History

Homer mentions the great city of Knossos in the Odyssey. It was located on Crete, the largest of the Aegean islands. Because by legend King Minos ruled this city, the civilization is thus termed Minoan. Sir Arthur Evans discovered the buried remains of this palace and adjoining buildings in 1900 which at its height covered about six acres. This large multi-storied palace was organized around a central court, but the plan itself was complex, often called labyrinthine, in reference to the legendary Cretan labyrinth. The palace contained well-stocked magazines, royal apartments, shrines, a throne room, and service areas. Sir Evans excavated and reconstructed much of the site with some restorations in different materials (for example, the restored stone columns were originally wood).

In the following pages you can learn all about our Association and being Cretan in Toronto, Canada.

Our Mission

The Cretans Association of Toronto established in 1961 is a non profit organization devoted to the cultivation and preservation of the history and culture of Crete. The organization will create and support for its members of all ages educational activities, social events, historic activities, dancing and music lessons. The organization will promote philanthropy in Canada and in Crete, and offer scholarships to those in the pursuit of higher education and learning.

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Heritage

The Mystery of Crete

“…Crete’s Mystery is deep. Whoever sets foot on the island senses a mysterious force branching warmly and beneficiently through his veins, senses his soul begin to grow… …There is a kind of flame in Crete – let us call it “soul” – something more powerful than either life or death. There is pride, obstinacy, valor, and together with these something else, inexpressible and imponderable, something which makes you rejoice that you are a human being, and at the same time tremble… …Here in Crete the monstrous immovable statues of Egypt and Assyria became small and graceful, with bodies that moved, mouths that smiled. The features and stature of God took on the features and stature of man. A new, original humanity full of agility, grace and oriental luxury lived and played in the Cretan soil…”

-Nikos Kazantzakis
CRETE “Freedom or Death”
By Basil A. Boziotis

Enamored Crete, a part of the world that has risen from the depths of conquest and adversity many times over, has transformed to a land of endless feasts, legends and dreams where the fine art of unpretentious hospitality is religiously practiced.

Crete has an unparalleled character and atmosphere, which cannot be compared to any other part of Greece. A drive along one of its bountiful coasts will reveal a countryside that is constantly changing. In one place harsh and barren, in another wooded and gentle. Its villages perched on mountain ridges, adorned with olive trees, orange groves, vineyards and Cypress forests, while the hillsides are speckled with old stone farmhouses, and monasteries. Shores are lined with forbidding rocks at one glance, only to be transcended to beaches blessed with miles of sand or pebbles.

Overview

The island is divided into four prefectures: Chania, Rethymno, Heraklion and Lasithi. Although the north coast is where most vacationers flock, due to the presence of larger resorts, great nightlife and a modern infrastructure, the islanders have not let this beautiful region go spoiled. Exploring the south side of the island allows one to experience the epitome of traditional life and a far more authentic experience.

With over 1,000 Kilometers of extensive and diverse coastline it’s possible for beach goers to enjoy endless locations blessed by warm, crystal clear water. On the north coast, west of Chania one beach in particular stands out; it stretches from the town to just outside Kolimbari. Closer to the eastern point of the island is the famous Elounda Beach, near the town of Agios Nikolaos. On the west coast, one has the sandy beach of Falassarna and, further south, Lafonissi. It is best however, to rent a jeep, grab a map and explore this vast island (260 km by 60 km) as the ancient have done for thousands of years.

Brief History

This largest, and most southerly of all the Greek Islands enjoys a unique blend of diverse cultural influences, separates the Libyan and Aegean Seas, and marks the boundary between Europe and Africa. The island’s fertile soil and towering peaks witnessed the development of one of the most important civilizations on Earth, the Minoan (2800 – 1150 B.C.) A geological catastrophe, the eruption of the volcano of Santorini in 1450 BC created a huge tidal wave that swept away most traces of civilization and halted the Minoan civilization at its height. However, shipping and commerce with the Phoenicians, Syrians and Egyptians continued to broaden Crete’s horizons.

The Romans then occupied Crete in 67 BC, bringing Crete into the Byzantine Empire (325 AD to 824 AD) and thus the introduction of Christianity. But many others had there eyes on the riches. First Crete fell into the hands of the Arabs (824AD) forming the present-day capitol Heraklion, and then in 1204, the island passed to the Venetians. From this occupation appeared the cities of Chania and Rethemnon, with their fortified walls, narrow alleyways, small residential blocks, decorative piazzas, fountains, churches and palaces, remains that can still be seen today.

After the fall of Constantinople to the Turks (1453), artists and scholars from all parts of the former Byzantine Empire fled to Crete. Arts and Sciences flourished again, with the biggest representative of this renaissance being the painter “El Greco”. (Domenicos Theotocopoulos) Heraklion then falls to the Turks in 1669, with the occupation lasting until 1878, and then eventually Crete unites with Greece in 1913

Legacy of Legends

Over the centuries Cretans have had an uncanny ability to harmoniously blend nature and myth captivating the spirit of man. The myth of Icarus can best demonstrate this point. Dedalus was a famous Athenian architect that Minos (king of Knossos) invited to Crete to build a Labyrinth. When Dedalus finished, Minos jailed him in the Labyrinth. Dedalus however, built two sets of wings using wax and feathers, one for himself and one for his son Icarus, and they flew off Crete. During the flight to Athens Icarus, happy from flying, decided to challenge the sun. He flew too high and the sun melted the wax that kept his wings together. Icarus fell in the Aegean and died.

Today only the legend of Icarus remains (and the island of Icaria named after him), however there are numerous bona fide sites to be explored when visiting Crete. The most famous archaeological site on Crete is Knossos located in Heraklion, which contains the ruins of the Minoan Palace built in 2000 BC, which were excavated in 1900 and partially reconstructed. There is also the palatial site of Phaestos, which unlike Knossos, has not been reconstructed with the ruins uncovered and left untouched in the places they were found.

