At 150 miles long and 36 miles wide, Crete is the largest island in the Aegean
, its population is currently around 537,000.
During the early part of the Aegean Bronze Age
which lasted from 3100 to 1100 BCE, the Greek
island of Crete was home to the Minoan
Civilization that developed around 3000 BCE. The Minoans developed into a great sea power, sailing as far as Egypt
, and the Near East from their location in between mainland Greece, North Africa
, and only 175 km from Asia
. This location allowed Crete to be an ancient cultural melting pot, so it's not surprising that one of the earliest European civilizations should have arisen there.
The earliest written language of ancient Crete, Linear A, continues to stump translators, so most of what we know about the ancient Cretans comes from their art, and one of the things gathered from this is that these people had a major thing for bulls. Case in point: The name for the Minoan civilization comes from a myth about King Minos. In the myth, his wife falls in love with a bull, gets her pal Daedalus to make her a cow costume that's convincing enough to fool the object of her affections. King's wife and bull get busy, and nine months later (what exactly is the gestation time for a Minotaur?), an unholy cross between human and bull is born. Hey, you think that's weird? We've got nodes about getting dolphins to have sex with you on this site. (agnosticgnome has written a wonderful node about this myth, check it out.) There are many Cretan frescoes with depictions of 'bull jumping' rites, and the animals were sacrificed to the gods (thus, probably not worshipped as gods themselves). The Cretans apparently worshipped goddesses associated with snakes, who probably were the cultural ancestors of the Greek goddesses Artemis and Athena.
An earthquake in 1750 BCE gave rise to the New Palace period, which was the height of the Minoan civilization. This period lasted until about 1450 BCE, when the Minoan civilization began to decline. The volcanic eruption of Santorini (Thera) caused mass destruction on the island, and is thought to be responsible for end of the civilization. Only Knossos was rebuilt, and the Minoan civilization began to decline and power was shifted from Crete to mainland Greece and the Mycenaean civilization. The remains of Minoan palaces have been excavated, the most notable being the ruins of Knossos, Phaistos in southern Crete, Malia in northern Crete, and Zakros on the eastern coast. Knossos, the most famous site and the center of Cretan civilization, had been inhabited since 7000 BCE, and was excavated by Sir Arthur Evans beginning in 1900.
Interestingly enough, the ancient Cretan capital was also home to one of the earliest plumbing systems. Terra cotta pipes were constructed to carry the waste of the 100,000 people living in 22 acres at Knossos millennia before sanitization was even an option. The Palace of Knossos was also home to the world's first flushing toilet.
Stokstad, Marilyn. Art: A Brief History.
http://www.theplumber.com/crete.html (a very interesting read!)