Friday, May 5, 2017

Crete: A mixture of myth, legend, reality and the city of Knossos

Frescoes adorn a portico at the Palace of Knossos  (wikipedia)
CRETE Traveling to Greece presents a tiny, but not insurmountable set of adjustments that most other destinations rarely encounter. Chronologically Greece is difficult because you have to think backwards in time in order to go forward. Everything is BC which means dates go in decreasing order.
Daedalus and Icarus are Greek
myths  (wikipedia)
Despite that, Knossos on the island of Crete, which dates to the Bronze Age, is a fascinating place to visit with its legends of King Minos and its famous Labyrinth. Knossos is considered by many to be the oldest city in Europe, and that fact alone makes it alluring.

The first settlement dates to around 7,000 BC while the first palace is estimated to be roughly four thousand years old with a date of 1,900 BC.

Thanks to its location, roughly equidistant from the European mainland, Africa and Asia, Crete has long been a crossroads. The city of Knossos is evidence of that with its ruins that appear more Egyptian than Greek.
Daedalus builds the Labyrinth at Knossos  (wikipedia)
Knossos was discovered in 1878, but it was another 22-years before English archaelogist Sir Arthur Evans began excavating the site. Not only did the size of the excavation exceed Evans expectations, but so, too, did the discovery of two ancient scripts which he labeled “Linear A” and “Linear B.”

Evidence from the layering allowed Evans to determine that Knossos had been part of the Aegean Minoan civilization which flourished from approximately 3,650 BC to 1,400 BC and predated both the Mycenaean civilization as well as Ancient Greece.
Fearsome Minotour

The palace was unquestionably the center of all things ceremonial and political during the Minoan period. It is a maze of human presence with workrooms, living areas and storerooms near the central square.

One of the striking aspects of Knossos is the distinctive red coloring that can be seen everywhere. The palace’s indoor and outdoor murals provided graphic insights into life on Crete as it was nearly 6,000 years ago.

For travelers, the Greek mythology is arguably the most enticing aspect of the ruins. King Minos lived in a palace at Knossos where he had the architect Daedalus build an elaborate labyrinth with which to contain his son the Minotaur.
The North Portico at Knossos on the island of Crete (wikipedia)
A labyrinth is a massive maze which becomes so confusing to navigate that it is virtually impossible to escape unless you know the key. Fearing that Daedalus would reveal the secret of the Labyrinth, Minos kept the architect and his son Icarus trapped within the maze.

However, being an inventor as well as an architect, Daedalus designed two sets of wax wings, one for himself and one for his son, so they could fly out of the Labyrinth in case of an emergency.
Fresco where the colors are still brilliant even after thousands of years  (wikipedia)
The myth says that Icarus’ youthful exuberance got the best of him during his flight, going ever higher until he got too close to the sun. The wings melted and the boy fell to his death in the Aegean Sea.

As for the Minotaur, he is a mythological creature with the head of a bull and the body of a man who was described by the Roman poet Ovid.

According to the legend, the king’s daughter Ariadne fell in love with an Athenian named Theseus who had volunteered to slay the Minotaur. Ariadne gave Theseus a ball of thread which he used to mark his path into the Labyrinth.
Map of ancient Crete, Knossos is in the north center of the map
Following his victory over the beast, Theseus and Ariadne fled Crete, but he later abandoned her on the island of Naxos.

Part of the difficulty in separating truth from reality in Greece is not only the chronology of events, but also sorting out what is real and what is legend. While Minos was a fictional character, the Labyrinth of Knossos does exist and it is easy to see how the combination of time lines, civilizations, mythical creatures and real people can eventually become a muddle.

Added to the story is the fact that there has been some speculation that Crete is actually the result of a volcanic eruption on another Greek island called Santorini. According to some analysts, Crete may actually be a link to the lost city of Atlantis.

Fresco depiction of Greek women on Crete  (wikipedia)
Anyway you look at it, Knossos on the Aegean island of Crete is an enjoyable outing. It is, in its own way, the Pompeii of Greece.

For the most enjoyable experience, keep your curiosity to a minimum as you sort out the names and dates and you will be pleasantly rewarded just as long as you don’t get lost in the Labyrinth.