Tuesday, 24 May 2022

Our Greek Odyssey - In Search of the Minotaur

 On Sunday, just before 7.30am, we climbed aboard the coach we'd booked on Friday morning and travelled towards Crete's capital, Heraklion. Although only a 64 mile drive from Chania, the journey to the south of the island takes around three hours as it involves navigating numerous winding - but beautifully picturesque - mountain paths. Our first destination was Knossos and the Palace of King Minos, a settlement built around 1800BC, making it more than three and a half thousand years old. 

Sir Arthur Evans (1851 - 1941)

Knossos is primarily associated with the British archaeologist, Sir Arthur Evans, often referred to as the real Indiana Jones. Whilst searching for antiquities at an Athens flea market, Evans came across some seal stones inscribed with mysterious writing, which he believed originated from Crete and, after his beloved wife's untimely death in 1894, made it his life's work to travel to the island and uncover the whereabouts of the Palace of King Minos. Civilisation on this site dates to around 7000BC although Minos's Bronze Age palace dates to 1800BC.

Theseus & The Minotaur in the Labyrinth - Edward Burne-Jones,1861

I'm sure many of you will have heard of Knossos from the tale of Theseus and the Minotaur. King Minos was the son of Zeus and, along with Crete, ruled all the other islands of the Aegean Sea. Every year he would sacrifice his best bull to honour the sea god, Poseidon but one year decided his finest bull was too magnificent to kill and slaughtered another instead. Poseidon was furious when he discovered Minos's deception and, in revenge, ordered Eros, the god of love, to fire an arrow at Minos's wife, Queen Phasipae, causing her to fall in love with the first creature she set eyes upon, which so happened to be the bull. Phasipae subsequently gave birth to the Minotaur, a monstrous creature with a man's body and the head of a bull with a thirst for human blood. Minos instructed Daedalus, a craftsman famed throughout Greece, to build a labyrinth to contain the minotaur and appointed King Aegus, the Athenian king he had defeated in battle, to select seven young boys and seven young girls which were then sent to the labyrinth to be sacrificed to the monstrous creature every nine years. Theseus, the son of King Aegus, was one of those chosen. Whilst at Knossos, Theseus and King Minos's daughter, Ariadne, appointed by her father as the guardian of the labyrinth, fell in love. She handed him a sword and a ball of golden thread enabling him to slay the minotaur and escape the labyrinth.

But, if the story of Theseus and the Minotaur really is a Greek myth, how do you explain the existence of the labyrinth Evans discovered during his excavations or the significance behind the bull's horns seen throughout Knossos from the towering statutory to the designs on Bronze Age ceramics found amongst the ruins?


The restorations which Sir Arthur Evans claimed were necessary to preserve Knossos have been the subject of furious controversy for decades. The frescos and paint colours were pure conjecture on Evans's part, created from the fragments he'd found during his excavations, but whether or not they are entirely accurate, they certainly give a sense of the grandeur of King Minos's palace.


In its heyday, Knossos had 1,300 rooms, spread over six acres and was home to around 16,000 citizens.















We hadn't realised that the coach tour we'd booked included the services of a guide but, to be honest she was a bit dull, so we turned off our Whispers and explored the site under our own steam, meeting up with the rest of the group at the designated time.


After a 90 minute break for lunch, we headed to Heraklion's Archaeological Museum. Again, we eschewed the services of the guide, preferring to wander around on our own and read the excellent signage on any exhibits that took our fancy (which, in my case, was most of them!)




We had to smile at the British, Canadians and Americans we overheard exclaiming, I can't believe how old these things are! 

For me, the star of the show was the solid gold Malia Pendant, also known as the Bees of Malia, said to be the single most important piece of Minoan jewellery in existence. Excavated by the French in a tomb at Crysolakkos, near Malia, in 1930, it dates to 1800BC and takes the form of two identical insects thought to be bees, joined head-to-head with their abdomens touching. The circular disc in the centre represents honey whilst the three discs below are said to represent the Mediterranean herb Hartwort,  popular in Minoan times. Straight to the top of my souvenir shopping list went a replica of a four thousand year old necklace...did I find one? Watch this space!


Entrance to Knossos is €12 and the Archaeological Museum in Heraklion is also €12 but you can get a combi ticket for €20 allowing entry to both. For EU members over 65 the tickets are half price and the admission is free for EU members aged 25 and under which, of course, doesn't apply to UK citizens - bloody Brexit.... 


On the way back the coach stopped at Rethymno for an hour where we'd been less than 24 hours ago!It was Sunday and family day for Greeks so the city was bustling. We managed to find the last table at Agrimia, where we'd eaten several times in 2020 and ordered an iced coffee before a wander around the harbour. 








It was after 7pm by the time the coach had wended its way through the White Mountains back to Chania so it was showers and out, no stopping for beers on the roof. 


