Cretan History | Monza Car Rental Blog

The history of Crete: the rise and fall of the Minoan civilisation

Crete has a long and rich history, and one of the best things you can do on the island is visiting the numerous archaeological sites located in the four prefectures of the island. The best-known ancient sites are Phaistos and Knossos in Heraklion, but there are also many other monuments all over Crete, such as ancient Eleftherna, Zakros and Malia. If you rent a car in Crete, you can easily and flexibly discover the fascinating history of Crete, the Minoan island with one of the oldest civilisations in the Aegean Sea.

The Minoan civilisation flourished in the Bronze Age between 2,700 and 1,600 B.C. not only in Crete but also on other Aegean islands. The name Minoan derives from the mythical king of Crete, Minos, who according to the legend has built the labyrinth with the monster Minotaur inside it. This civilisation is famous all over the world for its magnificent palaces, decorated with frescoes. The most notable palaces are Knossos and Phaistos. The Minoan cities were also well-advanced with roads, water and sewage facilities through pipes. Buildings with flat, tile roofs and walls made of stone.

The influence of the Minoans reached the whole Mediterranean Sea including the Cyclades, Egypt, Cyprus, Canaan and Anatolia. They wrote in one of the oldest scriptures in Europe, the Linear A, which has not been deciphered yet. The Disc of Phaistos is a clay tablet with signs and words of the Linear A and is exhibited in the Archaeological Museum in the town of Heraklion.

Agriculture was the main income for the Cretans. They cultivated vegetables and fruits and had advanced trade with other population around the island. They also practised polyculture, using multiple crops in the same place and providing diversity in the natural ecosystems. They followed a healthy way of life, which led to a population increase.

This economy made Minoans mercantile people for overseas trade. They had a network of trade with mainland Greece, Egypt, Mesopotamia and Syria with the predominance of female figures in authoritative roles. Therefore, historians and archaeologists believe that the matriarchy was dominant in Minoan Crete. They also worshipped the Great Goddess, the goddess of fertility.

The Minoan art includes wares with patterns of triangles, fish bones, spirals and curved lines, characterized by simplicity and few colours. The Minoans created also jewellery, such as gold necklaces, bracelets and hair ornaments, while metal vessels were produced since 2,500 B.C.

Around 1,500 B.C., one of the biggest eruptions in Europe’s history affected the Minoan civilization. The volcanic eruption in Thera, destroyed the Minoan settlement in Akrotiri, which had as a consequence the beginning of the end for the Minoan civilization. A massive tsunami devastated the coast of Crete causing significant damage that led to the economic drop. This was enough to trigger the Minoan downfall, making the island vulnerable to conquest by the Mycenaeans.

The fascinating mythology of Crete

minotaur

Crete was considered a mythical island since the antiquity, which is why it was related to many stories that constituted the Greek mythology. The amazing beauty and the strong aura of this legendary island created many myths about it. Did you know that Crete was said to be the birthplace of Zeus? Before spending your vacation on our island, read the captivating mythology of this special place and get ready to dive into a unique world! Read below a few of the myths that originated from Crete:

Ideon Andron: The refuge of Zeus

According to the ancient Greek mythology, Ideon Andron, a cave located 20 km from Anogeia Village in a close distance to Rethymno Town, was the place where Zeus was raised. When Zeus and his mother were hiding from Cronus, father of Zeus, who wanted to kill him, they found refuge in this cave. Archaeologists have revealed many votive offerings in that cave, from the ancient times, like shields, spears and gold figures. The legend says that a goat with the name Amalthea, raised Zeus in Ideon Andron by feeding him her milk. When Crete was attacked by a giant lizard, Zeus protected the island and threw a lightning bolt against the threat, turning the beast into a stone island called Dia.

Paximadia: The birthplace of Apollo and Artemis

Mythology says that Crete was the birthplace of the Greek god twins, Apollo and Artemis, who were born in the nearby islets of Paximadia. Apollo and Artemis were considered, along with Zeus, to be the Gods that protected Crete. A few years ago, archaeologists excavated in ancient Aptera two stunning sculptures of Apollo and Artemis that show their presence and worship in Crete.

King Minos and the Minotaur

Another Cretan myth related to the Greek mythology is that of King Minos and its palace. The ancient architect Daedalus had built the palace’s labyrinth, where the notorious creature Minotaur lived. Minotaur was the monster, which was created by the union of a bull and the wife of Minos, Pasiphae. Daedalus and his son, Icarus, kept captive there, but they managed to escape by making wings from feathers and wax. However, Icarus flew so close to the sun that the wax melted, the wings were destroyed, and he fell into the sea, near the island, which took his name, Icaria.

Theseus and the love story with Ariadne

Minotaur, from the previous myth above, was eventually concurred by the Athenian, Theseus thanks to the help of Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos. Theseus was one of the ten young men and women, who were sent from Athens every nine years to be eaten by the Minotaur. This was the compensation that Athens had to pay, because the city-state was defeated by Crete in the war. Theseus managed to not get lost in the labyrinth and killed the Minotaur thanks to Ariadne, who fell in love with the beautiful man and gave him a sword and a ball of thread to find his way out of the labyrinth.