Crete has a rich cultural history. It was the birthplace of Zeus, the King of the Gods. The mythical King Minos was the King of all Crete and kept the fearsome Minotaur in his palace labyrinth.
Daedalos and Icarus reputedly took flight from the village of Agia Galini on the south coast Crete with their wings made from wax and feathers to escape from King Minos. But flying too close to the sun the wax melted and Icarus fell into the sea.
The tiny island of Gavdos, of the south coast of Crete, is said to be where the nymph Calypso lived. She entranced Odysseus, the King of Ithaca as he made his way home after the Battle of Troy. Odysseus and his ship mates loved the island so much they stayed for seven years.
The Cretan Minoan goddess Diktynna, known as Britomartis is said to have been born at Kaino amid the Samaria Gorge and White Mountains in western Crete.
King Minos fell in love with Diktynna and pursued her for a full nine months chasing her along the length of Crete. But Diktynna wanted to remain a virgin and would not give in to Minos' attentions. He chased her to the edge of a cliff and being trapped, she threw herself off. The area of this desperate act is now known as Diktynna.
From the Minoans through the Roman, Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman period to the present day, traces of Crete’s history and culture remain throughout the island. Most important archaeological sites are the ruins of the Minoan cities Knossos, Phaistos, Falassarna, Polyrinnia , Aptera, Lissos, Eleftherna, Lato, Tilissos, Levina and the ruins of Gortys, the Roman capital of Crete.
There are at least 300 registered Byzantine churches scattered around Crete, many of which are still in use today. Richly coloured frescoes and icons still survive in many of these churches. Still in use are many Byzantine monasteries, the most famous of which are the Chrysoskalitisa, Arkadi, Preveli, Aghia Triada, Toplou, Gouverneto and the Katholiko monastery.
The fortresses of Gramvousa, Firkas, Frangocastello, Fortezza and Koules are the most important Venetian monuments on Crete.
The most important Archaeological and historical museums are located in Chania, Rethymnon, Heraklion, Kissamos and Aghios Nikolaos.
Crete has its own distinctive poetry and music. The lyra is the dominant instrument of the genre and it is accompanied by the laouto, and sometimes the mandolin, the oud, and the askobadoura. Cretan music is closely related to dance, with many of the common traditional melodies corresponding directly with Cretan dances like the Syrtos and the Sousta.
In addition to a canon of traditional songs, Cretan music is often improvisational. Typically, the lyrics are in the form of fifteen-syllable rhyming couplets that originated in medieval Cretan poetry.
Cretan authors have made important contributions to Greek Literature throughout the modern period; major names include Vincenco Kornaros, creator of the 17th-century epic romance Erotokritos, and in the 20th century Nikos Kazantzakis. In the Renaissance, Crete was the home of the famous Cretan School of icon painting, which influenced El Greco and through him subsequent European painting.