After seven years away, it was finally time for me to return to Crete. We spent seven days on the island known for its Minoan palatial centers, amazing food culture, raki (a clear whiskey-like drink served everywhere), and fabulous beaches. Our journey began on Sunday night with an over-night ferry to Herakleion. The ferries are quite large but are still susceptible to the movements of the high seas. This often makes for a dizzying and discomforting experience. The rooms on board are minimalist but satisfactory. The only problem for me was the cold (I woke up nearly every hour shivering). Perhaps the ride was made more tumultuous because of strong tropical storms. One hit Athens on November 17th while we were on Crete that left 20 people dead from flash flooding (it was dubbed a Medicane, a Mediterranean hurricane. When we arrived in Crete we spent the first day dodging heavy rainfall.
The ferry pulled into the harbor at 6:30am, we were off the ship by 7:00am, and we were at our first site by 7:10am. We first went to see some Minoan ship sheds in a northeastern sector of the city, then it was off to the famous Minoan palace in Knossos. On the drive there we paused to gaze upon the Kairatos River valley and Knossos in the distance. It began to rain. We got a tour of the site from the curator of the site, Dr. Kostis Christakis. Knossos was the cosmological, economic, and political center of Crete during the Bronze Age. Much of the site has been reconstructed due to the efforts of the first major excavator, Sir Arthur Evans. Unfortunately, many of his reconstructions were not based on anything other than his imagination. We even heard a story about how Evans had a dream about the procession of the priest king, as well as his bizarre obsession with the famous snake goddess figurines. It is from Evans that the narrative of the allegedly peace-loving Minoans is contrasted with harsh military-minded Mycenaeans. It has been shown that the Minoans were not quite the hippies Evans so badly wanted them to be. While we walked around, the sky opened up and rain cascaded down in a torrent for fifteen minutes. We huddled in the second story of the north “lustral basin” with a group of German tourists (I wish I had a picture of the big, jolly, white-haired man in the red jacket sporting a humongous white beard). This room is designated “lustral” because at the very bottom is a staircase descending into a small rectangular pit. It is thought that some kind of ritual bathing or cleaning would take place there—too bad many of these so-called lustral basins in Crete were lined with gypsum, a mineral that dissolves in water. It remains a mystery to me what purpose they were for. With our important guide with us, we visited the “queen’s megaron” which is closed-off to the public. A megaron is a fancy word for a hall characterized by the presence of four columns surrounding a central hearth with a “throne” to the right of the entrance. This particular room was designated for the queen, as opposed to the king’s which we also visited, because around the corner was a bath tub of sorts—clearly interpreted by Evans as a gendered space. We exited the complex to the north and walked by the “theatral” area in the northwest corner. This is called a theater because there are terraced steps on the east and south sides of an open, paved square. It vaguely resembles a later Greek theater; a more reasonable explanation to me is that it is a monumental entrance for those coming from the paved road to the west—the oldest road in Europe. By this time the rain had calmed down and we went to the Villa Ariadne, the excavation house built by Evans in 1906. Dr. Christakis shared with us stories about the Villa’s later history, including that the last act of World War II took place in the dining room (the German forces surrendering on May 10, 1945). Around the corner from this villa was another villa of the Roman variety. In and around the Villa Dionysus (so-named for its mosaic depictions of Dionysus), there are a few Roman building including a theater, civic buildings, baths, workshops, an aqueduct, and houses. We had a quick lunch in the garden before driving back to Heraklion to see the museum there. When I came to Crete back in 2010 the museum had been closed except for a small temporary exhibit. The museum reopened in May 2013, so this was my first chance to see all of its glory. It did not disappoint. We had special access to certain exhibits on the second floor that were closed to the public (although two big rooms with Classical, Hellenistic, and Roman sculpture on the first floor were closed to everyone). Some of the major highlights include: fresco fragments from Knossos, bronze shields from the Idaean Cave, the Phaistos Disk (a round clay tablet with Linear A inscribed on both sides), dozens of large and small “double-axes,” votive figurines of the “snake goddesses,” and a stone rhyton (drinking vessel) in the shape of a bull head. The museum was quite crowded, and the Greek tour guides were merciless in their desire to edge out individual patrons (like myself) in order to get their group up close. After a night of little sleep and marching around Knossos all day, but 4:30pm I was too pooped to do anything about it. Museum fatigue set in early on that day, and I was happy to finish viewing. Tim was our resident Cretan expert, so once we checked into the hotel, he led three of us guys to a roastery and brewery called Crop which serves gourmet coffee and craft beer. For dinner a large group of us followed Tim’s lead again to a Tex Mex restaurant called Amalia’s Kitchen (Amalia lived with her family in Texas for 13 years). The beef fajitas were pretty tasty (literally served flaming; the fresh tortillas were the best part), but the margaritas were so-so. Apparently they grove avocados on the island, so we even had fresh guacamole. This was not a traditional place by any means, but it was a great start to the amazing food of Crete. Ok, the sites are pretty good too.
