Crete Travel and Mediterranean CruisesFacing the smaller Greek islands, Crete - Homer’s “island of the gods” - marks the southern limit of the Aegean Sea. A limestone ridge, snow-capped for half the year, at no point is Crete more than 30 miles wide but extends over 150 miles in length. On the same latitude as Morocco, it has traditionally functioned as a stepping stone between Africa and Europe, not only for cultural transmission in the past but also to this day for thousands of migrating birds. Most of its half million inhabitants live along the island’s northern coastline, and beyond to mainland Greece and the continent of Europe. Crete is by far the largest of the Greek islands; indeed it is the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, large enough to absorb its many visitors comfortably and to retain its traditional character. It rejoices in over one hundred endemic plants that turn the island into a riot of colour each spring.
By tradition, Crete was the birthplace of Zeus, the father of the gods. Here, he fathered three sons by the nymph Europa, one of whom, Minoa, presided over Europe’s first civilization. At this point, we move from mythology to authenticated prehistory, for the Minoan civilization of the Bronze Age has been unearthed by archaeologists beginning with the celebrated excavation of the palace of Knossos by Sir Arthur Evans at the end of the nineteenth century. The palace contains over a thousand rooms: it is easy to see how it might have been the origin of the myth of the labyrinth and its Minotaur. Inscriptions in Linear A have yet to be deciphered but in 1952 two British scholars succeeded with Linear B, a later script, which they were able to demonstrate was the direct ancestor of today’s Greek. The splendid archaeological museum at Knossos contains hundreds of Minoan artefacts, many associated with the cult of the bull which appears to have spread from Crete throughout the Mediterranean world.
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