Minoen Ruins, Crete Island
It was probably the number one thing I wanted to do on Crete, this epitome of Minoan ruins, built 4,000 years ago, on top of an already 3,000 years old Neolithic village, by a society who were the first major civilization in what today is Greek territory. The tsunami from Santorini and earthquakes about 300 years after that basically wiped them out and city states came more into vogue subsequently. The Mycenaeans then held sway for some time until the Romans took over.
Fondest memory: A Brit called Evans did the main initial excavations here 100 years ago, spending 21 years at the site and, in the minds of many archaeologists these days, controversially restored some of the buildings. That means his team actually repainted some of the frescoes and columns, clearly adored by tourists these days who get to see that places like Knossos and all the ruins of Greece, Egypt etc., were actually extremely colourful. Personally, I like it and Lorraine loves it, should be more of it.
Seeing pithoi (giant storage vases) in situ is somehow exhilarating. I ponder how on earth they used to shift such things, even when they were empty. I guess “with great difficulty” is the answer (they used straps). You also wonder what they stored in them and guess the obvious grains, oils and wines. Apparently they weighed about 2 tons when full, had alternative uses as bath tubs and coffins when they were finished with them and, interestingly, invaders would topple them and put a torch to the oil when vandalizing a place. They’ve found 150 of them here but there was space for 400 and there were lined storage pits as well.
Interestingly, wooden beams were interspersed with masonry to protect against earthquakes and the simple columns were broader at the top so they could make the beams larger. A complex sewage and drainage system was also in place, still visible in a few places today.
The revered nature of the bull was clearly on display as well, the sculpture of the horns one of the items but the fresco of the young men somersaulting over them has always fascinated me. The dexterity and timing needed for such an act beggars the imagination, let alone the danger of it.
The Palace of Minos at Knossos in Heraklion is unmissable. Much of it has been reconstructed but it does give you a better idea of the true scale of some of the ruins once you've seen how the ground level ruins can be translated into full scale buildings. I think I agree with the advice that it's best to see Knossos first for that reason. On the other hand it's a bit like saving the best for the last.
WE managed to squeeze in a trip to Knossos before flying home from Heraklion. We dropped into Knossos at 5pm for a couple of hours before going onto the airport which is about 10 kms away.
We only went to a few archeological sites in Eastern Crete and I think our favourite was the little known site of Vasiliki - just off the road to Ierapetra from Aghios Nikolaos. We had to duck through the hole in the fence to get in but other people had clearly done this aswell. It's actually older than most Minoan sites and yet in places the walls are up to head height and you can get a feel for the size of the rooms and passageways.
About 4 kms away is the bigger site of Gournia which can be easily seen from the main road.
The other palace we visited is at Kato Zakros on the far eastern coast. This is another extensive site in an interesting location albeit somewhat out of the way.
Wandering around the sites is a very thirst making experience and none of those we visited had any facilities for visitors on site ( Palace of Minos at Knossos had toilets). Go prepared for this.
The sites we visited closed at 3pm and I think open around 8.30am. It's probably best to do your visiting earlier rather than later to avoid the heat of midday.
There will be more detailed features about these sites in the tips located under the Prefecture of Lasithi. This tip is intended to give you an overview of what to expect if you visit the archeological sites.
Favorite thing: The Island has a long history that goes back to the Neolithic times. It is however known for the Minoan civilization the flourished from 2600 to 1100 B.C. The island is full of relics of the Minoan ages the most famous being the palaces at Knossos and Phaestos.