The island of Crete flanks the southern entrance to the Aegean basin and must always have been a focus for sea travellers between Europe, Asia and Africa. Its length from west to east is about 260km., its widest points in the centre are about 60km apart and its narrowest near Ierapetra in the east, only about 12km.

Crete is set in an area which is geologically unstable and has consequently been affected by frequent earthquakes, some of which in Bronze Age, account for severe destructions of palaces and towns. There have been other environmental changes of a less dramatic kind which have had their influence throughout the islandís long history. For example, the Mediterranean being virtually tideless, the evidence of submerged settlements, houses and harbour installations in many places around its shore indicates that the level of the sea has risen since ancient times.

There are many Bronze Age settlements along the coasts in central and eastern Crete now entirely or partially submerged below the sea or exposed on the shore. The sea has covered sandy beaches on which ancient ships could be beached. Modern ships must have anchorage, which helps to explain why the principal Cretan ports of Chania, Rethimno and Iraklion are  on the northern coast.

The story of European civilization really begins on the island of Crete with a civilization that probably thought of itself as Asian (in fact, Crete is closer to Asia than it is to Europe). Around 1700 BC, a highly sophisticated culture grew up around palace centres on Crete: the Minoans. What they thought, what stories they told, how they narrated their history, are all lost to us. All we have left are their palaces, their incredibly developed visual culture, and their records.

The geological composition of the island and the seismic upheavals it has suffered over the ages have caused it to be honeycombed with many hundreds of caves and rock - shelters, some of them small, others vast, not a few of extreme archaeological and religious importance. In recent times, as so often in the past, caves have been used by the Cretans as places of refuge and focal points of survival and resistance. Many have been associated with the Christian religion; and even today there are said to be over a hundred churches in Cretan caves. Roughly two thirds of the whole surface of the island consists of the conspicuously rugged and barren mountainous regions; nearly half the land area is only suitable for romantic grazing. The island has no navigable rivers, for the streams which can be called rivers are too shallow and rocky.

a haven of tranquillity

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