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!


  1. Hi Elizabeth! I wanted to see what the Crete trip was all about after we met up last week - so good to read your blog and see your pics ... sounds great! Thanks xx

  2. Thanks for reading, Claudia. The trip was very informative, although I am glad I have the Blue Guide to Crete so I can recall all the things we learned!


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