A Ruined Day – Heraklion and Knossos

Venetian Harbor – Knossos – Archeology Museum – Central Heraklion

Early to rise we headed from our hotel on the eastern edge of Old Town Chania to central bus depot.  First a stop for a cheese pie in the old city market and some early morning hangover recovery with large bottled waters and some peach juice which is very popular here.  Then to the bus station for an 930 departure from Chania.  As I have mentioned before, this place is as orderly as a box of legos emptied on to the floor.  We purchase two one way tickets to Heraklion and then wait until about three minutes before the bus is supposed to leave before we find out a bus number, a location or even have any sort of idea of where we are supposed to stand to get on the right bus.

Into the labyrinth

Into the labyrinth

After a slow and uneventful journey across Crete following the coastal freeway on the north side of the island we arrive at the bus depot in Heraklion.  The Heraklion bus depot is across from the the major port of Crete, an old Venetian harbor that has seen better days and manages to be more chaotic and crowded than the bus depot in Chania.  A short walk to our hotel and we check in, change clothes and get ready to head out to the bus depot to see what the best available routes are to check off the items on our itinerary.  We wanted to head out to a place called the Lasithi plateau and we also wanted to head to a couple small towns in central Crete to do some wine tasting.

As luck would have it the only busses that run to Lasithi from Heraklion run Mondays and Fridays and it was Saturday.  However the bus that runs to famous Minoan ruins at Knossos ran every 15 min so we bought two tickets to that and headed out to the ruins right around lunch time.  Twenty minutes later we were just south of Heraklion in the town of Knossos and we hired a local english speaking guide to give us a tour of the ruins.  Despite a rather annoying speech impediment, a thick greek accent and some clearly over used jokes she added a great deal of character to a tour that would been no more than looking at piles of old rocks without her.

The ruins at Knossos are home to two of the most famous myths from Greek history.  The first legend regards the architect of the palace.  King Minos hired a brilliant architect and his son to construct an incredibly elaborate palace that was very easy to get into but nearly impossible to get out of.  The architects name was Daedalus and his son was Icarus.  After they finished the plans of the temple and construction had started King Minos threw Daedalus and his son in the prison because they were the only people who knew the way in an out and King Minos did not want the secret to leave the temple.  Most everyone knows how this story ends with Icarus flying too close to the sun and plummeting to the ocean (the Icarian sea was eventually named after him).

The throne room

The throne room

The second story that has its roots at the palace of Knossos is the story of Theseus and the minotaur.  King Minos and the Minoan people thought that the bull was a sacred animal.  As the myth goes a god jealous of King Minos’ power punishes him by having his wife fall in love with a bull and give birth to a half man, half bull.  As a constant reminder to his wife the bull was kept in the labyrinth of Minoa under the palace at Knossos.  Eventually Theseus comes from Athens and kills the minotaur, gets drunk in celebration, misses his boat and his father commits suicide (by jumping off a cliff into the sea and eventually lending his name to that sea, the Aegean) thinking Theseus has died in his quest to slay the minotaur.  In reality the whole palace of Minos was the labyrinth because of its incredibly elaborate construction, modern plumbing (including flushing toilets) and many false walls that hid store rooms, workshops and bedrooms.  The minotaur its self was probably just a regular bull that was used in what the guide called “bull games” where an acrobat (man or woman) in the main courtyard of the temple would attempt to grab a bull by the horns and when the bull tried to gore the acrobat they would leap and do a flip lengthwise over the bull.  Many times they failed and because the bull was sacred the guards would not allow the acrobats to be helped if the bull was goring them.

Minotaur legend?

Minotaur legend?

Pretty awesome to see the source for two of the greatest and most widely recognized legends of world.  The ruins at Knossos actually predate even the Minoans all the way back to 6000 to 5000 B.C.  The palace itself was built around 1600 B.C.  After the palace we caught the bus back to Liberty Square in Heraklion and took a short walk to the archeology museum where all of the original artifacts from Knossos are kept including ancient frescos, pottery, weapons and jewelry.  The museum was decidedly tiny and limited due to remodeling being done to the original building.

Finally we walked back through Heraklion to see the Venetian Loggia and the orthodox church of Agios Titos or St. Titus and had a late snack off of the only park in downtown Heraklion, “el Greco Park.”       Heraklion is a dirty city filled with trash, crumbling buildings and graffiti, worse even than Athens, but Shana and I are glad to have come here as Knossos is a once a in a lifetime experience.  We didn’t plan to spend much time in the city proper anyway and our hotel had good AC and free wifi… What more could you want?

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