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.
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.
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 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
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.
Greece Travel Secrets recommends where to stay in Central Crete including hotels in Matala, Ayia Galini, and Zaros.
Greece Travel Secrets eats at Vegera in Zaros and finds a cheap but wonderful feast of meat, fish and vegetarian dishes cooked daily with fresh local food.
This Rouvas Gorge walk starts and ends in Zaros in southern Crete and should take three to four hours with a distance of eight kilometres or five miles.
Keramos Studios in Zaros on Crete is an inexpensive two-star hotel/guesthouse with one of the best breakfasts on the island using food from the family’s farm.
The Greece Travel Secrets guide to Zaros in Central Crete, including what to do, where to stay, and where to eat.
Crete (Kriti) is the largest Greek island and its main attractions include the Minoan Palace of Knossos, the Samarian Gorge, Chania and Rethymnon.
The largest of the Greek islands, Crete has four ENUESCO sites, which are Sitia, Psiloritis, Asterousia, and the Gorge of Samaria.
The Dalabelos Estate offers luxury eco-tourism accommodation on Crete in the hills near Rethymnon with its own farm, vineyard and olive groves.
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.
Ancient Gournia is a Minoan archaeological site between Agios Nikolaos and Sitia in Eastern Crete where the visitor can see evidence of a maze of back streets.
The best things to do on Crete and top things to see include the Samaria Gorge, the Minoan Palaces at Knossos and Phaistos, the towns of Chania and Rethymnon.
Crete festivals and events include Carnival Easter, Whitsun, Christmas, many other religious feast days and public holidays.
Greece Travel Secrets suggests where to stay in Eastern Crete with our favourite hotels in Zakros, Elounds, Sitia, Agios Nikolaos, Istron Bay, Myrtos, Neapolis.
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.
How to see eastern Crete in five days, with its beaches, Minoan palaces, timeless villages, unique churches and mountain and coastal scenery.
Greece Travel Secrets discovers Sitia, the main town in eastern Crete, with its relaxing waterfront, inexpensive hotels, good food, and nearby ancient sites.
Greece Travel Secrets recommends where to eat in Eastern Crete including restaurants and tavernas in Elounda, Agios Nikolaos, Sitia, and Kato Zakros.
Greece Travel Secrets visits Visual Arts Crete who offer accommodation and run art courses at their home and studio in the village of Kastellos near Rethymnon.
Chania is the main city in Western Crete with a lovely setting and a beautiful harbour as well as several museums.
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's capital and largest city is Irakleio, also called Iraklion or Heraklion, a large and busy place with good restaurants, museums and historical buildings.
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.
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