Dec 202013
 
Andrea on the Excursion Boat in Santorini

Andrea on the Excursion Boat in Santorini

To continue….

Scrottling at Phaistos, I found a sherd with a red stripe and blackened scorch marks, which Sandy identified as dating to 1800 BCE.  Of course, he didn’t give me the year to begin with.  He identified it as being from Middle Minoan IA, or something.  I felt like I’d found the Holy Grail.  Oh joy, oh rapture!

Another feature of Phaistos that we discussed is the way the Eastern side of the Central Courtyard (or Bull Ring) is left undeveloped, bedrock, unlike Knossos, where Sir Arthur Evans located the residential chambers, the Hall of the Double Axes and the Queen’s Rooms.  Both were illuminated directly by the rising sun.  At Phaistos, he said, there may have been a “rock garden,” sort of a “wild” area – it wasn’t very big – to sit and greet the morning in.  It was a very nice thought.  The area is at the edge of a crag.  We sat beneath the shade of the tree and gazed out upon the glory of the Megara Plain.  At Knossos Sir Arthur Evans had mistakenly built a wall, which effectively shuts out the sun in these chambers.  Thinking they were the King’s and Queen’s Quarters, he deemed privacy a necessity, but there never was a wall there in antiquity.  None of these “palaces” were walled.  They were open and contained entrances on all four sides.

We returned from our excursions for a lecture and dinner at the Hotel.  The lecture was fascinating.  Sandy had intimated during the preceding days that he would talk further about the Double Headed Axes (Doo Das) and the Horns of Consecration (Whatsit.

The import of the lecture was that Minoan culture was most influenced by Egypt.  Hatshepsut, the mother of Thutmose III, who acted as his regent and proclaimed herself Pharoah, received Minoans (Keftiu) asking for “the breath of life,” i.e. food.  There was famine in Crete    I can’t find my notes at the moment, so I’m winging it.  These suppliants are pictured in the tomb of one of her chief officials, Senemet.  They are completely identifiable by their costumes, wasp-wasted kilt, bare chests, lovelocks.  Would that men still dressed that way!

 Some are even carrying bull rhytons like the famous one in the Heraklion Museum.  By the time Thutmose III took over the throne, the Keftiu are gone.  They are replaced by the Prince of the Danae (Danaans, one of the Homeric terms for Greeks).

This helps fix the time of the Theran eruption, when the Minoan needed the assistance of Egypt to rebuild their home and the advent of the Mycenaean suzerainty over Crete.  Greek myth states that Daedalus was taught architecture in the Egyptian Faiyum, the first labyrinth.  Possibly the Minoans brought Osiris back, the god that is torn apart and reborn every year, and hieroglyphic phonetics.  Both Osiris and Isis make use of Double Ax iconography.  The famous Parisienne is wearing an Isis Knot.

 

At Gortyn we were waited on by a young man sporting an Isis Knot.  I had to ask Sandy for his interpretation.

Sandy also told us a part of the myth of Daedalus and Minos I’d never heard before.  As far as I knew, after Icarus fell into the sea, there were no further consequences to the escape.  However, (I’m quoting Wikipedia here) the myth of Daedalus also relates that after Icarus had fallen into the sea, Daedalus arrived safely in Sicily, in the care of King Cocalus of Kamikos on the island’s south coast, where Daedalus built a temple to Apollo, and hung up his wings, an offering to the god.  Minos, meanwhile, searched for Daedalus by travelling from city to city asking a riddle. He presented a spiral seashell and asked for a string to be run through it. When he reached Kamikos, King Cocalus, knowing Daedalus would be able to solve the riddle, privately fetched the old man to him. He tied the string to an ant which, lured by a drop of honey at one end, walked through the seashell stringing it all the way through. Minos then knew Daedalus was in the court of King Cocalus and demanded he be handed over. Cocalus managed to convince Minos to take a bath first, where Cocalus’ daughters killed Minos. In some versions, Daedalus himself poured boiling water on Minos and killed him.

The anecdotes are literary, and late; however, in the founding tales of the Greek colony of Gela, founded in the 680s on the southwest coast of Sicily, a tradition was preserved that the Greeks had seized cult images wrought by Daedalus from their local predecessors, the Sicani.[   (Wikipedia)

Sandy mentioned that the Minoan fleet that had gone in search of Daedalus were lost at sea in a great storm or by a great wave, possibly by a tsunami from the eruption of Thera.  In any case, the tsunami did destroy Crete’s fleet and put an end to their thalassocracy, opening the way for the Mycenaeans to invade.

But, about the Horns of Whatsit, Hathor is often represented as a bovine head.  There is a rising sun between her horns.  The Egyptian symbol for the horizon also looks like the Horns of Consecration.

I’ve had an interest in Egypt as a backdrop for Bronze Age Greece, the foil of the Hittites, who were the allies of the Trojans, but I’ve never really been smitten by Egyptology, in spite of Amelia Peabody et al.  My interest has been awakened though, especially since I’ve been reading Nefertiti and The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran.

Another feature of Minoan construction were “Lustral Basins.”   Sir Arthur Evans was the first to call them that.  These are small, sunken chambers reached by a stairway.  In the case of Knossos, there is a Lustral Basin off  the throne room connected by an L-shaped or dog-legged stairway, Lustral Basins.  There is often a balustrade running alongside the stairway, normally ending with a pilaster supporting a column.   Lustral Basins were an inside joke, at least among Andrea, Geneia and I.  All of the examples at Knossos, like the one at Mallia were lined with gypsum and so Evans thought they were used for bathing—a clay tub was even found in one of them (see below). However, a few of them were found in areas of the palace, the Throne Room for example, where relaxing in the tub seems unlikely. We asked Sandy what it really meant, “lustral basin.”  He could only comment, with a shrug of the shoulders, that Evans thought it was there that the King or Queen went to “lustrate,” which left us none the wiser.

