“Every perfect traveler always creates the country where he travels.”
– Nikos Kazantzakis
I am so excited to be visiting Crete! The largest of the Greek islands and fifth largest island in the Mediterranean, this is the land of Zorba…birthplace of Kazantzakis… land of the Minoans…the myths of King Minos and the Minotaur and of Zeus and Europa. Ruled by the Mycennae, the Romans, the Venetians, and the Turks, Crete is characterized by its rich and proud history, and its independent people.
When we arrive at the port of Aghios Nikolaos, we are immediately greeted by Europa, the Cretan moon goddess sitting astride a bull. She was actually abducted by Zeus who took the form of a bull, was raped by him, and subsequently abandoned. Nice guy! Well, at least she got the continent, Europe, named for her.
We have arranged for a private taxi to pick us up at the port so that we can see both Irakleio and the ancient Minoan Palace of Knosós on the opposite/northern side of the island. Alas, our plans are foiled by a nationwide taxi strike!
Since Zorba is one of my favorite characters and so many of my favorite quotes and moments are from the book and movie, Zorba the Greek, I can’t help but be disappointed that I will miss the hometown of Kazantzakis as well as the famous Museum in Irakleio.
But we all know about the best laid plans and all, don’t we?! So that we won’t miss seeing the Palace of Knosós as well, we quickly join a group tour. Not as satisfying, but better than missing it all together. (Travel lesson: Always have a Plan B!)
The Palace of Knosós, with over 1,000 rooms, dates back to 1900 B.C. Destroyed by an earthquake in 1700 B.C. it was quickly rebuilt and was the center of the Minoan culture; its political and ceremonial heart. As we are guided through the site, peeking into royal apartments, atriums, storerooms and ceremonial plazas, we are harkened back to a sophisticated civilization. The frescoes are fascinating and reveal a strikingly elegant and graceful people.
Mythological Minos was ruled by King Minos who had Daedulus build a labyrinth for his half bull half man son, the Minotaur. Built between the 17th and 14th century B.C., at some point in the 14th century B.C. the Minoan civilization vanished. There are many hypotheses as to what happened. Among the most credible is that the huge earthquake that formed Santorini resulted in a tsunami that literally destroyed the Minoans (and that, perhaps, this was the lost civilization of Atlantis.)
Upon our return to Aghios Nikolaos, we have time to meander through this friendly village and enjoy some refreshment by the pleasant lake lined with boats and tourists content to linger on a hot day. We are reminded by the familiar lion of St. Mark that the Venetians were here, but now it’s just tiny lions that nap in the shade.
Before departing we have enough time to walk along the shoreline, look out onto even dip our toes into the inviting deep blue sea.
Good bye for now, Crete…I promise to return.