Crete gives visitors the opportunity to enjoy some of the most interesting sights and archaeological monuments in Greece.
Knossos, an important city in antiquity, which was inhabited continuously from the Neolithic period until the 5th century AD, is situated at the southern part of Heraklion. The Minoan palace is the main site of interest here. According to tradition, it was the seat of the wise king Minos. The Palace of Knossos is connected with thrilling legends, such as the myth of the Labyrinth, with the Minotaur, and the story of Daidalos and Ikaros.
The earliest traces of inhabitation in the area of the palace go back to the Neolithic period (7000-3000) BC). The first palace built at Knossos was destroyed, probably by an earthquake, about 1700 BC. A second, larger palace was built on the ruins of the old one. This was partially destroyed about 1450BC, after which the Mycenaeans established themselves at Knossos. The palace was eventually destroyed in about 1350 BC by a major conflagration. The reconstruction of the Palace of Knossos was carried out by the excavator, Sir Arthur Evans.
Phaistos is Crete's second largest minoan palace after Knossos and is located in southern Crete. It was inhabited from the Neolithic period until the foundation and development of the Minoan palaces in the 15th century B.C. The Minoan city covered a considerable area around the palatial centre. After the destruction of the palace in the 15th century, the city continued to be inhabited in the Mycenaean and Geometric periods, that is, until the 8th century B.C. The Hellenistic city was extremely prosperous. In the middle of the 2nd century B.C. it was destroyed and dominated by the neighbouring city of Gortyn. Traces of habitation dating from the Venetian period are scattered in the whole area. The archaeological investigation of Phaistos started in 1884 by F. Halbherr and continued by the Italian Archaeological School at Athens, under the direction of F. Halbherr and L. Pernier in 1900-1904 and by Doro Levi, in 1950-1971.
This fortress was built in the 16th century by the Venetians, for the protection of the inhabitants by the Turkish threat. It is star shaped with three gates and six bastions. In the middle, the church of St Nicolo, was turned into the Mosque of the Sultan Ibrahim Han. There were the Commander's house, the Counsellor's house, barracks, stables, ammunition - storehouses, and houses which were later destroyed. There was no systematic excavation on the site. From time to time, there were some excavatory attempts, when the actual buildings were being repaired. Today the Municipality of Rethymnon in collaboration with the competent services, suggests a restoration study which will bring the monument to its full advantage.
The Archaelogical Museum in Heraklion houses archaelogical finds from all over Crete. The order in which the exhibits are presented is based on the chronological development of the Minoan civilization and reflects both the history of the excavations and the major discoveries made on Crete at the beginning of the century (palaces at Knossos, Phaistos, Malia, etc.).The exhibition contains objects mainly from the central and east Crete, covering 5500 years of Cretan History.
A visit to the Historical Museum of Crete will bring to life the history and culture of Crete, from the first centuries of the Christian era to present time. The Museum of Crete is situated west of Heraklion and exhibits rare pieces of the Christian, Byzantine, Medieval and earlier times. There are also many objects of art, examples of the Cretan popular culture through the ages. Pieces of work by the great painter EL GRECO, who was born and studied painting in Heraklion are also incuded in the Museum's holdings. Agiographies from the famous Cretan School of Hagiography can also be found as well as memorabilia of the great author, Nikos Kazantzakis.
The Maritime Museum is situated at the entrance of the port of Chanea where the Fortress "FIRKA" is built. The fortress was constructed by the Venetians (1204-1669), in order to protect and control the entrance of the port. The Maritime Museum of Crete was founded to shelter and preserve our maritime traditions - and especially the ones of Crete - that have been a source of national survival, progress and greatness of the Country. The exhibition articles include ship models, various instruments and equipment, paintings, heirlooms, objects which were pulled up from the sea bottom, potsherd (shells), pictures, etc.
The Museum of Aghios Nikolaos was founded in 1970 in order to house the numerous new archaeological finds from eastern Crete, which until then, were housed in the Museum of Herakleion. Its collections include: Finds from the Early Minoan (3000-2000 B.C.) cemetery at Aghia Photia of Seteia, finds from the Early Minoan II settlement at Fournou Koryfi of Myrtos, the Early Minoan II-III (2600-2200 B.C.) cemetery on the islet of Mochlos, finds from Middle Minoan (2000-1550 B.C.) peak sanctuaries: Petsophas, Modi, Traostalos, Kalamaki, Prinias, Etiani, Kephala, finds from the Late Minoan III (1400-1200 B.C.) tombs of Milatos and Kritsa, finds from the Geometric deposit at Anavlochos Vrachasiou, finds from the Daidalic deposit at Seteia (beginning of 7th century B.C.), finds from the Archaic deposit at Olous (end of 7th-6th centuries B.C.), finds from Lato (modern Aghios Nikoalos) dated to Greek and Roman times.
Spinalonga is an islet at the entrance of the Elounta bay, at the prefecture of Lasithi. In 1579 the Venetians built a mighty fortress there, which remained under their rule even after the Ottoman occupation of Crete in 1669. In 1903, by law of the Cretan government, it was appointed as the place of stay for the lepers of Crete and was turned into a leper colony. Fortunately, the advances of science enabled the colony to be closed in 1957.
At the northern entrance of the Lasithi plateau, a group of windmills comprise a landmark of the whole area. Today 24 windmills are preserved (out of the original 26), 7 of which extend to the south of the road that enters the plateau while the rest are built to the north of it. All the mills belong to the one-sided type of windmill, that grinds in a standard position, always on the same direction of the wind. They belong to individuals and are declared a work of art.
The cave of Psychro at Lasithi is one of the most important cult places of Minoan Crete. The use of caves as cult places was one of the basic characteristics of the religious beliefs of the ancient Cretans. Cult practice probably begins in the Early Minoan period (2800-2300 B.C.) The finds prove that it was visited as late as the Roman period. Pilgrims dedicated many offerings, such as figurines of humans, gods, animals, double axes etc. Some scholars identify the cave as the "Diktaian Cave" where Zeus was brought up.
Samaria Gorge is 43 km away from the city of Chania and is the longest gorge in Europe, measuring some 18 kilometers. It is well-known for its unique beauty. At some points the passage is just 3 meters wide and at times the steep sides rise to a height of 600 meters. The gorge is cut by a stream which flows between the highest peak of the White Mountains and the mountain of Volikas. Hiking down the gorge is permitted from May to the end of October, depending on the weather. On leaving the gorge, one encounters the village of Agia Roumeli, where one can take a launch to Chora Sfakion and catch a bus back to Chania.
About 11 km. east of the Chora Sfakion, is the site of the old "Castel Franco", built by the Venetians in 1371. The castle was built to protect from pirates and from the constant revolts of the locals. The castle carries a blood-drenched history related to the struggle for freedom against the Turks. Related to this history, a strange phenomenon called Drosoulites, takes place in Fragokastello. It is said that every year, on the anniversary of the battle of Fragokastello (May 17th), when the dawn breaks, visions can be seen. People, dressed in black, with their weapons shining under the morning sun, walkers and riders, marching from the ruined church of Agios Charalambos towards the fort. They reach the sea and disappear into it, with the first rays of the sun. The phenomenon usually lasts for about 10 minutes.