 

This interpretation has come under question in recent years, however. For one thing, the rooms are not very well designed for that particular purpose. Gypsum is not the ideal waterproofing agent (for one thing, it is somewhat water soluble) and, in any case, not all of them have paved floors. The fact that—in a palace noted for its superb plumbing— there are no drains in any of the rooms also raises doubts. Of course, it can be argued that the bathing was done in clay tubs, which were then carried away by servants to be emptied but that assumes that the tub found in the bathroom of the so-called Queen’s Quarters at Knossos (above) was used for that purpose. In fact, they are a type of coffin known as a larnax .Many lustral basins were found to contain cult objects such as offering tables or sacred vessels and the walls are often decorated with religious themes, such as the those (see above) associated with the gathering of the crocus harvest from House Xesté 3 at Akrotiri on Thera. This would seem to indicate a religious function, to be sure, but one more associated with the renewal of the nature. Many scholars now prefer the term Adyton, a Greek term meaning “off limits” and referring to the most holy part of a Classical temple.

The Linear A language has been worked on ever since the discovery of the ancient tablets and is as yet “officially” untranslated.  However, Sandy believes it has been deciphered by an amateur named Hubert LeMarle and that it is in fact Proto-Sanskrit.   LeMarle actually gave him his book – I have to find this – and Sandy shelved it along with all the other umpteen books claiming to have translated Linear A.  Later, when being consulted for a movie, he was asked for some Minoan chants, because the screenwriter or director needed his Minoans to be chanting something.  “What did they sound like?”  So, in order to give the guy something, Sandy grabbed LeMarle’s book down from the shelf and read him some transliterated mumbo-jumbo to be used in the background of Ariadne’s Dance..  Then, the movie-maker asked, “But what does it mean?”  So, Sandy went back to see what LeMarle had offered as a translation and found that it made complete sense.  For instance, one line read, “I have purified myself with olive oil..(inscription missing) holy water for my lady.”  He read on.  Another line read, “I consecrate thirty two units of wine to the heights of the heavens and for Ashera Deke, as I gazed at the moon.”

In the Linear A phonetics, the name Ashera is A-sa-sa-ra.  Now there is a Luwian (perhaps the language spoken by Trojans) Ashassarames; a Hittite Ishassarames, a Hurrian Ishera and a Canaanite Mother Goddess, Ashera.  Somewhere in this discussion (lecture), Sandy also wrote out As-i-rai-ro-ja.  I’m not sure if that was from the same inscription or another one, but he related it to Aser or Usar and thought it could be the same god as Osiris.

Anyway, for his part, Sandy now believes that Linear A is Proto-Sanskrit, hence Indo-European, and it offers all sorts of interesting lines of investigation.  He says that none of his colleagues have ever had any contact with Hollywood and he attributes his being a lone believer in LeMarle’s theory to this fact.  Haha

I almost stood up for my applause after this lecture and slide show.  There is a lot that I can’t remember sufficiently well to relate, but I LOVED it.  You just don’t get this on most vacations!

The next day, we visited the Archaic hilltop city of Lato, which initially looked older than it really is.  The builders of Lato intentionally imitated Cyclopean Wall structure, cutting irregular stones and piecing them together.  They evidently thought there would be some prestige in it.

Entrance to Lato:

Entrance to Lato:

Lato:  Harris, Kitty, Elaine, Ann Lato:  Cyclopean Walls Andrea at Lato Theatral Area, Lato

Latos

Latos

Notice in the pictures above, the imitation Cyclopean Walls, the Cistern with Steps Leading Down to Water Level, and the Theatral Area

Lato sprawled over several hills.  Geneia could have skipped the rest of the day just to climb these hills and explore the maze of great stone walls.  We were shown the meeting place for administrators, with a central fireplace and sofas.  They took their meals there and came to the door after discussion to announce decisions.  Outside there was steps upon which were held public meetings.  Steps were often built for seating.  Nearchus, a former pirate who became Alexander’s best admiral, was from Lato.

In my notes, I have recorded that during Ottoman Rule, no excavating could be done on Crete.  In 1894, Evans considered digging at Lato, mistaking the architecture, especially the city gate, as a cyclopean citadel of the Mycenaean Age, but due to the Ottomans, he could not.  So, he went to Knossos, which he bought.

We had lunch near the sea, then took a cruise to the island of Spinalonga, a former leper colony.  It was mobbed with people, probably because it has become famous in a novel called The Island by Victoria Hislop, which several of our party had read.  There were so many subjects for plein air painting.  It’s really a lovely place, in spite of its being in ruins (see above).  That lends it a certain charm though.  It would be wonderful to spend the day wandering alone, if all the other tourists had departed.

Spinalonga

Spinalonga

Spinalonga Venetian Fortifications at Spinalonga Venetian gun ports by the Sea Symbol of Venice:  The Lion of St Mark, winged, and an open book Spinalonga SpinalongaNotice in one of the pictures above, the Symbol of Venice, the Lion of St Mark with an Opened Book, on the Old Venetian Fortress

From Spinalonga, we drove to a new hotel, the Elounda Palm.  Our room was extremely…orange.

It's just a little orange in here!

It’s just a little orange in here!

We were supposed to visit the well-preserved Minoan city of Gournia, but it happened to be closed on our scheduled day.  So instead we went to Vasilliki, which had been closed for quite a while for the sake of conservation.  Sandy was eager to see what had been done there, but could actually see no difference.  Scottling here,  I found the only piece of Vasilliki Ware found by anyone (see below).

The surface of the wares is covered with a red or brown semi-lustrous paint that appears mottled, an effect achieved by uneven firing.Vasilliki Ware was made in Early Minoan IIA and IIB (about 2500 to 2200 BCE) and has mottled glaze effects due to early experiments with controlling color.  Geneia found a tiny sherd of the even more exquisite Kamares Ware (see above).

We also found obsidian.

There was no guard at Vasilliki, as there had been at other archaeological sites.  The gate was cracked open and the linked wire fence had bent up next to the gate.  There was an “official” notice left by someone tied to the wire.

