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FAMOUS CRETANS

Eleftherios Venizelos (1864-1936), Politician, statesman and diplomat:
Eleftherios Venizelos was born at Mournies, near Chania. After studying law in Athens he became leader of the Cretan Liberal Party. He was instrumental in gaining Crete’s independence from the Ottoman empire, and the union of Crete with Greece in 1913. He became the islands first independent prime minister in 1905 and prime minister of Greece in 1910. After a turbulent career in what, for Greece at least,  were turbulent political times, he died in exile in France in 1936, after coming out of retirement to back a failed republican coup. Eleftherios Venizelos is buried in the Tombs of the Venizelos Family in the village of Akrotiri, overlooking Chania. Set in tranquil parkland (coach trips not withstanding) it is well worth a visit if only for the spectacular panoramic views over Chania town.



Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957),Writer and philosopher.

 

Now chiefly remembered as the author of “Zorba the Greek”, Nikos Kazantzakis was more of a philosopher than a novelist. He was influenced by the writings of Nietzsche and Bergson, and Christian, Marxist and Buddhist philosophy. His book, The Last Temptation of Christ, was considered highly controversial when first published in 1955, and prompted angry reactions from both the Roman Catholic Church which banned it, and from the Greek Orthodox Church which excommunicated him.

 


 

Domenico Theotokopoulos (El Greco),(1541-1614), Painter, sculptor and architect.


Born in the village of Fodhele, El Greco’s standing in the annals of international art history is without question. He studied the icon painters of Crete, and traveled between Venice (where he studied under Titian), Rome (where he was influenced by Michelangelo), and Spain where he settled in Toledo. He is regarded as the first great genius of the Spanish mannerist school.


 

 

Nana Mouskouri (1934 - ) Singer.


Arguably Greece’s most globally famous artiste Nana Mouskouri was born in Chania, moving to Athens when she was 3. In 1950 she was accepted at the Athens Conservatory, but was expelled in 1957 after it was discovered that she was singing with a jazz group at night. She was appointed a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in October 1993, and represented Greece in the European Parliament from 1994-1999

 

 

 

Mikis Theodorakis (1925 -) Musician.
A slightly tenuous connection this as Mikis’ father came from Crete whilst he was actually born on the Greek island of Chios. A musician and composer of international repute, his name may not be immediately familiar, but it’s unlikely anyone has not heard his music. He has composed over a 1000 songs, 5 symphonies, the ballets: "Greek Carnival", "Elektra", "Zorba", oratorios such as: "The March of the Spirit" and "Canto General" four operas: "Kostas Karyotakis", "Medea", "Elektra" and "Antigone", the Olympic anthem "Canto Olympico", and the film scores for "Phaedra", "Z", "Elektra", and "Serpico".
He also wrote the score for the film "Zorba the Greek", including the piece “Zorba’s Dance” Possibly the most famous musical work ever to come out of Greece.
Always politically active, in the 1980s he became a member of parliament with the centre-right New Democracy party.. He has received several offers to serve as President of Greece, but has refused them.

 

 

Nicholas Andreas "Nick the Greek" Dandolos (1883 – 1966) Gambler

Born in Rethymnon in 1883, the son of wealthy parents. He attended the Greek

Evangelical College and earned a degree in philosophy.When he was 18 years old his grandfather sent him to the U.S.A.with an allowance of $150 per week. Settling first in Chicago, he eventually moved to Montreal where he began gambling on horse races. After winning over $500,000, he moved back to Chicago where he promptly lost it all on card and dice games. Undaunted, he quickly mastered these games, and became a prime attraction at casinos he played in.
From January to May in 1951, Nick played a two-person "heads up" poker match against Johnny Moss. The game, set up by Benny Binion, at his “Horseshoe” casino in Las Vegas, as a tourist attraction, is widely credited as being the inspiration for the modern day World Series Poker. He died on Christmas Day in 1966 and was a charter inductee of the Poker Hall of Famein 1979. It's estimated that he won and lost over $500 million in his lifetime, donating over $20 million (over $400 million today) to education and charity.


 

Giannis Anastasakis (John Aniston) (1933 - )Actor.


Giannis moved from his Cretan birthplace to the U.S. where he pursued an acting career under his anglicized name, and is now a successful actor in a daily soap opera. His success has been overshadowed somewhat though by his daughter, the actress Jennifer Aniston, who shot to fame with the international phenomenon of the TV series “Friends”.

His best friend was the late actor Telly Savalas, who was godfather to Jennifer.

 

 

 

Michalis Damaskinos (1530-1591):

 

He is the best known painter of the Cretan school icon painters (1530-1591 AD), that were an early influence on El Greco. His works combined elements of Byzantine and Renaissance art. These icons are now exhibited in the Museum of Religious Art in Iraklion


 

 

 

Vitsentzos Kornaros (1553–1613) Poet.
A poet of the Greek Renaissance, and contemporary of William Shakespeare, though it’s highly unlikely the two ever met, Vitsentzos was the creator of the romantic epic poem Erotokritos. A narrative work comprising of ten thousand 15-syllable verses, it was the major inspiration behind the mantinades, traditional folk poems often narrated or sung to the sound of the Cretan lyra. Mantinades are still surviving today in modern Cretan culture, still using the form of 15 syllable rhyming couplets which are very often improvised.

