Iraklio, CreteGreece

From Minos to Minus

Visitors photograph the most popular section of the Knossos Palace ruins.
Minoan elegance
Reconstitution of Minoan frescoes in the palace of Knossos.
Boat or house?
Fisherman aboard his small fishing boat in the port of Iraklio.
pure curiosity
Two children peer inside Iraklio's Ottoman sebil (water-supply kiosk).
Goodwill Titos
Sun gilds the upper façade of the Byzantine church of Agios Titos.
Coca-Cola, Minoan version
Coca-Cola advertising panel with a scene by Theseus and the minotaur, next to the Palace of Knossos.
Detail of a fishing boat moored in Iraklio, Crete.
False Moon about Loggia
Passersby pass in front of the Loggia, a building erected by the Venetians in Iraklio for the conviviality of their wealthy nobles.
the throne
The alabaster throne of Minos from the Throne Room of the Palace of Knossos.
cretan sun
A visitor to the Venetian fortress of Koules enjoys the waving of the Hellenic flag.
old port
Dusk adds color to the port of Iraklio, with the Venetian fortress of Koules in the background.
bembo fashion
Statue of the Bembo fountain on the threshold of the historic center of Iraklio.
Newly submerged story
Amphorae recovered from the bottom of the sea, on display at the Fortress of Koules, Iraklio.
Minoan pottery
A Minoan-era vessel exposed in the ruins of the Palace of Knossos.
U Minoan
Taurus symbol of the Minoan civilization in the Palace of Knossos.
in the shadow of the past
Visitors enjoy the marina at the port of Iraklio in the shadow of the Venetian fortress of Koules.
"Bull in Charge"
Reconstitution of the fresh bull on the attack, in the northern bastion of the palace of Knossos.
The fountain of the "Lions", the favorite meeting place for the residents of Iraklio.
Loggia to the Sun
Golden facade of the Loggia, the elegant building erected by the Venetians for the conviviality of their nobles.
Coat of arms-Venetian-Fortress-Koules-Iraklio-Crete-Greece
Roasted lion as coat of arms of the Venetian fortress of Koules.
We arrived in Iraklio and, as far as big cities are concerned, Greece stops there. As for history and mythology, the capital of Crete branches without end. Minos, son of Europa, had both his palace and the labyrinth in which the minotaur closed. The Arabs, the Byzantines, the Venetians and the Ottomans passed through Iraklio. The Greeks who inhabit it fail to appreciate it.

It was in Iraklio that we left the cruise for good “Celestyal Crystal".

The remaining passengers would explore the city and its attractions in play and run mode. We, faced with the size and grandeur of the largest of the Greek islands, had long since decided to stay.

At around 9:30, we disembarked. We wait at the passenger terminal. After ten minutes the phone rings. “Yeah, Adonis. I'm up front!" We met with the Crete Royal Rentals employee in charge of delivering the car.

It's Saturday morning. Adónis is no longer here but welcomes us with a smile and kindness that infects us. Give us the bureaucratic vehicle briefing. "So what about Crete, what can't we miss?" we ask you in free chat mode.

"Look, in Crete, apart from Iraklio, everything is wonderful!" responds to us saturated in the capital, emblematic place of his ill-fated work routine. “For me, Chania is the most beautiful!” he adds, something equivalent to a Lisboner guaranteeing that Porto is worth it.

We said goodbye and got into the car. We drove up town to the house where we were going to stay.

According to the 2017 figures from Euromonitor, the 3.2 million visitors to the Cretan capital and the region represented an 11% increase in tourists. They made Iraklio the second most visited city in Greece.

The 20th in Europe, and 66th in the world.

The real meaning of those numbers remains, however, shrouded in controversy.

Port of Iraklio, Crete, Greece

Dusk adds color to the port of Iraklio, with the Venetian fortress of Koules in the background.

Iraklio's Cretan Contempt

The owners of restaurants, hotels and other tourist businesses complain that they are only due to the incursions of the den and escape of cruise passengers and recently landed passengers to the palace of Knossos and the Archaeological Museum.

They regret that visitors have the idea of ​​a dirty and noisy city from Iraklio.

That they do not value the genuineness of the wide asphalt avenues and the narrow concrete alleys (not even that of the historic and port sidewalk) because they lack the photogenic profile of the neighbor to the west… Chania.

Accustomed to appreciating cruder and more decadent beauties, we understand their frustration and, as can be seen from this article, we strive to reverse this notion.