Homemade sign at Vasilliki

Homemade sign at Vasilliki

From Vasilliki, we drove to Chamaizi, the only round house in Crete.

Our Glamorous Companion on the Way to Chamaizi

Our Glamorous Companion on the Way to Chamaizi

It is – guess? – located on a high hill overlooking the sea.  It is an oval shaped building with a cistern in the center.

Cistern at the Center of the Round House at Chamaizi

Cistern at the Center of the Round House at Chamaizi

There is some mystery about how they obtained water up there.  One of our group, Ann Salusbury, brilliantly suggested to Sandy that the roof was sloped inward, allowing the rain to drip off the roof into the cistern.  Sandy wrote it down.  It’s location is evidence of the danger incurred by living at the sea’s edge.  After the end of the thalossocracy, Cretans were very mindful of the danger of piracy.  They built on high hills – I’d consider some of them mountains – and commuted daily to the sea to fish.  Chamaizi, and perhaps wine at lunch inspired me to write a song, or to be just, new lyrics to an old song  (All I want is a room in Bloomsbury from The Boyfriend).  It goes:

All I want is a house in Chamaizi,

Just a round house for you and me.

One roof’s enough for us;

Can’t be bothered with frill.

Can’t bring much stuff with us,

Cause we live on a hill!

Every evening we’ll gaze out to the sea,

Loving life in Minoan Mid (II) A or B.

Our new roof’s tipping;

The rain keeps dripping;

There’s plenty of water for tea,

In our darling round house in Chamaizi!

Pirates may swarm the coast,

But we won’t care.

We’ll moon them and wave our derrieres!

Nothing awes us

Except for Knossos!

We’re just delighted to be

In our dear oval house in Chamaizi!

Andrea, Geneia and I actually had the temerity to sing it to Sandy, Gudrun, Elia and Richard , Harris and Kitty and Diana  after dinner that night, complete with gestures and dance steps.  The next day Sandy called it “Chamaizi, the musical.”  I rather think this performance crowned the vacation for me.  (Authors have no modesty.)

We lunched that day at a café overlooking the island of Mochlos, which used to be attached to the mainland as a peninsula, but the level of the water rose in ancient times and cut it off as an island.  Mochlos was different from the other sites we’d toured.  The buildings were of shist masonry on the lower floor, with a mud brick upper floor.  Floors were also laid with slabs of shist.  All the others had been built predominantly of limestone.  The Late Minoan IA levels (1550 BCE?) are sealed by volcanic ash and pumice from the Thera volcano eruption .  The town was destroyed by fire at the end of Late Minoan , but not looted.  Human skeletons were found in the destruction levels, but bronze valuables ahd been hidden in two houses before they abandoned the town.  Immediately afterward the Greek language and Mycenaean burials began to occur.  Mochlos has an Early Minoan II (2500 – 2200 BCE) necropolis on a wide ledge overlooking the sea on the West side.  The tombs were built above ground and resembled Minoan domestic architecture, so they are commonly called “house-tombs”.  They are completely stone built, obviously by persons of some wealth.  Unsurprisingly they turned out to contain gold jewellery, silver plate vessels, stone vases and the earliest faience known in Crete.  An imported silver cylinder sea from Mesopotamia dating to reign of King Sargon of Akkad was also found in them.

Mochlos

Mochlos

Grandfather and Granddaughter casting off From MochlosElounda from Mochlos

We toured it before lunch and after lunch, Geneia and I swam across the “straits of Mochlos”and back.  Again, it was so gorgeous, but the brackish water was startling.  I find I just don’t care for brine, but the color is incomparable.  I was anxious to get back to our companions, relaxing in the taverna and clear my palate with water and wine.

We had one last night at the Elounda Palm Hotel and one more lecture.  I find that I’m unable to find my notes, but it was about the timing of the Theran eruption and gave the archaeological evidence, some of which I’ve related concerning the visitors to Hatshepsut and Thutmose III, versus the Carbon Date, resulting from a tree branch discovered beneath the ashes of Akrotiri.  Evidently it rendered a date of 1600 + or – 13 years.  He explained something about the “curve” of error and something else about the “curve” being flat during these particular years, which I’m afraid I didn’t understand.  He asserted that Radio Carbon dating was not entirely reliable, which I have read before.  The talk was designed to explain his comment early in the tour that the date of the Theran Eruption depended upon whether one was an archaeologist or a scientist.

The Elounda Palm Hotel was notable as a place where I could obtain a vodka.  I found that the British don’t drink vodka, and although we were served wine with every meal in Crete, lunch and dinner – a feature of Andante Tours that I ardently applaud – it was also rare in Crete, except where they were catering especially to foreigners.  I’d noticed Belvedere, an excellent and expensive Polish vodka in the bar when we arrived and thought to sample it later on.  It turned out that only the Pool Bar was manned in the evenings over dinner, so on night one I sauntered over to the Pool Bar to see what I could get.  They had Grey Goose, so I ordered a Grey Goose and splash of cranberry from the young, bearded, Cretan bartender.  He winked at me several times and spoke in a sultry voice, announcing to anyone who cared to hear that Grey Goose was a very fine, smooth vodka, as if commending my taste.  I thanked him with my typical bright sunny manner and retreated to dinner. It had been rather expensive, I thought.  Eight Euros!  I wondered if the general seductiveness had been white wash for charging me more than it was worth.  So, the next night I asked Richard Thornton, a charming Brit, married to an Italian and retired in Province, whether he thought I’d been overcharged.  I was satisfied after he told me what he’d paid for his drink that I had been charged the usual fee, which was indeed high, over $10.  He insisted on coming with me to the Pool Bar and even paid for my drink.  The sultriness was still there.  The guy said I could have “anything I desired.”  Did he double as a Pool Boy during the day?  We retreated back to our dinner.  I was glad I had Richard with me.

On our last day, the weather suddenly changed.  The sky became overcast and there was a wind that blew grains of sand all over our clothing and stuck to my lipstick.  We visited Mallia.