Another important site is the Arkadi Monastery located in the prefecture of Rethymno. In this monastery, on November 18, 1866, about a thousand people preferred to die by blowing up the powder arsenal than fall into the hands of the Turks. Its high walls are reminiscent of a fortress, and the church, which has a baroque façade, is considered to be one of the most beautiful in Crete.

Freedom or Death

Cretan hospitality is truly a unique experience, allowing for one to taste such “meze” as yogurt and honey, sweet tarts (kaltzounia), pies made with wild greens flavored with Fennel, fried cheese (staka), rabbit stew, cheese pie from Hora Sfakion, cockles, and boiled goat. Along the seaside an array delicacies either fried or grilled over charcoal can be found, from calamari to octopus.

For the Cretans every day is a feast to be celebrated with gusto; Cretan wine flowing and the sound of the lyre echoing through the hillsides driving the pulsating rhythms of such local dances, as the pentozali and the sousta. Such enchantments could not be found on the deck of a cruise ship or on the grounds of an all-inclusive resort, but over a glass of “raki” you might discover the essence of life and the sanctity of dreams.

Nikos Kazantzakis, Greece’s greatest modern writer and legend sums it up best with the epitaph on his grave located on the south wall of the city; “ I HOPE FOR NOTHING, I FEAR NOTHING, I AM FREE”.

 

The Story of the Arkadi Uprisng of 1866

The Arkadi Monastery is one of Crete’s most venerated symbols of freedom. The defiant defence of this fortress-like monastery during the 1866 Cretan rebellion against the Turks is still legendary and inspirational.

By the mid-1800’s, the Turks had occupied Crete for more than two centuries, despite frequent bloody uprisings by Cretan rebels determined to win independence and union with Greece. Then came the revolution of 1866, instigated by a 16 member revolutionary committee. Arkadi Monastery became the rebels’ headquarters, owing to its central position on the island and strategic location atop a craggy inland gorge.

When the Turkish Pasha in Rethymnon learned of the rebels operating out of the monastery, he sent an ultimatum to Arkadi’s Abbot Gabriel Marinakis: either expel the revolutionary committee or the monastery would be destroyed.

But Abbot Gabriel was himself acting as chairman of the committee. He refused the Pasha’s demand. The rebels began preparing the monastery for the anticipated Turkish attack. At dawn on November 8, 1866, the Arkadi defenders awoke to find the monastery surrounded by 15,000 Turkish soldiers armed with 30 cannons. The monastery walls were manned by only 259 armed men, including 45 monks and 12 of the 16 revolutionary committee members. There were also almost 700 unarmed women and children from nearby villages, seeking refuge from the encroaching Turks.

The Turkish commander’s demand for surrender was answered by gunfire. The battle was on.

Turkish troops stormed the monastery gate in waves and hundreds were mown down by heavy fire from the defenders and from seven Cretan snipers who had barricaded themselves in a windmill outside the walls. As night fell on the first day of the battle, the fields around the monastery were heaped with Turkish corpses. The snipers had died one by one. But still the gate and walls held.

In the dark of the first night, the two Cretan rebels were lowered by a rope from a window, dressed as Turks, to slip through enemy lines and seek reinforcements from a nearby town. When it was learned that no help was coming, one of the rebels crept back through Turkish ranks to return to Arkadi.

The second day of battle broke with a bang, as the Turks opened fire with two heavy artillery guns they had dragged up the gorge from Rethymnon during the night. As the walls and gate smashed and crumbled under the incessant pounding of the shells, Abbot Gabriel gathered the defenders into the Arkadi Chapel to receive the last sacrament. The Abbot urged them to die bravely for their cause and then went up to the walls to do so himself.

Aware that the Pasha had ordered him to be taken alive, Abbot Gabriel showed himself on an unprotected terrace and opened fire on the Turks. At first the Turks obeyed orders and did not shoot back. But at last the big Abbot, standing in clear view in his black flowing robes, blazing away at anything that moved, made too inviting a target for one Turkish soldier.

A bullet caught Abbot Gabriel just above the navel and he fell dead – but not before he had given his blessing to a desperate plan hatched by an imposing rebel fighter named Konstantine Giaboudakis. What the refugees at Arkadi feared more than death was to fall into the hands of the Turks. So when Konstanine Giaboudakis presented his plan to the defenders, it was unanimously approved.

By the afternoon of the second day, the Turkish heavy artillery had pulverized the outer walls. The defenders killed hundreds more invaders, but the end was clearly near – ammunition was running low and the gate was almost breached. As darkness fell, the Turks launched a massive final assault, pouring through the gate into the inner courtyard, where the rebels fought them hand to hand.

Meanwhile, Giaboudakis was preparing to carry out his plan. He led more than 600 women and children into the monastery’s gunpowder storage room, where they said their prayers and waited until hundreds of Turks were swarming over the roof and ramming away at the bolted door. As the door splintered, Giaboudakis put a spark to a gunpowder keg.

The massive explosion killed all the refugees, along with several hundred Turkish soldiers. When the smoke cleared, 864 Cretan men, women and children lay dead, along with 1500 Turks. The Turks took 114 prisoners whom they immediately put to death. Only 3 rebels managed to escape to tell the tale.

News of the slaughter at Arkadi Monastery, with the heavy loss of women, children and clergymen shocked the rest of Europe and won much support for the Cretan rebels’ cause. In 1898, with help from Greece and the Great Powers (England, France, Italy and Russia), Crete won its independence and the Turks withdrew from the island, which they had held since 1669.

Then in 1913, the long-fought-for goal was achieved and Crete was united with Greece.

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