Day two began our journey toward east Crete. We stopped at nearby beach site called Amnissos which was one of the Minoan ports of Knossos. Here we saw the so-called “Villa of the Lilies,” named after the fresco fragments discovered there bearing fields of lilies. A left turn at the sand by the water and five minute away was a temple of Zeus Thanatos, built during the Hellenistic Period based on the blocks found there. At one point the city had been much further from the sea, but the northern short of Crete is slowing (very slowly) tipping into the water. It is likely that other architectural remains now reside under water just offshore. We drove about ten minutes east along the shore to the next town to visit the Minoan palace called Nirou Chani. It is not as well preserved as other palaces, but there appear to be remnants of a Minoan style hall. Here they found evidence of a second story which had a fresco of the “sacred knot,” a red and white knot sometimes depicted on frescoes of processions worn by women. Its exact purpose is unknown, but it has been associated with marriage rituals (how curious). Here they also found a tripartite shrine, as well as a room filled with hundreds of clay altars and vessels, as well as large double-axes, thus leading some to believe that these objects were being stored for ritual use at or near the site. Amnissos and Nirou Chani were only a taste of what we were about to see for the rest of the day. Another thirty minutes east is the Minoan palace at Malia. This giant site had many of the trappings of a “typical” palace: large central court flanked by storerooms/workshops along with smaller peripheral courts with colonnaded meeting halls. In the middle of the central courtyard is a half-dome looking, stone betyl (dubbed the “death star” betyl for the divot worn away near the top). Just to the northwest is an adjacent building complex called Quartier Mu which is not covered by a large canopy to keep the remains from melting away. These two-story buildings show a commingling of domestic and work space. Evidence of craft production was found here including loom weights, seal stones, decorated pottery, and metal working. Its exact relationship to the palace is uncertain, and it does raise questions about the centralization of power at Minoan sites—did one person control all production at Malia? Was there a rival power in residence at this house/workshop complex? Nevertheless, there was much to think about there. We continued our drive eastward to the Institute for the Study of Aegean Prehistory (INSTAP) in Pacheia Ammos. This week in Crete has the distinction of being co-led by Tom Brogan, the director of INSTAP, who gave us tours at all the Minoan sites. After treating us to a lunch at the center we got a tour of the facilities where they process much of the archaeological finds from digs all over Crete and elsewhere in the Aegean region. We saw where the wash and categorize pottery sherds, restore and converse pottery, as well as the storerooms of numerous materials including a humidity and temperature controlled room where metal finds are stored for safe-keeping. After this wonderful behind-the-scenes look at where archaeology happens, we drove to Kavousi on the other side of the bay. There was the Archaic Period site called Azoria. Several of our colleagues have participated in the dig there with the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. In order to get there we did as the excavators do—hope in the bed of a pickup truck and drive thirty minutes uphill to the secluded site. It was a bumpy ride surrounded by olive trees and goats wandering the hillsides. It’s been sometime since I’ve ridden bed-side in a truck, and it was great fun holding on so as to not get thrown out while going over a bump. To be quite honest, the site at Azoria is a bit of a mess, not because of archaeologists, but because of the ancient people who decided to put a city on top of a hill in a ravine. The organization and logic to the site was difficult for me to follow. We had a nice tour by the assistant director of the dig, Melissa Eaby, which helped to provide some clarity. Over on the next hill was a site called Kavousi Vronda where there are various domestic spaces, shrines, and burials. We heard a story from Melissa that the grandfather of one of the workmen at the site had to spent several weeks hiding out in an abandoned tholos tomb during the Greek Civil War (1946-1949) since he was a communist (we saw the hammer and sickle which he carved on a stone inside). Rain threatened again during our time in Azoria/Kavousi, and night was approaching, so we hopped back into our pickups and bounced back down the mountain. After this very long day we drove an hour to Sitia on the eastern coast. A group of us went to a taverna on the waterfront where we had snails, fish, and rabbit, among other tasty things. We finished the night off with loukoumades, Greek doughnuts/beignets. We may or may not have ordered a second round….
