People of Crete

"We, Cretans, are permanently in love with our island and what it stands for".

Kriti - Crete

"We, Cretans, are permanently in love with our island and what it stands for. We are in love with its spirit which evolved from vivacious Minoan times through perpetual and eventful contacts with different races and civilizations, the Dorians, the Egyptians, the Byzantines, the Arabs, the Venetians, the Turks... This very special spirit transcends the limits of culture; we have learnt to distinguish it in all aspects of our life. It runs through the "rizitika" folk songs; it resides in plant motifs of ancient earthenware; it characterizes the way a shepherd drives its flock of sheep to the slopes of the Sfakian mountains; it is diffused in the aroma of "diktamos" herb and adds fire to the eyes of a solitary priest saying mass at a small country church, a handgun passed in it's belt..."

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Greece in numbers
population 11.018.000 (January 2003)
population 0-14 years 16,00 %
population 0-14 years female 830.945
population 0-14 years male 890.673
population 15-64 years 67,00 %
population 15-64 years female 3.577.961
population 15-64 years male 3.602.473
population 65 years and over 17,00 %
population 65 years and over female 980.057
population 65 years and over male 780.029
population density 80,81 inh/km²
population growth rate 0,43 %
birth rate 9,0 per 1,000
population death rate 9,4 per 1,000
population net migration rate 4,00 per 1,000
population sex ratio at birth 1,07 males per female
sex ratio under 15 years 1,07 males per female
sex ratio 15-64 years 1,00 males per female
sex ratio 65 years and over 0,79 males per female
sex ratio all ages ?
infant mortality rate 7,26 per 1,000 live births
life expectancy total population 78,31 years
life expectancy male 75,76 years
life expectancy female 81,04 years
fertility rate 1,31 children born per woman
ethnic divisions Greek 98%, other 2%; note: the Greek Government states there are no ethnic divisions in Greece
religions Greek Orthodox 98%, Muslim 1.3%, other 0.7%
languages Greek (official), English, French
literacy: definition age 15 and over can read and write
literacy: total population 95,00 %
literacy: male 98,00 %
literacy: female 93,00 %

Cretan population

The estimated population of Greece (1998) is around 10 million people. Greater Athens contains more than 30 percent of the nation's population. Thessaloniki in the Macedonian region, is the second largest city and Pireaus, the port of Athens and the biggest port of the country, third. Most Greek farmland is stubbornly unproductive, and the nation has few natural resources. The population of Crete in 1991 was 536.980 inhabitants. The evolution of the region's population as compared to the evolution of Creece's population from 1951 through to 1991 is shown in Table 1.

Table 1: Population of Crete and Greece 1951-1991

Population of Crete and Greece 1951-1991
Territorial Unit /Year 1951 1961 1971 1981 1991
Crete 462124 483258 456642 502165 536980
Greece 7632801 8388553 8768641 9740417 10264156

That means, that during these years, the population of Crete increased with a rate of 16%.

Table 2 presents the evolution of the region's population by prefecture for the years 1951 through to 1991 and the area covered (in Km2).

Table 2: Area in km² and population by Crete prefectures

Area in km² and population by Crete prefectures
Prefectures Area 1951 1961 1971 1981 1991
Heraklion 2641 189637 208374 209670 243622 263868
Lassithi 1823 73784 73880 66226 70053 70762
Rethymno 1496 72179 69943 60949 62634 69290
Chania 2375 126524 131061 119797 125856 133060
Crete 8335 462124 483258 456642 502165 536980

Table 3 presents the yearly rates of increase or decrease of the region's population by prefecture for the years 1951 through to 1991.

