I have wanted to go to Crete ever since I read The Moonspinners by Mary Stewart [also a fun movie with Hayley Mills]. Even more so when I found out about the ruins at Knossos. Called the Minoan civilization by Sir Arthur Evans, who excavated here in the early 1900s, linking the ruins with the mythical labyrinth of King Minos, the palace was originally built in the Bronze Age. The original city, still buried, is considered the first city in Europe.
We pulled into the harbor in Souda Bay and a shipload of people sorted themselves into busses. I would take this time to say what a remarkable process this is. There are 5000 or so people on the ship, perhaps 4000 of these, plus some crew on shore leave, are sorted into local busses of pre-purchased tours, all within an hour [or so]. It seems like a lot of waiting in lines as an individual, but when you think of the logistics, it is amazing.
Our tour guide Stavros was very informative, as he veered from pointing out NATO and WWII sites, to explaining the Sirens had lost a music contest to the Muses and were thrown into the sea as islands. The Venetians and the Turks had fought over Crete for centuries [in between the myths and WWII]. 75% of Greece is mountains and we were stunned by the views of Crete’s White Mountains, whose gorges were full of snow despite the hot day we experienced. Crete is about the size of Long Island NY, but so mountainous and craggy that only the modern roads make it accessible. Again, as on Sicily, we marveled at modern road engineering.
Stone tools were found on Crete from 700,000 years ago, as well as mammoths the size of ponies, having been dwarfed by the island’s limited resources.
The palace of Knossos is very complex. Layer after layer of occupation, fires, earthquakes, rebuilding and restoration make for a very confused tourist. But the restorations of Arthur Evans represent the palace of roughly 1700-1200 BC, the so-called 3rd period of the culture. Evans referenced the legend of King Minos [hence “Minoans”], who, offending the gods, was punished by having his wife fall in love with a bull. She gave birth to the Minotaur, who was kept in a labyrinth and fed Athenian youths, until, with the help of Princess Ariadne, Athenian hero Theseus killed the Minotaur and escaped.
Following the fall of the Minoans, the Mycenean Greeks moved in, followed by Classical Greek, Hellenistic [Alexander the Great] and the Romans. Whenever they could get away with it, the native Cretans were brigands and pirates. Paul, on his way to Rome—and before his shipwreck on Malta—preached on the south side of the island in 61 AD. Then the Byzantine Greeks, Venetians and the Moslem Turks. If you want to know all the dates, either email me or Google Crete. On second thought, leave me out of it. The only thing you might need to know is that Crete did not join the Republic of Greece til 1913. Two World Wars later and an economic meltdown now, I wonder if they are happy.
We had a wonderful ramble all over the ruins, peering into the re-created rooms and frescoes. We knew that all the originals were in the museum at Heraklion. The view from the palace up the opposite hillside is one I will not forget. Tranquil, fertile, defensible, it is a perfectly civilized view, unlike so much of Crete. We also had the pleasure of viewing the oldest known road in Europe. At last, something more ancient that I am.
We had driven past Heraklion [named for the Greek version of Hercules] and now returned. Stavros pointed out a few Venetian buildings in town—most of Crete was bombed heavily—and set us at liberty. Ron and I asked directions to the museum and Stavros and another couple made a beeline there. Most of the museum is closed for remodeling –ALAS!—but they had the very cream of objects on display. The “Prince of the Lilies”, “The Bull Jumpers”, “Le Parisienne” frescoes were there, all famous but much smaller than I had expected. The bull jumpers were about Barbie sized [GI Joe, for you guys]. The bull’s head rhyton [pronounced REE-ton] is justly famous. Incredible. Stavros gave us a running tour through the whole display and walked us back to the bus, pointing out the massive Venetian walls. [20 € tip]
Back on the bus, we resumed quipping with a British couple, while most of the bus went to sleep. Stavros came back to our “party” and told us dozens of more facts, and we all debated politics and religion in high humor. The British gentleman was a bear of a man, like our sons, and earlier I had told him that if I accidentally hugged him, it was because I thought he was mine. He held wide his arms and said, “Go on, get it over with.”
He taught us some excellent British phrases like “sharp as a brick” and “sack of spanners” for a skinny person. We taught Stavros “dumb as dirt” and “not the sharpest tool in the shed.” We did tell Stavros that the Brits were murdering the American language.
Back at the ship, tired and elated, we stood on our balcony to watch the departure from Souda Bay. Ron said, “I’ve
Shocked, I asked, “What a**hole?!?!?!