In the days that followed, we woke up on the second floor of Zacharioudaki Street, in the borrowed home of a young Greek couple, he an architect, she a pediatrician, with a two-year-old son, the three despisers of television alienation.

At successive breakfasts, we are entertained by the soundtrack of the nursery directly opposite, made up of songs that the educators teach the children.

Friends on the fortress of Koules, Iraklio, Crete, Greece

Friends chat at the top of the Venetian fortress of Koules.

A Pleasant Mediterranean Atmosphere

We leave as soon as possible for the warm, dry summer cuddle of Crete. As happened in Athens, quickly the free environment – ​​five days go by without seeing a policeman or police car – but not anarch, individualistic but, in its own way, altruistic of the city makes us feel at home.

In Crete we quickly became Cretans. We create and eat salads and more salads with feta cheese. Whenever the heat softens us and makes work difficult, we buy iced coffees that we enjoy walking the streets and traveling by car.

Like so many former Portuguese and world children, we were confronted in our childhood with the legend of the minotaur. The imagery and fascination that, all these years later, we have preserved from it was, in fact, one of the reasons for disembarking in Crete and wanting to explore the island without haste.

Yeah, there we were.

The road signs that assisted us in the streets and alleys of Iraklio were scarce but, among them, there were some, tiny, from the Palace of Knossos, located just over 10km from the historic centre.

Throne Room, Palace of Knossos, Crete, Greece

The alabaster throne of Minos from the Throne Room of the Palace of Knossos.

Knossos, the Throne of Minos

When, at the beginning of sec. XX, Sir Arthur Evans unveiled the ruins of the palace, full of Taurus motifs, the intricate vastness of the complex made the British archaeologist dare to suggest that it included the labyrinth commissioned by King Minos to Daedalus.

According to Greek mythology, Minos was the first king of Crete, son of Zeus and Europa. Arthur Evans, by the way, named the Minoan civilization after this king. For, between 2700 and 1450 BC, the Minoan civilization spread to other southern Aegean islands, including the current Santorini.

It became more and more powerful. At a certain point, it rivaled and fought the Mycenaean civilization that increased its territory from the Greek mainland towards the Hellenic island confines.

Historians tend to agree that these two rival civilizations are at the origin of the Europe we live in today.

If we look closely, even the name of the continent we borrowed from them. And if there are too many passengers on cruise ships and planes that cross Iraklio from the seaside to the great olive grove in the interior of Crete, without caring about anything else in the capital, the reason lies in the founding importance of this people.

As it is in the mythological drama of the life and death of King Minos.

In the high summer season, day after day, the opening of the Knossos complex takes place with a long line of visitors already at the door, made up of multinational followers attentive to what the guides with pennants in hand convey to them with an enthusiastic pride.

Reenactment of the fresco "Charging Bull", Palace of Knossos, Crete, Greece

Reconstitution of the fresco “Bull on the Attack” on the northern bastion of the palace of Knossos.

The Taurine Devotion of the Minoan People

A few dozen meters after the entrance, in the shade of umbrella pines, we come across a large Minoan cement symbol, which emulates the horns of a bull.

On the left, we peek at a wall with the reconstitution of the fresco of the “Jump over the bull”, a painting in which two men – one white, the other tanned – engage in an acrobatic Minoan bullfight.

As difficult as it is to prove, some historians argue that the forced variant of the Portuguese bullfight was brought to Iberia by the Romans who got used to admiring it after Rome took over the Hellenic islands.

We also take a peek at the Throne Room, arranged around a small alabaster floor. While not the only noble seat in the palace, Arthur Evans identified it as a throne.

Right next door, we can see the most famous corner of the complex, what remains of its northern bastion, embellished by red columns that hide a fresco of an attacking bull.

The prolific Greek mythology was not slow to explore the taurine follies of Crete.

The Minotaur Mythological Drama

After occupying the throne of Crete – not necessarily that of the Throne Room – Minos found himself threatened by the usurping pretensions of his brothers.

He begged Poseidon to send him a white bull that he would sacrifice in honor of this one who was the god of the Sea. But, contrary to what he promised, he was dazzled by the animal's beauty, and Minos decided to keep it and, instead, sacrifice one of his bulls banal.

As the god that he was, Poseidon discovered cunning. To punish Minos, he made Pasiphae, the monarch's wife, fall in love with the bull. Pasiphae ordered Daedalus, a highly regarded artisan on the island, to build a hollow wooden cow.

She entered this model and allowed the bull to mate with her. From this far-fetched sexual relationship, the minotaur was born, a half-human, half-taurine creature who, despite Pasiphae's maternal care, became ferocious and began to feed on people.

