Friday, April 13, 2007

The People and the Place (Part I)

The Cretans are known for their generosity of spirit. They like strangers, they are pleasant, graceful and hospitable. As their glorious and turbulent history indicates, they are driven by a powerful desire for freedom and independence, which is reflected in every expression of their daily life. Their intense character, combined with a strong sense of family loyalty, often leads them to actions that may be viewed as extreme by outsiders. The ultimate expression of this behaviour is the famous "vendetta," where the rivalry between different families can continue for generations on end. The Cretans keep the local customs and traditions alive. Many still wear the traditional costumes, sing traditional Cretan songs and dance the local dances. Their income derives from agriculture, stock- breeding, commerce and in recent years from tourism, which has developed quite a bit. Cretan girls make beautiful folk-art objects, like ceramics, embroideries and woven fabrics, which can be purchased at most shops on the island.

Found in the crossroads of of three continents, Crete is surrounded be the Lybian Sea, the Cretan Seam the Karpatian Sea and the Myrtoon Sea. Its geostrategic poistions is of great importance, a fact explaining its adventurous history. The shape of the island is narrow but long, with a a length of 260 km. and width of 60 km. and just 12 km. in its most narrow part, which is located in the area of folk-art. Crete is the biggest among the greek islands, with a total area of 8,303 square km., including the reas of the little islands of Dia and Gavdos. The latter represents the southernmost point of Greece. Its extensive beaches - of great variety of terrain - have a total length of 1,064.4 km. The population of the island amounts up to about 500.000 residents, who live mainly off agriculture, animal husbandry and as of lately off tourism. Administratively, the island is divided into four Counties. The County of Chania, with Chania as its capital City, the County of Rethymon with thw homonemous capital city, the County of Lasithi, with Aghios Nikolaos as its capital, and the County of Heraklion, with its capital, the city of Heraklion being the largest city on the island with about 100.000 inhabitants.
In the mountains of Crete there have been formed many caves, owing to the terrain of the island. Archaelogical and paleohistoric findings testify to the fact that most of these caves were used during the prehistoric era as sites of worship and religious observances. Among those caves, we distinguish the Dikteo Andro and the Ideo Andro, connected with many local legends, the Caves of Melidoniou Apokoronou, of Sendoni Rethymnou, of Ilithieas, the Cave of Aghios Ioannis the Hermit and thew Caves of Omalos Chanion.
The coastline of Crete spans an area of 1,046.4 km and is adorned by capes, bays, picturesque harbours, gulfs, steep cliffs and lovely sandy beaches. The southern coast is less developed as far as tourism goes, thus more peaceful and secluded. The northern coast, though rougher, tends to get more crowded.
Some of the most characteristic natural beauties of the cretan scenery consist of the famous cretan gorges which begin at the mountainous areas of the island and end to the sea. The green gorges a abound with rare species of flora and fauna which are protected by strict rules, as they are unique throughout Greece. Among them, one can admire rare species of cypress-trees, platans, pine-trees and wildflowers. The most famous and significant gorge of Crete is the infamous gorge of Samaria, which impresses with its size and unique natural beauty, while on its slopes, one can adire the famous wildgoat of Crete which is found nowhere else in Greece. other significant gorges are the gorges of Kourtaliotis river, of Nimbros and Tipoliano.
The mountainous areas of Crete form many plateaux. Some of them are very fertile with abundant water and are systematically used to cultivate garden produce and fruit. Others are used for pasturing. Among the better known ones are the Plateau of Lassithi on mountain Dikta, at a 900 m altitude, the very popular Omalos Plateau, on Lefka Ori (700 m altitude), made famous in folk songs, Plateau of Askifou and, finally, the plateau of Nida, on Psiloritis mountain, (1,400 m altitude).
The mountains of Crete present a wide variety of geological formations, valleys, gorges, caves and plateaux. They are part of the Dinarotauric Arrow, which begins at the Dinaric Alps. The western side of Crete includes Lefka Ori (White Mountains), or Madares, with Pachnes being the highest peak at 2,453 m. The central part of the island is dominated by Psiloritis, or Ida mountain, Crete’s tallest, Timios Stavros (2,456 m) being the highest peak. In the eastern part of island one can admire Dikta, or Lassithiotika (2,148 m). Apart from these mountain chains there are other, less high ranges, such as Kedros (1,777 m), the ridge of Kouloukonas alias Talea Ori (as it was known in the ancient years), mount Kofinas (1,231 m) and the Sitia mountains where the tallest peaks are 1,320 m and 1,476 m high. The Cretan mountains are for the most part covered with forests. In the recent years, severe damage has been caused by fire and the intensive timber trade and the forest density has been significantly reduced. Still, Roura Forest on mount Ida and Selekano Forest on mount Dikta, are well preserved. Yet, the most beautiful forest on the island is the famous palm-forest of Vai, where the palm-trees reach the beach giving a tropical touch and unique beauty to the area.