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Crete  

Patricia Cameron

Largest island in the Greek archipelago and home of the Minoan civilization (see fig.) and subsequently associated with an important school of Byzantine iconographers (see §4). The island, which is the fourth largest in the Mediterranean, owes its historical importance primarily to its focal position between Europe, Asia and Africa. Lying at 35° latitude, some 100 km south-east of the Peloponnesian mainland of Greece, Crete forms the southern boundary of the Aegean Sea and links the Peloponnese to the mainland of Asia Minor through a chain of smaller islands; the Libyan coast is c. 300 km to the south over open sea.

Crete extends c. 250 km east–west and a maximum of 57 km north–south, with sheltered anchorages chiefly along the north coast. Four mountain ranges constitute the island’s spine: westernmost are the White Mountains, with ten peaks above 2000 m; then Mt Ida (2456 m); the Lasithi Range, with Mt Dikte (2148 m); and finally, east of the narrow (12 km) isthmus of Ierapetra, Mt Ornon (1476 m). Isolated upland plains drained by swallow-holes include the Omalos in the White Mountains, 1100 m high and snowbound in winter, and the Lasithi Plateau (...