Crete (Greek: Κρήτη) is the largest of the Greek islands and one of the largest in the Mediterranean. With a total area of 8,336 km2, it has a length of about 260 kilometers and a width ranging from 60 to 12 kilometers. Its shores, which present a great variety, have a length that reaches about 1,065 kilometers. Humans have inhabited the island since at least 130,000 years ago, during the Paleolithic age.
Crete was the center of Europe’s first advanced civilization, the Minoans, from 2700 to 1420 BC. Due to its strategic location in the Mediterranean Sea, Crete was the bone of contention between many aspiring conquerors over the centuries. The Minoan civilization was overrun by the Mycenaean civilization from mainland Greece.
Crete was later ruled by Rome, then by the Byzantine Empire, Andalusian Arabs, the Venetians, and the Ottomans. In 1898 Cretan people achieved independence from the Ottomans, formally becoming the Cretan State, and later in December 1913 became part of Greece.
The island is mostly mountainous, and its character is defined by a high mountain range crossing from west to east. It includes Crete’s highest point, Mount Ida (Psiloritis) 2456m, the range of the Lefka Ori (White Mountains) with 30 summits above 2000 meters in altitude, the mountain range of Dikti with an altitude of 2,148 meters, while, finally, even further east extend the Mountains of Thripti or Mountains of Sitia, with an altitude of 1,476 meters.
Crete is the island of 100 gorges. In the area of Sfakia alone, and at a distance of 35 km, there is a concentration of 15 parallel gorges, one of which is the famous National Park of Samaria Gorge, a World Biosphere Reserve. There are several plateaus also.
The largest of them is the plateau of Lassithi, on Mount Dikti at an altitude of 850 meters, the plateau of Omalos, in the White Mountains at an altitude of 1100 meters, the plateau of Askifou and, finally, Nida in Psiloritis at an altitude of 1,400 meters. The current climate of Crete is characterized as the mild Mediterranean, with clearly separated seasons.
Winters are rainy and usually mild and summers are hot and dry. The south coast, including the Mesara Plain and Asterousia Mountains, falls in the North African climatic zone, and thus enjoys significantly more sunny days and high temperatures throughout the year. The sea temperature is fairly high during the winter too so swimming is possible in winter.
Western Crete (Chania province) receives more rain. Finally, both the height of the coast of Crete and the sea level have undergone significant changes. It is known that the west coast of the island suffered intense elevation, as a result of tectonic action.