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Getting around in Crete
Getting around in Crete
Hitting the beaches
Monastery of Moni Prevelli
Beautiful Crete


Thursday, February 13, 2003
Brendon is back in Greece and this time visiting Greece's largest and most ancient island, Crete.

Crete is Greece's largest island. It stands proudly as the last bastion of Greek culture before Europe gives way to Africa and the Middle East. The ancient island stands in the Mediterranean Sea away from the crowded towns of the mainland.

Crete has been inhabited since Neolithic times (7000-3000BC) and retains elements of influences from the centuries it was under Venetian rule before the Ottoman Turks secured Venetian colonies. It was the birthplace of the Minoans, Europe's first advanced civilisation.

Iraklio is Crete's capital and tourism gateway but is hectic, noisy and full of traffic. After the almost obligatory visit to the Archaeological Museum and the palace at Knossos, most visitors choose to move on to more inviting places.

There are plenty of reminders of Iraklio's turbulent history — its 14th Venetian walls and fortress and many monuments dating from their occupation are certainly worth visiting.

In 824AD Iraklio was conquered by the Saracens and became known as Castle of the Ditch because of the moat surrounding the fortified town. It is said to have been the slave-trade capital of the eastern Mediterranean and a place where notorious pirates looted ships and sold their crews into slavery.

Iraklio's two main squares, Venizelou and Eleftherias, are worth visiting. Venizelou is home to the famous Morosini Fountain in the heart of the city.

On the city's outskirts are the ruins of Knossos, ancient capital of Minoan Crete. The magnificent palace is surrounded by green hills and pine trees and its discovery set the world abuzz when uncovered by Sir Arthur Evans in 1900. Until then no-one gave thought to there ever have being such a mature and sophisticated civilisation in existence.

Hania, on the western side of the island, is the second largest city and was once the capital. It has some spectacular scenery and offers plenty of interest. It has a lively tradition of artisanship, a wonderful old Venetian quarter, an interesting covered market crammed with delicacies, the beautifully restored 17th century Turkish mosque of the Janissaries, a naval museum and an archaeological museum in a 16th century church.

The palace you see there dates from 1700BC, making it comparatively new. The older palace was destroyed by an earthquake, and rebuilding resulted in a grander and more sophisticated design. There were domestic quarters for the ruling king or queen, officials and priests, burial grounds, reception rooms, shrines, workshops, treasuries, storerooms and homes for common folk.

Crete was the birthplace of Domeniko Theotokopoulos. His genius with the brush was not recognised in his homeland and he moved to Spain in 1577 where his talents were appreciated and he became revered, becoming famous as El Greco.

Much later in history, Greece was a country which tried to maintain neutrality. That was not to be and the country was invaded first by Italy, then Germany. A government-in-exile was established on Crete and battalions of British, Australian and New Zealand troops went to its defence.

Germany was keen to use the island as their Mediterranean airbase, and their attack resulted in one of WWII's bloodiest battles. Cretan resistance was fierce and locals hid many allied soldiers in caves, villages and monasteries. Nazi reprisals were brutal, however, and they managed to occupy Crete until 1945.

The Commonwealth Allied War Cemetery at Souda Bay holds the remains of 197 Australian soldiers and is considered by the Greeks to be a most important place and their gratitude to the allies is eternal.

The well-maintained monastery of Moni Prevelli overlooks the Libyan Sea. It is in two parts &151; the lower Monastery of St John the Baptist, which is no longer used, and the upper Monastery of St John the Theologian. Its origins are not clear but it has survived many rough years of attack, burning and plundering, but also provided much solace and safety to many and cemented a friendship between the two islands of Australia and Crete.


A one-hour flight south of Athens.


Qantas flies daily to London with British Airways connections to Athens. Olympic Airways has connections to Crete.
Qantas Holidays has four night packages to Crete including return economy airfares, accommodation at the Astoria Hotel and breakfast each day. Prices start at $3455 ex-Melbourne; $3467 ex-Brisbane; $3472 ex-Sydney and $3597 ex-Perth. Prices are per person and include charges/taxes and are current at time of recording but may vary at time of booking. Seasonal surcharges and conditions apply.

More information

Hellenic Tourism Organisation
Ph: (02) 9241 1663

Island of Crete:

Astoria Capsis Hotel
Ph: 0011 30 810 343 080
Fax: 0011 30 810 229 078

Qantas — Ph: 13 13 13
Qantas Holidays — Ph: 13 14 15

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