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THE CULTURE OF CRETE

Crete Culture Crete Culture Crete Culture Crete Culture Crete Culture Crete Culture

On the island of Crete you will find that most of its products circulate freely and will show up in tourist shops almost everywhere. The island is very well known for its beautiful fabrics, though formerly wool was carded and spun by hand. Indeed, nearly every Cretan village still has several looms for turning the basic material into cloth.

The actual grade of the material runs from very fine to the coarsest goat hair. It is made into an enormous range of articles ranging from clothing to bedspreads, pillow covers, curtains and brightly coloured Greek shoulder bags.

Another excellent buy is the hand knitted sweaters. The basic while “seaman's” pullover, always associated with Greece, has a distinctive square neck and short sleeves.

There is no doubt that if you wander around a Cretan village you will see countless ladies dressed in black. They sit in front of their whitewashed houses and produce endless bands of lace. In some places you are able to buy direct from these ladies. Tablecloths and blankets are mostly handmade and can be a bargain.

Boot making has been raised almost to an art form here in Crete, particularly in the west city of Chania you will find boot makers who will do made to measure shoes and boots with all the work done by hand. They tend to be sturdy rather than fashionable!!

You will find the Gold and Silver very inexpensive in comparison to the UK. The gold is fourteen and twenty one carat and you will find some very unique designs.

Crete is a year round showcase of flowers and trees. Spring is the ideal time to visit when you will find Crete at its most beautiful. But there is also a second spring after the autumn rains. Crete has an amazing array of over one thousand different types of plants and trees.

During the summer months bougainvillea drapes over walls, along with sweet smelling jasmine and honeysuckle.

A vast amount of herbs are grown on Crete, the most famous being Dittany. This is named after Mount Dikti and is usually served as herbal tea to soothe ailments.

The most famous and well known tree on the island is the olive tree. Olives and olive oil are a major export from the island of Crete.

Because of the isolation of Crete as an island there are around one hundred species of flowers that are indigenous.

In ancient Greece there were a couple of main myths about the island of Crete. The first is about Zeus (the King of the Gods), and the second is about King Minos (King of the Minoans) and Daedalus.

Far back in ancient times, Kronos ruled the universe after overthrowing his father Uranus. In order to defeat a prophecy in which Kronos had been told he in turn would be displaced by his son, he swallowed all of his children immediately after birth. When his wife was pregnant with her last child, she called on Uranus for help. They decided together that this child would be born in Crete, so Zeus was brought into the world in the Dikti Cave and was brought up by the Nymphs. The mother of Zeus tricked Kronos by wrapping a stone in a blanket and giving him that to swallow instead of the new born baby.

Minos was one of the sons of Zeus and also the chief of the Minoan religion. He managed to unite one hundred different cities on the island and governed them all from his capital Knossos.

In order for Minos to win the throne of Crete, Minos asked Poseidon (God of the Sea) to lend him a bull to prove to the Cretans and to his brothers that he was the man chosen by the gods to succeed their king. Minos promised afterwards that he would sacrifice the bull to Poseidon. However, Minos broke his promise and kept the handsome bull in his fields to graze. In its place Minos sacrificed an ordinary bull. As a punishment, Poseidon caused Minos' wife to fall in love with the bull and their offspring was the famous Minotaur – a monster with a bull's head and the body of a man.

Minos ordered the Labyrinth to be built to house the Minotaur and every year the Athenians sent seven youths and seven maidens to be sacrificed to the Minotaur. Theseus, the son of the King of Athens, fought and killed the Minotaur and found his way back out of the Labyrinth using the ball of wool that Ariadne (Minos daughter) had given him to tie to the entrance of the maze, so that he would be able to find his way out of the Labyrinth.

The myth of Daedalus reflects the technological and cultural development of Minoan Crete. Daedalus was credited with carving all the statues in Crete and with building the huge palaces and the Labyrinth. When Minos discovered that Daedalus had helped his wife in her affair with the bull, he locked Daedalus and his son Icarus up in the Labyrinth. Daedalus was unable to bear the imprisonment and made wax wings for himself and his son so that they could fly out. But there was a tragic end for these first airmen, Icarus disobeyed his father's orders and flew to close to the sun and his wax wings melted. Icarus fell into the sea and was drowned. Daedalus himself escaped and went to Sicily.

Happy Easter, is ‘Kalo Pasca’ in Greek. Easter is by far the most important time and event in the Greek calendar. It is a time for families to get together, preferably in their own villages, and members of the family now living in Athens or other major towns and cities try to get back home for the celebrations, leaving the cities uncannily quiet and peaceful. During the last week of Lent more and more people join in the fast, and eat Nistisima Agita (fasting foods) which exclude meat, fish, and olive oil, but include shellfish, octopus and lobster.

The somber mood of this week intensifies as Saturday approaches. On Friday Evening the Epitafios (a representation of Christ's body on a Bier) is carried in procession around the boundaries of the every parish.

The climax of the week is reached on Saturday at midnight where people see each other for the last time before midnight to wish each other ‘Kali Anastasi’ (Good Resurrection). Crowds gather at churches throughout Greece, and everybody carries an unlit candle. At midnight the liturgy reaches its climax with the chanting of ‘Kristos Anesti’ (Christ has risen) begins. The somber mood of the past week is shattered by the ringing of church bells and exploding fireworks. People then light their candles from the Priest's candle. If they can get home without the candle going out they will have a good year, so the saying goes. The sight of the candle lit procession coming down from the church of St George is particularly impressive. For several days afterwards, people meeting for the first time will exchange the greeting Kristos Anesti/Alethios Anesti.