Table 3: Average Yearly Rate of Change of the Population of Crete by Prefecture (expressed in %)

Average Yearly Rate of Change of the Population of Crete by Prefecture
Territorial Unit/Year 1951-1961 1961-71 1971-81 1981-91 1951-91
Prefecture of Heraklion 9.9 0.6 16.2 8.3 39.1
Prefecture of Lassithi 0.1 -10.4 5.8 1.0 -4.1
Prefecture of Rethymno -3.1 -12.9 2.8 10.6 -4.0
Prefecture of Chania 3.6 -8.6 5.1 5.7 5.2
Crete 4.6 -5.5 10.0 6.9 16.2

During the period of 1951-1991,the Cretan population increased in a percentage of 16%. The yearly rate of that change was lower than the corresponding rate of increase for Greece as a country as a whole. The period of 1961-1971 is marked by a rather dramatic decrease in the population of the region and each of its prefectures, due to the bad economical situation, which drove people away as emigrants and as sailors. Since ancient times Greeks have sailed away to foreign lands to make a living. There was a massive Greek emmigration in the early and mid twentieth century. The United States, Canada, and Australia all have large communities of people of Greek origin. Since Greeks are hardworking and thrifty, they are generally succesful wherever they settle.

During the period of 1951 - 1991, the population of the prefecture of Heraklion, increased in a percentage of 39%. The population of Lassithi and Rethymno prefecture reduced in a percentage of 4% and the population of Chania prefecture increased in a percentage of 5%.

That population evolution has let Heraklion prefecture population density from 72 persons per Km2 to 100 persons on Km2 (during the period of 1951 - 1991). Table 4 presents the density of Cretan population by prefecture from 1951 through to 1991.

Table 4: Density of Cretan population by Prefecture

Density of Cretan population by Prefecture
Territorial Unit/Year 1951 1961 1971 1981 1991
Prefecture of Heraklion 72 79 79 92 100
Prefecture of Lassithi 40 41 36 38 39
Prefecture of Rethymno 48 47 41 42 46
Prefecture of Chania 53 55 50 53 56
Crete 55 58 55 60 64

There is a very good description of Cretan people by the Frankish Bishop of Athens, L.Petit: "...they are a truly admirable people who learnt to hold on stubbornly throughout the tumultuous events of forty centuries to their native character and local speech. Courage, mingled with an independent spirit that is often close to downright disobedience, a lively wit, vivid imagination, and a language full of images, spontaneous and unaffected, love for every kind of adventure, an indefatigable urge for freedom, that goes hand in hand with an insatiable desire for bravado... A fertile land that has always given birth to the worthiest of men both in Church and State, in science and letters, in the economy and in war..." (from the book of Theoharis. Detorakis: "History of Crete", ISBN 960-220-712-4)

Despite foreign influences and models, as a result of the tempestuous history of the island, the particular character of the Cretans has not changed. They have always retained a deep love for their homeland, a love that was strengthened by the struggles for independence against the various invaders. Those who travel to the towns and villages of Crete will come to know the beauty of its people (505,000 inhabitants). Nearly all Cretans maintain time-honored customs and manners.


Certain customs and traditions of everyday life bring to mind what we know of those of centuries ago. For instance, the dead are mourned, even today, in the villages of Crete, in the same way as they used in Homer's time. In Crete, more than any other regions of Greece, familial and kinship bonds remain close, and Cretan hospitality, is renowned. Many other traditions are also preserved, such as the music, which is played on the ancient Cretan lyra (a three- stringed instrument), the dances and the songs called 'mantinades'. Cretans are famous not only for their prowess in dancing and singing, but also for their artistic nature and their skill in producing beautiful pieces of handicraft. Cretan traditional architecture is also a part of the social and cultural history of the island and holds great interest. Thus, we see Byzantine churches standing alongside Venetian mansions and next to them, Turkish structures. Cretan culture boasts of figures of the stature of the famous writer Nikos Kazantzakis, the political leader Eleftherios Venizelos or the painter Dominicos Theotokopoulos (El Greco). Today, the terrain is fertile and horizons are open towards a future as creative as the past.