We stumbled upon a craft ale bar and tried a couple of the local beers before eating at the ruin we'd had drinks at the previous evening. Tony had grilled fish, Jon had lamb souvlaki and I had the most divine lentil-stuffed vegetarian moussaka. Throughout our stay, the night time temperature had gradually crept up and by Sunday evening I had dispensed with my denim jacket and long sleeved dresses (just as well I only travelled with two).

After a twelve hour Greek epic and a bellyful of food and drink, we slept soundly that night!

I'll be back soon with the grand finale of our Greek Odyssey. In the meantime do check out the superb Knossos documentary by our favourite TV historian, Bettany Hughes.

48 comments:

  1. I can feel the heat coming out of those images - and the insect noises. I do love me a bit of Bettany Hughes (I really enjoy her programmes) You had a lovely day and I am not surprised you slept well :D

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    1. The weather was perfect, I bet exploring in 38°C wouldn't have been quite as much fun! Bettany Hughes is my favourite TV historian, I love her passion! xxx

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  2. 7,000 BC - sends shivers down my spine 😊. So much knowledge and history that we will never fully understand, so much has been lost and forgotten.

    If we do not succeed in making this planet completely uninhabitable, I wonder what future archaeologists might theorise about us, 9,000 years from now?

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    1. It's mind-boggling, isn't it Jayne? I wonder if we'll ever have the science to enable us to get a more accurate picture of life 7000 years ago. I was walking around the museum with a teenage girl, I pointed at the jewellery and asked her if, in 3500 years time, future generations will be admiring Primark necklaces excavated from sites in the UK? xxxx

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  3. That's fascinating to know that they found the Labyrinth! One of my favourite Enid Blyton books, The Ship of Adventure featured the search in a labyrinth for Greek treasure.
    I really wish we had made to Crete at Easter. My passport STILL isn't back! 6th April I sent it. No Half term travels for me! 😣

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    1. Hello Kezzie! I can't believe that you're still waiting for your passport. It happened to me last year and I had to postpone our Rhodes flights by a fortnight. In the end I emailed the passport office and it arrived less than a week later! xxx

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  4. You managed to fit so much into your day. I'm not sure which pictures I enjoyed most - the ruins or the food :)

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    1. It's a hard choice between ruins and food - or the beautiful blue of the Med! xxx

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  5. oh yes - knossos :-D love it!
    as much as i loved the saga when i was a kid - now i´m sure its not a palace and a labyrinth..... just a tight build city with crammed storage rooms in the basements. 19.cent. archeology is so very captivated in the typical mindset of the 1900s..... all palaces & temples, heros, warriors and weak women. and no clue about practical stuff like cooking/storing/common living......
    sorry, its a hobby :-D
    you look stunning in that red dress - totally minoian princess! xxxx

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    1. Hello, Beate! I think you're probably right, the male explorers of the 19th Century had a romantic view of how they imaged Ancient Greece to be - I blame the Pre-Raphaelites! A Greek lady had complimented me on that dress a few days previously and saw me again in it - she'd told her husband that she'd seen a beautiful woman in the best dress ever and couldn't stop thinking of me - he told her she was weird! xxx

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  6. They seemed more civilised back then. We've not really come very far in nearly 4,000 years. This period in our history will almost certainly never be revisited by future generations by anything other than total disbelief that we lived through it at all! Glad you're travel journals are so interesting and are certainly worth revisiting more than once! You look gorg in your red outfits underneath that massive Grecian sky. Admire you all for coping with that heat. Look forward to next instalment and seeing your 'new' neckwear! xxx

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    1. Thanks so much! I do wonder if we're heading for another Dark Ages and we'll be living in caves dressed in animal skins in a decade or so. Its so hard getting your head around the beauty of some of those artefacts on display in the museum or the colours of how Evans imagined Knossos was originally decorated! xxx

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  7. You are a terrific historian/ story teller. I loved reading and seeing the pictures. Who know what is real 3000 years ago?

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    1. Thanks so much, Sam! I loved Evans' interpretations of how Knossos may have looked in its heyday, much more romantic than a pile of rocks! xxx

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  8. Colours, patina and texture are the words brought to mind reading this fabulous post Vix.
    Love it all. I remember my sister going to Greece and taking masses of pics for me of stone staircases and walls and caves. I’ve still got them somewhere in my stash of photos

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    1. Thanks so much, Lynn. I'm happy that you enjoyed the travelogue. Greece is so photogenic, it took me ages to decide which photographs of the 1000 I'd taken to post on the blog! xxx

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  9. What a fascinating tour! And as for the 'Malia Pendant' - what a beauty. I do hope you managed to get one. You look gloriously brown and I loved the red dress you wore. A cat at last! I knew there would be a photo of a cat/cats. Your food descriptions had me slavering...hope you're settled back and not missing Greece too much.
    xxx

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    1. Thanks, Vronni! I did manage to find a Malia pendant, I went for a silver version rather than bust the bank with a gold version. I'd been saving that dress especially for Crete, the Greeks loved it! xxx

