Having gone through many periods of foreign domination, Crete carries the signs all of all Mediterranean and Eastern ancient civilizations. Crete itself was the mother of the most glorious civilization of all, the Minoan Civilization. The archaeological findings that have so far seen the light of day are of huge significance, not only from a scientific point of view but also from an anthropological one as well (ex. Phaistos Disk). Yet, all the more are being discovered.
Knossos used to be the most important center of Minoan Civilization. It was named after the great King Minoas. Some researchers believe that Minoas was not a person per se but a title for governors in the ancient Cretan language. This, however, has not been confirmed, since that ancient language remains largely unknown to us, while the legendary "Phaistos Disk" has not been translated yet (Phaistos was the second most important center of Minoan Civilization).
It is believed that the Minoan Civilization had already been developed to a very high degree by 3.500 B.C., while it sustained its development until 12 century B.C.. They say that the first robot was designed in Crete (Talos). The truth is that the influence of Minoan Civilization was very important, as the arts and architecture of later civilizations, Mycenae and Thira (Santorini), confirm.
Many legends were born in Knossos, such as the one of Minatauros, the monster with the human body and the bull head, which was killed by Theseus in Knossos' labyrinth.
The city of Knossos, which was never uninhabited since the Neolithic Era, was built in area of Kefala, 5 km southeast of Heraklion's location today. Although only a small part of it has been rescued, one will see many achievements of that period, such as the finished water networks and the heating and cooling pipelines.
The findings from the palace (pots, vessels, figurines, the board archive of Linear B script, and the original wall paintings as well) are kept in the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion.
Ancient Eleutherna, which is located 30 km southeast of Rethymno City, is one of the most ancient cities in Crete and the most important archeological site in Rethymno Prefecture. The city was founded by the Dorians in the 9th century B.C. and remained inhabited until the byzantine years. Its importance in the ancient years resided in its strategic location, i.e. the point where the road from the city of Knossos, the road from the ancient city of Kydonia (in the other side of Crete – Chania) and the road from the holy Idi Mountain (Psiloritis) met.
Until today precious findings and valuable answers are coming from the excavations in this area. The findings so far have been retrieved from three different spots on the same hill.
Eleutherna was one of the cities where took the side of Macedonian King Filippos II during the First Cretan War (205 B.C. – 200 B.C.) against Knossos. Later on, it fell in the hands of the Roman Empire after strong resistance. However, it never stopped growing. During the roman years, city baths, cisterns, palaces, public buildings and a tower were built. After its destruction by the Arabs, the Big Vassiliki was built, the ruins of which are saved until today.
Recently (2010) a double grave of a young couple was discovered in Eleftherna. The couple was covered with a cerecloth consisting of 3.000 gold leaves! The grave is aged 2.700 years. In the same grave a jewel of a bee-goddess was found too.
The Holy Abbey of Arkadi is probably the most historic Abbey in Crete. It is argued that it was named after Byzantine Emperor Arkadios. It is built in a strategic location, on a fertile plateau of Mountain Idi (Psiloritis).
In November 8th 1866, this Abbey saw Crete's greatest sacrifice for freedom against the 250-year Turkish Domination. Almost 1.500 warriors from all over Crete engaged in a bloody fight against 15.000 Turks, who were decided to end the Greek Revolution at once. When the Greek defense broke and the leader of the Abbey, Abbot Gabriel, was killed, Cretans retreated in the gunpowder-keg. Captivity being the only alternative, Konstantinos Giampoudakis from Adele Village, lit the gunpowder, killing hundreds of Greeks and Turks. Among the Greeks, there were more than 500 women and children. It is said that the bang was heard to Heraklion.
The Cretans kept fighting for one more day and then surrendered in exchange for their lives. The next day, they were all executed.
With its sacrifice, Arkadi Abbey raised the claim for Cretan freedom and gave rise to the philhellenic feelings of Europe.
The Abbey was completely rebuilt after its destruction. Today, the only thing that reminds us the bravery of Giampoudakis and the warriors who died on his side is a cannon ball wedged in the age-old cypress on the right side of the church.
Arkadi was given the title of a European Freedom Monument by UNESCO.