Crete (transliteration Krētē, modern transliteration Kriti) is one of the thirteen peripheries of Greece. It is also the largest of the Greek islands at 8,336 km² (3,219 square miles) and the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean.Crete is a location of significant ancient history and a popular tourist destination; its attractions include the Minoan sites of Knossos and Phaistos, the classical site of Gortys, the Venetian castle at Rethymno, and the Samaria Gorge, as well as many other natural sites, monuments, and beaches. Crete was the centre of the Minoan civilization (ca. 2600–1400 BC), the oldest form of Greek and hence European civilization. For centuries it was known by its Italian name Candia, from the medieval name of its capital Heraklion, Chandax (Greek: Χάνδαξ or Χάνδακας, ``moat``). In Classical Latin it was called Creta and in Turkish Kandiye or Girit.
Crete is one of the 13 regions into which Greece is divided. It forms the largest island in Greece and the second largest (after Cyprus) in the East Mediterranean, with a population of 650,000 (2005). The island has an elongated shape : it spans 260 km from east to west and 60 km at its widest, although the island is narrower at certain points, such as in the region close to Ierapetra , where it reaches a width of only 12 km. Crete covers an area of 8,336 km², with a coastline of 1046 km ; to the north it broaches the Sea of Crete (Greek: Κρητικό Πέλαγος) ; to the south the Libyan Sea (Greek: Λιβυκό Πέλαγος) ; in the west the Myrtoan Sea, and toward the east the Karpathion Sea. It lies approximately 160 km south of the Greek mainland.
The south coast, including the Messara plain and Asterousia mountains, falls in the North African climatic zone, and thus enjoys significantly more sunny days and high temperatures throughout the year. In southern Crete date palms bear fruit and swallows remain year-long, without migrating to Africa.
For centuries Crete has held intact its own distinctive rich and proud culture. Cretan Greek has been maintained as the spoken language, and Cretan wine is a traditional drink. The Island is known for the Music of Crete, and there are many indigenous dances to the Island, the most noted of which is probably the Pentozali.
Tourism in Crete
Crete is one of the most popular holiday destinations in Greece; fifteen percent of all arrivals in Greece come through the city of Heraklion (port and airport), while charter journeys to Iraklion last year made up 20% of all charter flights in Greece. Overall, more than two million tourists visited Crete last year, and this increase in tourism is reflected on the number of hotel beds, rising by 53% in the period between 1986 to 1991, when the rest of Greece saw increases of only 25%. Today, the island's tourism infrastructure caters to all tastes, including a very wide range of accommodation; the island's facilities take in large luxury hotels with their complete facilities swimming pools, sports and recreation, smaller family-owned apartments, camping facilities and others. Visitors reach the island via two international airports in Heraklion and Chania, or by boat to the main ports of Heraklion, Chania, Rethimno, and Agios Nikolaos.