Crete is the largest island in Greece and the second biggest (after Cyprus) of the East Mediterranean.
It lies at the Southern Aegean Sea and at the crossroads of three continents Europe, Asia and Africa.
Crete covers an area of 8.336 sq.kms. The length of the island is 260 km, but the shore-length is 1.046 km.
The biggest width is 60 km while the smallest is 12 km. A high mountain range crosses the island from West to East, formed by three different groups of mountains.
To the West the White Mountains (2.453 m), in the middle the mountain of Idi (Psiloritis-2.456 m) and to the East the mountain of Dikti (2.148 m).
These mountains gifted Crete with fertile plateaus like Lassithi, Omalos and Nida, caves like Diktaion and Idaion cave, and gorges like the famous Gorge of Samaria.
There are also quite a few valleys and small plains. The largest and most important plain is that of Messara located between Psiloritis and Asterousia mountains at the centre – south of the island.
The population of the island is approximately 630.000 (2005), and over a third of it is found in the three major cities, Iraklion (~150.000), Hania(~50.000) and Rethymnon (~30.000) located on the north coast of the island.
Although globalisation, tourism and economic growth have inevitably changed the way of life in Crete, especially in the large urban centres, to a modern and cosmopolitan style, the Cretans still preserve the bonds with their rich folk traditions and cultural heritage.
The Cretan dances, Pentozalis, Haniotikos, Pidihtos, Maleviziotikos etc, are still danced at every opportunity and the “madinades” and the “rizitika” songs resound in every celebration.
The extra virgin olive oil the legumes and vegetables constitute the base of the local cuisine as did for thousands of years and made the Cretan Diet renowned worldwide for its benefits on longevity and good health. In the countryside, even in our days many old Cretan men and women wear the traditional costume and the Cretan idiom is widely spoken even in the large cities.
There is also an exceptional artistic production in traditional sectors such as pottery, embroidery, jewellery etc and of course the very special Cretan Music. The violin (Violi), the lyre (lyra) and the laouto remain the characteristic musical instruments and there are many remarkable new musicians, singers and composers who continue the work of the famous Nikos Xylouris, Thanassis Skordalos, Kostas Moundakis and others.
Arts and literature had always played a significant role in the life of the Cretan people, famous painters like El Greco, Michael Damaskinos, writers like Nikos Kazantzakis, poets like Vincenzos Kornaros and Odysseas Elitis, composers like Mikis Theodorakis, Manos Hatzidakis and Giannis Markopoulos are Cretans or of Cretan origin.