Crete (modern Greek: Kríti), a Greek island in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. It is separated from continental Greece by the Sea of Crete, an arm of the Aegean Sea. Crete is the largest of the Greek islands and the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean. Its area is 3,207 square miles (8,306 km2).
Crete is primarily mountainous, with very little level land. Much of it has a somewhat barren appearance, devoid of trees and sparsely covered by low, drought-resistant plants. The highest peak, Mount ídhi, reaches 8,058 feet (2,456 m) above sea level; several other peaks exceed 7,000 feet (2,100 m). There are few rivers on the island, and all of them are short. Crete's climate, like that throughout much of the Mediterranean region, is marked by hot, dry summers and mild winters. Virtually all the rain, which is scant, falls during the winter months.
Tourism and farming are of major importance to Crete's economy. Most of the farmers work tiny plots of land, growing such crops as olives, wheat, grapes, citrus fruits, and vegetables. Sheep and goats, which thrive on poor pasture, provide meat, milk, and wool. The processing of olives and grapes for export and the making of handicrafts and a few household items account for nearly all of Crete's manufacturing.
The population of Crete in 1991 was 536,980. Most of the people live in villages and small towns. The only sizable cities are Iráklion (Candia), with 117,167 people, and Khaniá (or Canea), with about 50,000.
Crete and the island of Thera, 70 miles (110 km) to the north, were the center of the Minoan civilization, the most ancient in Europe. This civilization arose about 2500 B.C. and flourished for more than 1,000 years. About 1600, much of Thera was destroyed by a massive volcanic eruption, and in the 1400's Minoan civilization on Crete disappeared, apparently as a result of an invasion by Achaeans from the Greek mainland. Crete was then dominated for several centuries by the Achaeans, who founded the Mycenaean civilization.
Dorian conquerors of Greece occupied Crete about 1100 B.C. In the next 3,000 years, Crete was ruled in turn by Greece, Rome, the Byzantine Empire, Venice, and Turkey. It was returned to Greece in 1913.
During World War II, Crete was the site' of the largest successful airborne invasion in history, when in 1941 the Germans, using paratroops and troops in gliders, seized the island from the British, who, as allies of the Greeks, were defending the island.