The next morning was so beautiful with the crisp sea air and blue skies. We spent most of the morning exploring Neolithic and Minoan sites. Just as we had an adventure in an alternative method of transport the day before at Azoria/Kavousi Vronda, this morning was spent in taxi cabs which took us to sites which our bus simply could not reach to the west of Sitia. The first was a Final Neolithic House at Mesorachi which sites on a hill overlooking a clear, blue bay below. It was a pleasant twenty minute hike up the hill up the switchbacks which rewarded you at every turn with a view of the water. On this hill was also a round Early Minoan house which had evidence of wheat and grapes as well as sheep and goat. This building had internal hearths and one hundred pots in its “kitchen” pantry. While listening to Tom about this great site, a local hunter shot off his gun about five hundred yet away in our direction and sent his hunting dogs after a rabbit. After locating where the sound came from, we saw the man with gun in hand retreating into the brush with a rabbit dangling from his outstretched arms. It was a strange moment which was oddly not a scary as it should have been (we were told that hunters were not allowed to hunt in this area, for obvious reasons). Once we got back down safely we drove a bit further down the coast in our taxis (past a pickup truck full of other hunting dogs and others running in the street), we arrived at Papadiokampos. This site was a series of beach front houses during the Minoan period. We visited two of the eight known houses, which were very close to falling into the sea. The first house had thousands of shells from various types of local seafood, a snapshot of the final days of the house which was preparing vast amounts of seafood soup. The second house had remains of a wine press, as well as loom weights and gold, so craft production was a part of the local economy. The last site of the morning was at Chameizi, twenty-five minutes inland. The cab drivers did not think that they could even navigate the narrow road to the site, so they dropped us off about a fifteen minute hike away. Even though the drivers changed their mind later and drove past us walking up, it was worth the view of the lush green valley covered in clover, wild flowers, and olive trees with the dew still remaining to add a mystic ambiance as if it were Ireland. The Minoan houses, walls, and cistern were not that spectacular, but the view of the terraced landscape all around was wonderful. The stop here was rather brief, but we had to return to Sitia to see the archaeological museum there (and our stomachs were in need to nourishment). After a quick lunch we went through the museum which had many archaeological finds from eastern Crete, particularly those from Palaikastro where we went in the afternoon. The highlight of the museum is the so-called “Palaikastro kouros,” a fifty centimeter statue made of hippo ivory, gold, serpentine, rock crystal, and Egyptian wood. It was found smashed into over one hundred bits in an ash deposit (because the city was destroyed by fire in the Late Minoan III Period. A fascinating inscription was found at Palaikastro (now in the Herakleion museum) with a text now called the Kouretes Hymn. This metrical song, dated on style to the Hellenistic Period, was likely performed during an initiation ritual for young men, although the letter forms place the inscription to c. 200 AD. Why the inscription was re-inscribed at such a later date is hotly debated, but it probably fits in to the revival of ancient Greek traditions and customs during the Roman Period known as the Second Sophistic. The last site we had to visit before the sun went down was the Minoan palace at Petras just outside of Sitia. The site was used as a cemetery during part of the Byzantine Period. Excavations revealed the presence of an archive with numerous clay tablets and seals bearing Minoan hieroglyphs. One thing I remember about the site unrelated to the Minoans were the sounds of turkeys and dogs barking; very strange. When we got back to Sitia, we had about two hours of free time, so Peter and I went on a quick run up and down the three concrete piers. Part way through we were greeted (thankfully) by three very friendly dogs who wanted to play, but alas, there was no time for dallying as we had a 7pm commitment at a local Kafeneio—an all-male café/social club. Here we heard a presentation on the gendered nature of the Kafeneio—men can be seen there throughout most of the day socializing, drinking, and being Greek men. The only women one may see at a Kafeneio is a wife or daughter of the owner who happens to work there; generally these are male-only places. In some ways the Kafeneio is a dying relic of the past as young people, male and female, tend to congregate and mingle at cafés thus leading the closure of many Kafeneios. It was a bit ironic that our group (of men and women) sat and listened to a talk about the gender dynamics of this space and even enjoyed a meal together. In the city, apparently, it is much easier to get away with this than in the Cretan countryside we were told. Times are changing for sure.
