Cretan Writers and Artists

The most famous Cretan writers and artists include the painter El Greco and the author of Zorba the Greek, Nikos Kazantzakis.

The Greeks invented literature, when Homer began weaving his narrative tales that were ultimately written down in The Odyssey and The Iliad. They invented modern drama, during the Golden Age of Pericles in Athens (5th century BC), when writers such as Sophocles, Euripedes and Aeschylus developed revolutionary new styles of drama never before seen on stage. In more recent times Greek poetry has produced two winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature: George Seferis and Odysseus Elytis.

Elytis (1911-96) was born on Crete, and though he moved away to be educated in Athens and Paris he continually returned to his Greek island home. He was one of the great Greek war poets, writing powerfully about his experiences fighting the Germans during World War II, and he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1979.

Crete has produced many fine writers and artists, even though many of them are not known worldwide. The two notable exceptions are the painter El Greco and the writer Nikos Kazantzakis.

El Greco

The real name of El Greco (‘The Greek’) was Domenikos Theotokopoulos, and he was born on Crete in 1541. Tradition has it that this was in the village of Fódhele  although there is no documentary evidence for this. He was born at a time when the so-called Cretan School was already beginning to flourish. He studied at a Venetian workshop in Iráklion, and mastered the art of icon painting. 

The Cretan School

From the mid-15th century, Crete was increasingly important as a trading centre under the Venetians. So much so that from the 15th-17th centuries it had economic equality with Venice, but the islanders kept their own artistic traditions. They were influenced by Italian art, naturally, but also by Byzantine art: many artists from Constantinople moved to Crete. All art forms began to blossom, and so strong was the Cretan School that it began to exert an influence on its own masters in Venice, and throughout Europe.

Theotokopoulos was an artist of immense talent, and he studied under one of the greatest Cretan artists, Michael Damaskinos, whose best works can be seen in the Icon Museum in Iráklion. Theotokopoulos moved to Venice when he was about 27-years-old, to further his studies there. He added Italian influences to the combination of Cretan and Byzantine painting that he had mastered by then, but he was less successful in selling his works either in Venice or in Rome, where competition was fierce.

The Last Supper by El Greco

After almost ten years in Italy he moved to Toledo in Spain, where he lived for most of the rest of his life, dying there in 1614. It was here he achieved fame, as a sculptor and architect as well as an artist. Several of his paintings are in the National Gallery in Athens, but only one on his native island, in the Historical Museum in Iráklion.

Nikos Kazantzakis

Crete’s other towering artistic figure is the writer Nikos Kazantzakis, and he called his autobiography Report to El Greco in a nod to his great forebear. Born in Iráklion in 1883, he is forever associated with the character he created for his 1946 novel, Zorba the Greek. Usually regarded as signifying the robust Cretan character, Zorba was in fact a mainland Greek who came to Crete and showed the locals how to live. The author’s ambivalence to his fellow islanders is also shown in another of his great novels, Christ Recrucified, where Cretan villagers tear each other apart while the Turkish ruler lets them.

Kazantzakis was proud of his island, though, and the island is proud of him. He asked to be buried in Iráklion, and his grave stands on top of the Martinengo Bastion on the City Walls. His epitaph says a lot about the Cretan character: ‘I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.’

The Grave of Nikos Kazantzakis

Pandelis Prevelakis

Pandelis Prevelakis was born in Rethymnon in 1909, and became a great friend of Kazantzakis, going on to write his biography. Rather overshadowed by that towering figure, he is still regarded as Crete’s second greatest writer. His 1938 novel Chronicle of a City (sometimes translated as Tale of a Town) is a historical fiction about Rethymnon and goes in and out of print so you may need to hunt it down. Prevelakis died in 1986.

Other Crete pages

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    Chania, in Western Crete

    Chania is the main city in Western Crete with a lovely setting and a beautiful harbour as well as several museums.

  • Crete (Kriti) is the largest Greek island and its main attractions include the Minoan Palace of Knossos, the Samarian Gorge, Chania and Rethymnon.

    Crete

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  • Greece Travel Secrets visits the Crete Botanical Gardens near Chania and finds a wonderland of colourful plants, trees, and flowers filling a lovely valley.

    Crete Botanical Gardens

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    Irakleio

    Crete's capital and largest city is Irakleio, also called Iraklion or Heraklion, a large and busy place with good restaurants, museums and historical buildings.

  • Greece Travel Secrets’ potted guide to Eastern Crete and why you should consider it for a holiday, including seeing Agios Nikolaos, Sitia, Vai Beach and Zakros.

    Eastern Crete

    Greece Travel Secrets’ potted guide to Eastern Crete and why you should consider it for a holiday, including seeing Agios Nikolaos, Sitia, Vai Beach and Zakros.

  • Driving on Crete is the best way to see Greece’s biggest island and here is our driving advice and some information about Greek driving regulations.

    Driving on Crete

    Driving on Crete is the best way to see Greece’s biggest island and here is our driving advice and some information about Greek driving regulations.

  • These shopping tips for Crete include advice on buying souvenirs like ceramics, icons, jewellery, leather, weavings, wood carvings, and food and drink.

    Shopping Tips for Crete

    These shopping tips for Crete include advice on buying souvenirs like ceramics, icons, jewellery, leather, weavings, wood carvings, and food and drink.