Embarrassed by his wife's atrocious betrayal, worse, faced with the aggravation of the tragedy, Minos followed the advice of the Delphic oracle: he ordered Daedalus to build a huge labyrinth designed to contain and hide the minotaur.

Coca-Cola billboard, Palace of Knossos, Crete, Greece

Coca-Cola advertising panel with a scene by Theseus and the minotaur, next to the Palace of Knossos.

Later, Minos saw his son Androgeus killed either by the Athenians envious of his success or by the minotaur himself (different versions coexist).

Whichever is prevalent, Minos has embarked on a furious war against the Athenians.

And Theseus' Dramatic Success

Triumphantly, he demanded that Aegeus, king of Athens, send him, every period of seven (or nine years), seven young women and seven maidens to be devoured by the minotaur. In the third of these sacrifices, Theseus, a confident son of Aegean, offered to kill the minotaur.

He established with his father that he would set a white sail on his boat if he could.

Back in Crete, Ariadne, daughter of Minos, fell in love with Theseus and helped him find his way around the labyrinth. Theseus slaughtered the minotaur and helped the other imprisoned Athenians to escape. On his way back to Athens, he forgot his agreement and hoisted a black sail instead of a white one.

Waiting for him, the Aegean king saw the ship approaching with the black sail and threw himself off the cliff top to a certain death at sea that continues to honor him.

Symbol of the Minoan civilization, Palace of Knossos, Crete, Greece.

Taurus symbol of the Minoan civilization in the Palace of Knossos.

the eruption of Thira and the Annihilation of the Minoan Civilization

As atrocious as the legend is, it does not come close to what is believed to have been the end of the Minoan civilization. Between 1550 and 1500 BC the volcano of Thira gave rise to one of the most powerful volcanic eruptions on record. It collapsed most of the surrounding island.

It gave rise to the rest of the eccentric boiler that had dazzled us days before in Santorini. It also generated a tidal wave that devastated the coast of Crete and razed many of its glittering villages, today, with ruins scattered across the island.

The story of Crete and Iraklio did not end there. Despite the tsunami, the capital's past and underestimated life are centered on the same seaside that the Minoans will have seen the huge waves approaching.

Crete was Arab, Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman until it finally became Greek as it is today.

Silhouettes near the fortress of Koules, Iraklio, Crete, Greece.

Visitors enjoy the marina at the port of Iraklio in the shadow of the Venetian fortress of Koules.

The Animated Iraklio of Our Times

In the late afternoon, the most interested residents and outsiders flock to the Old Town. Walk up and down Avgoustou 25th Street.

They speak and discuss aloud, keeping an eye on the promotions in the stores, on the airy terraces or on the warmth of the many ouzeris, so are called the traditional and derivative taverns.

The ones that serve the idolized liquors ouzo e raki or, whatever, beer and a host of small but delicious Greek tapas (mezedes) that add more flavor to both the drink and the conversation.

Along 25 Avgostou, Iraklio shows us the charm that is so often lacking. It reveals the Byzantine church of Agios Titos. The Loggia, a building dating back to the Venetian era, erected lavishly so that the nobles of Venice could live there, today the town hall.

Just above, the fountain of the “Lions” in Eleftheriou Venizelou Square, the most used meeting place in the city.

Source of the "Lions", Iraklio, Crete, Greece

The fountain of the “Lions”, a favorite meeting place for Iraklio residents.

And, in a section that is not so popular in the late afternoon, there is also the Bembo fountain and the sebil (a kind of kiosk) where, during the Ottoman period, water was supplied to the residents.

The Old Port and the Venetian Fortress of Koules

We return to the old port still protected by the fortress of koules, built by the Venetians in the XNUMXth century, Iraklio's trademark and the reason for being of numerous fishing trips and marches.

We see the ferries set out for other Aegean stops and fishermen chatter about their gaudy trawlers, anchored in the quasi-road depths of the marina.

Fisherman in the port of Iraklio, Crete, Greece.

Fisherman aboard his small fishing boat in the port of Iraklio.

At around nine in the evening, sunset fades into mist, to the west of the Gulf of Iraklio. In Greek and Mediterranean fashion, the capital is once again dedicated to celebrating the life of Crete.

Iraklio may not be brimming with wealthy outsiders like Chania. But for some reason it has long been the island's capital.

Visitor in the Venetian fortress of Koules, Iraklio, Crete, Greece.

A visitor to the Venetian fortress of Koules enjoys the waving of the Hellenic flag.




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