The next day we made our way from eastern Crete back toward Herakleion again, but there was much to see along the way. Our only stop in the south that day was at the Ierapetra museum. No pictures were allowed, but I remember there being some nice Roman statues and Minoan larnakes (box coffins). We had a coffee break afterward, so I took a stroll along the waterfront. Near some restaurants there were olive trees growing in the sand less than ten feet away from the water. We then continued our way back north and east, stopping at the Minoan town of Vasiliki, which gives its name to a distinctive type of Minoan pottery made there. It is right in the middle of a north-south valley on the narrowest part of the island. There were many building foundations and countless dried, yellow weeds tossing in the wind-swept valley. We did not stay very long, but drove farther north to the Minoan town at Gournia, a well-preserved, hilly site. Its streets were constructed following the contours of the hill, thus some of the visible rooms are actually basements that would have supported upper stories above. It is the most complete Minoan palatial town, and as with many of the other palace centers, there is much evidence of craft production, administrative documents (like seal stones and roundels), farming, and merchant activity. (A previous American School class of Regular Members created an online quiz to see which Minoan palace represents you. I recently retook the quiz and got Gournia.) Just to the left of the central courtyard is a narrow street that has another stone betyl, but this one is taller and less stumpy than the one at Malia. On the north side of the site is a cemetery and some newly excavated pottery kilns. Continuing then on our way north, the next site was something a little different, a Byzantine Church called Panagia Kera. This 13th century church has three vaulted chambers, the outer two having been added during the 14th century. The walls are covered with frescos of various saints, holy figures, and important events in the Virgin Mary’s life. As is common in many Byzantine churches, when you leave the main entrance to the church you see above you a depiction of “hell” with its red background hosting sinners of various sorts being punished; a friendly reminder to church-goers as they returned into the world. The church got a little cramped with the group of us in there, so I got out rather quickly, but soon we moved on to the nearby Hellenistic Period city of Lato. The most famous person to come from this city, which flourished from the 4th through 2nd centuries BC, was Alexander the Great’s admiral, Nearchus. We had lots of free time to roam the site, so naturally a few of us went straight for the acropolis. We walked through the bouletarion to reach the path that leads up, but eventually a barbed-wired chain-link fence prevented us from summiting. Instead we stood looking down at the main part of the site as heavy winds tried to knock us off balance. From this vantage point you can see building foundations on the next hill (including a small temple of Eileithyia, a small stoa-like building, and a giant cistern down below. After gathering back at the bus we drove to our last stop of the day, ancient Dreros. This sort of gloomy site has a reconstructed “temple” of Apollo Delphinios—it looks more like a stone hut, although it did have two support columns in the interior, as well as a hearth and a bench where they found a group of three bronze statuettes. The three are believed to represent Apollo (the largest figure), his twin sister Artemis, and their mother Leto; they are all on display in the Herakleion museum. On one of the stones of this temple was an inscribed law dating to the Archaic Period that prohibits a man from serving as kosmos (chief magistrate) more than once in a ten year period lest his pay a fine and have all of this actions reversed. The city was destroyed by the people of Lato during the Hellenistic Period. Once we wrapped up at Dreros we headed back to Herakleion for the night. On our way to the group dinner, we did a walking tour of Venetian Herakleion to see the various Venetian churches and walls as well as the Arsenal. Dinner, however, was the best part of the night. We ate at Peskesi, a traditional Cretan place with the ambiance, flair, and execution of a 5-star, black-tie restaurant. I am not lying when I say that this was probably the best meal of my life. This multi-course meal included several rounds of appetizers shared in small groups: artisan bread in a box with a cheese and olive plate, a local Cretan root in a light lemon sauce, smoked pork and caramelized onion on toasted bread, vegetable frittata, baked potato (not sure how this was “authentic” Cretan”). As if it was not good enough already, the main courses blew us away. The first was grilled pork chops, seasoned masterfully, brought out on hooks. They covered the standing hook contraption in butcher paper, and after setting it down on the table, lifted the paper. A mass of white, aromatic smoke billowed out revealing the meat above a bowl of burning sage. Unbelievable. The next was braised pork belly wrapped around pork tenderloin with a honey fig sauce. As if it there wasn’t enough, dessert was a sweet, house-made yogurt in with a toasty granola and fruit. And of course, there was delicious Cretan wine (best I’ve ever had in Greece) and raki.
