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The People
About Crete - The People
 
A short introduction
The island of King Minos and a civilization that left its mark on the world, faced the voracious appetite of conquerors from mainland Greece, Rome, Byzantium, the Ottoman Empire, the Venetians, was raided by pirates and invaded by armies who cruised the Mediterranean in search of riches and power.

The proof of this in every corner of the land; in Chania, Rethymno , Iraklio, Lassithi. Finds of long-forgotten civilizations, castles with thick walls and deep moats, monasteries and churches, standing along-side minarets and mosques, they are all testaments to the turbulent past of this corner of Greece. And the people!!!... Proud as the mountains, strong as the waves that beat upon its shores, yet gentle and generous, bearers of age-old traditions and culture.

This is the birthplace of gods and heroes, divine artists and inspired politicians: Zeus and Minos, El Greco, Kornaros, Kazatzakis, Venizelos ... From myth, to antiquity, to renaissance, to modern Greek history, figures who contributed of themselves to what today makes up Crete, Greece and to some extend Western civilization.


The Cretans
Anthony Quinn as "Zorba the Greek" played up the playful and proud nature of Greece's people. Melina Mercouri, Greece's world-famous actress and cultural ambassador, likewise brought the passion and independence of the Greeks to the movies in “Never on Sunday”. These two beloved actors skillfully endeared international audiences to the people who gave our world some of history's greatest philosophers, architects, artists and adventurers.

The people of the island of Crete (Cretans) have their own, special lineage. The Minoan people, who settled largely in Crete, were traders, developing the most advanced navy that had ever been seen. All of this concentrated mercantile activity produced great wealth for the Cretans, which went into massive building projects, art, and technological development.

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, and 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.

The inhabitants of Crete belong to the so called Mediterranean type.
The population is mainly concentrated in the six large towns on the island - the capitals of the four prefectures, Ierapetra and Sitia - and employed in trade, handicrafts, tourism and the like. The remainder of its inhabitants are principally engaged in farming and livestock raising.

Nearly all Cretans, but above all those who live in the market towns and the villages, maintain time-honored customs and manners.
In the countryside one encounters many elderly Cretan men dressed in the traditional outfit (baggy trousers and head-scarf).
Women, on the other hand, no longer wear their splendidly embroidered traditional costumes, although they do continue to weave folk embroideries distinguished for their decorative wealth and colorful compositions.
In Crete, more than any other region of Greece, familial and kinship bonds remain close, and Cretan hospitality is renowned.
Many other traditions are also preserved, such as the music, which is played on the ancient Cretan lyra (a three-stringed instrument), the dances (pendozalis, chaniotikos, ortses, siteiakos, malevyzytikos and sousta) and the songs called mandinades.

The Cretans are famous for their indomitable spirit and their love of freedom and independence. That is why they played a leading role in all the struggles of the Greek nation, writing brilliant pages of heroic history.
Those who travel to the towns and villages of Crete will come to know the outstanding beauty of its people.


Who were the Hellenes?
You may notice the term” Hellenic"; is used often in referring to the people of Greece. What does it mean? Hellenic Greece was the ancient civilization of Hellas in what is modern Greece... Bound on land by Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Albania to the north, to the east by Turkey and the waters of the Aegean Sea and to the west and south by the Ionian and Mediterranean Seas. Regarded by many as the cradle of Western civilisation, Greece has a long and rich history during which it spread its influence over three continents. The people were called Hellenes.

Hellenic civilization reached the peak of its power during the 5th century BC. In 478 B.C., following the defeat of the Persian invasion, Athens assumed leadership of an alliance known as the Delian League, which would later come to be known as the Athenian Empire. Sparta, the other great power in Greece, and leader of the Peloponnesian League, fearing the growth of Athenian power, sparred with Athens throughout the middle of the century. Finally, the two sides fought in the Peloponnesian War, from 431-404 B.C., which involved virtually every state in Greece, including colonies in Asia, Italy, and Sicily. The war ended in the decisive defeat of the Athenian Empire


A Today's Greek Society
Rarely is a social event conducted outside of a meal in Crete. Food is a tastey, central element in most family gatherings. And, the Cretans have a particular flair for preparing fresh, healthy foods gathered from the vast countryside. Already from the ancient times of the Minoan civilization, Cretans appear to have been aware of the value of food like olive oil, olives, green vegetables, herbs and many other products that are found in the Cretan soil in great abundance.

During their history of many centuries, it is obvious that Cretans based their diet on those products - with cooking recipes preserved to today. But, that doesn't mean that fermented beverages were overlooked. Grape-gathering, wine-making and tsikoudia-making are activities enjoyed in the autumn every year. Wine-making involves crushing the grapes in special stone constructions called "patitiria". This is done by several people taking turns, walking or running in place on top of the grapes. While recovering from their exercise or waiting for their turn, the people consume food and wine. Tsikoudia or "raki" is a strong local drink made from the remains in the patitiria, after most of the grape juice has been removed. This is allowed to ferment and then is distilled. Traditional methods and machinery are still used. The licensed owner of the still will often take time off his regular work to fulfil his function as village distiller in the autumn. Very often this still has been in his family for generations. People who come to make their raki often bring food to barbecue on the fire and the brew is sampled copiously.

The major celebration for the Orthodox Church is Pascha, the Greek Easter. This is celebrated normally after the Roman Easter, due to the use of different calendars for determining this feast's date. Nature is at its most verdant and the green fields, wild flowers, blue skies and sea, and snow-capped mountains all combine to present magnificent scenery. During Holy Week (Megali Evdomada) there are long evening church services attended by large crowds. Good Friday is especially colourful, since the Epitaphi, depicting the burial cloth of Christ, is carried through the streets around the parish boundaries. In the cathedrals of the cities this procession is accompanied by soldiers, priests and the bishop of the area.

On Holy Saturday night, there is the Liturgy of the Anastasi (Resurrection). Just before midnight the lights are extinguished and the people and the priests move outside to continue the liturgy. At the moment of the Resurrection, the Easter Candle is lit (representing Christ as the light of the world) and the flame is passed from person to person to light their individual candles. Each family takes the light back to the house, where a cross is then marked on the doorway with the flame and a feast is waiting. Two of the traditional foods eaten on this night are "magiritsa", a soup made from lamb liver, and hard-boiled eggs dyed red. On Easter Sunday there is another liturgy at noon, but many people have already started their "souvla", lamb barbecued on a spit, and all the sweets being offered now that Lent is over.  

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