Crete's distinctive amalgam has produced a culture that remains unique even within Greece. It is worth pointing out that Cretan culture is considered to be the mother of all Greek civilisation originated on Crete. Cretans are considered to be very friendly and traditionally hospitable people. They have their own mindset, too. First they are Cretans, then they are Greeks. For Greeks, Crete is stereotypically the last and last bastion of freedom and a repository of practices and follies long since disappeared elsewhere in the nation. To foreigners as well, Cretans may seem to embody all of the Greek virtues and vices but in fourfold measure. Moderation is scorned; rustling, blood feuds, marriage by abduction, three-day festivals, courageous resistance against hopeless odds, and self-abnegating generosity were untill very recently staples of a life that contributed to the legend of the Kritiki (Greek for Cretans) as Super-Greeks, a reputation that the islanders themselves seem loath to counter or gainsay. Levendia - an expression difficult to translate but implying grace, eloquent wit, physical agility, musicality, high spirits in the face of adversity, and pride in self-sufficiency - is still a quality prized in men and women.

Music and dance

The Cretan has faced armed enemies and hordes of tourists with the same security born of a feeling of superiority which led the Sicilian Don Fabrizio to exclaim in "The Leopard" : "They have come to teach us good manners. But they won't succeed, because we are gods." Cretan people are deeply connected with music and rhythm.Through their music they express their feelings, the joy the sorrow the love the passion for live. The instruments that they use are the lyra, the mandolin, and the lute. However, the most popular form of musical expression is the so-called "mantinada", which is a poetic couplet of fifteen syllabus which expresses their feelings, and their thoughts. Cretans love dancing. Some of the most famous dances are 'syrtos, pentozalis, sousta and maleviziotis'.

Crete, due to its location in a tri-continent spot (Europe, Asia & Africa), has always been since antiquity a center of European civilization. According to lore, this is where the art of orchestration was first nurtured, and it finds its expression in "rizitika" (traditional Cretan songs) and the famous "mantinades."

The word "Pontos" means "sea," and the Pontii took their name from the coast of the Black Sea where they lived. The Pontian dances are performed in groups and have an unusually fast rhythm.

MALEVIZIOTIS (Sousta): Fast and lively dance that allows for very impressive improvisations by the lead dancer. It is the modern version of an ancient war dancees that represents the adventure in battle. The tempo is 2/4 and it is danced in 8 steps towards the center and 8 steps towards the outside.

PENTOZALIS: Traditionally a man's dance, fast and it is accompanied by "mantinades," the traditional Cretan lyrics. It took its name from the words "pente zala" which mean "five steps." The tempo is 2/4 and its is danced with 5 steps, which, expanded, become 9.

TIK: The most basic pontian dance. Soft and serene, it is danced with timidity and seriousness. One of the very few dances that the melody is accompanied by two-versed rhymes. Tempo is 5/8 and it's danced in 10 steps.

KOTSARI: This dance come from the Kars locality. Fast dance, with rapid movement of the dancers on the heels of their feet. The tempo is 2/4 and it is danced in 8 steps.

Traditional clothes

Local artisans are known for pottery, leatherwear and featherwork. A few islanders still wear traditional clothes: high black boots, pantaloons, and embroidered jackets. Traditional pieces of weaving and needlework as well as embroideries made by the Cretan women are of great importance and value.

woman's costume

This costume was worn at weddings and on other festive occasions in the mountainous district of Sfakia, as well as in other parts of Western Crete. The women of Sfakia carried the same silver-sheathed dagger as those of Anogeia, a sign of the gallant and warlike character of those mountain regions.

Maybe it sounds strange to you, but many people from Sfakia are blue-eyed and fair-haired: The ancient Thracians were proverbially blue-eyed and fair-haired. Tall blonds were common among the ancient Greeks, who were a long-headed people and the Sphakiots of Crete, probably the purest representatives of the old Hellenes in existence, are tall and blond. But considering that Greek colonization was taking place on a great scale in the eighth century B.C., and that, centuries earlier and later, the restless Hellene had been fighting, trading, plundering and kidnapping, on both sides of the Ægean, and perhaps as far as the shores of Syria and of Egypt, it is probable that, even at the dawn of history, the maritime Greeks were a very mixed race.

In Greece and Crete it's a custom to celebrate your nameday instead of your birthday. Click here for a complete listing of all the Greek namedays!


