Crete can claim, amongst other things, a tradition rich in handicrafts and manufacture in areas such as pottery, wood-carving, weaving, embroidery, metalwork and jewellery-making.
Here we take a closer look into what makes Cretan folk arts so special and unique.
In this artistic tradition lives on the originality and ingenuity bequeathed not only by the Minoans but by all the subsequent cultural influences down the centuries. All these craft skills developed rapidly in those periods when isolation and socio-historical imperatives demanded self-sufficiency from the Cretans. Today the pressure of these social conditions have gone, but the artistic activity survives. Consequently, it is not difficult for the visitor to explore traditional products and witness skills that are based on ancient roots. You won’t even have to look very far, contemporary workshops and folk museums are found all around the countryside.
Weaving and Embroidery
Another area of handicraft where Crete displays both an age-old tradition and remarkable modern production is weaving and embroidery. During the old days, most of the houses had a room dedicated to the weaving of ornate and patterned cloth. Among the most important centres for weaving were the Sfakia region, and the foothills of Mount Psiloriti in the villages of Anogia, Krousonas, Zaros, as well as the village of Kritsa and Viannos in Dikti and others in Sitia mountains. Today the industry is in decline, and some examples can be only in areas around Psiloriti (Krousonas, Gergeri, Zaros and Anogia) and Dicte (Viannos) where the women, mostly the older ones, carry on making the unique Cretan woven goods in the manner it was done centuries ago. The decorative motifs, apart from sundry geometric-based patterns, use images borrowed from nature and everyday human activities.
The craft of pot-making in Crete has a continuous history for around eight millennia. Objects of clay dating back to the Neolithic period (starting in 6000 BC) are on display in many museums. Following the footsteps of their ancestors, modern potters create and decorate objects of great value. Apart from the individual workshops around the island, there exist large potting centres even today that can be visited. At the villages of Margarites (Rethymno Prefecture), Thrapsano (Heraklion), at Nochia (Chania) and Kentri (Lasithi), you will find some of the most notable. They continue to employ a large number of inhabitants, maintaining the long-lasting tradition of Cretan ceramicists.
Traditional Musical Instruments Making
In the past, traditional musical instruments were made by the musicians themselves. The flute or recorder (chabiola) was made from reeds, the bagpipes (askomandoura) from the skin of a whole goat, and the lyra from mulberry wood, maple or walnut. The bow of the lyra was from the loquat tree (despola or mousmoula), its strings from a horse’s tail and it was hung about with small bells (the so-called falcon-bells). Today a new generation of instrument makers well versed in their instruments and the Cretan musical tradition are taking this traditional art-form forward in a creative manner. One of the most significant places for the preservation of traditional instruments is the Labyrinth at the village of Houdetsi in the Heraklion Prefecture.
The craft of wood carving has a lengthy history that came to the fore during the Byzantine period. It is focused on quality items mostly in the realm of carved furniture and practical utilitarian objects, as well as some of ecclesiastical purposes. These carved works are dominated by geometric-inspired decorative schemes and motifs enriched with themes taken from the plant and animal kingdoms. Even today in many villages, especially in the mountainous regions, you can find excellent hand-made small objects made from wood.
Crete has a long tradition of dyeing, especially wool. The colours were usually obtained from plants and animals. In the past, and to a degree even today, the working of raw materials was done by the weavers themselves, who processed all the products they used in the weaving process. During the Minoan era, the manufacture of purple dyes from sea shells was well known, as well as other colours from things like the kerma insect (prinokouki) that feeds on the leaves of various oaks and cedar trees. Even though it is difficult to examine in full, the ancient tradition of herbal and vegetable dyes continues even today in the mountainous areas of Crete, especially Mylopotamos.
One of the oldest craftsmanships in the Cretan folk repertoire, basketry is sadly in decline these days. With the use of flexible withies from shrubs, plants and reeds, people were able to manufacture many of the practical items needed in the farming and pastoral life-styles.