Mallia

Mallia

Theatral Area, Mallia Mallia

It was kind of poignant.  Here were all these people we’d spent the week with and I really liked them.   Elia and Richard invited us to come and visit them in Provence.  If it is at all possible, before they forget who we are, we’ll try.

We still had two more nights in England, but this was the end of the tour.  We said our goodbyes.  Joe and Elaine told me that Geneia and I had been “a ray of sunshine” throughout the trip, a tribute I that really gratified me.   It will be one of my warmest take-aways from this trip.  They were the people I’d like to emulate, adventurous and interested in everything.

I recommend Andante Travels to anyone interested in history and am enjoying reliving our days of travel as I sort through thousands of pictures (between Geneia, Andrea and I).  Viva Andante and the Minoans!

Luncheon with the Tour Group

Luncheon with the Tour Group

Anne, Diana, Harris and Janice

Our Tour Group

Our Tour Group

1-184-2013-09-28 07.37.04

Nona at Phaistos

Nona at Phaistos

 Posted by at 5:38 pm

Crete and Santorini — The Rise and Fall of Minoan Civilization

 Comments Off on Crete and Santorini — The Rise and Fall of Minoan Civilization
Dec 202013
 
On Santorini overlooking the Caldera

On Santorini overlooking the Caldera

It’s actually been two and half months since the trip I took to Santorini and Crete with Andante Travels, taking an expert led tour of Minoan Ruins.  Akrotiri, the 16th Century BCE town buried in ash on Santorini, has been on my bucket list for years, but was closed during the 2000s due to the protective roof over the excavation having collapsed!  A new and stronger roof has been built and the site reopened in 2011.  So I’ve been champing on the bit to go there.   I’d been shopping for archaeological cruises by Voyages to Antiquity, National Geographic, Martin Randall for a couple of years.  We — my friend, Andrea, and I — found Andante Travels at the last minute and I’m so glad we discovered this tour company.  We had a blast!  It was everything I hoped it would be.  My two traveling companions were Andrea and my daughter, Iphigeneia.  Andrea and I had planned to travel together to Europe when our daughters had graduated from highschool.  We missed that deadline — although she has more daughters than I and one of them has yet to graduate — but our adventure was none the less exciting for that.  (We had great fun planning our wardrobes (not that you will be able to tell from the pictures of me). We started in London, having had a few days to knock around the museums and spend a day or two in Oxford — more on that in another blog — arriving at Gatwick Airport in plenty of time.  There were stricter luggage weight requirements for the EasyJet flight to Santorini than there had been for our overseas flight.    I noticed during check-in that my bag weighed 21.9 kilos, over the 20 kilo limit, but nothing was said, no money was demanded – I later found out why – so we checked at the X-ray machines and began looking around for the “distinctive” Andante baggage tags (as advised by our pre-tour instructions).  Right away we found Janice.  I’d actually noticed her rolling duffle in the long check-in line, thinking it looked very archaeologically tourish and envying it.  Then we met Harmon and Nell, an American couple, who turned out to be from STOUGHTON, WISCONSIN!  We laughed about that.  Out of the 21 tour members, the only Americans were all from Wisconsin.  (There was one other from state side, Stanley, from Washington DC, whom we met later.)   We’d been told to look for our Tour Guide, Gudrun Schmid, before going through to departures and finally located her over by the check-in area.  She was tall, dark haired and handsome.  I will just mention at this point that she wore embroidered Pakistani tunics throughout our tour (along with supplex nylon zip-off pants) for their length and they became her very well.  She said she traveled so often in Muslim countries, she’d found these airy, pretty tops a perfect solution to being covered up (a good tip for travel buffs).  Harmon was tall and consistently wore supplex nylon shirts and pants and a brimmed hat, which so reminded me of my late husband, Matt.  Matt would have loved our company of travelers.  (This is, by the way, perfect gear for an archaeological tour.) We were delayed in London by weather, so it was after nightfall that we arrived in Santorini.  We didn’t see one of the spectacular sunsets that are so famous.  Our lecturer, (Alexander) Sandy MacGillivray met us at the airport, along with our Cretan Guide, Mania, and they swept us off to our two hotels, one for doubles, the other for singles, and then to dinner at a local tavern overlooking the caldera, which we couldn’t see unfortunately.  (I imagine it had been specially chosen for the view and the sunset.)  I will interject at this point that Santorini is a volcano.  About 1600 or 1550 BCE it erupted spectacularly, then collapsed into the sea, leaving a crescent shape surrounding a fantastically deep caldera.   It is that view overlooking the caldera and two small, still active volcanic islets, that one sees so frequently in pictures of t he Greek Islands.

When we’d arrived at the Kalimera Hotel, I’d gone immediately to Gudrun and asked her whether she could help me get a “very quiet” room.  I’m not sure rooms were assigned yet, but the concierge immediately assigned Geneia and I to Room 18, which was way at the back, away from the road, on the other side of the pool, and had an adorable little courtyard attached.  I slept like a top and afterward left two dresses I was planning to wear in Crete in the closet, of course.  Doesn’t everyone do something like that when they’re traveling? Sandy was quiet-spoken and dryly humorous.  He wore a sort of uniform every day, a white, airily woven shirt, a bandana, pants and several small-brimmed hats.    He became our constant companion on the trip, both instructing and socializing.  He must enjoy people because he rarely got a break from us and didn’t seem to be chafing at it.  He was the soul of unflappability, intelligent conversation and kindness.

Sandy MacGillivray

I can’t recount what we ate the first night.  The food was always good and there was always local wine, both red and white.  That latter was a very nice feature indeed.  We usually had starters, ground fava beans as a spread, deep-fried squid or calamari, deep-fried goat cheese – that was heavenly – and bruschetta with tomatoes, herbs and feta ( tomatoes and cucumbers were abundant in different forms).  The main course could be fish or lamb or chicken.  For dessert there was often Greek yogurt with fruit.  Pastries were served with breakfast.

