"The Making of the Cretan Landscape"
By Oliver Rackham and Jennifer Moody
Manchester University Press, 1996.
Paperback, pp 237, including index.
What better way to start off a new Book Review section
for "Explore Crete", than with this marvellous book?
Oliver Rackham, an English botanist and Jennifer Moody,
an American geologist drew their inspiration from the seminal work of
WG Hoskins: 'The Making of the English Landscape', first published in
1955 and still available as a Penguin paperback. This is quite possibly
my favourite book on Crete currently in print (though Johan de Bakker's
"Across Crete" runs it close - more of that particular book
in a later review), as there is such a wide array of subject matters that
can turn one into an instant expert on multifarious topics:
The book consists of 20 chapters on various aspects of all things Cretan,
neatly divided into five main headings: 'The Environment', 'The Inhabitants',
'The Landscape', 'Unusual Places' and 'The Future' preceded by a table
of dates and brief chapters on the chronology, history and "pseudo-history"
- the reality behind certain historical perceptions, such as Crete being
forested in Ancient times are contested by the authors - of the 'Great
Island.' This latter chapter is an example of one of the beauties of the
book, with the authors willing to express opinions - rather than allowing
it to be an inventory of bare 'facts' - opinions, which they are eminently
qualified to make, but opinions are there to be challenged, such as the
derivation of the '-akis' ending of the Cretan name (more of which, below).
One could always read 'The Making of the Cretan Landscape' from cover
to cover, though to me, this is a "dip-into" book and one that
I dip into frequently. Whilst not pictorial, or perhaps large enough,
to be described as a "coffee table" book, leave it on that table
for a week, randomly pick a page during TV advertisements and you will
learn such diverse matters as tectonic history or the history of shepherding
on the island, while simultaneously losing interest in the TV programme
you were watching.
Close to the heart of all aficionados of Crete is the Agrimi goat (Kri
Kri), even if, like me, you have yet to spot a wild one. Did you know,
however that the Kri Kri is not indigenous to the island, but was imported
during Minoan times (this of course makes the two-horned ones no less
interesting, as they are most certainly a subspecies of the goat family,
found nowhere else on the planet and are therefore endemic to Crete) and
that in fact there were no goats on the island during Pleistocene times
(before the 10th millennium BC)? Plenty of deer, otters, even hippopotamuses
and elephants "the size of a bullock", but no goats.
A chapter on weather and water shows recent and historic climatic conditions
ranging from rainfall to humidity with even a short paragraph on dust "
over thousands of years Cretan soils have gained dust at the
rate of at least 1 mm a century
" All manner of birds, fish
and other beasts (including "creepy crawlies") are included
here, though it has to be said that there are few mammals on Crete that
get the blood coursing other than the aforementioned Kri Kri and the lesser
spotted 'Cretan Wildcat' - which neither the authors or I have ever spotted
- there is still a spectacular marine and bird population. Flora is equally
well represented, with chapters on wild trees and plants and another on
vegetation with charts showing the spread of endemic plants such as the
'petromarula' and a table showing the 'properties of Cretan trees'. The
mountains, gorges and the coast are, of course, a fundamental part not
only in the shaping of the Cretan landscape but of the Cretan him/herself
and are treated as such, with chapters not only on the geological shaping
of the mountains but also on the wildlife of both the high mountains and
Overall, the book is thoroughly professionally written, but it also has
a humorous edge (scorpions "lurk under stones and sting archaeologists"),
with the authors revealing anecdotes such as the Cretan fear of the skink
lizard (Liakoni) "
if the liakoni bites you with its mouth,
call the doctor, but if it stings with you with its tail, call the priest"
is a local adage. Fear not though, intrepid traveller, "the liakoni
is harmless" which is more than can be said for the archaeologist-stinging
As I mentioned in the beginning of this review, there are some contentious
areas too: For instance, a paragraph on the derivation behind the diminutive
as in Moodykin, Rackhamkin, etc
"), of the
Cretan name ending in akis, often thought "to have been
familiar form of address, accepted by Cretans in order to be humble before
their masters, the Turks
in reality the records show the -akis fashion
began in the middle ages but did not come predominant until the nineteenth
century." In reality, the 19th century is when the Ottomans (Turks),
were at their most oppressive and consequently a time that they would
be most likely to have accelerated this "fashion". Seeing as
all the research for this book has evidently been so thorough however,
I am willing to accept the authors' opinion, though I would like to hear
from anybody who can confirm or deny this derivation.
There have been some fabulous books written about Crete in the English
language over the last couple of centuries, from Pashley's travels of
1834, Michael Llewellyn Smith's magnificent "The Great Island"
(1965) and Christopher Thorne's masochistic traversing of the Cretan mountains
in "Between the Seas" (1992). This book is not only up to that
standard, but sets a new one. If you love Crete for all its diversity
and majesty this is a must-have book.
Reviewed by Stelios Jackson on June 12 2002.
PS> There is a hardback available, but as it is £55.00 and the
copy I own arrived without a dust jacket, it is only worth this cursory
"The Making of Cretan Landscape"
Table of Contents:
List of Illustrations
List of abbreviations
Table of Dates:
2/ History, pseudo-history and the use of Evidence
3/ Making the mountains
4/ Weather and Water
5/ Wild Animals
6/ Wild Trees and Plants
7/ Domestic Animals and Plants
8/ People and Settlements
9/ Place Names
11/ Vegetation history
12/ Terraces, Fields and Enclosures
13/ Boots, Mules and Roads
16/ Sacred Landscapes
17/ The High Mountains
18/ Coasts and the Sea
20/ Conservatism and the Future
Buy the book The Making of the Cretan Landscape from Amazon UK