania) are still made in  the old-fashioned way, because though it may seem strange even today there are  Cretans who still wear their traditional costume. In the marketplace of the same  city, the only one of its kind, but also in similar shops all over the island,  every kind of food, fruit and vegetable produced in the fertile valleys, hot  houses and mountain regions, is laid out on display. Exotic avocados, Belgian  endive and bananas, juicy oranges and fragrant melons, succulent figs and tasty  prickly pears, delicious grapes, sweet tomatoes, tender cucumbers,  fresh-watering sardines, tempting lobster, kid from the islet of Gavdos, honey  perfumed with thyme, and wonderful cheeses - graviera (gruyere), myzithra  (ricotta), fresh white cheese, and soft, luscious staka.

The evenings are enchanting spent next to the intoxicating aroma of a jasmine  vine in an open-air cinema, seated in the comfortable chairs of a pastry shop,  gathered round the table of a fish-taverna right by the sea, strolling in  solitude on a remote, deserted beach, or why not, enjoying the rhythms of rock  in a discotheque or bar or conversing in the spacious lounge of a luxury  hotel
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