Greek Salad of Tomatoes, Feta, Capers and Herbs

Greek Salad of Tomatoes, Feta, Capers and Herbs

The first day started out with what could have been the severest blow.  We had breakfast and took the bus to Fira to see the Archaeological Museum and the Prehistoric Museum, before going to Akrotiri to tour the ruins and found that THE GREEKS WERE HAVING A STRIKE!  ALL THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES WERE CLOSED! I was stunned as Gudrun, Mania and Sandy put their heads together to come up with Plan B.  I’d come on this tour for the express purpose of seeing Akrotiri.  I have to say that I didn’t unravel (pat, pat), although ideas of hopping the fence did occur.  There was still a hope that we would see it on our half-day on the morrow – the strike was only supposed to be for two days and this was day two – but we wouldn’t ever get to see those museums.  (I comforted myself with the thought that the actual Akrotiri frescos are in Athens.) Plan B became a voyage to the active volcano on two islands in the middle of the caldera.  Nea Kameni and Palia Kameni, which mean “the new and the old burnt out islands.”  (Sandy had related the comforting news at dinner the night before that there was an “unresolved” build-up of lava in the island beneath us that hadn’t been released in a big way since 1500 BCE.   Santorini is still a live volcano!)    I hadn’t worn my hiking boots, thinking we were going to museums.  Nea Kameni turned out to be an uphill hike on crumbled lava leading to an older and newer caldera.

Hking up to the Caldera on Nea Kameni

Hking up to the Caldera on Nea Kameni

There were vents emitting sulphurous gas along the way, which I found pretty interesting (after having read Pompeii by Robert Harris about the Aquarius, or aqueduct engineer, in the days leading up to the eruption).

Sulfur Vent, Nea Kameni

Sulfur Vent, Nea Kameni

Caldera, Nea Kameni

Caldera, Nea Kameni

Pools of sulfur within the Sea

Pools of sulfur within the Sea

Sandy pointed out the sulfuric pools in the Aegean around the island.  Venetian ships used to moor there to kill the barnacles adhering to heir hulls.  The Aegean was impossibly blue.  The reason you see all those domed roofs and doors painted brilliant blue in postcards (see above)

is because the color matches the Sea.  It’s almost unbelievable.  I longed to dive in, especially when our second stop turned out to be hot springs at Palia Kameni.  Most of the other passengers were wearing swimsuits and jumped off the boat, as they’d known they were coming.  We got our chance to swim later though.

Waiting for the boat to Nea Kameni

Waiting for the boat to Nea Kameni

While the Guides were purchasing tickets for the cruise, we had a chance to do some shopping.  Caryn had asked me to bring her back some Greek textile from which she could make a pillow.  One shop had actual pillow covers that were so beautifully needle-worked that I could hardly choose from among them.  I finally narrowed it down to two, one for me and one for her, not knowing which I’d keep myself since I thought them both so gorgeous. I also saw a silver bee pendant that was in my price range, but passed it by because it just isn’t the same if it’s not gold.  Then, just before the voyage, I found one in gold (see below, the real thing)!  The shopkeeper quickly wrote down the price in Euros and Dollars so I could contemplate the expense.  When we debarked from the cruise ship and took the gondolas back to the summit of the caldera, I quickly ran in and bought it.  Apart from the textile for Caryn, I had had in mind when we booked the tour, that the only souvenir I would buy myself in Crete would be a replica of that pendant, which I’ve loved all my life.

The Bee Pendant from Mallia

The Bee Pendant from Mallia

We got our chance to swim in the Wine Dark Sea that very night.  Our group was to walk down to the shore from our hotel and eat dinner at a tavern dug into the volcanic tephra.  Sandy offered to walk down an hour early with us for a swim off the pier – it’s a harbor.  We were joined by Joe and Elaine, two of our favorite people on the trip.  Joe was a great swimmer.  He was raised in Saudi Arabia and returned to the Middle East for work later.  He and Elaine had met at college in Belfast, Ireland.  It was nearly twilight, so we didn’t have the joy of leaping into that crystalline blue aqua, but it was warm and very salty.  The saltiness was a bit of a shock.  I mean, I knew it was salt-water, but it was salty enough to gag you if you swallowed it.  When the others arrived, we were sitting on the patio being introduced by Sandy to Raki, a distilled Greek spirit made from grape skins.  (I was missing vodka and it was the nearest thing.)  I quite liked it.

The Wine Dark Sea

The Wine Dark Sea

On day two, we headed to the ruin of ancient Thera, a Greco-Roman city perched on the height of an enormous hill overlooking the sea and named after the mythical ruler of the island, Theras.  (Santorini’s ancient name was Thera.   Thera is also the official modern name of the island, having been revived in the 19th century, so it’s a little confusing, because this ruin is called Thera too.  Most people know the island by the name Santorini, which  is derived from Saint Irene.)  It was another steep climb.  This time I wore hiking boots with my khaki skirt (see below; Elaine is also in the picture).

Nona at Ancient Thera in my Trusty Khaki Skirt and Broad Brim Hat

Nona at Ancient Thera in my Trusty Khaki Skirt and Broad Brim Hat

Sandy taught us to “scrottle,”  his (? probably shared by his cronies) unofficial term for potsherd and coin hunting.  Up until that time I’d hardly noticed that the ground was literally littered with potsherds.  I’d thought they were little terracotta pebbles, but no!  He picked up the handle of the cup to show us what was lying about and from that point on we all became avid scrottlers.    Thera was inhabited from the 9th Century BCE to about 728 CE.  Highlights were a theatre, stoa, agora and temples to imported Egyptian gods during the Roman era.   We all wondered at the height of the hill and how fisherman and tradesmen could bear to hike down to the sea, then hike back up with their sales goods.  It would have been so arduous.  Piracy, however,  was a real threat to islanders for most of the Aegean’s history once the Minoan Thalossocracy (rule of the sea) was destroyed with their fleet by the eruption of Thera.  The sea was not safe again until Roman times!

