Geographic features of Crete
Crete is the largest island in Greece and one
of the largest in the Mediterranean. It covers
an area of 8.303km², it spans 260 km from east to west and its width varies
from 60 to 12 km to its narrowest point, the isthmus of Ierapetra. Its coastline features a variety of landscapes
and has a total length of about 1.065 km.
The island is extremely mountainous and is characterized by four great mountain groups (Rackham et al. 2004: 17). To the west there are the White Mountains (Lefka Ori or Madares) featuring at least 20 mountain peaks over 2.200 meters high. The highest mountain peak of Lefka Ori is Pachnes, in an altitude of 2.453 meters. Central Crete is dominated by the highest mountain range of the island, Psiloritis or Idi, with the highest mountain peak, Timios Stavros, in an altitude of 2.456 meters. East from Psiloritis lies the mountain range Dikti or the Lasithian Mountains with an altitude of 2.148 meters, while further to the east there are the Mountains of Thryptis, also known as the Mountains of Siteia with an altitude of 1.476 meters. Mountains cover 52 % of the Cretan land in contrast with lowlands that cover only 3,6 % of the land (Chaniotis 1999: 181).
Another characteristic of the Cretan geography is the wide range of geological formations. Crete is gifted with a plethora of caves, gorges and plateaus of exceptional beauty (for more specialized information see Rackham et al. 2004: 33 - 40). Crete features 5.200 caves and carst formations (Paragamian, 2004). Crete is known as the island of 100 gorges that carve the landscape from the highest mountain peaks to the coast. Only in the Sfakia area, and within a distance of 35 km, fifteen (15) gorges are concentrated. Amongst them, there is the famous Samaria Gorge. Hidden within the mountain ranges there are numerous plateaus, about 25 in total, which also characterize the Cretan landscape and are closely connected to the island's unique tectonic history. Most of these plateaus concentrate large quantities of water that spill from the nearby mountains.
Due to its small width, Crete doesn't have many rivers. Most of its rivers have seasonal water flow and are dry during the summer season. Only ten rivers have water flow year-round, usually because there is a water spring in the area. The largest rivers of the island are Geropotamos and Anapodiaris in the area of Messara, Tyflos and Kolenis in the valley of Chania, as well as Koiliaris, Megas Potamos and Kourtaliotis.
The island features only one lake worth mentioning, the lake of Kournas (known as Korisia in the ancient times) in the area of Apokoronas.
The climate of Crete is characterized as mild and Mediterranean with four distinct seasons. Winter is rainy and mild and summer is warm and dry. However, due to its extraordinary geographical and ecological diversity, the island presents a great variety of climates according to region and location. Finally, the height of Cretan shores and the sea level has been greatly altered throughout the years.
It is known that the western shores of the island have been elevated due to the intense tectonic activity in about the 5th century A.D. (Thommeret et al. 1981: 127 - 149, Price et al. 2002: 171 - 200). It is estimated that in the ancient ports of Falassarna and Kissamos (today the town of Kastelli) the shore was elevated about 6 meters, while the ancient ports of southwestern Crete up to 8 meters.