 

 

 

Epimenedes 6th.century BC


The philosopher and poet Epimenedes’ lasting legacy is the coining of the phrase “all Cretans are liars”, which was a reference to the Cretan’s belief that the god Zeus was buried in Mt.Yiouthas . The lie in question being that as Zeus was immortal this could not be true. He was probably unaware of the irony of the remark, that resulted from he himself being a Cretan. This was later adopted by mathematicians as the Epimenedes Paradox which is - Epimenides is himself a Cretan; therefore he is himself a liar. But if he is a liar, what he says is untrue, and consequently the Cretans are truthful; but Epimenides is a Cretan, and therefore what he says is true; then the Cretans are liars...and so on ad infinitum.
If you’re feeling particularly devilish write “How to keep a mathematician amused for hours P.T.O.” on a small piece of paper. Then write the same thing on the other side, and give it to a mathematician.

VISITORS

 

Sir Arthur Evans  (1851 to 1941)

English archaeologist Arthur Evans spent much of his adult life in Crete, excavating and reconstructing the ancient Minoan ruins at Knossos, having bought the site in 1913 when Crete became autonomous. He established the concept of the Minoan civilisation and was the first to recognise Linear A and Linear B scripts.

 

 

Barbarossa  (1474 to 1518)
Oruc Reis better known as Barbarossa, Italian for red beard, operated as a pirate in the Mediterranean. Sponsored by the Ottoman state he attacked the Knights of St. John and other Christian targets to safeguard muslim Ottoman shipping interests, and of course his own. On his death the name Barbrossa was passed to his brother Heyreddin who plied a similar trade.He destroyed Rethymnon in 1538 and came to close to taking Chania. These unexpected attacks caused the occupying Venetians to upgrade their defences.

 

The Black Death
The Black Death, or bubonic plague came to Crete in 1348 and hit Crete particularly hard. Plagues followed in 1398, 1419, 1456, 1523, 1580, 1592, 1678, 1689, 1703 and 1816, and some of these were credited with killing ⅓ of the population. Many Cretans migrated overseas during these difficult periods on the island,

 

 

Anthony Quinn  (1915 to 2001)
Anthony Quinn came to Crete to film Zorba the Greek in 1963, leaving behind a legacy of thousands of bars, restaurants, and hotels, etc bearing the name Zorba. Though he made a convincing Greek, Anthony was in fact born in Chihuahua during the Mexican revolution to a mother of Aztec origins and a Irish / Mexican father who once rode with Pancho Villa. In the famous Zorba’s dance scene, Anthony employed “stunt legs” for the close ups due to a knee problem. Zorba's dance was written by Mikis Theodorakis, and specially choreographed for the film, by Giorgos Previas.

 

 

 

St. Paul the Apostle
St. Paul visited Crete in 56AD to establish new churches, and organise the existing ones that were operating rather dubiously. He landed briefly in Southern Crete in 59AD whilst in the process of being taken to Rome to be tried for treason. After surviving a shipwreck off Malta, he was eventually executed in Rome in the mid 60s.

 

 

 

Edward Lear
The poet and painter Edward Lear visited the island in 1864 in the hope of improving his health. He arrived during an unfortunate period of bad weather which coloured his opinions of the place somewhat negatively. He described Heraklion as “earthquaky”, and “the people unremittingly kind and generous, if dirty and odorous.” More of his thoughts and paintings are contained in the still available book “The Cretan Journal”. On the strength of the poetic offering below he may have been better advised to stick to painting.-

 There was a Young Person of Crete,
Whose toilette was far from complete;
       She dressed in a sack,
       Spickle-speckled with black,
That ombliferous Person of Crete.

 

Gypsies
Gypsies* (see note below) are first recorded as reaching Crete around 1322, and were, and have not since, been accorded the famous Cretan hospitality. They live in Crete as they do in most countries, on the periphery of society, in makeshift camps with minimal facilities, plying the usual trades of flower selling, roadside trading, busking, and begging.

 

 

 

 

Hippies
As the hippy movement took hold on a global scale in the 1960s, young people, predominantly from the U.S. and Western Europe went forth in search of a simple, and perhaps more pertinently, cheap lifestyle in less developed countries. So it was they arrived in Crete, establishing a community in the ancient caves at Matala amongst other places. Having at first been regarded with benign curiosity, they quickly wore out their welcome when they offended local sensibilities by turning to open nudism and decorating the caves with Day-Glo psychedelic designs.

 

 

 

Joni Mitchell
Canadian singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell visited the hippy commune at Matala in 1968, having a brief affair with Carey Raditz, an American working there as a cook. The period she spent there is captured in the autobiographical song “Carey”, from the album Blue. For more information on this, and a video of Matala click on this link - http://vimeo.com/13148100

 

 

 

 

 

GYPSIES*, that is to say Romani gypsies, as opposed to Irish travellers or other nomadic groups, have origins that have been shrouded in mystery over the years. This is in large part due to their having an oral tradition with no written history, and being uncertain themselves of where they originated. They were long thought to have originated in Egypt, hence the name gypsies. Simeon Simeonis, a Franciscan friar, described gypsies in Crete in 1323 as “asserting themselves to be of the family of Ham, they rarely or never stop in one place beyond thirty days, but always wandering and fugitive, as though accursed by god….from field to field with their oblong tents, black and low.”. Ham in this instance referring to Noah’s son. (There is still some weight of religious belief that we are all descended from Noah). However recent research into language and dialects, and DNA evidence, now strongly support their having originated in India, in the Rajasthan region, and began their wanderings around the 8th or  9th centuries. Despite terrible persecution over the years, they have in large, resolutely stuck to their traditions and beliefs. 
Some notable people claiming gypsy ancestry include, Mother Theresa, Michael Caine, Elvis Presley, and Eric Cantona
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