GREECE: CRETE ISLAND: Tourist guide of Crete; Ecology, Ecotourism in Crete

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Tourist guide of Crete; Ecology, Ecotourism in Crete

The climate is on the whole dry throughout the year, with most rainfall occurring between October and March.
The summer heat can be moderated by often strong winds, the meltemia. The sea is warm enough for swimming from the middle of April until November. At 19oC, Crete has the highest average annual temperature in Greece.

The island is home to a rich variety of flora, including 130 species of wild flowers and herbs which are unique to it. Among these are dictamo (Origanum dictamnus), the herb made famous by Aristotle for its medicinal properties. Another unusual feature is the evergreen Cretan plane-tree (platanus orientalis, var. cretica). Spring is probably the best time to enjoy the flora, when the fields are ablaze with red poppies and the scent of orange and lemon blossoms fills the air.
The landscape is dominated by dry scrub in the summer, while oleander and osier bloom in the ravines. Anemones are abundant in the winter.

Equally varied is the fauna of Crete. The unique Cretan wild goat (Capra aegagrus-cretica) has a distinctive and impressive appearance.

A protected species, the agrimi or "kri-kri" lives in the White Mountains, the Samaria National Forest and on the islets of Dia, Aghioi Pantes and Thodoros. Other interesting mammals on the island are the Cretan marten (Martes foina-bunites), the very rare Cretan wildcat (Felis silvestris agrius) and the Cretan badger (Melesmeles-arcalus).

Alert visitors may also spot hares and hedgehogs and, if very lucky, the endangered loggerhead (caretta-caretta) sea turtle, which lay their eggs on a number of quiet beaches around the island. The magnificent Cretan golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetus) and the lammergeyer (Gypaetus barbatus), a subspecies unique to Crete, stand out among the birds. The mountains and many ravines are home to griffon vultures. Swallows and warblers are common and goldfinches are occasionally sighted. Crete is also a stopover each spring for birds migrating from Africa to Europe as well as in the autumn as they make the return flight.

Crete has two freshwater lakes Γ Lake Kournas in Chania prefecture and Lake Aghia in the middle of the fertile plain of Kydonia. Sheltered by the hills in an idyllic setting, Lake Kournas has an area of 160,000 square metres and interesting flora and fauna. Lake Aghia is the nesting place for many birds and myriad wildflowers create a kaleidoscope of colour in the spring.

The same geological forces that created the mountain ranges also created a large number of truly remarkable gorges throughout the island. Perhaps the most famous is the Samaria Gorge at the westernmost edge of the Omalos plateau in Chania prefecture. With a length of 18 km., it is the longest gorge in Europe and annually draws thousands of tourists intent on taking the 6- to 7- hour walk to the exit at the coastal village of Aghia Roumeli.

The less known Imbros Gorge begins at the plain of Imbros and winds to the sea near Chora Sfakion. The Kotsifou and Kourtaliotiko gorges are just a few kilometres apart near Plakias in Rethymno prefecture. In eastern Crete, the Valley of the Dead was so named, because of the Minoan graves found there.

The geological composition of the island and centuries of seismic activity have caused it to be literally honeycombed with an estimated 3,500 caves, many of which are of extreme archaeological and religious significance. In the past and even more recently, caves were used by Cretans as places of refuge, cult sites and centres of resistance to invaders. There are believed to be over one hundred churches in caves around the island. According to legend, the Dikteon Andron on the Lassithi plateau was the birthplace of Zeus, the supreme deity who later grew up in the Ideon Andron on Mount Psiloritis.

The Eileithyia Cave near Amnisos was a cult centre which, according to tradition, was devoted to Eileithyia, a fertility goddess and daughter of Hera. Relics found in the cave date back to Neolithic times. The Melidoni Cave, 28 km. east of Rethymno, was a cult site in ancient times and the scene of a great tragedy during the fight for independence. In 1823, 370 Cretan women and children took refuge in the cave from Turkish soldiers. When they refused to come out, the Turks blocked the entrance with bushes and set them alight. All 370 died a horrible death from suffocation. The Psychro Cave, situated at an altitude of 1,025 m. on a mountainside above the picturesque Lassithi plateau, is one of the most beautiful on Crete. Excavations have revealed significant finds, including numerous votive offerings, which prove that the cave was one of the most important cult sites in Minoan Crete.

Source: Hellenic Sun Editions


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