The Greek island of Crete is as popular with tourists today as it once was with foreign occupiers.

People liked Crete so much, they never wanted to leave, inspiring entire countries to try and do the same thing.
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The of is the largest of the 1400 Greek isles, which is way too many isles. But Crete's claim to fame is being the birthplace of the powerful—and exceedingly randy—Greek sky and thunder god, Zeus. Top that, Thor! Cretans (Cretins?) believe you can see Zeus' face in the mountaintops if you look hard enough. Or if you drink enough Ouzo.

sunset in crete

Crete is more than just another beautiful Greek island.

Greek island of Crete
A beach on Crete.

Crete is the fifth-largest island in the and the largest island that's part of modern . The landscape is dominated by mountains which rise out of the sea and look kinda like Zeus. The flatter parts are dominated by Mediterranean scrub, palm trees, sand, lounge chairs, and fruity drinks.

The island was originally populated by the Mycenaeans who came over from the mainland to party, got wasted on Ouzo, lost the keys to their boat in the sand, and had to stay for the rest of their lives. Those same events were repeated enough times that, eventually, Crete had a sufficient population to create a new society. With their own Navy, too. [citation needed]

The Minoans were Europe's first great civilization.

Sculpture of naked chick
Art, not pornography.

From 2800 to 1000BC, Crete was the center of, arguably, the most important civilization up to that time — the Minoans, named after the human son of Zeus, King Minos. Known for their complex urban settlements and monumental architecture, the Minoans were highly advanced in commerce, crafts, metalworking, and art, among other things (see also, pederasty).

The Minoans were the first culture to use a character-based written language (as opposed to pictograph-based) to translate the languages of their trading partners, and fleece those suckers blind. The Minoans' inscrutable symbol-based system of communication gave them a massive advantage when negotiating with backwoods hicks and rural rubes, so they soon became rich.

Sadly, the 1600BC eruption at Thera threw up tons of ash and sulfur into the atmosphere. It also generated a tsunami wave which blasted Crete's capital city and, by messing with the climate, essentially spelled the end of the Minoan culture.

Knossos before it was destroyed
The city of Knossos (NAH-sos), Palace of Legends

The famed Cretan city of Knossos is famous for a reason.

minotaur
A Minotaur and some white-haired dude.

Our first stop on Crete was the city of Knossos (NAH-sos). Between 1700 and 1300BC, King Minos ruled Crete and several other islands from the storied “Palace of Legends.” Considering that it was built some 3500 years ago, this Bronze-Age structure was nothing of astonishing in scope.

Knossos (also spelled, Knosós and Cnossus) occupied over six acres, and was composed of 1500-rooms over multiple stories. It was so mind-blowing that it inspired the Greek myth of the Labyrinth, not to mention the David Bowie film.

knossos ruins
Knossos did not age that well, unfortunately.

In the tale, our hero, Theseus (think Tom Cruise before he went crazy) volunteers to be one of the yearly human sacrifices offered to the ill-tempered Minotaur — a half-man, half-bull with a poor self-image and rage issues.

Theseus is sent into a maze-like Labyrinth to die at the hands of this maniac. But, instead, he manages to kill the Minotaur (bare-handed, no doubt) and then retrace his path back out of the maze to a magic ball of thread he was given by the King's own daughter. Needless to say, the movie adaption did blockbuster numbers at the box office that year.

Foreign powers play “musical chairs” with Crete.

Constantine's bust
Constantine's head.

The island of Crete is ideally situated on the crossroads between Asia, Africa, and Europe. As a result, Crete greatly benefited from meeting, trading, and interacting with a wide variety of other cultures. Of course, interactions with foreigners had a few detriments to their society, too.

In the centuries that followed, Crete was occupied by an ever-changing string of cultures. The Mycenaean's first took over for a couple of centuries, but then the Western Romans showed up. And the Romans held control until Constantine and the Byzantines kicked them out.

graphic of hitler
Hitler was a bad Christian.

The Byzantines eventually handed Crete over to the Venetians, who then took off when the Turks came knocking. Crete was so popular that even the Nazis stopped in for a relatively brief four-year stay.

In the 1913, Crete petitioned to join Greece, most likely because they were tired of changing official languages and currencies every five minutes.

Today, the population consists almost entirely of Cretans who speak Greek, but English, German, and French are also spoken by many of the younger Cretans who find Greek as difficult a language to understand as we did.

chania in crete at night
Chania by night.

Chania was a town in Crete that we also visited.

chania mid-day
Chania Marina, in Crete somewhere.
Chania in Crete
A lonely lady in Chania.

After a few hours climbing around the remains of Knossos and our jaws tired from scraping on the ground, we drove two hours to another one-time capital of Crete, the city of Chania (HAHN-ya), and our accommodations at the Thalassa Beach Resort.

Chania lies at the foot of a mountain that is reportedly snow-capped during the winter — a fact pretty hard to imagine, considering we could barely walk on the beach without our feet bursting into flames.

But despite the intense heat, I never went into the sea the whole time we were in Chania. Mostly because I dislike any water that has too much of anything in it that isn't water, such as salt, chlorine, or noisy children. Now, don't get me wrong, the salty Mediterranean Sea is far better for swimming than either the freezing Pacific or wavy Atlantic, but if you have an open wound, you might want to stick to the pool. And so we did.

crete beach

The isle of Crete is just fine as an island, too.

Aside from a brief excursion into the hinterlands of Chania, we pretty much burned our last few days on Crete soaking up the sun—just another area in which this attractive island shined. It's no wonder the place has been so popular with tourists from countries with shittier weather (I'm looking at you, ).

Before we knew it, it was time to return to Athens and fly home.

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