We left early the next morning to explore most of the Messara plan in south central Crete. Our first stop was at the Minoan palace of Phaistos. The most famous find, yet the most scholarly divisive, is the Phaistos Disk. This small clay disk is covered on both sides by hieroglyphic signs in a spiral design. There have been many attempts, but not solid decipherment. The palace resembles the other major palace centers like Malia and Knossos: large central paved court surrounded by storage magazines, workshops, and administrative areas. Phaistos dominated the Messara Plain during the Minoan Period, and even though it was destroyed in the Middle Minoan II Period it was soon rebuilt but on a smaller scale. Phaistos was not alone, however, as another important Minoan site stood four kilometers to the west. While probably not a palace in the sense that Knossos and Phaistos were, Agia Triada (the Holy Trinity, a modern name) had much evidence from Linear B tablets that attest to the site’s importance as an administrative and/or distributive center such as receipts, list of debts, and storage inventories of produce from the countryside. Originally controlled by Phaistos, the site flourished during the Middle Minoan IIIB period, that is, after the destruction of Phaistos (but contemporary with Phaistos’ reconstruction). There is a small church of St. George on the southern-most hill of the site. To the north was a large section of houses and workshops, a large gate, and near the entrance to the site was a pottery kiln which was a fine example of the “updraft” method of firing used for large pithoi (storage vessels). The next site we visited was Kommos—an harbor town through the Minoan Period and Iron Age. This place had one of the nicest beaches I have seen. The archaeology was equally nice, although a bit of a mess in terms of its complexity. There are many layers of building at the site spanning more than one thousand years. One of the most important parts of the Minoan era buildings were the ship sheds that are situated prominently in the corner on the south side of the site. It was indicative of the Minoan seafaring culture and affinity for trade. Evidence of imported trade goods from Syria, Egypt, mainland Greece, Cyrus, and Sardinia attest to the wide-scale trade of the second millennium BC. Another fascinating feature of the site dates to the Iron Age and Geometric Period—a Phoenician temple! The first phase of construction (1020-800 BC) had evidence of Phoenician pottery, but the second phase (800-600 BC) contained a central pillar shrine in the form of Phoenician cippus. In the third phase (375 BC – 160 AD) of the temple, the building took on more of a local Greek character. This temple has led to the belief that Phoenician traders stopped at or even lived at Kommos. Recent scholarship, however, has shown that there is an increasing possibility that the shrine was not the product of Phoenicians who lived in modern day Lebanon, but rather that it was constructed by Phoenician colonists who settled in the western Mediterranean in places like Tunisia, Sardinia, and Sicily. There is more evidence from these places of pillar shrines than in Phoenicia proper (which only has one extant example). Nevertheless, the site was useful for thinking about Mediterranean trade and the identity of traders and travelers. After our site visit, we had some time to spend admiring the scenery. While many of the colleagues took a dip in the sea, I took the opportunity to run on the sand and explore the shore. It turns out that Kommos is known for its nude beach, so my goal was to run in one direction until I saw naked people and then turn around. Well, I did not get very far before that happened, so I tried going the other way, and I was only slightly more successful—although I crossed paths with a naked old man who was also enjoying the day running in the wet sand. In all I ran a little over a mile, but I considered equally successful to my swimming colleagues who could not venture very far into the water due to the big waves made choppy by the winds that afternoon. After cooling down, I relaxed with a few people on a bluff overlooking the water, and we were greeted by an old German man with pierced ears, a week-old scruffy beard, and white hat who tried to get us to buy a slice of his famous German cheesecake out of the trunk of his car. Apparently he has been doing this every year since the 1970s. His faded T-shirt said something like, “The Cheesecake Man.” We politely declined his offer. We were able to get our fill of sweets at a sweet shop bakery place on our drive to the next site. The last stop of the day was at Prinias, a site near the exact center of the island famous for its early temples. “Temple A,” which dates to the second half of the seventh century BC, was the first temple in the Greek world with architectural sculpture. The sculptural fragments display animals like deer and horses, as well as sphinxes. This imagery reveals influence from Egypt and possibly Phoenicia (not unlikely given the connections already discussed at Kommos). We could not stay at the site very long since the sun was setting. We drove to our hotel for the night in a cozy little place called Zaros. The bungalow-style hotel was situated right near a spring coming out of the nearby Mount Psiloritis. The hotel taverna cooked a dinner for us all with local trout. It was a long day, and a hot shower in this cold mountain town was perfect.
