We had seen treasures of the ancient Minoan culture this morning (May 20), and this afternoon we had the chance to see where all those beautiful and fascinating objects were owned and used by the Minoans: the city of Knossos itself.
Excavated and partially restored in the early 1900s, the Knossos site is now surrounded by trees and, further out, the agricultural hills just outside the city of Heraklion. Our visit came on a perfect day, sunny and just breezy enough to keep us cool among the trees.
At Knossos, we saw evidence of what probably eventually ended the city. Remember the catastrophic explosion of Thera in Santorini? Combine the effects of that (mostly earthquakes) with some meddling Mycenaeans and you get the actual and figurative collapse of a city.
A partially restored room; most was originally in a state of rubble from the city’s destruction.
Knossos is more reconstructed than most archeological sites, which some critics dislike, but it is very popular with tourists who enjoy imagining what living in the city must have been like.
At the Museum we saw that the Minoans were producing olive oil and wine thousands of years ago, and that they traded and interacted with other cultures in order to acquire semi-precious stones, wood and even possibly animals such as monkeys. And today, we enjoyed the view of olive groves in the same areas where the Minoans grew their produce.
And we also enjoyed them at lunch! The site includes a somewhat ridiculously good restaurant. I found tomatoes stuffed with wonderfully seasoned rice, which I had been told to look out for. I snapped one up, then wolfed it down.
So what about the myth of the labyrinth and the Minotaur? Well, it turns out that the Minoans loved bulls, so much so that they incorporated them into their religious practices. A common activity for young men – and women! – was to jump OVER a bull in a ring. This was not bull-fighting; the young people would simply vault over the bull’s back. But it was terribly dangerous; each year many youth would be injured and killed while vaulting. Sound familiar? And the labyrinth … is the city of Knossos itself. Its complex and elaborate design lends itself to the idea of a maze, and in some records the word root of “labyrinth” is said to mean “the place of the bull.” So there you are: a massive bull beast that consumes youth within a labyrinth.
And that concluded our immersion into ancient Minoan culture. We finished the day by driving across the island from Heraklion to Chania, where we would spend the rest of our visit.