We visit Rethymnon and Knossos, Crete

The restored north entrance to Knossos Palace, with the charging bull fresco.

On our second day, we went to Knossos, which has the distinction of being the earliest inhabited site in Crete; the first settlers having arrived some time before 7000 BC. First excavated by Minos Kalokairinos in 1878, the major excavations at Knossos were carried out by Arthur Evans, a Victorian amateur archaeologist.

Dolphins were revered by the ancient Greeks and Romans. These were originally 
a floor covering, which was later hung on the wall when restored.

This, the "royal road", is one of the oldest and best preserved ancient roads in Europe.

Here,we are listening to Çiğdem transporting us back in time!

From Knossos, we were whisked off to the tiny village of Fodele, where the museum of Domenikos Theotokopoulos (1541 – 1614), otherwise known as El Greco, is hidden away at the end of a long lane. The tiny stone cottage which houses the museum lays claim to being the birthplace of El Greco, although there is some doubt about this.

This room in the museum looks as if El Greco has just stepped outside for a moment!

We wondered whether Black Adder got his inspiration from El Greco!

Lunch was calling, but we still had visits to make, so we headed for Rethymnon, our next port of call. Looming over the town is Fortezza, the Venetian fortress of Rethymnon.

Within the Fortezza is the Fortezza mosque, with its impressive dome. Originally built by the Venetians in the 16th century as the Catholic Cathedral of St Nicholas,  it was converted into the Ottoman Mosque of the Sultan Ibrahim Han, following the fall of Rethymnon to the Turks. Today, it is used as a concert hall as the acoustics are amazing!

Here we are inside the Fortezza Mosque

The richly decorated Rimondi fountain, is situated at Platanos square, the centre of the Venetian town. It was built in 1626, by A.Rimondi, in order to provide the citizens with drinkable water.

Finally, it was time for lunch in a delightful, waterside restaurant, where the waiter serenaded us!

Lunch over, we wandered through the old town of Rethymnon. Unlike Heraklion, this is an attractive town, with evidence of Ottoman and Renaissance-style Venetian architecture.

 Evidence of Rethymnon's Ottoman past

We saw many fine old Ottoman buildings in Rethymnon

When we got to our hotel in Rethymnon, I followed the porter to my room along a long corridor. At the end, I could only see houses through the window. I had resigned myself to a room at the back, until I opened the curtains in my room, and saw this...

Wow! What a view!


Heraklion, Crete

The Venetian fortress of Rocca al Mare (1523–1540), Heraklion.

Friends of the American Research Institute in Turkey (FARIT) organised a tour to Crete, "focusing on the glories of the Minoan civilisation, while not neglecting the atmospheric remains of the island's Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman past.". How could I resist such a tantalising trip, especially as we would be accompanied by Dr Çiĝdem Maner, Professor of Archaeology at Koç University?

Our first stop was Heraklion, a rather ugly city at first glance. Centuries of earthquakes, and severe bomb damage in  WWII, has resulted in concrete block houses sprawling around the historic harbour. During our trip, we learned to ignore the  badly designed buildings, adorned with graffiti, and look back to Crete's ancient past.

Our guides, Joanna Kalypso Glyptis, and Dr Çiĝdem Maner, were both archaeologists with such enthusiasm for their subjects, that we were transported back in time, to earlier, powerful civilisations.

Joanna explaining the provenance of some of the artifacts

We began our tour with a visit to the Archaeological Museum of Crete. Unfortunately, it is undergoing restoration at this time, so we only  managed to see a small part of the 15,000 exhibits the museum owns. Incidentally, Joanna told us that the museum is struggling to stay open, as their EU masters have declared that the number of public servants must be drastically cut, so they do not have enough curators, or museum staff, to keep the museum functioning properly.

Kamares vases found in Phaistos and Knossos

The museum's exhibits date from the beginning of the Minoan civilisation (3200/3000 BC) - It is an extraordinary glimpse into the life of a people who lived 5,000 years ago!

Bull leaping is depicted in this well-known wall painting from Knossos 
(Final Palatial period (1450-1400 BC)

This beautiful sarcophagus is dated 1300 BC, and shows offerings being made, 
possibly to the dead man himself.

From the museum, we drove to Malia, the archeological site that is, not to be confused with Malia, the party town of Crete. The ruins at Malia, show the existence of an elite group, judging from the palatial size of the structures. Evidence has also been found of metalworking and a textile industry. Unlike Norman Evans, the discoverer of many sites in ancient Crete, today's archaeologists do not jump to conclusions about the purposes of buildings and artifacts. Evans was a man of his time, a Victorian gentleman, who tended to make suppositions based on his own experiences of life. Now, archeologists are more cautious and less speculative of what might or might not have been, relying primarily on actual evidence.

 A pot found among the ruins in Protopalacial Malia (1900-1700 BC)

These enormous blocks in Malia are evidence of a huge structure

Joanna describes the lay-out of the site

By now we were more than ready for lunch, so were delighted to be driven to a seaside restaurant, where we ate more than our fill, before departing on foot on a guided tour of Heraklion itself.

