The Culture of Crete

People of Crete
Crete Culture
Crete Map
Southern Crete
Travel Guide


Ancient Crete




The island of Crete has been inhabited since prehistoric times. There is evidence of organized habitation which dates back to 8000 BCE, and the excavations of the 20th century have revealed a splendid civilization which ruled the island and much of the Aegean during the Bronze Age. The Minoan civilization, as it was named, is credited as the first civilization of Europe, it began around 2000 BCE and it lasted for about two millennia before it was replaced on the island by Mycenaean civilization circa 1375, and then by Classical and Hellenistic Greeks, which in turn were replaced by the Romans. The Byzantine empire and the Venetians controlled the island for a few hundred years before the Ottoman empire invaded the island.

The Ottoman empire ruled the island from 1645 until 1898 when the Greeks revolted and finally re-united the island with Greece in 1913.


The long occupation of the Venetians and the Turks have left their mark on the language. While in general the population of Crete utilizes the standard modern Greek language, there are distinct differences in the way certain consonants sound in the Cretan dialect., and certain Greek words are different. Besides the vocabulary differences, spoken Greek in Crete is also distinguished by its distinct accent.

The development of the Cretan dialect is due to the relative isolation of the island, and it shares characteristics with the Greek spoken in Cyprus and other southern Aegean islands. Sounds like the 'k', 'h' for example have a different sound in Crete than in modern Greek, as they acquire a listing softness and sound like 'ch' and 'sh' respectively.


The music of Crete is as distinct as its people, and it permeates society as it is ever present in all social events. Cretan traditional music exhibits a unique sound emanating from a unique instrument, the "lyra". Lyra is held vertically, resting on the thighs of the player, and is played with a bow like a violin. Another instrument which contributes to the unique sound is the "lute" which is played like a guitar and provides the vigorous rhythm of the songs. Mantinades are one category of songs that utilize improvisation and speak of age old concerns of love and death.


The food of Crete is hard to describe. We had the most delicious food in restaurants and in the home of Anita and Despo. Besides traditional Greek dishes we had much of what the local cuisine has to offer.

We had "Chohlious" (snails) fried and boiled, "ntakos" which is dried bread coated with olive oil and crushed tomato, "kolokythokeftedes" -- fried zuchini patties -- which was one of our favorite dishes, "xygalo" which is a kind sour milk, and "gamopilafo". The tastes generated from the simplicity of the dishes and the freshness of the ingredients was a delight for our palate.We always had on our table a dish of local Sitia olives, and just about every dish was cooked in native Sitia Olive oil - the best in the world, as everyone around Sitia would testify.

Besides all these newly discovered dishes, we regularly had Greek salad (horiatiki), and an impressive array of meat. Pork and beef were regularly on our plates, as was goat and rabbit meat usually cooked in the oven.

A staple at every meal of course was the fresh bread which every household buys every morning, and a bottle of local Sitia Wine. The white wine made from the vineyards of the area had just the perfect taste for us, and we always ordered half liter of local Sitia wine with our meals.

One of the routines we established early on our trip was the order of a half liter of local Sitia wine. It is a semi-dry white wine, served chilled and it is the perfect beverage for the hot summer of Crete. Xylagouro (or wood-cucumber) is a type of local cucumber which is very crunchy as well as juicy. There is another kind called neragouro (or water-cucumber) which is much juicier. Both were good and in all honestly I could not tell the difference between the two. Slices of cucumber were a regular feature on our tables, especially as a snack in mid-morning and afternoon, or as a complement to the raki.
Athens map. Satellite picture
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