This autumn we spent two weeks in Crete. Staying not far from Heraklion we knew we had to visit Knossos. We could have visited by walking half a mile along a narrow yet busy road with no pavements or verges and taking a bus, but we decided on the easy option of a guided tour, especially as the bus would pick us up from near where we were staying, and as the tour prices were reduced as it was the end of the season.
The day was overcast but still warm, good weather for being shepherded around an archaeological site. We had come prepared and brought sandwiches so found a bench near the archaeological museum in the centre of Heraklion and munched our sandwiches while we watched the bustle of visitors and locals out shopping. Then it was into the museum to see what had been unearthed at Knossos. I’ll tell you about that in a later post as I want to set the scene first.
Our tour bus whizzed us through the afternoon traffic towards the site with our guide telling us about its history, in both English and German, inbetween conversing with the driver in Greek.
A straggling crocodile from the car park to the site entrance along a dusty pavement, and we arrived at what is one of the oldest sites we have ever visited. Here other groups were gathered in anticipation. We were glad our guide was distinctively dressed with her umbrella hoisted high so we could identify her in the melee. Not nearly as busy as in high season, thank goodness, so we had a much better opportunity to actually see the ruins.
The site of Knossos, whose name comes from ancient Greek references to the major city of Crete, has a long history of human habitation, beginning around 7000 BC. It is the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete and has been called Europe’s oldest city.
The palace complex of Knossos, built between 1700 and 1400BC, was designed to serve as a civic, religious and economic centre, becoming the ceremonial and political centre of the Minoan civilization and culture. Most structures were constructed on top of previous structures, around a raised Central Court on the top of Kephala Hill on the outskirts of Heraklion.
The site was excavated by the English archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans and his team, beginning in 1900, the work continued for 35 years. Sir Arthur unfortunately got carried away in trying to figure out what the buildings were like and how life was lived at the time. His reconstructions, in which he used concrete to replace wood which had rotted, has earned the site the nickname of the Concrete Disneyland. Looked upon with horror by modern archaeologists, Evans’s reconstructions nevertheless provide a possible inkling of what the original buildings might have looked like.
One surprise was the use of colour with natural pigments used to create wonderful frescoes often covering entire walls. The frescoes at the site are replicas, what remains of the originals still retaining their vibrant colours on the walls of the archaeological museum.
In Greek mythology, King Minos, the ruler of Crete, dwelt in a palace at Knossos.The king instructed Daedalus to construct a Labyrinth in which to retain his son, the Minotaur.
The myth of the Minotaur tells of Theseus, a prince from Athens, who sailed to Crete, where he was forced to fight the Minotaur, a terrible half man, half bull creature. Ariadne, the king’s daughter, fell in love with Theseus and before he entered the Labyrinth to fight the Minotaur she gave him a ball of thread to unwind as he went so that he could find his way back by following it. Theseus killed the Minotaur, and then to escape her angry father he and Ariadne fled from Crete.