Immediately after midnight many people break the fast by eating Mageiritsa, a soup made from lambs entrails and on Easter Sunday families in all the villages celebrate with spit roasted lamb accompanied by lots of drinking and dancing that lasts throughout the evening. The meal has something of the significance of Christmas dinner or Thanksgiving.

Music, dancing, singing and merriment in general is very much a part of life in Crete, but especially so during festival times and public holidays. If you are lucky enough to be here on any of these occasions you may well find that you will invited along to join in with the festivities. Be warned, Cretan hospitality knows no bounds, and this is especially true at celebration time. You may find that once you are there and caught up with the atmosphere, the food, the local wine, and the music and dancing, that it is not so easy to walk away.

The Greek language is probably the oldest in Europe with an oral tradition going back some 4000 years.

The Modern Greek is very different from Ancient Greek although much is still spelt the same. Pronunciation however has changed between Modern Demotic Greek and the purer (Katherevousa) Greek which is much closer to Classical Greek.

Today Demotic Greek is the ordinary spoken language. It is the result of much development and is now used in modern literature and newspapers. In the remote villages local and insular dialects are spoken although in the majority of areas English is spoken practically everywhere and the people are willing to help.

Most Greeks do not celebrate their birthdays but instead have what is known as a ‘name day’ (Yiorti). You may hear the expression “Yiortazo Simehra” which is the equivalent of ‘it's my birthday today’.

Children are normally named after a saint and celebrate their name day on the day devoted to that saint in the religious calendar. This means it is difficult to forget birthdays as so many people celebrate on the same day. For example, the 21st May is the day sacred to Saints Konstantinos and Eleni. This means that every man with the name Konstantinos (Kostas), and every woman called Eleni will be celebrating their name day.

The appropriate wish is “Kronia Polla” (many years). If you have a friend celebrating a name day it is customary to drop in to say 'Kronia Polla' and take a token gift. This may be something like flowers, sweet cakes, or even a bottle of spirits. With more elderly friends you can reinforce 'Kronia Polla' by saying 'Na Ta Katostisete'(may you live to be a hundred).

The Greek Orthodox Church is the most dominant religion in Greece followed by approximately 94% of the population. Roman Catholics, Jews and Mohammedans make up the other 6%. There are several Catholic and Protestant churches and a total of eight synagogues in Greece.

Since 1864 the Orthodox religion has been established as the State Church, with the Archbishop of Athens being the supreme leader. Many people take their religion very seriously. Sundays, together with Easter and other religious occasions, are prime examples of this when the whole village population often turn out to join in the services and ceremonies.

  • January 1 - New Years Day
  • January 6 Epiphany – this is the day when the waters are blessed throughout Greece. A bishop throws a cross into the water, and the young men dive for it. The one who retrieves the cross is honoured.
  • FEBRUARY - The two weeks preceding lent are given over to carnival parades and costume parties and general high spirits.
  • CLEAN MONDAY The start of Orthodox Lent and a day of fasting. The Cretan skies are filled with kites because this is traditionally a day of kite flying.
  • MARCH 25 - Greek Independence Day. Towns and villages celebrate with large military parades.
  • MAY 1 May Day. - Locals go into the country and pick flowers which are hung over their door to celebrate the arrival of spring.
  • MAY 21-24 - Festival in Chania to mark the Anniversary of the battle of Crete - with music and dancing.
  • JUNE 24 - Festival of St John the Baptist. Bonfires are lit all over Greece.
  • JULY 15-31 The Rethymnon Wine Festival – includes wine sampling, music and dancing.
  • AUGUST 15 Assumption Day – the village of Mochos, near to Stalis has a festival with dancing, fireworks and exhibitions of local crafts. This is also the name day for any woman named Maria.
  • OCTOBER 28 Ochi (No) Day. - Commemorating the Greek Defiance of the Italian ultimatum and invasion of 1940.
  • NOVEMBER 7-9 - Anniversary of the explosion in 1866 at Arkadi Monastery.

Once upon a time

The island and its people were very poor but they were happy and generous towards each other. Time passed and the people became very greedy and selfish, they stopped helping each other and looked only to themselves. The rich became richer and the poor became poorer.

The gods looked down and did not like what they saw. Life was so bad that one of the gods decided to go down to earth in disguise and the first person who showed any sign of goodness would be granted anything they wished.

So, dressed as a beggar, he went from town to town, village to village. At each door he was turned away with abuse. After walking for many days and many miles he came upon a lonely farmhouse. The god half expected to be turned away and was surprised when the couple invited him inside. On looking around he could see that they were very poor indeed, but, apologizing for their humble home they invited him to stay for supper and offered him a straw bed for the night. Again they apologized for the frugal food but they were happy to share what they had.

The next morning the god revealed himself and said that for their kindness he would grant them anything they wished, expecting to be asked for the better materialistic things in life such as wealth and riches. He was astounded when they replied that as they had shared their lives together, that when the time came, they wanted to die together and be buried in the same grave, so as not to be left alone.

So, when the time came their wish was granted.

Therefore, when you look at the OLIVE TREE, you will notice that the trunk comes out of the ground and invariably breaks away into two trunks. That is because when the couple were buried the god planted a seed in their grave and it grew one trunk for the husband and one for the wife. THE END