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Crete or Kríti, island, Greece, south-east of the mainland, fifth largest in the Mediterranean Sea, constituting a region of the country. The island is oblong in shape, extending about 260 km (160 mi) from east to west; its breadth ranges from 10 to 56 km (6 to 35 mi). The area is 8,335 sq km (3,218 sq mi).

The Land

Crete has a mostly mountainous terrain with extreme elevations in the western portion in which are located the Lévka Óri range, of which some peaks exceed 2,286 m (7,500 ft) in height. Elevations are generally lower in the east, where only a few peaks exceed 1,520 m (5,000 ft). Notable among the physiographic features of the island are a series of flat upland basins and the large number of caves. The northern coast of Crete has a number of good harbours, notably the Gulf of Soúdha. The southern coast, consisting largely of precipitous escarpments, is inaccessible to shipping. The island is relatively well watered by numerous natural springs and several rivers.

Economy and Population

Agriculture is the chief source of wealth in Crete. Traditional techniques generally limit yields, although modern methods are employed in the cultivation of olives, the leading crop. Other important agrarian products include oranges, lemons, grapes, and grain; sheep and goats are raised. The only notable industries are food processing and the manufacture of soap and textiles. The total population (1991) of Crete is 536,980. The capital city and principal seaport is Khaniá. Iráklion is the largest town.

History

Modern archaeological discoveries reveal that from about 3000 to 1200 BC Crete was the centre of a flourishing Bronze Age civilization, classified as the Aegean, which was preceded by a Neolithic stage of development dating from about 6000 BC. The Cretan cultural achievements of the Aegean period, sometimes called the Minoan, rivalled those of contemporary Egypt and Mesopotamia.

One of the earliest historical references to Crete occurs in the Odyssey by Homer. The population of the island, according to this source, was unusually diverse, consisting of Achaeans, Dorians, Pelasgians, Cydonians, and Eteocretans, the pre-Hellenic natives. The island had 90 independent cities, the greatest of which was Knossos, capital of the realm of the legendary Cretan king Minos. Few traces of the Aegean civilization of Crete remained at the beginning of the classical period of history. The Cretans, then predominantly of Dorian stock, figured only slightly in the affairs of ancient Greece. In 67 BC the island was conquered by the Romans. In 395 it passed to the Byzantine Empire. The island fell to the Arabs in 826 and remained under their rule until 961, when it was reconquered by Nicephorus Phocas, later Byzantine emperor. Following the Fourth Crusade Crete was sold (1204) to the Venetians. In 1645 the Ottoman Empire began military operations in Crete against the Venetians, completing conquest of most of the island in 1669 and acquiring complete control in 1715. Cretan revolts against Turkish rule subsequently occurred, notably during the Greek Revolution (1821-1824), but the Turks held control of the island until 1830. In that year, by agreement of the European powers, it was ceded to Egypt, which in 1840 returned control of Crete to Turkey. Thereafter, friction between the Christian and Muslim sections of the population resulted in successive rebellions by the Christians, culminating in the revolt of 1896. The following year Greek forces intervened on behalf of the revolutionaries. The ensuing war between Greece and Turkey was terminated in 1898 by the European powers that undertook to administer the island through an international commission headed by Prince George of Greece. Although popular unrest forced his resignation in 1906, and despite insistent Cretan demands for annexation to Greece, Crete remained under international control until 1912. A Cretan uprising in March 1912 resulted in the establishment of an independent provisional government, the delegates of which were formally installed in the Greek parliament in the following October. By the terms of the Treaty of London (May 31, 1913), which ended the ensuing war between Greece (supported by Balkan allies) and Turkey, Crete was ceded to Greece.

After conquering the Greek mainland in 1941, during World War II, the Germans launched an airborne invasion of Crete, rapidly occupying the entire island. British forces liberated it in 1945.