The tradition of hospitality in Chania and Crete through history: From the ancient Minoan era to the 20th century

The tradition of hospitality in Chania and Crete has a history spanning many centuries. Welcoming and caring for the traveler are literally in the nature of the Cretan people.

Traditional hospitality in Crete dates back to ancient times, when, according to mythology, Zeus, the king of Gods, was born in the mountains of Crete. Zeus, also called Kretagenis (Cretan-born) and Xenios (Welcoming), has historically linked the concept of hospitality with the island, a connection that has been kept alive for millennia in the daily life of the Cretans.

According to the myth, Zeus seduced, after transforming into a beautiful bull, the nymph Europe, which has given her name to all the European continent, and brought her from ancient Phoenicia to Crete. There, the fruit of their love was the king of the island Minos, the founder of the Minoan Civilization, the first organized civilization in Europe.

Hospitality was a key element of the Minoan Civilization. The ancient Minoans were excellent seafarers and merchants and their ships were supplying products throughout the Eastern Mediterranean. As a people they were always open to meeting and coexisting with people of other cultures. The Minoan society was one of the most culturally open societies in ancient history.

The tradition of hospitality in Chania and Crete continued historically in the centuries of the heyday of ancient Greek culture, when Greeks and non-Greeks from every corner of the known world of the era lived together in harmony on the island. During those years, the island’s long tradition of trade and shipping continued.

After the centuries-long historical periods of the Roman and the Byzantine Empires, Crete entered its Venetian era. In those years, the island, and especially Chania, its capital at that time, became again a global center of culture and commerce, and turned into a very open multicultural society that was welcoming to people and ideas from every corner of the world.

Then came the period of the Ottoman occupation, in which the island was more culturally closed to itself, until it was finally liberated and reunited with the rest of Greece, discovering again its tolerant social dynamics, and along with it the traditional concept of Cretan hospitality, in its contemporary form.

Traditional hospitality in Chania and Crete in the modern history of the island: From the beginning of the 20th century until today

In the beginning of the 20th century Crete was liberated from the Ottoman Empire and reunited with the rest of Greece. It was a historic moment that marked its return to a more modern, European and open society. In a society more welcoming to foreigners and closer to Greek traditions.

Despite the big financial difficulties of the locals in Chania and Crete in the first half of the 20th century, including the great hardships of World War II, they never ceased to be very welcoming to foreign visitors to the island. On the contrary, the Cretan philosophy was that even if they had little, it was their duty to share it with a stranger to make him or her feel more comfortable in their place.

So it was no surprise that in the 1970s, when the island became popular with foreign travelers, one of its biggest advantages was the amazing sense of hospitality of the locals.

At that time it was not uncommon for a family to host the travelers at their own home. Or to invite them to the family table to have lunch together, where they would often make sure they had the little available meat of the week to please their guests.

Crete was one of the first places where travelers were more than welcome to participate in events such as traditional feasts in the villages, pressing grapes to produce wine, or distilling the local raki or tsikoudia drink of the year.

All the above were unique experiences full of local color for the travelers. At the same time, for the Cretans they were just another way to make the traveler feel “at home” when visiting the island.

In the decades that followed, traditional hospitality in Chania and Crete has evolved into a more organized, professional form of hospitality that is closer to today’s travelers needs. This way, the historical continuity of the Cretan hospitality, and its evolution in the future, are guaranteed.

Crete is still today home to the most authentic hospitality, rooted in a centuries-long historical tradition. So, when you are in Chania and you are invited to have lunch with the locals, or a stranger treats you with a raki drink in the local kafenio, remember that you are participating in a beautiful traditional hospitality ritual with centuries of history behind it.