Naturally, one of the dishes was Greek Salad!

The Church of Titus, the Apostle, in Heraklion

Fontana Morosini, the ornate Venetian fountain in Heraklion

Finally, back at the hotel, it was dinner time, yet more food. I must confess, I ate very little, being still full from lunch. Those Greek meals were enormous, with dish after dish coming to the table in a steady stream. After which, I fell into bed after an exhausting, but fascinating day!


Exploring Ayvansaray and Balat, Istanbul

We set off, on a beautiful sunny day to explore the  Ayvansaray and Balat neighbourhoods of Istanbul, as part of our IWI Neighbourhood Coffee Morning activities. This area, by the Golden Horn, dates from the Byzantine era. It is a culturally diverse area, where churches, synagogues and mosques co-exist side by side, along with their congregations.

Church of Saint Mary of Blachernae
Pam, our guide, led us first to the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Mary of Blachernae.  This church, built in 1833, is on the site of a shrine to the Virgin Mary, dating from the 5th century AD, marking the site of a "life-giving spring", a source of miracle healing. Unfortunately, the caretaker wouldn't allow us to take any photos of the inside.

Our next stop was the Ferruh Kethüda Mosque. Built in 1562 by the great Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan, it bears one of his signature sundials.

Mimar Sinan's Sundial

As you can see, the sundial is perpendicular to the ground and is read differently 
from the more usual ones seen today. Here, the sun casts a shadow at 11:00!

A house built into the ancient walls

Originally surrounded by the ancient walls of Constantinople, Balat is a testament to the ingenuity of man, as remnants of those fortifications form parts of houses still lived in today.

Yanbol Synagogue

We tried to visit one of the two remaining synagogues in Balat, the Yanbol Synagogue built in 1895, on the site of a much older one dating from Byzantine times. Unfortunately, there had been an attempt to bomb this building recently, so it remained locked and bolted!

Tahta Minare Camii

Mosques come on all sizes, and one of the smallest we found is the Tahta Minare, or Wooden Minaret Mosque. Originally built by Fatih Sultan Mehmed in 1458, the original wooden minaret has long gone, having been replaced in 1875. Although we were unable to go inside, the information printed on the wall told us that "the inner space of the mosque is square, with 8.06 metres each side", not very big at all!

Fener Rum Erkek Lisesi

 Like Rome, Istanbul is a city built on seven hills, so it was not surprise to find ourselves climbing ever higher, up to the Fener Rum Erkek Lisesi, the Greek Boys' School. Although this particular building was erected in 1881, this is the oldest surviving school in Istanbul. It's inception dates from the Byzantine era when it was the Patriarch School.

We couldn't leave the area without paying a visit to the home of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, a title that has been handed down since the 6th century.

As we entered the chapel, everyone gasped in amazement at the opulence of the decorations.

This gate is permanently welded shut, after  the Patriarch, Gregory V was hanged 
from the lintel by the Ottomans,  after the Greek Revolt in Peloponnesus.

Our heads now whirling with all our new-found knowledge, we ended our  day with a magnificent lunch beside the Golden Horn.

Our happy band of explorers!


Photography Trek to Santralistanbul, Turkey

This sculpture sits outside the entrance to the Santralistanbul museum

Santralistanbul Museum is in Eyup, is right at the top of the Golden Horn; but easy to get to, as there are free buses running from various stops in the city. We boarded our bus just by the ferry terminus in Kabatas, along with a host of students from Bilgi University.

Much of the old machinery is still there, on display in the museum

"Santral" is the Turkish word for "power plant", and the Santralistanbul Museum is on the site of the old coal-fired power-generating  Silahtaraga Power Station. This was the first power station to be built during the Ottoman Empire, and was in use between 1914 to 1983.

Fascinating glimpses into the past of this old power station

The old control room remains as it was when the plant was closed

The plant lay derelict for 20 years after it was closed down for economic reasons, but was saved from destruction when it was declared a 'cultural and natural object of Istanbul', giving it special protection.

There are interactive activities to show how electrical currents work

Lights receding into infinity

The museum, which houses much of the original machinery, was officially opened in September 2007. It was originally part of a complex that included  an amphitheater, concert halls, a public library, an art gallery, and residences for visiting artists. Unfortunately Santralistanbul has recently been mired in controversy. Bilgi University rented the grounds surrounding the museum as part of their campus. And, although their contract stipulates that the energy museum, and the contemporary art museum should be allowed to remain on the site, the university has sold the art collection (without reference to the original artists), and converted the art gallery into student classrooms. Read the article, Controversy at Santralistanbul for full details, also this article in  Today's Zaman.

Santralistanbul is on the Bilgi University campus, so we took the
opportunity to look at the architectural students' exhibition - fascinating!

Press Centre

Press Centre
I couldn't resist this one!