Crete has long been one of the most popular Greek islands for holidaymakers to visit. With many miles of great beaches and known for its superb seafood, a holiday on Crete offers the necessary ingredients that many folks seek for their sunshine break. But if ever a place deserved a little exploration beyond its resorts and beaches it must surely be Crete. In the years around 1500 BC Crete was home to the Minoans, who boasted what is now recognised as one of the world’s most advanced civilisations at the time.

Who were the Minoans?

The Minoans were a trading people who made their wealth through their dealings with mainland Greece, Egypt and the near Asians. They had developed their society to such an extent that they even had two storey houses with flushing toilets and highly advanced drainage systems. The Minoan emphasis on education is evident in the many examples of writing found on various artefacts in the region.

The Minoans constructed several spectacular palaces such as the one in Knossos, where the legend of the resident Minotaur originated. Many experts suggest that the Minoans were so successful because they avoided many of the conflicts that blighted the world at that time, preferring to preserve their trade links at all costs. Recovered Minoan art differs from that found elsewhere in the Mediterranean in that it does not depict weapons of war or battles.

What happened to the Minoans? 

This is one of the great mysteries of the ancient world and one on which many scholars disagree. What is certain is that a major volcanic eruption on Thera, around 100 km to the north of Crete. Perhaps a tsunami from this event destroyed the low lying parts of Crete. Perhaps a layer of ash greatly damaged the harvests and led to starvation. It is not thought that the Thera natural disaster directly destroyed the Minoans, but it greatly weakened them to the point where they became easy pickings for Mycenaean invaders from mainland Greece.

What can we see of the Minoans today?

A highlight of any holiday on Crete is a visit to the place of Knossos. This vast complex on the ourskirts of the main city of Heraklion offers an insight into Minoan life and civilisation. You’ll find examples of Minoan columns (thin at the bottom, thicker at the top) along with pieces of recovered pottery from the Minoan times.

The palace of Phiastos on the south of the island may not possess the fine grandeur of Knossos, but its spectacular hilltop setting makes it well worth a visit. Other Minoan sites worth exploring include Malia, Zakros and Palekastro.

A car is ideal to travel between the various Minoan sites on the island. 

See our website for more information about holidays to Crete.

by Andy Jarosz