I awoke the next morning to the sound of pouring rain. This did not bode well for my upcoming presentation on the Gortyn Law Code. Through the wise-thinking of our leader, assistant director of the School, Dylan Rogers, I was able to give my presentation in the breakfast room of the hotel instead of in the rain on site. It was perfect to have a captive audience, seated, with coffee, to listen to my talk. By the time we left for Gortyn, the rain had stopped, and we managed to miss any major rainfall during our visit. Gortyn was inhabited during the Minoan Period onward, but it is most famous as the Roman provincial capital of Crete and Cyrene. Many of the visible buildings there are of Roman construction. There is a Roman Odeon (music hall/auditorium) from the 1st century BC which has preserved in it the famous Gortyn Law Code. The Code stands nearly thirty feet wide and five feet tall. It has over six hundred lines of text over five courses of thirty stones making it the longest Greek inscription preserved from antiquity. It was found in 1884 a steam (with a few stones also found in 1857 and 1879 reused as building material for a mill and house). The curvature of the stones was found to have matched that of the Roman Odeion and was restored to their current resting place. The laws in the Code are not datable with any precision, but most likely originate from the middle of the 6th century BC and the inscription from about one hundred years later. The Code addresses many legal issues such as inheritance, divorce rights, adoption (and unadoption) procedures, punishments for rape and adultery, and limits on gift-giving. This Gortyn Law Code is one of the most important inscriptions from antiquity because it preserves so much information about legal procedures and jurisprudence, even if it does not tell us everything we want to know about it. Since it does preserve as much as it does, it usually enter scholarly discussions on law in the ancient world, although we must be careful not to apply its information to other places in the Greek world. It was a special experience when the guard opened the gates in front of the stones so that we could get a close view of the letters. Nearby is a partially standing 5th century AD Christian basilica, and there is a covered, outside gallery of Roman statuary from the site (the best ones are in the Herakleion museum). We walked across the street to the main part of the Roman town to see a temple of Apollo, praetorium complex (1st century BC market area later turned into a bathing complex), and a nymphaeum (fountain house). We continued our day by traveling northwest toward Chania, but we stopped at another Archaic Greek city called Eleutherna. We visited the museum first with a tour by a student of the site director, Nikolaos Stampolides. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photos of anything in the museum or the site itself (see the museum website for official photos). In the museum were three exhibition rooms. The first had large Assyrian-style bronze shields with lion’s head in the middle that was used as a chamber tomb lid. There was also an inscription prohibiting dromeis (citizens, lit. “runners”) from drunkenness. The second room had various materials related to religious practices. The most impressive piece is the lower half of a stone kore statue that has a 99.7% chemical affinity to the “Lady of Auxerre” (i.e. they were originally a pair) which is at the Louvre in Paris. The third hall was dedicated to burial practices at Eleutherna. Here they display the grave goods of four women thought to be priestesses. The oldest woman was in her 70s when she died and was buried seated(!). The other three ranged from ages 13-23 years old, and they were all arranged by age. Another grave contained 106 warrior burials with artifacts likely plundered from the Near East, but more interestingly was a woman buried with them (was she a warrior too?). The tour continued on site where the hillside dwellings and buildings are covered by a massive metal covering (almost a work of art in itself). Here we saw places were the various burials were located, as well as the so-called “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,” a stone building the size of a shed that had no remains or objects found within (i.e. it was deliberately left unoccupied). The theory is suspicious to say the least. There was one final stop before going to Chania, and that was at the Arkadi Monastery. During the Cretan revolt from the Ottoman Empire in 1866, the monastery was besieged. After intense fighting and the breach of the front doors by the Ottomans, the woman and children had gathered in the gunpowder room awaiting the invaders. Once the Ottomans found them and enough of their men go close, one of the priests ignited the gunpowder in order to inflict the greatest amount of damage on their enemy who was likely to kill them all anyway. There are several paintings today depicting the brave last moments in the gunpowder room. The monastery was one of the most photogenic sites we visited—the sun peered through the gray-blue clouds that hovered above. Finally we drove to Chania where it was dark and rainy. I had dinner on the waterfront at a place called Chrisostomos with some colleagues at the recommendation of a former Regular Member at the American School. It did not disappoint (rabbit, lamb, salad, mushrooms, and a bottle of κόκκινο κρασί). The streets were filled with people since it was a Friday night. Walking through the narrow streets filled with knife shops added a bit of nerve to our route, but otherwise the town was very festive.
