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.

You might like these other Crete pages...

  • Art Courses on Crete

    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.

  • Crete

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

  • Crete Olive Oil Tour

    For a Crete olive oil tour Greece Travel Secrets visits Biolea, one of the few olive oil factories on Crete that you can visit.

  • Crete Festivals and Events

    Crete festivals and events include Carnival Easter, Whitsun, Christmas, many other religious feast days and public holidays.

  • 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.

  • Best Things to Do on Crete

    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.

  • Best Crete Hotels

    The best Crete hotels include 5-star luxury hotels, historic and romantic Venetian palaces, and several hotels in Hania and Iraklion.

  • Best Beaches on Crete

    Greece Travel Secrets chooses ten of the best beaches on Crete including the beautiful beaches at Vai and Elafonisi.

  • Battle of Crete

    The Battle of Crete during World War 2 inspired several books and took place with an airborne invasion over Maleme on the north coast of the island.

  • Arkadi Monastery

    Visiting the Arkadi Monastery near Rethymnon is one of the best things to do on Crete.

  • Airbnb near Chania

    This Airbnb in the quiet village of Malaxa, a 30-minute drive into the hills above Chania, is a peaceful retreat with a delightful and thoughtful artist owner, with wonderful views and amenities.

  • 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.

  • Goules Taverna Crete

    The Goules Taverna in Goulediana, south of Rethymnon, has been called one of the best tavernas on Crete and Greece Travel Secrets recently visited them.

  • Eco-Tourism Accommodation on Crete

    The Dalabelos Estate offers luxury eco-tourism accommodation on Crete in the hills near Rethymnon with its own farm, vineyard and olive groves.

  • 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.

  • 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,

Latest Posts

  1. New Stations for Athens Metro Line 3 Ready by Summer 2022

    Once completed, the three new stations – Maniatika, Piraeus and Municipal Theater – will connect Piraeus with Athens’ center and the Athens International Airport.

    Read More

  2. Mitsotakis Calls for UK to Revise Greece Travel Restrictions

    Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Monday urged his British counterpart to revise the UK’s travel restrictions for Greece. The Greek PM met with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson while attendin…

    Read More

  3. Greece Extends Covid-19 Rules for International and Domestic Travelers

    The Hellenic Civil Aviation Authority (HCAA) has updated its Covid-19 aviation directives (NOTAMS) and extended travel rules for passengers of international and domestic flights in Greece.

    Read More

  4. EU Digital COVID Certificate for Travel is Now Official

    The EU Digital COVID Certificate, a European Union-wide initiative to facilitate travel in Covid-19 times, was signed into law on Monday by the presidents of the three EU institutions, the European Pa…

    Read More

  5. Greece to Accept Negative Covid-19 Rapid Antigen Tests for Entry

    Greek Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis recently said that Greece will soon permit entry for travelers who present negative rapid antigen tests on arrival, as proof that they are not infected with the…

    Read More

  6. Northern Greece Plays a Big Part in Country’s Tourism Restart, Says Minister

    Northern Greece has a leading role in this year’s opening of the country’s tourism, Greek Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis said following his official visit to Thessaloniki on Friday. While in the Gre…

    Read More

  7. Thessaloniki Ready to Welcome Hollywood Stars for Film Shoot

    A big Hollywood production is getting ready to begin filming in Thessaloniki, Northern Greece, the governor of Central Macedonia, Apostolos Tzitzikostas, said on Friday. According to Tzitzikostas, thi…

    Read More

  8. Ferry Travel: Greek Seamen to Strike on Wednesday, June 16

    Ferry transport in Greece is expected again to face disruption after thirteen Greek seamen’s unions announced a 24-hour strike in all ship categories for Wednesday, June 16. The unions – part of the u…

    Read More

  9. Greeks outraged at concreting of ancient site

    Installation of new pathway and lift has been criticised by archaeologists and called ‘a scandal’

    Read More

  10. United States Eases Travel Advisories for Greece

    The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the US State Department eased travel advisories for dozens of countries including Greece this week. The US State Department revised on Tuesd…

    Read More