Historic Landmarks in Crete

Crete is the largest of thirteen Greek islands and is the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean. The island has a history that reaches back to ancient history and has always been a favorite destination due to its incredible natural beauty, the sun drenched beaches, and its reputation as a hub of civilization.

Palace of Knossos

The Palace of Knossos is probably the must see destination on Crete. It is the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete and served as a center to the Minoan civilization. The name palace is a little bit misleading as the Palace of Knossos was actually more like a mall than a palace. The maze of rooms that wind through the palace were actually used by many people, not just royalty or the wealthy, the small rooms served as workrooms, storage facilities, and other functional rooms for the period and were used by many. But there was a throne room and it has been lovingly restored. Actually restored may be too strong of a word as it’s believed that the frescoes were inventions of two artists that were hired to do the restorations. The maze is so complex that it is believed that his structure may be the source of the myth of the labyrinth but this is only a suggestion and the actual origination is unknown.

Mount Psiloritis

Mount Psiloritis is also known as Mount Ida and is the highest mountain on the island of Crete. It is a sacred mountain as it is said to house the cave in which Zeus was born. The mountain is also considered the central location for a race of ancient metal workers. For visitors Mount Psiloritis offers an interesting hike with a plateau of Nida providing great views of the island and the beautiful forest of Rova on the east side. On the Skinakas peak there is an observatory of the University of Crete.

Aptera

The remains of the city Aptera reach across two large hills and are situated next to the Souda Bay. It’s estimated that these ruins date back to the 7th century BC and was a very important city back in its day. Unfortunately it was also during the 7th century that a massive earthquake rocked the island and destroyed the city. Parts of it were restored in the 10th century but never to the same degree or significance as the original Aptera. Currently excavations are ongoing and some incredibly well preserved structures have been discovered.

Koules Venetian Fortress

The Koules Venetian Fortress was built in the 16th century and still stands guard over the Old Harbour. Under Venetian rule the fortress was known as the Rocca al Mare and for two decades it was used to defend the island from Turkish attacks. Then, ironically, it became a Turkish prison and held Cretans. The massive stone structure actually has a very beautiful façade as you get closer with depictions of the Lion of St. Mark. Inside the Koules Venetian Fortress are a couple dozen restored rooms, many of them now serve as art galleries.

Rethymno Fortress

Speaking of Fortresses, the island of Crete was in no short supply as it struggled for centuries to maintain its borders. Rethymno Fortress was also a 16th century creation and sat atop the town of Rethymno’s ancient acropolis. The ruin is pretty run down now and the monuments and buildings that once stood inside are basically gone, one noted exception is a church. Even though most of the structures are gone there is still a lot to explore as you wander around and there are some incredible views from the ramparts.

Moni Arkadiou

Moni Arkadiou is a 16th century monastery that is known for its incredible architectural beauty and it’s symbolic connection to freedom. The defense of this monastery during the 1866 Cretan rebellion against the Turks elevated the building to its current significance in Greek history. As 16 revolutionaries gathered together to fight against the Turks on the morning of the attack only 259 armed men stood to fight the 15,000 Turkish soldiers who surrounded the monastery. The rebels in the monastery were able to hold off the Turks for a day successfully but by the next morning it was clear they would lose. Rather than lose to the Turks the rebels and refugees hiding within Moni Arkadiou gathered in the gunpowder storage room and when the Turkish soldiers broke through the gunpowder was lit and a massive explosion killed all 864 Cretan rebels and refugees and 1,500 Turks. Of the lot only three of the rebels escaped.

Ancient Lato

The ancient city of Lato on Crete was built by the durians in the seventh century B.C. Today the visible walls and buildings are actually from the fourth and fifth century B.C. The city only lasted until 200 B.C. but was one of the strongest cities to ever exist on the island. This is one of those hidden secrets of the island, the archaeological digs done here have been extensive and its one of the best excavated Greek cities on the island and the ruins are quite impressive and varied, not to mention the incredible views of the island and the Mediterranean Sea from atop what once was the center of town but for some reason this historic landmark is less visited by tourists than other locations so the crowds are few if not scarce.

Loutro Village

The Loutro Village in Sfakia Crete is believed to have actually once been the ancient city of Finikas and served as the port of Anopolis. The closed bay made it also a perfect winter time port for the town of Sfakia. In and around Loutro you can see the ruins of the town of Aradena and its Byzantine Church of Archangel Michael and the ruins of Anopolis. This village is more laid back than some of the other tourist destinations which makes it a great place to relax and enjoy the scenery and the crystal clear waters.
Creative Commons License Photo credit: Wolfgang Staudt

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