RETHYMNO (Prefecture) CRETE
As well as trees and plants, which can also be found in other regions of Greece and the wider Mediterranean area, there are a large number of plants endemic to the island. This can be explained by the geological isolation of the island, which has facilitated the development of local species since ancient times. Out of an estimated number of 2000 species of plants 160 are endemic and grow exclusively on the island. Unfortunately, compared to periods of the past, the vegetation of today has been diminished to a large degree. Mountains which previously had lush vegetation such as Psiloritis and Ida (which was planted with trees) are today almost bare mainly due to uncontrolled pasturing of sheep and goats, and fire. At the same time the few areas of flat land had to be used for agricultural farming, and in some coastal areas green-houses were built with the result that the flora and fauna has been restricted to a large degree and many rare species of plants today are in danger of extinction. Since the development of the flora depends on the temperature and the morphology of the terrain, its classification is based on altitude, which influences the above-mentioned factors.
Thus in the coastal area humidity and the salty air of the sea favour plants such as the sea lily (Pancratium maritimum) the tamarisks (Tamarix cretica) and the famous Cretan palm (Phoenix theofrastii).
In the area of flat land, which goes up to a height of 300 m, the Mediterranean macchie can be found including lentisk (Pistacia lentiscus), holm-oak (Quercus coccifera), oleander (Nerium oleander), Vitex agnus-castus, camomile (Chamomilla recutita), mint (Mentha spicata), myrtle (Myrtus communis), heather (Erica), Daucus carota, wild celery (Smyrnium), hollyhock (Alcea pallida cretica), the common poppy (Papaver rhoeas), Cistus incanus-creticus, as well as Cretan ebony (Ebenus cretica).
The semi-mountainous area goes up to a height of 800m approximately and includes shrubbery such as the holm-oak (Quercus coccifera), the lentisk (Pistacia lentiscus), thyme (Thymus capitatus), the Arbutus unedo, the Phlomis cretica, the maple-tree (Acer sempervirens), the bryony (Bryonia cretica), the Spartium junceum, the Styrax officinalis, and many others. Wild flowers include Cretan cyclamen (Cyclamen creticum), iris (Iris cretica), Dracungulus, gladiola (Gladiolus italicus), tulips (Tulipa orphanidea), hyacinth (Muscari commosum), various species of Cretan orchids as well as locust-trees (Ceratonia siliqua) and oak-trees (Quercus).
The area between 800 and 1800 m of height is known as the mountainous area. Here we meet holm-oaks (Quercus coccifera), the Cretan maple-tree (Acer sempervirens) as well as shrubs and wildflowers such as yellow violets (Erysimum creticum), tulips (Tulipa cretica), wild Cretan wormwood (Achillia cretica), wild violets (Viola cretica), crocuses (Crocus oreocreticus) and many others.
Of particular interest is the flora of the gorges, which reveals a splendid array of wild flowers and shrubs, many of which are rare species and endemic to the island. They have been preserved from human intervention, because access to this area is difficult and therefore the environment has maintained its original wildness. Here you can see the entire spectrum of species referred to in the above-mentioned areas, since the gorges start in the mountainous and semi-mountainous area and end up at sea level. Furthermore, if you are lucky, you might also come across the famous Cretan Diktamo (Origanum dictamus).
Finally, in marshy areas, which develop in the coastal zones where rivers empty into the sea as for example at the Lagoon of Preveli, you can find the Cretan palm-tree (Phoenix theophrastii), which is also endemic to Crete.
Archaeological records as well as historical sources give evidence
of the fact that the history of Crete is closely connected with the olive tree
and with its basic product of olive oil. Archaeological findings from Knossos
have proved that as early as the Minoan period the fruit of the olive tree was
processed in order to produce olive oil, which was stored in large earthenware
jars and amphorae and often exported to the Aegean islands and to the Greek mainland.
However, apart from for the economic profit the tree provided, it was also worshipped as a sacred tree and the olive oil was offered to the gods and to the dead. It was also used for medical and athletic purposes, while in ever day life it was used as the basic component for nourishment, lighting and heating. Thus, from ancient times up until now the olive tree and its blessed fruit have been the symbol of wisdom, of peace, of health and of power. During recent years international medicine and dietetics recommend olive oil as being essential for healthy nutrition and a long life. Due to its Mediterranean climate Crete is predetermined for the development of olive trees, which grow in both valleys and mountainous areas and fruit in winter. There are millions of olive trees on the island and thousands of families make a living from cultivating these trees. Both the climate and the composition of the Cretan soil guarantee the fine aroma and superb flavour of the Cretan olive oil, which is internationally acknowledged for its high quality.
The prefecture of Rethymno boasts an abundance of olive groves and the production of olive oil is one of the inhabitant's main activities. The sorts of olives that are cultivated are mainly "chondrolies", some "koroneikes" and a few "tsounates". These varieties produce olive oil as well as edible olives of excellent quality. The famous olive grove near Adele in the Municipality of Arkadi, which stretches in a vast flat and semi-mountainous area, is considered one of the largest olive groves in the Mediterranean.
The area of Rethymno and generally the entire island of Crete has always been closely linked with the olive tree and the production of olive oil. On the grounds of this long-lasting relationship a Museum of the Olive-tree was founded in the settlement of Kapsaliana, which was formerly a dependency of the Arkadi Monastery. At this place the Monastery's oil press as well as other buildings were established towards the end of the 16th and in the beginning of the 17th century. It is a scheduled settlement and today has almost entirely been restored and preserved.
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