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.

Some other Crete pages

  • Crete

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

  • Zacharioudakis Winery

    Greece Travel Secrets visits the Zacharioudakis Winery near Ancient Gortina in southern Crete, and does a vineyard tour arranged by our guide from Go Crete.

  • Touring the Lyrarakis Winery on Crete

    Greece Travel Secrets tours the Lyrarakis Winery on Crete and learns about Crete grape varieties such as plyto, dafni, vidiano, vilana, mandilari and kotsifali.

  • The Icon Painter

    Icon painting is a centuries-old tradition in Crete and the rest of Greece, and Greece Travel Secrets meets a modern-day icon painter in Elounda on Crete.

  • The Herb Man of Kouses

    Greece Travel Secrets visits the Cretan Botano herbs and spices shop near Matala in southern Crete in search of the herb man of Kouses.

  • The Cretan Diet

    Studies have shown the Cretan Diet as one of the healthiest in the world, involving lots of fresh fruit, vegetables, fresh fish, and moderate amounts of wine.

  • Stilianou Winery near Knossos

    The Stilianou Winery near Knossos on Crete uses only Cretan grape varieties, with every bottle numbered, and aims for quality rather than quantity.

  • The Snails House on Crete

    The Snails House in Plouti near Phaistos in southern Crete serves the Cretan delicacy of snails, cooked in several different ways.

  • 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.

  • Samaria Gorge

    The Samaria Gorge is one the longest gorges in Europe and doing the hike is one of the best and most popular things to do on Crete.

  • Rethymnon in Western Crete

    Rethymnon is the third-largest city in Crete and has a Venetian fortress, Archaeological Museum, Old Town area and Venetian harbour,

  • 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.

  • Paleohora and the South-West Coast

    The area east from Paleohora along the south-west coast of Crete includes resorts like Agia Galini, gorges like the Imbros Gorge and quieter towns like Sfakia.

  • Our Hire Car in Crete

    The travel tale Our Hire Car in Crete describes what it’s like when you go driving in Greece and get off the beaten track, resulting in kindnesses.

  • 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.

  • Margarites

    Margarites is known on Crete for its pottery, with ceramics shops and workshops lining the streets of this charming small town not far from Rethymnon.

  • Manousakis Wine Tasting

    We visit and tour the Manousakis Winery on Crete with a wine-tasting and a chance to buy their tsikoudia, sea salt, olive oil and other goodies.

  • 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.

  • Maleme and the German War Cemetery on Crete

    Maleme near Chania is where the people who died during the battle of Crete are buried, in the German War Cemetery with the Commonwealth War Cemetery nearby.

  • Making Rakomelo on Crete

    Greece Travel Secrets visits Crete and learns about making rakomelo from Jorgos Kourmoulis in Agouseliana.

  • Lonely Planet Crete

    Lonely Planet Crete is an excellent and thorough guide of almost 300 pages to the largest of the Greek islands.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • How to Make Petimezi

    How to make Petimezi, the sweet Cretan syrup made from wine must, is explained to Greece Travel Secrets.

  • Hiking the Samaria Gorge

    Hiking the Samaria Gorge on Crete, one of the best things to do on Crete, by Greece Travel Secrets.

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