Cretan Music

Cretan music is part of the island’s soul and visitors will hear live music wherever they go, with several distinctive Cretan musical instruments and songs.

Greek musical instruments in a shop windowGreek Musical Instruments for Sale

'Tell me with a laugh, tell me with a cry,
Tell me you do not love me: What care I?'

Even the great Cretan novelist Nikos Kazantzakis wrote song lyrics, so deeply embedded is music in the Cretan soul. This extract is from the most common type of Cretan song, the mantinada. These are rhyming couplets containing 15 syllables, often expressing extremes of joy and sadness. The form goes back to the 5th century BC but shows later western and especially eastern influences. During Venetian rule in Crete, many musicians came to the island from Constantinople and beyond.

Types of Cretan Music

Other types of music include rizitika, or rebel music, most often played at weddings, baptisms and other feasts, and erotokriti, which are folk songs derived from the 10,000-line epic of the same name written by Vitsentzos Kornáros.

Greek musical instruments in a museumGreek Musical Instruments

Types of Cretan Musical Instruments

The main instrument is the lyra, a three-stringed instrument traditionally made of mulberry wood and played on the knee like an upright violin. Backed by the laouto (lute) and tambouras (bouzouki) it is the true sound of Crete.

Hearing Cretan Musical Instruments

When we stayed at the Dalabelos Estate we were lucky enough to hear the owner playing some of his collection of Cretan musical instruments. Read our review of the hotel here, and see our two videos on YouTube.

Cretan Musical Masters

The music shops of Irakleio are a good source of authentic Cretan music. Names to look out for include Nikos Xilouris (one of the greatest players of them all), and his brother Antonis, known as Psarantonis.

Thanassis Skordalos is another contender for the title of 'the greatest', and you’ll also find shops making and selling traditional musical instruments, if you want to try playing one for yourself.

Libyan Music on Crete

Don't miss our YouTube video of when we met a Libyan musician and recorded him playing Libyan music, with many similarities to Cretan music.


Our Pick of the Crete Guides

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