The fact that Crete is the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean and how long and wide it is, you'll be told on hundreds (if not thousands) of boring websites about Crete.
Let us therefore rather have a look at some other things that you do not come across everywhere, but which may be worth knowing for your holidays in Crete. Especially if you do not plan to spend them (the holidays) only in your hotel and on the beach, but if you intend to explore the island with a rental car and to get to know the country and its people.
Crete lies at the southern edge of the Hellenic Continental Plate (Yes Sir! We have our own continental plate!). This plate is unfavorably positioned exactly between the African Plate which drifts North since a few million years, and the Eurasian Plate which is more stationary. The Hellenic Plate thus gets into dire straits.
What sounds so pragmatic from the geological point of view has in practice far-reaching consequences. The southern continental shelf of the Hellenic Plate was pushed up from the sea. This way an island with a whole series of massive mountain ranges arose which today is called Crete.
The two highest mountains in Crete, Mt. Timios Stavros in the Ida mountains and Mt. Pachnes in the Lefka Ori, are both more than 2,450 meters high. But both of them are just a few kilometers away from the sea, and they consist from nothing else but the sea floor that was pushed over and above the surface. Therefore fossil sea creatures such as mussels, snails, sea urchins, etc. can be found at every turn even high up in the mountains.
The mountain ranges of Crete divide the island into several microclimate zones which are rather independent from each other. In general, the island's West is more green than the East because all the mountains collect the rain which gather from the West. So in every valley the vegetation is composed in a different way than in the neighbouring one.
on the western north coast
This disparity of vegetation has substantial influence on the success of agriculture in the respective valley, and so it is also of influence on the people who live there. The Amari Valley south of the port town of Rethymnon is for example said to be very fertile, and the inhabitants are said to be much more jovial than in other areas of Crete.
In contrast, the town of Ierapetra on the eastern south coast is said to have been a pirates' nest in the ancient world: Just because of destitution because not much of rain ever arrives there. A similar situation currently exists at the Horn of Africa resp. in Somalia.
Nowadays, huge areas of land West of Ierapetra are however covered by greenhouses. There is an artificial lake which ensures the supply of water for the local agriculture, and Ierapetra today covers a major part of the demand for fruit and vegetable for the entire country of Greece. This is how times are changing.
Another reason behind the cultural diversity which can be found in Crete is in its recent history. In the course of unbundling the Turkish and the Greek Nations, Crete went from 1898 until 1908 under the administration by the Great Powers of those times: Italy, Russia, Great Britain and France.
The island was divided into 4 competence districts, and the 4 prefectures that exist today are still much the same. In the languages of the 4 former defensive forces there are for this reason very individual names still in use for many places on the island, e.g. in French "La Canee" for Chania, and in Russian "Xersones" for Hersonissos.
A much bigger mark on today's culture in Crete was however left by the Republic of Venice as the island belonged to it from 1204 until 1645. The Carnival at Rethymnon is up to the present day one of the most important events in the course of the year, although the district of Rethymnon was not at all supervised by the Italian defense force but by the Russian one.
in the island's West
The 4 prefectures from West to East:
The port town of Chania
is the capital of the prefecture of the same name. It has in the neighbouring bay of Souda the largest natural port in the Mediterranean, and on the Akrotiri peninsula it has an international commercial airport
Aside from this, there is another town in the same district which is the port town of Kastelli Kissamos, located on the north coast as well.
The next one is the prefecture of Rethymnon with its capital of the same name, the port town of Rethymnon on the north coast.
The second town in this district is named Spili, and counting less than 1,000 inhabitants it is the smallest town in all Crete. But it has an episcopal see which includes a seminary, and it has a post office, a pharmacy, a grammar school, even a high school and many other institutions. Because Spili is the center of the southern half of the district of Rethymnon, and its commuting area is of corresponding size.