Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Thursday, June 08, 2017

GREECE; Crete - the Museum and Knossos Palace

In the center of the town of Heraklion is the Archeological Museum. We visited the place. It is 
One Side of the Clay Phaistos Disc From the 17th Century BC.
chock full of artifacts; all glorifying the past advancements of Greek minds. The museum contains deep mysteries like the Linear A script used by Cretans (Minoans) before the Linear B writing which can now be read. Nobody can read Linear A, so if you want a challenge in life, solve the riddle of Linear A. In the Museum is the clay fired Phaistos Disc from the 17th century BC. It has symbols different from either Linear A or Linear B but its inscriptions have yet to be deciphered. We saw the delicate Gold Bee Pectoral Pendant from 1800 to 1700 BC. It shows 2 bees putting a drop of honey into a honeycomb. On their heads is a filigree cage with a gold bead. Small discs hang from their wings and stingers. It is amazing that such delicate work could be done so long ago.
Bee Pendant

Bull Leaping Where Athletes Would Somersault Over the
Horns and Back of a Charging Bull
Mural Reconstructed Based On the Pieces Found

We also enjoyed the scenes of bull-leaping by both male and female athletes. We were amazed at the reconstruction of a large mural from shards of stone. We had a great time exploring the Museum in Heraklion, especially since we also stopped to have a Greek lunch in a restaurant nearby. 
A Reconstructed Area of the Knossos Site

Knossos is only about 15 minutes away from Heraklion. Since most of the treasures in the Museum came from Knossos, we decided to explore these ruins. Sure we could have booked a tour from Heraklion for 65 Euros per person, but what is the fun in that? We took the bus instead. From our rental to the city center of Heraklion the bus ticket was 1.20 Euro, then add to that the bus ticket to Knossos, another whooping 1.80 Euros. So, for a total of 4.00 Euros we landed right in front of the famous Palace of Knossos. Or what is left of it. Or what Arthur Evans, the excavator and archeologist said it is. Knossos is considered today a very controversial excavation. Sir Arthur Evans excavated the ruble we now call the Palace of Knossos and had free reign when he reconstructed some parts of the Palace. 

While I write a lot about history, I just use history as a tool. I use it to help me understand why things are the way they are today. Some small stuff, in the long run, has a tremendous effect on how we look at a country, at people, at ourselves. 

Another Reconstructed Area

Mural Showing the Minotaur About to Be Slain
This Mural Is In the Archeological Museum, Heraklion
Knossos is a good example.  Sir Arthur Evans lived a long time. He was deeply involved in Greek History and was taught by the best English Schools, Harrow, Oxford et al. He took over where Heinrich Schliemann left off. Evans was raised in the British tradition and lived until 1941. While he was a smart and dedicated man, he was also influenced by the times (art deco was popular). He, Evans, decided in great detail how Knossos looked in ancient times. The palace we visited was a ‘recreation’ of Knossos as seen in Evans’ mind. Was Knossos really like this? There are a wide range of other ‘experts’ that totally disagree with Evans today. Like I said, it’s a controversial dig, to put it mildly. To read the books I read makes it ever so clear that even the name Knossos already is just a guesstimate. But then I am no expert on Greece. But here is what I can put together in my head to make me, in simple terms, understand Crete, the Minoans, the labyrinths, the myth about a Minotaur, Ariadne, Minos and a whole slew of other players in the Greek mythology. 

The latest carbon dating puts the area where the Knossos Palace stands today at around 7000 BC. That is old. It’s in the middle of the Neolithic era. The tools were stone tools. People had domestic animals. The housing then was wattle and mud construction.  It was just one room where everybody slept and got out of really bad weather. The whole town was about 20 people. It was a small clan, living off the land.
Silver Coin Showing a Labyrinth. Found at Knossos,
3rd Century BC.
The town grew over thousands of years and by about 5000 BC it is estimated some 600 people called this area home. At this time the housing ‘improved’ and now they built 5 room homes. Some rooms were used for storage. These larger homes scientists now consider communal structures, a kind of beginning of a palace

By 4000 BC to 3000 BC a kind of town started being built. Most believe this increase in population happened because ‘outsiders’ immigrated from someplace.  The increase in populations was dramatic. With the influx of ‘outside’ people, different ideas started to trickle in, different ways of living, different ways of building, etc. it was an exchange of ideas that now started the early Bronze Age. Knossos was on the way to the Iron Age. With this many people around, a lot of things happened simultaneously. Stories were told, other belief systems flourished. Ancient stories were told, too, some nothing but legends, like the story of a man with a bull’s body (the Minotaur), the Labyrinth story and how clever the hero was in slaying the Minotaur and finding his way out and when you have a double ax on the wall, you are invincible, nothing can harm you etc. These stories had supposedly taken place in the Palace of Knossos but we saw no evidence of a labyrinth. 
The Snake Goddess on the Left Has Snakes Curling Up Her
Arms. On the Right, the Goddess Is Holding Snakes Aloft.
These Statues Were Found In the Temple Repository At Knossos

The need for larger storage places made larger buildings necessary. Someone had to be in charge of the supplies that were stored there. Chieftains (Kings) had to rule and keep order. Well, Knossos was off to becoming a society. Knossos or whatever the ‘town’ was called then became a viable place on the map. Not just a small hamlet, like so many other places but a place that brought people together and those people traded with other people and built on ideas, built on exchanges, built on each other’s life. We never really know why it was Knossos, or the location of the town that made it so special. We never know a lot of things about the people that lived then. Sir Arthur Evans however, had his romantic notions, his ideas of the glory of Greece, or Crete, or these people he quoted as Minoans. Evans termed the name Minoan. We, decades later, quote him now as a fact. Well, Evans did not know what they were called, he could not read Linear B. it does not really matter what name they called themselves, does it? 
Water Drainage
Knossos today draws people from around the world; they walk across the ancient plaza, the old ruins, gawking at what Evans left for them to look at. I am included. It was interesting to see the frescoes that were found and repainted. It was interesting to see how the water management was solved; it was sometimes even a feeling of familiarity when looking at certain parts of the ruins at a certain angle. Knossos is worth a visit, but it is more interesting if you, like we did, visit the museum in Heraklion, first. 
I perfectly understand that this present showcase Evans left is but a replica of what might have been. Some of the finds in the Museum are amazing items. The artwork, the decorations, the way everyday articles had to have ornamentation is wonderful. The amount of trade these ancient folks had with other islands, other main lands, other parts of the ancient world is stunning. I believe Knossos, or Heraklion was like today’s Tokyo, or Singapore, or NYC.  Lots of people coming together to build something the future will look at and say Wow! Amazing what they could do.
Part of the Original Excavation
It was a good day trip and I would have been mad at myself had I not gone to visit. I would not, though travel from San Francisco to Heraklion just to see this palace of Knossos, only if I were an Archeologist with a specialty in Minoans.

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