It all began at Knossos

When the first settlers came to Crete and settled at Knossos nine thousand years ago, there were no kings or palaces or written languages or organized trade. It was all about subsistence farming and life in wattle and daub huts.

Times changed. What we see today at Knossos is the remains of the great palace complex of King Minos, gradually built between 1700 and 1400 BC, with periodic rebuildings after destruction by various natural forces.

Sir Arthur Evans began excavations in 1900, and many sources say that what is here now was never exactly as depicted today. But what is clear now is that this was a royal residence and major administrative center, with approximately 1200 rooms built around a center court on which religious and sporting events like bull-leaping might have taken place.

The bull is a major motif of the palace, which is connected with the myth of the Minotaur and the Labyrinth. The Minotaur was said to be the son of King Minos, and it lived in the labyrinth, devouring young men and women sent annually from Athens as a blood tax for killing a son of Minos. Finally, the Athenian Theseus stepped in and killed the Minotaur, with the help of Princess Ariadne, whom he ditched as he was making his getaway to Greece. No gratitude.

All the fresoes may look familiar because they are copies of the originals now in the museum here in Heraklion, shown in yesterday’s post. At the height of this palace – the first in Europe – the decorations must have been stunning. The palace was also the origin of the first paved road and the first theatre.

Sir Arthur Evans decided that a certain room with a built-in chair was the Throne Room, and everyone seems very happy to accept that decision, except for some nit-picky scholars. But the room, with an antechamber containing convenient benches for those waiting, is stunning, with its fresco of reclining griffins, facing those typical Minoan columns. No one can enter the room, but we could also see part of it from above.

What Evans called the “Queen’s Megaron,” or suite of rooms including a bathroom, has charming frescoes reproduced here, along with a fanciful recreation, like the featured picture at the top. Just a note – when the palace was built, it had running water and flush toilets. Three thousand years ago, there was a quality of life also enjoyed by the Greeks and Romans, but not by later Europeans for centuries. (That is, if you consider indoor plumbing to be an important aspect of quality of life…)

There is a bit of a Disney effect here, but we totally bought into Evans’ recreations. How beautiful the entire palace must have been – if the recreations are anything to go by. The color of the columns and the brightness of the frescoes were especially vibrant in the pouring rain we experienced. (See poor drenched Don. The downpour only stopped when we got back to town.)

The whole experience was even more fabulous than we had anticipated. Sir Arthur, though you may have taken liberties, thank you for making it come alive.

Don’s Food Corner

Another simple day. After walking around the ancient palace in the pouring rain, we needed some Greek comfort food. That means having the Greek food we know from food trucks on the street in New York City, namely gyros or souvlaki wrapped in pita bread along with tomatoes, onions and yogurt sauce. Happily, these New York delicacies can be easily found at very low prices in Crete. Jo had the gyro; I had a pork souvlaki version. The only thing different here is that they wanted to serve French fries inside the wrapped sandwich. Being the effetes we are, we asked to have the fries on the side.

Earlier in the day, we took a break from the rain for some hot tea and a big slice of baklava. The honey-soaked delight had, I thought, more nuts in it than we normally see. But it might have been a fluke, so we’ll keep trying different places. Honey is an apparent mainstay here. Crete, we are told, has the widest range of wild flowers of any place on earth. It keeps those bees busy. Yesterday at the museum we saw 3,000-year-old bee keeping equipment, so this is yet another example of time-honored tradition on this ancient island.

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