Oct 13 2007

Knossos: Dreams Do Come True!

Published by at 5:40 am under Crete,Greece

Mark yesterday down as one of those days that significantly increases the level of happiness I’ll enjoy on my death bed. Crete has been my most-desired travel destination for at least ten years, all because of one site: the palace ruins at Knossos. After a month on Crete, we finally visited Knossos on Thursday, and it was a dream come true for me.

Knossos Palace
Knossos was home to the Minoans, who first built the palace here around 1900BC, and were the ancestors to those people that we commonly think of as ancient Greeks. The palace they built on Crete was a labyrinthine home for what could really be called a self-sufficient town. Its sprawling, maze-like blueprint gave rise to Greek legends of a true Labyrinth on the island of Crete. And the Minoans’ reverence for the bull ultimately gave birth to the tale of the Minotaur who inhabited the Labyrinth. I’m happy to say that the description of “maze” fits Knossos quite well. It took me all of ten minutes to become lost in the ruins, without a clue how to get where I wanted to go. I’ll be the first to admit to becoming lost in a supermarket more than once, but that took me at least twenty minutes.

Knossos columns
One thing that sets Knossos apart from other ancient sites is the fact that it isn’t all white. That is, you quickly notice that many columns and walls are painted deep red, gold, and black. This is because the original archaeologist who uncovered the site, Sir Arthur Evans, wanted to bring the civilization to vivid life, for all modern visitors to see. And in fact, his reconstructive decisions have become a major point of contention among archaeologists and other scholars. At the risk of condemning myself to ridicule from certain members of the archaeological field, I appreciate Evans’ decision to re-paint and re-build sections of the site as they would have once looked. While certain renovations were purely based on conjecture, his work goes a long way toward immersing you in what Knossos must have felt like in its prime. And those certain archaeologists who disagree are the boring ones anyway.

Knossos plumbing
The Minoans were way ahead of their time in terms of technological achievement, which has led more than one historian to propose that Knossos was the basis for the stories we have all heard about Atlantis. One highlight that you can easily see today is a subterranean plumbing system. A system of underground pipes carried water away from the palace, which allowed for its royalty to enjoy the first “flushing” toilets, with the water being poured down by hand. Another cool first for Knossos is known as The Royal Road, which led out from the palace toward trade routes and the like. The Royal Road is remarkable because it was Europe’s first road!

The only disappointing aspect of the site is that you are not able to view its famous frescoes in their original locations. But even this is OK, because they are on display in the Archaeological Museum of nearby Iraklio. When we visited (Oct 2007) the Museum was still in the throes of a several years-long renovation, which has forced the majority of the building to close to the public. Fortunately, the Museum has graciously set up some of its best pieces in a single large room, which you may visit in the meantime. Less graciously, they still charged us the full museum admission price for the one room.

No price is too great, however, to see the frescoes and sculptures that were found at Knossos, and have adorned the covers of art history textbooks ever since.

Knossos Bull Jumping Fresco
Final verdict: It’s worth going to Iraklio just to visit Knossos and the Archaeological Museum. And in fact, that’s probably about all you’ll want to do before you’re ready to leave the city. We found Iraklio to be grimy and dull, and a major step down from Chania*. Also, its youth hostel is about as spartan as you can get. If you’re lucky enough to not travel alone, it’s worth it to shell out the few extra euros and share a room in one of the cheaper hotels. Actually, perhaps we should start putting up reviews of accommodations somewhere on this site.

I leave you with this exciting note: we arrived via ferry today on Santorini, where we will be spending the next 5 nights! Found a nice hotel (with a pool!) in Fira, and October being the low season around here, we were able to substantially negotiate the price down to backpacker-level. Will begin much-anticipated island exploring ASAP. Keep you posted…

*After about two days in Hania, we figured out that the most widely accepted English spelling is actually “Chania.” But we didn’t really feel like going back to edit our entries, so we just ignored it. Perhaps one day we’ll go back and edit our spelling. But since we’ve now written lots of entries about Chania, I feel like going back to edit them even less.

Video Tour of Knossos from the Central Courtyard:

The Palace at Knossos from Brittany & Ben on Vimeo.

NEXT: Santorini: First Impressions »



7 responses so far

7 Responses to “Knossos: Dreams Do Come True!”

  1. Brittanyon 13 Oct 2007 at 6:07 am

    We switched to another video hosting website, Vimeo, as we were increasingly fed up with YouTube’s poor video quality. The new videos may take longer to load, but look prettier! If you’d like to watch the faster-loading version on YouTube, click here.

  2. Jodieon 13 Oct 2007 at 5:37 pm

    Since you loved Knossos, don’t miss Pompeii when you get to Italy!!! Its incredible!

  3. Cousin Lisaon 14 Oct 2007 at 3:54 pm

    wow!! The video quality is a lot better. Almost feels like I’m there, too! Great to hear your voice Ben!!

  4. Hunteron 15 Oct 2007 at 1:49 pm

    Glad you’re having such a great time man, I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be in the ruins of Knossos, particularly in the parts where it’s been renovated to look like the original. I agree, whether or not it’s authentic in its representation doesn’t really matter as much as if it feels authentic. I’m getting envious of your travels, keep the posts coming!

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