Cretan woman - the beauty of an unbeatable spirit

 A Strong Essence Formed In The Crucible of History

 Cretan women's strength, bravery, grace, and beauty are deeply rooted in this island blessed by nature and with an impressive millennial history. From the days of the Bronze Age Minoan civilization (3500 BC-1100 BC) to the modern era, women have maintained a strong presence and continue to play a significant role in the island’s society, culture, and economy.

 The Minoan culture was known for its sophistication, particularly in its art and architecture, and its highly advanced and complex society, of a matriarchal nature. Women were respected and revered for their intelligence and resourcefulness, and their contributions to the Minoan culture were essential to its success. Evidence suggests that women not only were involved in social and religious life, but also played a variety of roles in economic life, ranging from priestesses to merchants, traders, and artisans. Women were also thought to have enjoyed a relatively high status in terms of their rights of ownership and may have even held political or administrative positions within the Minoan society.

 This is further evidenced by the archaeological remains from Crete, which often depict women enthroned in central positions, sometimes even larger than their male counterparts (if any were present). The presence of attendants in the images further points to their superior status. Of great archaeological value are the statues of the Snake Goddess - thought to be a significant deity in Minoan religion, found in the Knossos Palace in 1903 and now on display at the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion.

 The Minoan women were also known for their fashion sense, and artifacts like jewelry, clothing and cosmetics have been found in their graves. When archaeologists discovered the frescoes with female figures in Knossos, they were shocked by their modern appearance. Edmund Pottier, a French scholar and archaeologist described the fresco, now known as La Parisienne, as a mixture of "na├»ve archaism and spicy modernism." This depiction of a woman from a civilization that was thousands of years old seemed remarkably similar to his modern-day female counterparts. The Minoan women appeared to have a form of power and sexual liberation that was not seen in other ancient societies, as evidenced by their disheveled hair, provocative "kiss curl" on their forehead, and revealing attire.

 Minoan women were rarely depicted as 'mothers', with few images of pregnant women or women with children found in excavations. Instead, women are often seen in a more social context, engaging in activities such as talking, dancing, or performing religious acts. This suggests that Minoan societies had distinct attitudes toward gender roles. Additionally, a Bull-leaping fresco found at the Palace of Knossos shows women taking part in a typically male-dominated sport, further reinforcing their importance in Minoan society.

 Due to the influence of the Minoan civilization, during the Hellenistic period (323-31 BCE), women in the island of Crete enjoyed a relatively emancipated status than the women of other Greek city-states. They had the right to own property and in some cases could even inherit land, engage in business activities, and take part in public life, like religious festivals and ceremonies. Despite these advances, women in Crete still did not have full political rights and were unable to participate in politics. Even so, they were able to have a much higher degree of freedom and autonomy than women in other parts of the ancient world.

 Throughout the Middle Ages, particularly during the Venetian period in Crete, Cretan women continued to enjoy a position of relative equality in society. They owned property, engaged in commerce, and were active in the arts and literature, or public events during this period, thus playing a significant role in the island's economic and cultural development. Nevertheless, even if they were respected by their male counterparts and had a great degree of autonomy in their lives, they were often subject to discrimination and oppression, particularly in terms of the rights of inheritance and marriage.

 During the Ottoman rule of Crete (1669 to 1898), women had a limited role in society, being subjected to oppressive laws and customs – generally, the same restrictions and regulations as other women in the Ottoman Empire. Women were expected to obey the male authority - fathers, brothers, and husbands - were not allowed to engage in any form of public life, and had limited access to education. Their activities took place around the house, such as cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the children. They were also not allowed to own property or inherit wealth. Marriage was restricted, as women were not free to choose their own partners and had to abide by the decisions of their families.

 Women faced not only terrible hardships and discrimination but were also victims of massacres that resulted in thousands of deaths. The historic caves of  Melidoni, Milatos, Krionerida, Tigani, and Xotikospilios, were witness to the immense suffering and sacrifice of Cretan women during the Ottoman massacres campaigns in 1825 against the Christian locals.

 Women played a pivotal role in the fight against Ottoman rule during the Cretan Revolution of 1866. They provided support to the revolutionaries, but they also proved their bravery and strength by taking up arms and fighting alongside them during times of conflict. One of the most noteworthy female figures of the time was Thriliki Kritsopoula – "the girl from Kritsa", a young female leader who tragically died in battle against the Turks in 1823. Her courage and determination inspired those who fought for freedom and independence at the time, making Kritsopoula a legendary heroine of Crete.

 A prominent Cretan personality was Kalliroi Parren, born Kalliroi Siganou. a journalist and writer, credited with launching the feminist movement in Greece during the 19th and 20th centuries. Highly intelligent, and fluent in several languages (including Russian, French, Italian, and English), she was a pioneer in women’s rights to equal education and employment opportunities and dedicated to spreading knowledge. She founded the feminist newspaper "Ladies' Journal" in 1887, which played a crucial role in introducing concepts of equality, feminism, and women's rights to Greek society. Despite its influence, the newspaper ceased publication in 1917 when Parren was exiled to the Greek island of Hydra for opposing Greece's involvement in World War I.

 During The Battle of Crete in World War II, Cretan women provided support to the Allied forces by providing shelter, medical care, and food. They also acted as spies, passing military information to the Allied forces. Furthermore, they fought alongside the Allied forces by shooting down parachutes of the attacking German paratroopers, and some women even joined the resistance forces. Nearly 1,000 Cretan women were killed by the Nazis during the reprisals, and another 500 women were deported to Germany, according to information coming from the time. Even with their lives and freedom at risk, the women of Crete demonstrated bravery and commitment to the cause of freedom and democracy.

Cretan women have developed strong personalities, courage, and resilience and their contributions remain an inspiring part of Cretan history. Modern women are independent, ambitious individuals who adapt to change, just as their forefathers have done for centuries. They love education, and moral values and deeply appreciate the cultural heritage of their homeland. Cretan women are also valued for their hospitality and creativity, as well as their strength of character, leadership, and community support initiatives. They are a true testament to the strength of the human spirit and an inspiration to us all.

Come to Crete to meet them!


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