Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Crete

Crete, where to begin. Surely first impressions at 6 AM with only a few hours of sleep under your belt is not the way to start things out! Upon disembarking from the ferry in Iraklion I was struck by the quality of light and the amazing blues and purples of the Aegean. After dropping our things at the Hotel, we struck out via tour bus (ugh) to the Minoan site of Tylissos, a 20-30 minute ride outside of the town. Tylissos is a 2nd palatial period settlement consisting of three Minoan houses arranged in an L shape. The Myceneans built a Megaron over house C sometime in the post-palatial period. With no tourists in sight it was pure bliss to wander through the maze of ruins, all in remarkably good condition (not tampered with by Arthur Evans). There were reconstructed pots sitting in the odd corner throughout the site.

Afterwards our guide took us the venetian walls and the grave of Kazantakis on top of one of the huge bastions. The Venetial fortifications are certainly impressive, though as gunpowder became more and more common it is hard to believe that they would have lasted very long.

We walked up the August 25 street, named after the day when the occupying Turks slaughtered 800 locals and a handful of Brits in 1898. This was the beginning of the end of the Turkish occupation and they withdrew after the inevitable international outcry.

After we checked into our rooms I went down to the Venetian fortress at the breakwater. This was a particularly interesting structure with cavernous chambers inside and marvelous views of the town from the top. The reverb in some of the gun galleries was astonishing. If I ever had the money I would hire out the fort and record drums and guitar there. It sounded like a much more focused cathedral-type reverb.

The next day we went to Arthur Evan's Knossus Crete Disney Land. For the uninformed, Knossus is perhaps the most important of the Minoan palaces. King Minos, creater of the Labyrinth supposedly lived here. It is a massive site, several hundred meters by several hundred meters. A British man by the name of Arthur Evan's began excavating the site at the turn of the century, and instead of simply unearthing the ruins, he decided on reconstructing large portions of the buildings on top of the actual ruins. Naturally one cannot have a completely clear picture of what the palace should have looked like from solely the ruins, and so Arthur Evans, using his powers of imagination, set to work. We have an idea of what Minoan palaces looked like from various coins and carvings scattered throughout the island, but these are not specific archaeological plans, and thus there is a certain level of imprecision that is unnerving at best. Evan's also attempted to reconstruct the various frescoes that would have adorned the walls. This sounds like an even more absurd proposition considering that all that remains of the frescoes are a handful of small chips that give no indication of the composition of the work in its entirety. Once again, Evans used his imagination. We ended up calling it Creten Disneyland. It was disappointing to say the least.

The next day we visited Pharsalos, Gortyn, Agia Triada, and Matala. Pharsalos was a smaller Minoan palace and probably belonged to the brother of King Minos. Matala is the big touristy beach. Tanner cut his foot open on the rocks, I had to clean the sand out with a syringe. The woes of being a certified lifeguard.

The day before yesterday we started our trek to Hania, by route of Falesarna on the extreme west part of the island. Falesarna was a base for pirates during the roman time and in order to curb their effectiveness the Romans dumped tons and tons of rocks into the bay to disuade ship traffic from entering. Ian and I climbed up the neighboring hill and found two shaft tombs dug into the side of the cliff. We then made our way to Hania.

Hania is another Venetian port. It is considerably smaller than Iraklion, but what it lacks in size it makes up in appearance. The old port is surrounded by a 500 year old breakwater interspersed with several gun batteries. The interior is bordered by an old rock jetty and restaurants beyond it. The one night we were there we went out to the mouth of the breakwater where an old Ottoman lighthouse stood and sat and talked, much as one would imagine six American students sitting under a 400 year old lighthouse would do.

Anyways, we were supposed to stay in Chania last night, but the Greek ferry workers decided to spring a strike on everyone and in order to not be stranded on the island we had to catch the last ferry back from Iraklion to Piraeus. The crossing last night was marked by incredibly heavy seas, and after having a glass of wine I was confused as to whether I was actually drunk and my equilibrium was off, or if the ship was potentially sinking. Naturally I did not sleep well.

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