Legendary myths and history collide at the oldest advanced civilization in the western world. The Palace of Knosos, just outside the largest city on Greece’s biggest island, Heraklion, Crete is unique and controversial. Originally discovered by the Cretan merchant Minos Kalokairinos in 1877, English aristocrat Sir. Arthur Evans’ team did the majority of excavations beginning in 1900. With minimal archaeological training, many colorful pillars and frescoes at Knosos have been re-painted the way Sir. Evans believed they looked 4,000 years ago. While this doesn’t sit well with some scholars, it’s more aesthetically pleasing than looking at piles of rubble, like Troy, in modern day Turkey.
The Palace of Knosos was home to King Minos, of the Minoan civilization. The palace dates back to around 2,000 BC and it remains a mystery as to how the Minoans were wiped out. The most commonly held beliefs are that the civilization was either destroyed by fire or tsunami, from a major earthquake that erupted on the nearby island of Santorini.
The Palace of Knosos is associated with the legendary Greek myth of the minotaur, who was half man and half bull. According to legend, King Minos forced Athens to send seven Athenian youths and maidens every nine years. In return for sacrificing these people to the minotaur, Athens was spared of further sanctions. This went on until Theseus, son of Aegean (the ruler of Attica), was able to successfully slay the minotaur and escape his labyrinth. Happy days, except Theseus’ men left the black flag atop their sail boat upon returning to Athens. When Aegean saw this from Sounion, he thought the mission had failed and jumped in the sea committing suicide. So the Athenians named the sea Aegean.
The famous myths surrounding legendary King Minos often contradict that he was a king of wisdom who presided over an advanced civilization. From frescoes found at the Palace of Knosos it’s clear that bull fighting was popular with the Minoans. This explains why Athenians could contrive a story about the terrible minotaur, and the Athenian heroes who saved the day.
Our visit to the Palace of Knosos coincided with a family visit to Heraklion. My lovely cousin Maria, her husband Miron and son Nicolas, were the most gracious of hosts. Greeks are famous for their hospitality and despite our best efforts, they made it virtually impossible to pay for things when we went out. In fact, many Greek employees would not take our money even when we tried to foot a bill. Apparently, part of employees job descriptions is to ensure that Greek hospitality remains alive, despite tough economic times in the country.
Modern Crete is a wonderful island, filled with warm and hospitable people. It’s worth making a visit to the Palace of Knosos part of your itinerary in Crete. As is enjoying delicious souvlaki, Cretan salad, beautiful beaches, and dramatic mountains, brought to you by the descendants of western Europe’s oldest civilization.
Admission to the Palace of Knosos:
€6 ($6.60 US) for adults and €3 ($3.30 US) for students.
Getting to Crete:
There are a lot of ways to reach Heraklion and subsequently the Palace of Knosos, especially during the warmer months. From May through October, Ryanair and other carriers have flights connecting many European cities directly with Heraklion and Chania (the second biggest city in Crete). You can also fly from Athens or Thessaloniki to Heraklion or Chania, and tickets are often under €20 ($22 US) each way on Ryanair when booked ahead, excluding checked baggage, but including a small carry on and shopping bag. In summer, you can catch a high speed ferry from the picturesque island of Santorini to Heraklion in under 2 hours. Blue Star Ferries runs overnight ferries connecting Athens and Heraklion, the trip takes 9 hours and you can reserve a bed on the boat.
Is Crete Worth Visiting in Winter?
Winter is not a great time to visit Crete because places like the Samaria Gorge National Park (Europe’s biggest gorge) are closed, and it’s not beach weather. However, if you have an extended trip in Europe during winter, and want to escape bitterly cold areas, Crete is a good place to do so. Heraklion and Chania are large towns that do not virtually shut down in winter like other touristy islands. So there’s more to keep you entertained in Crete over islands such as Mykonos and Santorini, during colder months. Chania is a fantastic town, and in an upcoming article, we’ll showcase why this former Venetian colony is one of our favorite places in the world.
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