Crete: Heraklion

We were disappointed not to go back to Alexandria; we were not disappointed to go back to Crete. Heraklion is a very old city, but then what isn’t. At various times, it has been liberated by the Phoenicians, the Venetians, the Greeks, the Romans, and the Moors. Liberation means a different foreign army takes over. Today it is part of Greece. But first of all, there were the Minoans, a Bronze Age culture that controlled the eastern Mediterranean for a couple millennia. (They weren’t the first; there were probably human settlements on Crete that we know next to nothing about eight or nine thousand years ago.)

With its contributions to language, navigation, pottery, sculpture, Minoa has been called “the first link in the European chain.”

All this ended about 1450 BC when a volcano erupted at Thera, creating the atoll that is Santorini and a tsunami that swept across Crete taking with it the whole of the Minoan civilization. That’s the most common theory of their demise. There is speculation that this event was the source of the Greek legend of Atlantis.

Crete was incredibly important prehistorically. The Psychro Cave at Mount Dikti was the birthplace of Zeus. The Paximadia islands were the birthplace of the twins Artemis and Apollo. The term “Minoan” comes from King Minos, who built the palace of Knossos, which included the Labyrinth. The king needed this because the queen had had an affair with a bull. Bulls were revered in the Minoan culture and is a common theme in their art.

Early Clay Bull’s Heads
Life-like Bull’s Head








It’s not clear if the queen’s obsession was the cause or an effect of this reverence. The issue of this dalliance was the Minotaur, with the head of a bull and the body of a man. This apparently is a very nasty combination and should be avoided because he ate people and no one seemed to be able to stop him. Minos’ Labyrinth was so large and confusing that once they tricked the Minotaur into it, he never found his way out. He may not have been that bright.

Model of Palace at Knossos with the Labyrinth in the Heraklion Museum

All this is well documented in the literature of Ancient Greece by Homer and others.

We had seen the remains of the Knossos palace and Labyrinth on our last trip so did not attempt it this time. We wouldn’t have had time to find our way out. And Heraklion has one of the world’s best archaeological museums but who doesn’t. And the city has architectural remains of several ancient cultures. The Venetian contributions of the city walls, harbor, and Fort Koules are the most obvious. The photo at the top is the fort and harbor today (or yesterday, depending on when you are reading this.) It is still a working fishing harbor; the fort is a photo op and museum.

One popular sport was bull leaping. The object seemed to leap over the horns, do a handspring off the back, and land without serious injury. And it seems to comply with Title 9. This mosaic shows a man going over the bull with one woman holding the horns to control the speed and another set to catch the leaper. If you can’t tell otherwise, men are brown and women white; the bull a mixture.

Bull Leaping, a co-educational sport

Most writing was done in either “Linear A” or “Linear B”. Greek almost certainly was derived from ‘B’ and ‘B’ from ‘A’. Greek and ‘B’ have been deciphered while ‘A’ has not, although it has a lot of characters in common with ‘B’. This disc found at the Palace of Phaistos has some characters in common with ‘A’ but is much more pictorial like Egyptian hieroglyphics.  Unfortunately, no one has found a Rosetta stone for this writing.

Phaistos Disc 2nd Millennium BC; yet to be deciphered

The writing was done using carved seals pressed into damp clay. This has been suggested was the first moveable type. Since they bothered to carve the seals, this form of writing must have been important but this is the only known example. It would be very helpful to archaeologists to have it deciphered.

Here are some clues: it is written on both sides (this is side A); the text is written in a spiral using 241 symbols; 45 unique; they are arranged in 61 ‘words’ separated by vertical strokes.  One of the characters, a plumed man, appears 19 times and only at the beginning of words (assuming the text spirals clockwise inward.) There are three plumed men at about 3:00 in the first three rings, near the right-hand bracket. Two of these three are followed by the shield, which occurs 17 times, 12 times in combination with a plumed man. The characters in the first ‘word’ have been labeled “plumed man, shield, club, pedestrian, boomerang.” The repetition of ‘words’ and ‘phrases’ suggests something lyrical like a hymn or a limerick.

In addition to the museum, we spent a very pleasant evening and afternoon wandering the streets of the town, i.e., to trying to figure out where we were. Plenty of tourists about in the areas we saw but also plenty of locals.

Early evening street scene, Heraklion

We also saw lots of ‘Lambatha’ in the shops. For those unfamiliar with Greek and Greek Orthodox tradition, lambatha (sometimes ‘lambades’) are big at Easter, but also weddings and baptisms; often gifts from godparents to godchildren. They always, as far as we could deduce, involve a candle with something appropriate attached, depending on the occasion, age, gender, and interests of the godchild. Prices ranged from €8 to more than €150.

  • Image result for greek easter lambades

We didn’t buy any and didn’t get a decent picture but that’s sort of the idea. These may be baptismal.

Morosini Fountain is Liontaria Square

A very European city, a very Greek city. Lunch under the yellow awning (left) at a sidewalk cafe on the square overlooking the fountain. The square dates back to the Venetians and the real name is Eleftheriou Venizelou Square, popularly known as Liontaria or Lions Square. I guess not even the Greeks can pronounce it.

About 30 degrees colder than we had a couple days ago in Luxor.


3 thoughts on “Crete: Heraklion

  1. So glad to see more photos. It can be frustrating dealing with lack of internet bandwidth.
    Crete looks fascinating. It is hard to imagine what the lives of people were like, so long ago.


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