In the villages of Crete, the parents' consent - particularly that of the father - is necessary for one to get married. The couple thus asks their parents' consent and blessing. The first step is the "pledge" or engagement ceremony, which takes place at the house of the bride-to-be and is blessed by a priest. After that, the marriage contract is drawn and signed. A few days before the wedding, the quests sent their "kaniskia" or presents, usually oil, wine, cheese or meat. Before the ceremony, the trousseau is carried from the house of the bride to the groom's house. It consists of handwoven or embroidered articles, sheets and household furnishing. It is accompanied by relatives and friends in a joyful parade, to the sounds of lyre, singing and gun fires. The ceremony includes a parade from the groom's house to the bride's house. There, a woman sings a mantinada to persuade the family to open the door. The bell calls the newly-weds to the church. After the ceremony, the couple goes to the groom's house where his mother feeds the bride with honey and walnuts and makes a cross at the front door, while the bride pours honey and breaks a pommerode, to have a sweet, "rose" marriage. Celebration starts with the couple singing and dancing, drinking and eating ends in the daylight.


Befitting its reputation as a fiercely independent island, Crete is self-sufficient in year-round fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as in seafood, and proud of its culinary traditions. Though unsophisticated, the fare here is solidly good, guaranteed to fortify you for the next rebellion or family vendetta--there's nothing delicate or precious about Cretan cooking. Fish is usually baked or grilled with nothing more elaborate than a spetsiota sauce --a white wine and tomato dressing; the finest fish is lightly grilled and served with lemon wedges and highly prized local olive oil. Cretan specialties are the local graviera cheese (yellow) and myzithra, creamy white cheese often served instead of feta in the common Greek salad of tomatoes, peppers and onions. Sfakia is famous for its 'Sfakianes Pites', a special cheese pie served with thyme honey from the region.

The best wines are house brands in local tavernas, but you should be sure to sample raki, the local firewater also known as 'tsikoudia', made from a destillate of the remains after the wine production. Its very tasty, but quality differs from village to village and from farmer to farmer. Raki contains between 35 and 60% of alcohol.
Just like in the rest of Greece, lunch starts 2-3pm and is followed by a short nap, especially during the sweltering summer. Dinner is usually eaten around 9pm.

You can read more news about Cretan food and Drinks on our Cretan Food and Drinks Forum

The Greek flag

Designs and Patterns of the Greek Flag: Greek flag

The number of the lines is based on the number of the syllables (9) in the Greek phrase: Eleutheria H Thanatos (Freedom or Death). This was the motto during the years of the Hellenic Revolution against the Ottoman Empire in the 19nth century (There are also claims that the number of lines reflects the number of letters in the greek word for Freedom which equals 9). This word stirred the heart of the oppressed Greeks, it created intense emotions and inspired them to fight and gain their freedom after 400 years of slavery. The line pattern was chosen because of their similarity with the wavy sea that surounds the shores of Greece.The interchange of blue and white colors makes the Hellenic Flag on a windy day to look like the Aegean Pelagos (Aegean Sea). Only the quaint islands are missing! The Greek Square Cross that rests on the upper left-side ofthe flag and occupies one fourth of the total area demonstrates the respect and the devotion the Greek people have for the Greek Orthodox Church and signifies the important role of Christianity in the formation of the modern Hellenic Nation. During the dark years of the Ottoman rule, the Greek Orthodox Church helped the enslaved Greeks to retain their cultural characteristics: the Greek language, the Byzantine religion and generally the Greek ethnic identity, by the institution of the Crypha Scholia (hidden schools). The Crypha Scholia were a web of schools that operated secretly throughout Greece and were committed in transmitting to the Greeks the wonders of their ancestors and the rest of their cultural heritage. Today, Christianity is still the dominant religion among Greeks. Therefore the existence of the Cross is justified. The Colors of the Flag Blue and White! These two colors symbolize the blue of the Greek Sea and the Whiteness of the restless Greeks waves! According to the mythic legends, the Goddess of Beauty, Aphrodite, emerged from these waves. In addition, it reflects the blue of the Greek Sky and the White of the few clouds that travel in it. There are some who suggest that the blue and white symbolizes the similar color of the clothing (vrakes) of the Greek sailors during the Greek War of Independence.