Thera, built on a Hill above the Sea

Thera, built on a Hill above the Sea

Then, ….we went to see Akrotiri.  The excavation is more extensive than one sees in pictures, and it was absolute thrill to walk through an ancient Minoan city and orient oneself to the space, the height of the doors and windows, and imagine what it might have been like to live there.

Akrotiri, destroyed around 1550 BCE, and buried in Ash until the 1970s, a World Heritage Site

Akrotiri, destroyed around 1550 BCE, and buried in Ash until the 1970s, a World Heritage Site

Elaine with the walls of houses at Akrotiri Geneia at Akrotiri Portal Akrotiri Doorway Main Street?

Akrotiri, destroyed by the Stupendous Eruption of Thera around 1550 BCE, a World Heritage Site

Nona and Geneia at Akrotiri

Nona and Geneia at Akrotiri

One thing more ticked off my Bucket List! Sandy met and introduced us to two colleagues, the world’s expert on Horns of Consecration, a common and controversial architectural feature of Minoan architecture, and an archaeological artist.  (I asked Sandy whether archaeology still employed artists or whether that was an outdated practice and he said that artists were employed on every dig.  Detail could never be recorded as clearly by photography as by drawing.  Most archaeological artists start out as artists, not as archaeologists.  Mmmmm…I should have looked into this earlier.) From Santorini, we took a catamaran to Heraklion, a voyage of about four hours. I sat next to Diana, who became another of my favorite people on the tour.   She works for Scotland Yard.  She dressed very femininely, unlike the rest of us, barring Andrea, no practical supplex for this girl!.  Diana was FUNNY!  I asked her why she always sat in the sun and wore clothes that offered no sun protection and she said it was because she worked in “black box, dear.”  She was dying to get out!  Her trenchant, comical evaluation of things was a constant delight. Our Hotel, Hotel Lato, was right downtown.  I was concerned about the noise, but once again went straight to the desk with Gudrun and was switched with another couple for the quietest room possible.  Once again I slept soundly both nights.  Sandy walked us down through the streets of Heraklion, pointing out the Venetian architecture and the Lion Fountain (see below), which is no longer running, but is a favorite local area to meet and congregate in.  We had dinner in a sort of covered market lined with cafes, where the tables and chairs were in the street.  I remember what we had that night.  It was the fried squid appetizers and wonderful lamb chops.

Here is the Venetian Landmark by Night, as we saw it

Each day there was a bit of rescheduling as the guides tried to avoid crowds at the more popular sites.  We had been scheduled to see Knossos first thing in the morning, but they learned that four cruise ships would be decanting their passengers that morning and the site would be mobbed, so after a short stop at the Heraklion Museum to see the highlights of Minoan art, we drove to Vathypetro, which was perhaps a country estate, located on a hill – let’s face it, everything in Greece is located on top of a hill – amidst vineyards and olive groves. The Vathypetro complex was constructed around 1580 BCE at the beginning of the Late Minoan IA period and badly damaged around 1550 BCE, perhaps by an earthquake. The south sector of the building, which includes a wine press, was rebuilt as a farmhouse and industrial center after the 1550 BCE destruction and was finally destroyed around 1470 BCE.  I was familiar with it from watching Bettany Hughes’ (my alter-ego) television documentary Island of the Minotaur, which I recommend as a very good synopsis of what we know or speculate about the Minoans.  (I’m currently reading her Hemlock Cup, which is a fascinating picture of the Athens that Socrates frequented and was condemned by.  It’s full of illuminating details, just as is her excellent Helen of Troy, one of the best books on the Bronze Age I’ve read.)  The site appears to have been self-sufficent:  local potter production is attested by two potters’ wheels and a kiln; numerous loom weights and spindle whorls testify to textile production.  Vathypetro has an intact wine press, one of the oldest in the world.  I thought at the time that I was going to love Vathypetro more than any of the other sites due to its beautiful setting and state of preservation.  Now it is hard to pick a favorite, but the setting of this site is gorgeous.

Geneia and Nona at Vathypetro

Geneia and Nona at Vathypetro

The Wine Press at Vathypetro

The Wine Press at Vathypetro

One of the points Sandy made at Vathypetro was that the ancient sense of time was circular rather than linear, as we conceive it.  I’m not sure what that really means.  He also pointed out that 1/3 of the days of the year were devoted to religious festivals.  It reminds of the medieval Church Calendar.  Medieval Europe and Crete were both agrarian societies.  We know that the Roman and Byzantine Churchesadopted pagan festivals and assigned them new names to make them appear Christian.  Might we derive a sense of what these religious festivals were like by the  survival of rituals in the medieval church?  He pointed out that the villa of Vathypetro had been expensive to build, had been preplanned with drainage etc. and that it was built to last.  One of the interesting features of the site is a Pillar Crypt or man-made cave.  Of course there are many natural caves on Crete that were used for religious rites and offerings.  Sandy theorized that the Pillar Crypt was used for sensory deprivation, nothing to see or hear, and some sort of maturation rite.  There are terracotta figurines of goddesses wearing poppies as a crown.  Might opium have been used to achieve visions in such a crypt? After Vathypetro, we stopped at the Archanes Museum for a quick look around.

At the nearby sanctuary of Anemospilia, on the north slopes of Juktas (mountain), four human skeletons were found in its ruins; one, belonging to a young man, was found in an unusually contracted position on a raised platform, suggesting that he had been trussed up for sacrifice, much like the bull in the sacrifice scene on the Mycenaean-era Ayia Triadha sarcophagus.

