The Island of Crete

Crete is far from being just another Greek island. Its rich history, natural beauty and proud people have given it a unique character. It is over 240 kilometres in length, with a spectacular coastline and beaches to suit all tastes. As the most southerly of the Greek islands, its longer summer means that they can be enjoyed to the full from April to November. 

Inland, mountains snowcapped until June, gorges gushing with water, and the famous profusion of wild flowers – many unique to Crete – make the early summer, in particular, irresistible to those who appreciate natural beauty. A choice of unspoilt local sandy beaches display the blue flag for cleanliness and safety. So for holidays in Greece and Greek island villas you need look no further than Crete.

The home of the earliest Western civilisation, Crete boasts the great Minoan cities of Knossos and Phaestos and also many smaller ancient ruins. For those who want to explore its more ‘recent’ history, Byzantine churches, Venetian castles and Turkish minarets provide endless fascination. The distinctive music, dance and good food which play such an important part in Cretan life can all be shared by visitors. It is in the west of Crete – in village locations far from the developed tourist centres in the east of the island – that Pure Crete is to be found.


The principal town of the area is Chania, a Venetian port, whose attractive and lively harbour provides the perfect setting for an evening stroll before dinner at one of the many waterfront tavernas. Behind the harbour a maze of narrow back streets links with a mixture of old Venetian and Turkish houses, often stunningly decorated with hanging flowers. Five minutes’ walk away is Chania’s covered market, well-known for the wide variety of fresh produce on offer. Nearby, local handicraft shops provide a good place to find handmade leather goods, rugs and lace.


Crete is the home of the earliest Western civilisation, and Knossos is the best known and most extensively excavated Minoan city. It is central to Greek mythology and offers visitors historic treasures and endless fascination.

The Palace of Knossos. It is the largest of the preserved Minoan palatial centres. Four wings are arranged around a central courtyard, containing the royal quarters, workshops, shrines, storerooms, repositories, the throne room and banquet halls. Dated to 2000-1350 B.C.

The Little Palace. It lies to the west of the main palace and has all the features of palatial architecture: scraped wall masonry, reception rooms, a pristyle hall, a double megaron with polythyra (pi er-and-door partitions) and a lustral basin-shrine. Dated to the 17th-15th centuries B.C.

The Royal Villa. It lies to the NE of the palace and its architectural form is distinguished by the polythyra, the pillar crypt and the double staircase, with two flights of stairs. It is strongly religious in character and might have been the residence of an aristocrat or a high priest. Dated to the 14th century B.C.

House of the Frescoes. It is located to the NW of the palace and is a small urban mansion with rich decoration on the walls. Dated to the 15th, 14th-12th centuries B.C.

Caravanserai. It lies to the south of the palace and was interpreted as a reception hall and hospice. Some of the rooms are equipped with baths and decorated with wall paintings.

The “Unexplored Mansion”. Private building, probably of private-industrial function, to the NW of the palace. It is rectangular, with a central, four-pillared hall, corridors, storerooms and remains of a staircase. Dated to the 14th-12th centuries B.C.

Temple Tomb. It is located almost 600 m. to the south of the palace and was connected with the “House of the High Priest” by means of a paved street. It seems that one of the last kings of Knossos (17th-14th centuries B.C.) was buried here. Typical features of its architecture are the hypostyle, two-pillar crypt, the entrance with the courtyard, the portico and a small anteroom.

House of the High Priest. It lies 300 m. to the south of Caravanserai and contains a stone altar with two columns, framed by the bases of double axes.

The South Mansion. Private civic house, located to the south of the palace. It is a three-storeyed building with a lustral basin and a hypostyle crypt, dating from the 17th-15th centuries B.C.

Villa of Dionysos. Private, peristyle house of the Roman period. It is decorated with splendid mosaics by Apollinarius, depicting Dionysos. The house contains special rooms employed for the Dionysiac cult. Dated to the 2nd century A.D.

Lawrence Durrell

"To the Greeks Crete seems the most authentically Greek of all the islands because of the lengh of its history and relative remotness from the ancient centres of war and diplomacy. Crete, for example, played no part in the Persian or the Peloponnesian wars.

‘The big island’ Crete is always called in the colloquial tongue, and big it is, spacious and full of the brooding presence of it’s four groups of mountains.

The Cretans have seen everything – the collapse of the Minoan Empire, the rise of Venice, the slave markets of Turkey, Nazi parachutists and American hippies, nothing has been spared them."

Extract from Lawrence Durrell’s The Greek Islands.