The family is the center of the Greek society. Because Greeks are immensely friendly, outsiders are often invited to join their family circle; but the outsider should remember that the Greek considers an injury or insult to one family member to be an injury to all. The Greek word "philotimo" describes the feeling of self-esteem that governs day-to-day behavior. The philotimo creed requires that a male never lose face in public. The emotions surrounding philotimo have a powerful influence on family life. A young boy grows up with the message that it is vital to always defend and never disgrace family honor. Until recent years there was very little inherited wealth in Greece, most Greek millionaires, like the legendary Aristotle Onassis, are self-made. Perhaps this is the reason the Greek poor or middle class tend to respect rather than envy the rich. The poor people maintain their lives with remarkable dignity. Rarely does one see a beggar or even a person who appears ill-fed or poorly clothed, not a Greek at least. A man or a woman can wander through the most improverished neighborhood in Athens and never worry about being robbed or attacked. Drug and alcohol abuse, which ravage poor communities in the other countries, hardly exist in Greece.

Icon of Christ


At least 95 percent of all Greeks claim membership in the Greek Orthodox church, part of the Eastern Orthodox church. Until 1054, the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches were one body. Theological, political, and cultural differences split the church in two, and those differences were never completely reconciled. Despite the power religion holds over everyday life, Greeks are not devout churchgoers. Aside from the special Easter celebrations, services are attended mainly by old women and young children. And the Greeks often defy their church's teachings by clinging to old superstitions. Trivial taboos abound: "Don't leave a scissors open or people will talk behind your back", "Allowing the closet door to stand ajar causes neighbors to gossip about the family", "If you wash your hair on a Sunday, you are destined to have a blue Monday", the list goes on and on... Christmas tends to be a quiet, solemn season. On the evening before Christmas and New Year's, children sing carols from house to house. St. Basil's Day (New Year's Day) is a time for parties and gift giving. St. Basil is the Santa Claus of Greeks. Epiphany (January 6) is a big celebration, it commemorates Christ's baptism in the Jordan River. The priest throws a cross into the sea and young (and old sometimes) men dive to retrieve it. "Name Days" are bigger than birthdays in Greece, people invite their friends at home or go out with them. Custom demands the guest utter a simple two-word greeting, "chronia polla" ("many years"). No time of year is more important to the Greek soul than the Easter (Pasha) season. The season starts with Carnival, a riotous party when everyone stuffs themselves with food and drink as a final fling before the long lean days of Lent. Lent officially begins on "Kathari Deftera" ("Clean Monday"), when families bring very simple foods out to the country and have picnic. At the picnic the kids busy themselves flying kites. During the forty days of Lent, a devout Greek will shun meat, olive oil and wine. Good Friday (Megali Paraskevi) is a day of total fast and only essential workers show up at their jobs. Churches are draped in black, and their bells toll solemnly. The entire nation falls into a deep state of gloom that, to foreigners, is disturbingly real. Near midnight on Holy Saturday (Megalo Savato) a special and very moving church service is held. The service begins with the priest reading the words of St. Paul to the Greeks at Corinth: "Listen! I will unfold a mystery - we shall not all die, but we shall all be changed in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet call. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will rise immortal, and we shall be changed." After the reading, the lights inside the church dim, and for a few seconds an eerie silence envelops the congregation. At the stroke of midnight the priest lights a fresh candle and announces in a voice filled with joy: "Christos anesti!" ("Christ is risen!"). The parishioners respond: "Alithos anesti!" ("Indeed he has risen!"), the people then stream toward the altar and light candles from the priest's candle. Carrying their flickering candles, they march out of church into a night that is alive with bells pealing wildly and fireworks exploding in the sky. The season of sorrows has ended.


The Health Service of the region of Crete

Crete is considered as a self-sufficient sanitary region. The structure of health care system in the Cretan region as it concerns the sectors of hospitals and primary care, is the following. Table 5 presents these elements.