A bronze dagger was among his bones, and the discoloration of the bones on one side of his body suggests he died of blood loss. The bronze blade was fifteen inches long and had images of a boar on each side. The bones were on a raised platform at the center of the middle room, next to a pillar with a trough at its base.  The positions of the other three skeletons suggest that an earthquake caught them by surprise—the skeleton of a twenty-eight-year-old woman was spread-eagled on the ground in the same room as the sacrificed male. Next to the sacrificial platform was the skeleton of a man in his late thirties, with broken legs. His arms were raised, as if to protect himself from falling debris, which suggests that his legs were broken by the collapse of the building in the earthquake. In the front hall of the building was the fourth skeleton, too poorly preserved to allow determination of age or gender. Nearby 105 fragments of a clay vase were discovered, scattered in a pattern that suggests it had been dropped bythe person in the front hall when he was struck by debris from the collapsing building.The jar appears to have contained bull’s blood.  (Italicized content from Wikipedia)  Bettany Hughes suggested that the jar being carried away from the room contained human blood.  There is also the suggestion that human sacrifice was underway to avert the very earthquake that interrupted it. In the “North House” at Knossos, the bones of at least four children (who had been in good health) were found which bore signs that “they were butchered in the same way the Minoans slaughtered their sheep and goats, suggesting that they had been sacrificed and eaten. The senior Cretan archaeologist Nicolas Platon was so horrified at this suggestion that he insisted the bones must be those of apes, not humans.”  The bones, found by Peter Warren, date to Late Minoan IB (1580-1490), before the Myceneans arrived (in LM IIIA, c. 1320-1200) according to Paul Rehak and John G. Younger.   Dennis Hughes and Rodney Castleden argue that these bones were deposited as a ‘secondary burial’. Secondary burial is the not-uncommon practice of burying the dead twice: immediately following death, and then again after the flesh is gone from the skeleton. The main weakness of this argument is that it does not explain the type of cuts and knife marks upon the bones.  (again, Wikipedia)  Bettany Hughes relates the evidence and succession of events that preserved the evidence in Island of the Minotaur. We had a lot to discuss at dinner.  It was our free night.  Sandy was offering to take anyone interested down to the Heraklion Yacht Club for dinner.  Evidently they are famous for preparing a sort of small fish.  In spite of that menu billing, I would normally have leapt at the chance to go on discussing Minoan religion and burial practices – both scholars and members of the tour were suggesting that the Minoans practiced excarnation, exposing their dead on the hillsides to be picked clean by the Lammergeiers (see below) we often observed soaring above our heads – but I was feeling tired, not physically, but emotionally, from exposure to so many new and interesting sights and thoughts.

Before dinner, as a culmination of our day, we went to Knossos for about three hours.  I’ve been to Knossos before, at the end of 1975, between Christmas and January, when Harry Kampert, Vicki Bailey and I met the St. Olaf Roots of  Early Christianity Group in Istanbul.  It had been nearly deserted at the time, as the weather was rainy, and we’d been able to wander at will through the entire site.

Knosso in the Setting Sun

Knosso in the Setting Sun

I hadn’t really remembered the scope of it though.  It’s BIG!   Sandy took us through it in the way that visitors would have entered to participate in a festival.  The current thinking is that Knossos was more of a community center than a “palace,” although Evans’ description has stuck.  There is no iconography of rulership here, or anywhere for that matter, in Minoan architecture.  Thrones are most generally occupied by women, priestesses, and picture a religious or ritual activity.  The famous Labrys, or double-ax (referred to as the “double-headed doo dah” by Terry, another member of our tour, and known henceforward by us by that name) is generally pictured hanging upside down, often from some sort of tray.  This double-headed ax was once thought to be the instrument of sacrifice for a religion centered on the bull, the natural presupposition of Sir Arthur Evans who had the myth of the Minotaur in mind.  That idea has been abandoned.  Also, by the way, Sandy thinks that the alluring, frilled dresses that women are invariably portrayed in are just the way Minoan women dressed.  I asked.  It seems so impractical a costume.

It must be the reason why Minoan Crete hasn’t been widely adopted by hobbyists for historical recreations.  Haha.

Throne Room, Dolphin Fresco, Stairway to Lustral Basin

Throne Room, Dolphin Fresco, Stairway to Lustral Basin

Fresco Recreated -- the dolphins would have been on the floor Knossos -- the Throne RoomThrone Room, Stairway to a Lustral Basin, where Priestesses prepared themselves, and the Dolphin Fresco, which actually used to on a Floor in the Room Above

Knossos Knossos Geneia at Knossos 1-1-IMG_0590-001 Entrance with charging bull Sandy at Knossos Who goes there? Sandy, Knossos Andrea at Knossos Knossos The gorgeous pavement with the pink grout

A couple of the pictures above bear commenting on:  One of them shows the Pier and Door construction characteristic to Minoan architecture.  The recesses of the deep walls and doorways allowed folding doors to be opened and tucked inside the doorways or closed to protect from weather.  Immeditely above is the Processional Way into the palace.  The paving stones are blue and the grout is pink.   Another feature of the palaces are the Theatral Areas, wide steps with a courtyard at the bottom.  People would sit on the steps to observe whatever was taking place in the coutyard.  Sir Arthur Evans named the Theatral Area of the Palace of Knossos, the “Dancing Floor of Ariadne,”  so…..

The Dancing Floor of Ariadne

The Dancing Floor of Ariadne

It was incomparably richer experience to visit Knossos with a knowledgeable guide who could make sense of everything you saw and tell you how the entire structure worked for its inhabitants.  Over and over again I felt confirmed in my choice of a  theme-tour  for a vacation.  We could never have gotten so much out of visiting these sites on our own.  Sandy has excavated on Crete all his life and is intimately familiar with the digs.  Also, by the way, it was great to be taken care of and not to have to expend OUR mental energy on finding good places to eat and stay the night, arrange for transportation, or have to lug my awkward, heavy duffle up and down the narrow streets of virtually anywhere in Greece. I was ready for a real vodka and cranberry at the end of my day…Ah divinity.  We dressed and went up to rooftop restaurant, open to the sky with a panoramic view. The next day, which was Saturday, we visited Gortyn, a thriving from Homeric times through Roman, famous for the Archaic-era  Gortyn Law Code, which was inscribed in stone.  Later Hellenistic construction reused the great blocks higglety-pigglety in one of their buildings. The site was abandoned in the 7th Century AD due to Arab rades, but during Roman times it was the most important city on the island, the capital of the Roman province of Crete and Cyrene (in Libya) from 27 BCE.   I think I have some potsherds from Gortyn.  There is a sanctuary of the Egyptian Gods wherein Serapis, Isis and Anubis were worshipped.