At last the final day had arrived. Blue skies and light breeze greeted us as we walked to the nearby Chania Museum. It is built into the Venetian monastery of St. Francis—turns out that it makes for an interesting museum set up. Again, no pictures were allowed, and I failed to take any substantive notes (lots of the standard pottery, statues, etc.), but I do remember seeing a massive chunk of blue ancient Roman glass. Apparently that is how they would have shipped the raw material for working in workshops. Next we took a brief walking tour of Cydonia (the ancient name for Chania). There are small sections of the city in between buildings where bits of Minoan building foundations are exposed (and properly covered with metal overhangs). Most of the modern town near the coast sits right on top of a Minoan palace and houses, but in some ways this protects what is underneath (and leaves something for future archaeologists to do, perhaps). As we walked, we strolled along the Old Venetian Harbor where fishermen were out hoping for a catch. We met the bus and drove west along the coast to the museum in Kissamos. Picture taking was allowed here (thank goodness!). There was many excellent statue pieces here (Silenus, Hercules, Aphrodite, etc.), as well as a giant mosaic from a local Roman villa called the “House of the Seasons,” so-named because of the mosaic found therein. Another beach site awaited us at our next stop. This time it was an ancient site called Phalarsana on the western coast of the island. After driving down some serious switchbacks and through an olive grove at harvest, we arrived at the ancient city. Some have argued, however, that it was not a city, but rather that it was a pirate den! I am not sure this thesis holds any water, but it sure makes things fun. The site was first occupied during the Middle Minoan Period and flourished in the Hellenistic Period. The harbor is man-made and there is an impressive fortification wall with four towers. We also saw a workshop for winemaking and another for metal working. This was most likely a flourishing coastal town along a trade route going from western Crete to the Peloponnese due north. After wandering around and listening to a young goat yell for its pack, we drove a little down and ate lunch on the beach before heading to the next site. We drove a long way back east past Chania to an ancient polis called Aptera. There is a mythological story of a contest between the Muses and Sirens. Having been bested by the Muses and lost their wings, the Sirens threw themselves into the sea. The word apteros means “without wings.” This site was fantastic for its Roman remains—two massive, vaulted-cisterns, baths, a villa, and theater. In the middle of it all is the present day Monastery of John the Theologian. It drizzled on and off during our visit, but it made for great pictures of a rainbow. This concluded our ancient sites of Crete, but we had one final stop in Souda Bay just east of Chania. Here we visited the Commonwealth War Cemetery where 1,527 British, Canadian, Australian, New Zealander, South African, and Indian soldiers who died in the Battle of Crete in May 1941 are buried. We gathered at the grave of John Pendlebury, a British archaeologist who stopped his work at Knossos to participate in the defense of Crete. After being captured by the Germans and put in front of a firing squad, he uttered his famous last words (“fuck you”). We had a shot of Cretan raki in his honor. The cemetery is right on the water looking east into Souda Bay. There are rows and rows of white marble headstones and a large marble cross in the center. A quick drive north are the tombs of Eleftherios Venizelos and his son Sofoklis, both of whom were Prime Minister of Greece during the 20th century. On the site is also a massive bronze statue of Spyros Kagiales—a hero during the 1897 attack on Crete by Italy, France and other European countries. Kagiales risked his life to raise the Greek flag that had fallen in the bombardment of Chania. The statue today recreates this valorous moment and looks down the hill toward Chania. At last, we had finished our tour of the island and were given three hours to wander Chania on our own. After sufficiently chowing down on gyros and loukoumades and exploring a bit more of the Venetian harbor, we boarded the over-night ferry to head back to Athens.