'Every traveller and historian agreed: the bravery of the people and the beauty of the island'
It is our last full day at sea and our first taste of Greece as the ship pulls into Heraklion port on the island of Crete. I'm looking forward to our shore excursion, which will take us first to the ruins at Knossos before allowing us to explore the port city of Heraklion.
The ancient palace at Knossos is just outside of the city of Heraklion, so our bus trip is quite short. Yesterday's lecture on the ship has prepared me for many of the sights and has also given me an insight into the myths and legends surrounding this archaeological site. I much prefer historical fact, so I'm afraid I cannot endear myself to some of the outlandish legends related to the Greek gods.
Despite the Knossos palace-based Minoan civilisation being the first civilisation in Europe, Crete's history began about four millennia prior. The most famous of all Minoan sites is the palace at Knossos, which we are about to enter.
The word 'palace' is probably a misnomer as this site is more like a city, with a maze-like quality that British archaeologist, Arthur Evans likened to the mythical labyrinth built by King Minos to hide the half-man half-bull minotaur. By 1903, most of the area had been excavated, exposing an advanced city that included food storage, artwork, and examples of writing.
However, in 1905, Evans decided to repaint the 'throne room', so named because of a throne-like stone chair within the space, and employed a father-and-son team of Swiss artists, Emile Gillieron senior and junior to do the work. Whilst Evans may have intended to base the recreations on archaeological evidence, it appears the the Gillierons may have had other ideas and had added their own interpretations to the task.
After having seen the magnificent ruins in Luxor and in Petra, the Palace of Knossos with its recreated garish red concrete columns is a disappointment. I like my ruins to be ruins, not a recreation of how someone thinks they may have been during the height of the civilisation, so I have lost interest completely.
We spend a couple of hours in the delightful city of Heraklion. Crete's strategic location in the Aegean Sea between North Africa and Europe has meant that it has been settled and overthrown by the Arabs, Romans, Venetians, Ottomans until 1913, when it was incorporated into the Kingdom of Greece. We found a cafe in Lions Square, where we sat and watched the passing parade of tourists and locals, whilst we enjoyed sitting in the outdoor area in the fresh air. There are plenty of museums close by, but after visiting Knossos, we decide instead to wander through the streets and enjoy the vibrant atmosphere. Taking a walk along some of the narrow streets, we find shops selling everything from designer clothes to home-sewn linens that would make wonderful souvenirs of our visit to Crete.
The ship pulls anchor in the late afternoon and we head for Piraeus, the port closest to Athens. Our voyage is over and as we look forward to exploring mainland Greece over the next couple of weeks, it is a little sad to leave the ship, which has been our home since we started this voyage 23 days ago in Singapore.
Title Quote: Michael Llewellyn-Smith, The Great Island