Gortyn, Greek Torso of a Young Man, Theater, Reused Stones of the Law Code of Gortyn

Gortyn, Greek Torso of a Young Man, Theater, Reused Stones of the Law Code of Gortyn

Theater at Gortyn Gortyn Remnant of the Law Code of Gournia

Next stop was Ayia Triada, another Bronze Age Villa, where a famous sarcophagus, referred to above, was found.

All this time we were busy scrottling.  Ayia Triadha and the nearby “palace” of Phaistos were reached by driving through the extremely scenic Mesara Plain.  I have pictures of this plain from my first visit to Crete, one day of which we spent touring Phaistos, Zakros and Mallia by bus.  Now I can identify my old pictures of this gorgeous topography.  The sites are related and situated on opposite ends of a single ridge.  As I’ve said, Phaistos is a palace akin to Knossos, though not as large.  Agia Triadha is town with possibly a “royal” villa.  According to mythology, Phaistos was the seat of king Radamanthus, brother of king Minos, who was later thought by Greeks to have become a judge in the underworld. It was also the city that gave birth to the great wise man and soothsayer Epimenidis, one of the seven wise men of the ancient world. The Royal Villa was built at the end of the Middle Minoan period (MM IIIB) or possibly in LM IA, possibly as late as 1550 BCE. It was destroyed by fire in the generalized destruction of 1450 – when the Myceneans apparently took violent possession of Crete — so it was in use for between 100 and 150 years at the most. Its existence has been explained by some as a “Summer Palace” for the “King” of Phaistos or other important officials. Others have argued that Agia Triada was the seat of a local chief.  As I’ve already mentioned, there is a lot of controversy about the use of these “palaces.”  Agia Triadha’s identification as a royal villa stems from the monarchist school of thought.  Agia Triadha’s Minoan ruins are topped by a Mycenean megaron.  (Chania in Western Crete show the first Mycenean warrior burials.) There are a couple of interesting features of the palace at Phaistos.  One is two steps about four feet high in the corner of the Central Courtyard from which, it has been suggested, acrobats used to leap over bulls.  This isn’t entirely speculation.  There is actually a seal-ring picturing just such a feat, from just such a platform.

Bull Leaping Platform in the Corner of the Great Courtyard at Phaistos

Bull Leaping Platform in the Corner of the Great Courtyard at Phaistos

The picture above is from one of the informational plaques at Phaistos.

1-1-IMG_0686The Actual Stone Platform

Geneia and I have talked about the whole bull-leaping thing during and ever since the trip.  Most experts have pronounced the feat impossible, at least as portrayed in Minoan iconography (see below).

If they weren’t actually leaping over bulls, the frescos and many sculptures portraying it could be relating a mythical narrative central to Minoan religion.  The same is true of the monkeys gathering saffron and the Mistress of the Animals and other fresco themes.  We’ve simply lost the “story,” and so don’t understand it.  That seems feasible, but considering that the Myceneans took over the Minoan sites, I find it difficult to believe that some vestige of a myth that featured bull-leaping didn’t survive to explain the pictures as a story.  I frankly believe – and Geneia recognizes that she WANTS to believe – that the Minoans were actually leaping bulls.  There are so many pictures of it and they all look alike.  There’s someone at the horns and a spotter at the rear and a figure somersaulting frontwards over the bull’s back.  Now, there is a current sport of bull-leaping in which the athlete leaps the bull side-on, but not a single Minoan illustration suggests that it was ever done any other way than head-on.

Bull Leaping Fresco from the Palace of Knossos

Seal Ring with Bull Leapers — not the One showing the Platform though

Sandy also suggested an astral explanation of the Bull Leaping fresco in which the figure grasping the bull’s horns is Orion, the bull is Taurus, who has swallowed the seven Pleiades, and is spotted by Andromeda.  It is the actual map of the sky.  It also supports the Minotaur myth in which the Minotaur ate seven maidens.  I think that’s interesting.  In Greek Mythology, Orion did pursue the Pleiades and Zeus transformed them into stars to escape his amorous pursuit.  There is no bull in the Greek tale though.  However, Michael Rappenglück of the University of Munich believes that Taurus is represented in a cave painting at the Hall of the Bulls in the caves at Lascaux, which he believes is accompanied by a depiction of the Pleiades.  The name “seven sisters” has been used for the Pleiades in the languages of many cultures, including indigenous groups of Australia, North America and Siberia.  (Wikipedia)  So, a bull might be provided there.

Bettany Hughes said that the bulls used by the Minoans were hybrid Aurochs.  Now, I first became familiar with Aurochs, the European bison, extinct since the 17th Century AD, from Quo Vadis, because the heroine Lygia was tied to the horns of one in the Colosseum.  I had to find out about them.

The proportions and body shape of the aurochs were strikingly different from many modern cattle breeds.  For example, the legs were considerably longer and more slender, resulting in a shoulder height that nearly equaled the trunk length. The skull, carrying the large horns, was substantially larger and more elongated than in most cattle breeds. As in other wild bovines, the body shape of the aurochs was athletic and, especially in bulls, showed a strongly expressed neck and shoulder musculature.  (Wikipedia)  Cows were red-brown; bulls red-brown to black.  They had a white dorsal stripe.  See below for size comparison with a human.

This has been photoshopped, no doubt, but it gives an idea

Sandy wasn’t familiar with aurochs, which rather surprised me.  He wrote it down to look it up.  He was familiar with Mary Renault, of course.  Mary Renault speculated in the King Must Die that the bulls used in Bull-Leaping were hybrids as well, to make them a little slower and little more stupid than a wild bull.  I have thought ever since reading Quo Vadis that the wild bulls referred to in the Bible, the paradigm of strength and power, were aurochs.

 Posted by at 4:34 pm