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HISTORY

Crete, as befits a country credited with being the birthplace of Western civilization, has had a long, eventful and often turbulent history. The first people to arrive in Crete some 7.000 years ago are thought to be Neolithic cave dwellers, who probably originated from Asia Minor. They left behind evidence of rudimentary agriculture and domesticated livestock, as well as cloth and pottery. Technology that advanced little during the next 2,500 years, until the Minoan civilization came to prominence. There is considerable scholarly conjecture about dates and details of Minoan society due to the lack of any written evidence from the period. Indeed until archaeological discoveries of the early 20th. Century ancient Minoa was popularly regarded as myth. However general consensus now has it that Minoan culture sprang up fairly rapidly after many preceding centuries of little development around 4,500 years ago and came to an end at around 1400 BC.
The first palaces were built at Knossos, Malia, Festos and Zakros around 1900BC and were emblematic of Crete’s prosperity of the time, a result of controlling many of the Mediterranean trade routes. This suffered something of a setback some 200 years later. The reasons for this are not entirely clear. There was considerable volcanic activity in Crete at around 1700BC which destroyed many of the Minoan palaces, and there is also evidence of raids on the island from the Greek mainland around this time. No doubt by opportunists capitalising on the chaos of the volcanic aftermath. The Minoans were to rise again however, and the old palaces were rebuilt with a new level of sophistication. Most of what is evident today at these sites dates from this period.
Minoan culture finally came to an end around 1450BC. There was volcanic activity again around this time, though many historians believe the destruction of the palaces at this time was due to human intervention, or at least a combination of the two factors. Whatever the reason, this marked the end of Minoan dominance, and Mycenean Greeks took control of the island. The Myceneans endured for about 200 years before they were overrun by the Dorians pouring in from the Balkans. The Dorian tenure was marked by an era of divisive, warring city states that advanced little, and whilst mainland Greece enjoyed  what has become known as its golden age, Crete's involvement in it was minimal. The islands main contribution being the supply of mercenaries.
From the second century BC onwards the power of Rome was in the ascendancy. Crete, always an important strategic maritime base, was at this time also a notorious haven for pirates with a taste for Roman merchant vessels. It was inevitable therefore that it should eventually fall to the might of the Roman empire, though it took three years of bloody conflict before resistance was finally subdued in 67BC.
The next few centuries appear to have been quite peaceful, and many public works were carried out under the auspices of Rome.
With the schism in the Roman empire at the end of the fourth century Crete fell under control of Byzantium, and quietly prospered for the next
few centuries until 824AD when it was captured by a band of Arabs led by Abu Omar. They were essentially a band of itinerant pirates who used the island as a base for attacking shipping, though they did manage to hang on to it until 961AD when it was reconquered by Byzance. For a time Crete prospered once again, but the power of Islam was rising within the Byzantium empire and Venice was providing strong trading competition.
At the instigation of the Venetians, Prince Boniface the leader of the fourth crusade conquered and sacked Constantinople and subsequently sold Crete to the Venetians for a nominal sum.  The Venetian rule was not a popular one, and was marked by many revolts and rebellions in response to high taxation and the ruthless exploitation of the islands resources. The greatest threat to Venetian rule however was an external one. As ever throughout its history, Crete was a natural magnet for marauding seafarers. Barbarossa the pirate destroyed Rethymnon in 1538, one of many attacks that resulted in the Venetian fortifications whose remains can still be seen to this day.
In 1573 Cyprus was taken by the Ottoman Turks, then almost inevitably Crete fell to them in 1648, though Iraklion did manage to hold out until 1669.
Turkish rule, invariably described as barbaric and unpopular, lasted until 1898. The Turks, who exploited Crete in a similar manner to the Venetians were, it has been argued, not necessarily any worse than the Venetians. The proximity to living memory of their rule, and the current situation in Cyprus may have helped secure them a worse reputation. Turkish rule came to an end when Crete was declared “an independent Cretan State”, under the rule of the Sultan, after intervention by the Great Powers  (Great Britain, France, Italy and Russia).
In 1913 a coalition of Greece, Serbia, Montenegro and Bulgaria defeated the Turks, and thereafter Crete was officially attached to Greece,
Crete was largely unaffected by the first world war but became very involved in world war two. Greece was invaded at the second attempt by Mussolini’s Italian troops in the winter of 1940, forcing a withdrawal of surviving Greek and Cretan forces, as well as the Allied and Australian and New Zealand forces who were fighting beside them. They fell back en mass to Crete.
Crete at this point was considered impregnable by the Allied command. A view not shared by the Germans unfortunately, who successfully invaded the island and began the last in the long series of  the island’s occupations.
The Battle of Crete occurred on the 20th to the 28th May 1941, when German troops invaded the island. Paratroops captured Maleme airfield allowing mass landing of the invading forces who subsequently drove back the Allied troops forcing a withdrawal from the southern port of Chora Sfakion. The Germans suffered heavy casualties during the battle, largely from the use of mass paratroops. A tactic that was never used again because of this loss of life.The Cretans, with British backing, formed a comprehensive resistance movement. One of the great coups of the resistance was the capture of the German general Kreipe. An event that was documented in the book and subsequent film "Ill met by moonlight". Though this was more of a propaganda victory than a tactical one.The Germans however held a brutal grip on power, and slaughtered many civilians in response to resistance operations.
Post war, Crete managed to avoid involvement in the civil war of Greece, thanks in part to allied intervention. This gave them a bit of a head start over the rest of Greece as they embarked on the road to economic prosperity, boosted by the advent of tourism in the 1970s. Tourism and agriculture are now the two main industries of the island.