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  10. Oh, how wonderful Vix - the website for the Museum at Heraklion is full of goodies https://heraklionmuseum.gr/language/en/home/ - the frescos are amazing. Wow.
    Thank you for sharing xx

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    1. Hello Elaine - that's a fab link, thanks so much for sharing it! xxx

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  11. Knossos looks absolutely stunning, and thank you for reminding me of that fascinating myth. And once again, you look stunning too, in your red dress with the palace ruins and that magnificent blue sky as a backdrop.
    The archaeological museum in Heraklion looks fantastic too - how amazing is that Malia Pendant - and I'm hearing you on eschewing the services of the guide. We do prefer doing things at our own pace too. xxx

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    1. Thanks, Ann! Considering I first visited Crete in 1989 it's taken me a long time to fi9nally get to Knossos but it was well worth the wait, I bet my younger self would have been too hungover to enjoy it! xxx

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  12. I hope you are going to say you found a beautiful replica of that gold bee pendant - what an intriguing piece of jewellery. I would enjoy that trip, it looks very hot and thirsty work though! You're like us - we tend to send guides home early and explore, it's good to get a bit of background but the best discoveries are the ones you make on your own :)

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    1. I did manage to find a replica, Betty! I was drawn to the gold one initially but it would have bust the bank so silver had to do! It was a brilliant trip, Jon didn't fancy navigating those mountain roads in a hire car but the guided tour was a bit tedious! xxx

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  13. Just so totally fascinating. We often forget that amazing civilisations existed thousands of years ago. And you were amongst one!! Love the photos, love your narrative.

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  14. What a lovely holiday you had - so many great photos, food looks fab and plenty of sunshine. We are back to France tomorrow evening, can't wait x

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    1. Thanks, Emma! It was a wonderful trip. I'm delighted to hear that you're making up for lost time and returning to France, have a brilliant trip! xxx

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  15. What an adventure. The colours of the architecture are just wonderful and you fit in so well in that gorgeous dress. Beautiful photos. xx

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  16. Love your last three posts which I have read&watched with increasing enthusiasm!. What a lovely holiday and lots of lovely photos!
    Totally enjoying these images of the atmospheric streets, the people, the food and the bars!. And obviously, I'm also fascinated by these archaeological museums and the magnificent jewellery. It's moving that those beads and earrings and bracelets are thousand of years old and still so 'alive' with art and beauty!. And loving the Knossos palace, those colours!!
    Thanks for these amazing posts!
    besos

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    1. Thanks so much, Monica! I can highly recommend Crete if you've never been. May's the perfect time to visit, not too hot for exploring the sites! xxx

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  17. Sorry, I'm Monica (Señora Allnut)
    besos

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    1. I thought it was you, Blogger is a bit weird lately! xxx

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  18. I'm really enjoying this Vix-Yourself and Lord Jon should have your own TV travel show x

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    1. Thanks, Flis! they'd need subtitles to understand us! xxx

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  19. excavations and restorations are always tricky because you're working with the knowledge and biases of the time. I knew someone that worked on a site where they were looking for pottery shards and ended up throwing out all the glass beads they were finding because the person leading the excavation wasn't interested.
    Thanks for showing us there's more to the place than corbelled arches and snake goddesses.
    I suspect you found your reproduction. If not, try searching Alva Museum Reproductions-they do very nice pieces.

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    1. Gah! I'm horrified by the thought of those beads being thrown away - I bet the lead of that dig was a bloke! It's a bit like charity shopping with a wishlist, easy to miss the good stuff when you're distracted by hunting down a certain something.
      Thanks so much for that fab link. I did manage to find a reproduction of my own - if I hadn't I'd have used it as an excuse to go back (as if I needed one!) xxx

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  20. The Greek myths really are bonkers aren't they? Wonderful though. What an exciting life Arthur Evans must have had and I'm glad you made it to Knossos. I note you are blending perfectly with your surroundings again in that gorgeous red dress. ;-) Fabulous photos Vix - the palace, those urns and beautiful poppies...and of course, a watchful kitty. I can imagine losing hours and hours in that museum and I'm hoping that you have indeed found a Malia pendant replica. xxx

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    1. Thanks so much, Claire! I do love a Greek myth - try Madelaine Miller's books next - not quite as heavy going as Stephen Fry's! I'm so glad I splashed out on that Naked Generation dress (via eBay), it's been my most complimented dress this year! xxx

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  21. Thank you for sharing your wonderful pictures I'm loving hearing all about your amazing holiday.

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    1. I loved extending my trip by blogging about it - I'm glad I didn't bore you too much! x

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  22. Fascinating to see Knossos Vix and hear of the real life Indiana Jones! I can just imagine you wearing that exquisite Malia Pendant xXx

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  23. I must admit I definitely think of Knossos more in terms of the myth than being a real place!

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    1. It's hard to get your head round it being real! xxx

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  24. I also really love the gold bee jewellery of Greece! Would love a piece one day! Fake, of course!

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    1. Have a look at Etsy, I found a few on there! xxx

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Lots of love, Vix