Modern History

Independence & Union

The last and successful uprising of the Cretans against the Ottoman rule, between 1896-1898, forced the Great Powers to pressure the Ottoman Turks to grant autonomy to Crete. Thus was brought into being the semi-autonomous Cretan State, under the protective governorship of the Great Powers, and with Prince George of Greece as Commissioner and the island capital at Chania.

The authoritarian administration of the Commissioner brought him swiftly into conflict with the free-spirited Cretans.

History of Crete. Modern History, the semi-autonomous Cretan State

This revolutionary and restless spirit led to the revolt of Therisos in 1905. At its head was Eleftherios Venizelos, who earlier had taken part in revolts against the Turks, and had recently served as Minister for Justice in the government of Prince George.

The Revolt did not last long: support for Venizelos became so overwhelming that Prince George was forced to resign by the Great Powers and a new constitution be created.

These events occurred in 1906 after elections: the Great Powers withdrew their troops. Venizelos emerged as de facto the undisputed leader of the Independent State of Crete, though soon after he was invited to Athens to become Prime Minister of Greece proper.

The Cretan deputies made a unilateral declaration of Union with Greece in 1908, but this was not recognized at first by either Greece (1912), nor internationally (1913). Late in 1913, with the help of Venizelos, this most desired Union came into being. The Treaty of London was signed, whereby the Ottoman sultan Mohammed V renounced all claims to the island.

In December of that same year the Greek flag was formally raised over the Firka Fort in Chania in the presence of Venizelos and King Constantine of Greece. Crete became a part of Greece.

Second World War

The long-term determination of the islanders to live free and to resist any external attempt at invasion whatsoever was once again made plain in 1941, in the Second World War.

Following the conquest of mainland Greece by the Germans, their next goal of their war machine was Crete, which they wished to possess because of its strategic importance for the battles being waged along the North African coastline.

The island was essentially indefensible militarily: the Greek and Allied troops had for the most part been trapped on the mainland.

Second World War in Crete. The Battle of Crete

On Crete there were left some 30,000 poorly equipped British and Commonwealth troops and 12,000 recruits (chiefly Greek soldiers).

These forces, with the massive assistance of the local population, put up a staunch resistance to the elite paratroop forces the Germans landed.

The Battle of Crete, though lasting only 10 days, was characterized by its fierce fighting and resulted in considerable losses on both sides (about 4000 each). Eventually with the control of Maleme airfield near Chania, the Germans gained a secure foothold, and began to pour in matérial. By May 30th, the Battle is done: the remaining Allied forces trek to the south coast, being taken off in ships for Egypt.

German occupation lasted for four years – a period marked by constant resistance on the part of the local population to the German presence. The conquerors habitually responded brutally in order to intimidate and choke off any attempt at resistance. Hundreds of innocent men, women and children were executed, whole villages literally flattened. Typical examples are Kandanos and Koustogerako in West Crete, Anogeia and the massacres of villagers near Viannos at the centre. 

The island supported an extensive resistance network, set up by British agents who landed on the south coast from Egypt.

The most renowned act was the kidnapping of the German Commander of the island, General Kreipe, in 1944.

Modern Times

In the 20th century Crete - mainly at Heraklion, but also at the other main urban centres of Rethymnon and Chania - saw a blooming in the spheres of the Humanities and Literature.

Poets, novelists, scholars, historians and archaeologists – such as Ioannis Kondulakis, Nikos Kazantzakis, Galatea Kazantzakis, Elli Alexiou and Stephanos Xanthoudides, alongside many younger academics and artists have brought into being a remarkable intellectual movement on the island, even though she experiences the same sets of problems that affect every province of Greece.

The Island of Crete today

Milestones in the cultural movements in Crete were the excavations in the early 20th century that unearthed the unique monuments of Crete’s glorious past, and also the founding of the Archaeological Museum in Heraklion before WW II and of the Historical Museum of Crete after it. To these is recently added the Natural History Museum, again in Heraklion.

The period of recovery in the 1960s changed the island: it began to experience prosperity accompanied by a population growth.

But such were unevenly distributed. The changes over the last 70 years are the greatest by far experienced by Crete in all her long story. Traditional methods of agriculture have been abandoned: cattle, donkeys, mules and horses have all vanished from the landscape. Gone are the cultivation of grains and pulses; the rural population has dropped, outlying villages are dying. Towns, on the other hand, have mushroomed. Tourism dominates as a means of livelihood.

The last 30 years have seen the founding and operation in Crete of higher education, science and research institutions: the University of Crete (with two campuses in Heraklion and Rethymnon), the Polytechnic of Crete (at Chania), TEI (the Technological Education Institute: its headquarters in Heraklion with branches in other cities), and the Institute of Technology and Research (FORTH, in Heraklion and Rethymnon).

{/jb_quote}Significant changes to the lifestyles and economy were made in the later half of the 20th century by the impact of Tourism, which established Crete as one of the foremost holiday destinations in the Mediterranean.{/jb_quote}

Greek membership of the European Union has also further enhanced many aspects of life on the island.

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