Magical Crete

Trip Start Jun 01, 2008
Trip End Jun 30, 2008

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Flag of Greece  , Crete,
Saturday, June 14, 2008

Crete is magical, not that you could easily tell that from the tourist area we found ourselves in.  On the other hand, the tour arrangement with the hotel provides us with dinner as well as breakfast, saving us some money.  And a 2 for 1 happy hour.  The more magical parts are in the small villages away from Iraklio and other larger towns. Still, we've managed to find magical moments.

One amazing experience here is the transformation that comes over the town and the people when one of the Euro Cup soccer games is on.  The hotels and ordinary tavernas empty as everyone heads to a sea-side taverna with a big television screen to watch the game.  Last night, as I checked some email, I could hear the game between Holland and France.  The Dutch happen to be big fans of Hersonissos, so a lot of them are here for holidays.  When Holland scored the first goal, the whole town knew it from the cheering.  Today, with a final score of 4 to 1, all the Dutch are happy.  Even though the girls and I know almost nothing about soccer, we found ourselves drawn into the excitement.  We had to stop to watch the last half hour of play.  Today, we're planning to go to a taverna at 9:45pm to watch the Greece-Russia game.  Why not get into the European scene here?

Today, we took a bus into Iraklio to shop at the mid-town market and to see Knossos.  Because the market closes at 2pm on Saturday, we went there first.  The market is spread across several pedestrian-only streets, wider than those of Mykonos and Santorini, but still rather narrow.  The first one we came upon, on Dedalou Street, was mostly upscale businesses with prices to match.  In our family, it's a good purchase only if you get it for a good price, so we moved on to the "laiki" (people's) market on 1866 Street. The shops were narrow and fairly shallow, but managed to offer just about anything you could possibly want, from furniture to food to jewellery to embroidered items to sports clothing to tavernas. Absolutely teeming with people and merchandise.  Here the girls found lots of interesting gifts and other items.

We also patronized one of the market tavernas for Greek salads, fresh bread with tzatziki, gigantes (giant beans in tomato sauce and oil) and "briam," a vegetarian platter of eggplant, potatoes, squash and tomatoes steamed with oil.  A feast!  While we were lunching, a local skinny cat wandered into the room.  We'd chosen the inside room over the alleyway to avoid traffic and heat, but the doors remained open at all times, so the cat encountered no barriers.  She turned on her charms, hoping to elicit food but wasn't very interested in our feta when other patrons were eating meat.  Still, she was happy to receive some petting. It's not at all unusual to have cats wander into businesses or restaurants here in Greece, unlike back home in Canada.  Our health department would have a fit, but here it Greece, people are quite relaxed about it; after all, the semi-feral cats also help keep down the rodent problem.  A nice, natural solution.

After lunch, we headed back to the bus depot to catch a bus to Knossos, stopping for some very un-Greek gelato en route.  It was so hot today, who could blame us?  Besides, the archaeological site is usually very sunny and dry and we wanted to fortify ourselves.

The Knossos 2 bus takes about 30 or 40 minutes to chug up the hill from Iraklio harbor to Knossos.  It's odd to realize how far from the water the site is, but the location was likely chosen because it isn't near the water, where pirates or invaders would have easy access to the resources and a quick get-away afterwards.  There was no doubt an associated harbor at one time, but the main interest is up on the hill about 5 km from Iraklio.

Knossos is the supposed "palace" of mythical King Minos, whose name became the name of the civilization associated first with the site, the Minoans.  They flourished in Knossos from about 2000BCE to 1600BCE, through earthquakes and fires and possible invasions.  Eventually, they were subsumed by the Mycenaeans, either because they were less war-like than the Mycenaeans or because of the explosion of Thera in 3500BCE or even some other cause.  Archaeologists aren't sure of the exact reason.  Some evidence exists to suggest that the explosion of Thera didn't eliminate the civilization all at once, but the subsequent lack of summer growing seasons because of volcanic dust would have spelt disaster to a large population centre.  However it happened, the Mycenaeans, with whom the Minoans had previously traded, because their masters and, starting with Knossos, one after another, the ancient Minoan centers were lost or taken over by Mycenaeans.

At Knossos, the excavation by Arthur Evans in the early 20th century was a mixed blessing: his personal wealth made the excavation possible and he had the foresight to realize that the ruins needed to be stabilized or they would deteriorate into an unrecognizable mass.  However, his interpretation of how the ruins ought to be stabilized led in many cases to a "restoration" that is contested by modern scholars.  He interpreted the many halls and chambers in an aristocratic, modern European way that likely did not likely reflect the actual culture of the Minoans.  It's fairly certain that there were no "kings" or "palaces" at Knossos, in the way we think of them, but religious structures managed by a priestly elite.  But the signs on the site do a good job of clarifying what is true and what was Evans sometimes fantastical conception.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of Knossos is its likely connection to the legend of the Minotaur.  Knossos, like many Minoan sites, had a large number of corridors containing "pithoi," storage jars full of olive oil, grains, legumes and other dry goods.  Knossos had more of these corridors than any other location, and they were all on the lowest level of the site, in dank darkness.  How easily anyone could have found their way through them in the dark, especially since some of them connect in surprising ways, is difficult to imagine.  Some scholars think these corridors are to be equated with the "labyrinth" of the Minotaur legend.  The Minotaur was the monstrous beast with the body of a man and the head of a bull who required a tithe of youths and maidens from Athens on a regular basis, until the Athenian hero Theseus killed him with a sword of some sort.  The tour book we bought states that recent archaeological excavations in Crete have revealed a "considerable number of bones of youths and girls with clear signs of knife wounds.  It is not impossible, therefore, that these were human sacrifices as recounted in the legend of the Minotaur" (The Palace of Knossos-Crete, by Mario Iozzo, Archaeologist, 2005).
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karenmw on

Yes, it's magical
With any luck I'll get there next time. I find that culture so fascinating...though I admit... I will always associate it with, and it will always be shot through with the images from, Mary Renault's novel _The King Must Die_.



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