  • How to see eastern Crete in five days, with its beaches, Minoan palaces, timeless villages, unique churches and mountain and coastal scenery.

    Eastern Crete in Five Days

    How to see eastern Crete in five days, with its beaches, Minoan palaces, timeless villages, unique churches and mountain and coastal scenery.

  • Malia on the north coast of Crete is renowned for its nightlife and beaches but also has the Minoan Palace of Malia, one of Crete's many archaeological sites.

    Malia and its Minoan Palace on Crete

    Malia on the north coast of Crete is renowned for its nightlife and beaches but also has the Minoan Palace of Malia, one of Crete's many archaeological sites.

  • Greece Travel Secrets page on  Phaistos or Faistos, the site of one of the finest Minoan palaces on Crete and is where the mysterious Phaistos Disc was found.

    Phaistos Minoan Palace on Crete

    Greece Travel Secrets page on Phaistos or Faistos, the site of one of the finest Minoan palaces on Crete and is where the mysterious Phaistos Disc was found.

  • Sir Arthur Evans is the archaeologist famous for the excavations he made at the royal palace of Knossos on Crete.

    Sir Arthur Evans, archaeologist at Knossos on Crete

    Sir Arthur Evans is the archaeologist famous for the excavations he made at the royal palace of Knossos on Crete.

  • Visiting Knossos near Iraklion is one of the best things to do on Crete, and this page has a history of the site with visitor information.

    Knossos

    Visiting Knossos near Iraklion is one of the best things to do on Crete, and this page has a history of the site with visitor information.

  • What was daily life as a Minoan like on Crete, living in palaces like the ones at Knossos, Malia, Phaistos, and Zakros, and what were their religious beliefs?

    Life as a Minoan

    What was daily life as a Minoan like on Crete, living in palaces like the ones at Knossos, Malia, Phaistos, and Zakros, and what were their religious beliefs?

  • Is someone from Crete a Greek or a Cretan? They are both, of course, but most will tell you that they are Cretan first and Greek second.

    Greek or Cretan?

    Is someone from Crete a Greek or a Cretan? They are both, of course, but most will tell you that they are Cretan first and Greek second.

  • Driving central Crete in three days gives you time to see the highlights including the Minoan palaces at Knossos and Phaistos, the beaches and the Diktean Cave.

    Central Crete in Three Days

    Driving central Crete in three days gives you time to see the highlights including the Minoan palaces at Knossos and Phaistos, the beaches and the Diktean Cave.

  • Matala Beach on Crete is a guest blog for Greece Travel Secrets from the We Love Crete website, inviting you to Awaken Your Inner Hippy in Matala, Crete.

    Matala Beach

    Matala Beach on Crete is a guest blog for Greece Travel Secrets from the We Love Crete website, inviting you to Awaken Your Inner Hippy in Matala, Crete.

  • Agios Nikolaos is a pretty and popular town on the north coast of Crete and this page on Greece Travel Secrets covers its history, museums and beaches.

    Agios Nikolaos

    Agios Nikolaos is a pretty and popular town on the north coast of Crete and this page on Greece Travel Secrets covers its history, museums and beaches.

  • Elounda on Crete's north coast is a popular holiday town with a pretty harbour, from where you can take day trips by boat to see the island of Spinalonga.

    Elounda and Spinalonga, setting for The Island by Victoria Hislop

    Elounda on Crete's north coast is a popular holiday town with a pretty harbour, from where you can take day trips by boat to see the island of Spinalonga.

  • 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.

    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.

  • Western Crete in five days allows time to visit Chania and Rethymnon, enjoy the beaches, hike the Samaria Gorge and see the monasteries at Arkadi and Preveli.

    Western Crete in Five Days

    Western Crete in five days allows time to visit Chania and Rethymnon, enjoy the beaches, hike the Samaria Gorge and see the monasteries at Arkadi and Preveli.

  • Crete’s wildlife and landscape are two of the island’s attractions, including gorges for hiking, rare raptors like the lammergeier, wildcats and ancient trees.

    Crete’s Wildlife and Landscape

    Crete’s wildlife and landscape are two of the island’s attractions, including gorges for hiking, rare raptors like the lammergeier, wildcats and ancient trees.

  • Western Crete has some wonderful golden sand beaches as well as mountain villages, monasteries, caves, and archaeological sites to discover.

    Western Crete Beaches and Villages

    Western Crete has some wonderful golden sand beaches as well as mountain villages, monasteries, caves, and archaeological sites to discover.

  • This drive along the west coast of Crete and inland from there will take a whole day and starts and ends in Kastélli Kissámou, west of Chania.

    West Coast of Crete Drive

    This drive along the west coast of Crete and inland from there will take a whole day and starts and ends in Kastélli Kissámou, west of Chania.

  • Greece Travel Secrets suggests where to stay in Eastern Crete with our favourite hotels in Zakros, Elounds, Sitia, Agios Nikolaos, Istron Bay, Myrtos, Neapolis.

    Where to Stay in Eastern Crete

    Greece Travel Secrets suggests where to stay in Eastern Crete with our favourite hotels in Zakros, Elounds, Sitia, Agios Nikolaos, Istron Bay, Myrtos, Neapolis.

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