Table 5: General indicators of Medical staff, Nursing staff and beds in Cretan region

General indicators of Medical staff, Nursing staff and beds in Crete
      Population Per   Percentage Per Doc/Nur/Beds
Parameter Total Number of Crete Doctors/ Nurses/Beds Average of Greece In 1000 Inhabitants Average of Greece
Doctors 1.698 318 265 3,15 3,77
Nurses 2.182 247 264 4,05 3,78
Beds 2.894 186 200 5,4 5

Source: National statistics

The total number of doctors in the Cretan region is 1698 doctors. It means that we have 315 doctors per 1000 inhabitants or 318 inhabitants per doctor. The respective index, which concerns the country average, is 377 doctors per 100 inhabitants. Besides the total number of nursing staff arises to 2182 persons. That means that we have 405 nurses per 1000 inhabitants or 247 inhabitants per nurse. The respective index which concerns the average of the country is 3,78 nurses per 1000 inhabitants. In general, the health sector in the region lacks of the number of doctors but exceeds of the nursing staff and the number of hospital beds.

The primary care of health

National System of Health, throughout Health Centres, their Regional Surgeries and the outpatients' departments of the hospitals provide the primary health care of the country. Primary health services are offered by the insurance cashes throughout their infirmaries. Local authorities are involved in the primary health care sector. The contribution of the private doctors is also very important.

The following table presents the geographical distribution of the health centres, that function in the island of Crete.

Table 6: Geographical distribution of health centres in the Cretan region

Geographical distribution of health centres in Crete
Prefecture Number Location
Heraklion 6 Moires,St.Barbara, Arkalohori, Kastelli, Harakas, Biannos
Lassithi 4 Tzermiado, Ieraperta, Sitia, Neapoli
Chania 3 Vamos, Kissamos, Kantanos
Rethymno 3 Spili, St. Fotini, Perama, Anogia

Source: National statistics

The responsibilities of the health centres are geographical defined. The total numbers of inhabitants, who are addressed to them, are estimated to 165.696 persons. The number comprises a percentage of 6,5% of the total population of the country. It is covered by 13 health centres, which correspond a percentage of 7,6% of the total country health centres. If we add 3 small hospitals and 103 regional surgeries, this percentage is increased to 7,8% of the whole country.

Health centres are equipped with all necessary facilities to accord diagnoses, cure of common diseases and hurts. They are staffed with nurses and doctors.

In conclusion, the level of health services offered in Crete, is over the country average, in reference to the medical tests. As it concerns the vaccines the level is about the same with the country average. The problem presents to the lab. tests because of the limited personnel.

The analysis of the visits to the outpatients' department leads to very important conclusions:

In the prefecture of Heraklion and Chania the number of visitors per 1000 inhabitants is smaller than the average of the total country. The same index in the case of the prefecture of Rethymno exceeds the Greek average. In the case of the Lasiithi prefecture, the index is considerably very high.

The hospitalisation

In Crete function 8 public hospitals according to the National Health System. The University Regional Hospital and the Venizelio Hospital located in Heraklion City. There are also three General Hospitals (one per each prefecture: Chania, Rethymno and Lassithi). We can add 3 smaller hospitals/ health centres, located in Lassithi and Chania. In Chania is also located the Navy, soldiery hospital and the Mental Hospital. The total capacity of the General hospitals is up to 1659 beds (the total number of the public sector are 2209).

new clinic in Sfakia

In Sfakia there is a new regional health centre being built from 2013.

Hospitality Sfakia

Hospitality in Sfakia

The Sfakians are famous for their hospitality. The locals welcome their guests like friends. Many visitors come back to Crete to visit Sfakia year after year. Enjoy their generosity!

Impressive nature

Impressive nature

Rough white topped mountains up to 2453 metres high, split by 25+ gorges, fertile plains, forests, and the blue sea, and inbetween them small whitewashed villages with many coves and unspoilt beaches.

History and tradition

History and tradition

Brave people that have stood up against their many invaders, preserving their tradition of independence, celebrating their victories with music, poetry and dance, together with friends!