History of Crete

'detail of the Procession Fresco at Knossos Palace in Crete, Greece ' - Crete
'detail of the Procession Fresco at Knossos Palace in Crete, Greece ' Luis Santos / Shutterstock

An historical account of Crete will stretch as far back in time as the 7th Millennium B.C., which precedes its ancient Minoan roots by nearly 4 million years. The Minoan civilization is marked as the first recognized civilization in all of Europe and is notable for building the first ever palace. This civilization and its inhabitants were destroyed by a catastrophic volcanic eruption known as the Thera eruption. The massive devastation and loss of life caused by this eruption can be attributed as the inspiration to many Greek myths and is possibly the basis for Plato’s account of the lost city of Atlantis.

Upon the ruins of this destruction, Crete developed into a system of Ancient Greek city states that were subsequently followed by occupations by the Roman and Byzantine Empires, as well as the Venetian Republic and Ottoman Empire before evolving into the modern Greek state.

Modern Crete has been historically marked with great tension between its Christian and Muslim population. The Christian population of Crete supported many revolts against Ottoman rule and eventually secured equal rights amongst Christians and Muslims. With a goal of uniting with greater Greece the Christian population staged the great Cretan Revolt in 1866. This lasted for three years and involved fighters from Greece and other areas of Europe. While this uprising ultimately failed, it did help in obtaining a more tolerable rule for the majority population. Around the turn of the 19th century, Britain and France along with Italy and Russia wrestled rule from Turkey and the Cretan state was finally born.

During the Second World War, the island fell to German forces after the Axis powers were involved in repeated and bloody battles with the Allies. The Nazis staged the first airborne assault on the island, securing its control by the Third Reich until the end of the war.