Monday, September 9, 2013

"La Parisienne" in Crete


Just in case you're thinking that I've started referring to myself as "La Parisienne", I haven't. But living in Paris has equipped me with a certain aggressiveness that came in handy while visiting Knossos Palace, the most visited monument in Crete.

Up early to watch the sun cast its first rays on the largest Greek island, Stéphane, Sara and I sprinted down the gangway as soon as the Noordam docked in Iraklion, Crete. Like determined Parisians with a metro to catch, we maneuvered past the taxi drivers at the port who were charging 50 euros to transport passengers to and from the archaeological site of Knossos and hurried to the bus station where we found a driver willing to take us for 10 euros. As the taxi veered around a steep curve in the road, I glanced out the back window to check if the tour buses full of passengers from the cruise ships were gaining on us. By my calculation, we still had about an hour before the hordes arrived.

The line in front of the entrance to the Mineon palace had just started to form when we leapt out of the taxi. Stéphane's job was to buy tickets while my more herculean task was to strike a deal with a local tour guide. Resolute in their knowledge that swarms of tourists would soon appear on the horizon, the Greek guides refused to accept anything less than 30 euros per person for a group of 10 people. Wondering how quickly I could round up seven other Anglophones, my head swiveled around when I heard a group of French people behind me finalizing a deal. Without stopping to think, I boldly, and somewhat rudely, asked if we could join their group of ten.

As soon as we finished saying "bonjour", our guide directed us to a shady spot under a large pine tree near the "Royal Road". It was barely past 9:00 am and already the stone ruins of the  palace commissioned by King Minos were emanating enough heat to bake a baguette.


According to ancient Greek mythology, Knossos Palace was deliberately designed with such complexity that no one would ever be able to find its exit. Upon its completion, King Minos imprisoned Daedalus, the architect to ensure that he wouldn't reveal the design of the palace to anyone. Daedalus, who was also an inventor, built two sets of wings to fly out of the palace with Icarus, his young and impulsive son. When Icarus ignored his father's advice not to fly too close to the sun, the boy fell to his death in the Aegean Sea. Knossos is also associated with the legend of the Minotaur, the creature with the head of a bull on the body of a man, that supposedly lived in a labyrinth beneath the palace.

The "Throne Room" with its gypsum throne and benches built to accommodate sixteen people

Normally people enter Knossos from the west and move in a clockwise direction but in a brilliantly strategic move, our guide started our tour on the other side. For the first part of our visit, we had unobstructed views of the multi-storied buildings excavated by Arthur Evans. While the British archaeologist is not responsible for discovering Knossos or Minoan civilization, he did give it its name. In 1894, Evans visited Crete and the site of Knossos for the first time. Three years later, he purchased the land on which the palace was located and spent the rest of his life excavating its ruins and interpreting them.

The female designated "La Parisienne" by Arthur Evans

And "La Parisienne? After our tour guide showed us a photo of her, we had the pleasure of making her acquaintance at the Archeological Museum in Iraklion. It's where you'll find many of the colorful frescoes and statues removed from Knossos Palace, along with an amazing collection of ancient jewelry, vases ornate drinking vessels and the famous Phaestos Disc.

In addition to visiting Knossos Palace and the Archeological Museum, we wandered along Korai Street with its hipster cafés and bars before having a delicious lunch at the Amateur Fisherman's Association Restaurant.

Please click here to see additional photos of Crete.

While at Knossos, our guide pointed out cement columns and other structures built by Evans and mentioned the ongoing debate about his reconstitutions of the palace. If you would like to know more about "Knossos: Fakes, Facts, and Mystery", please click here to read an extremely informative article from The New York Review of Books. With special thanks to Anne for posting the link on Facebook.

The female figure with vivid make-up in the top row, third to the right, was named "La Parisienne" by Arthur Evans. Her larger size indicates that she was probably a leading priestess. Knossos Palace, Final Palatial Period 1450-1350/1300 BC

5 comments:

  1. You are cracking me up! It's true, if one is to beat the crowds, you must think on your feet, split up and act quickly. We've often done the same, hee hee. I had some Spanish friends, a family of three, who came to visit us in Brussels. When we took them to the airport to check in, we waited outside the ropes at the check-in counter. Each one of them picked a different line and waited to see who would arrive at the counter first. They acted with such swiftness and singularity of purpose I was amazed. After they checked in I commented on grace of their orchestrated movement and the husband said, "Spanish Armada". It truly was! Hahahahaha. Lovely blog and pictures as always!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great post...hoping that we do not have to wait too long before hearing more about your port visits.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Smart maneuvering! I am really impressed how you managed to get there cheaper and quicker than the others, as well as beat the cruise ships of tourists about to dock. Sounds like a Parisienne to me! ; )

    ReplyDelete
  4. I visited Knossos many, many years ago with an archeology student so she served as my guide. It was winter so we didn't have to outmanoeuver the tourists, thank goodness. What you describe reminds me of Egypt, particularly along the Nile. I was exhausted by the crowds and getting up at the crack of dawn to beat the groups (our group was relatively small with 24 people). I much preferred Lake Nasser where we would go in two rowing boats from our cruise boat (30 people!) to the different sites and visit them with not another soul in site! Beautiful photos as always.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Ah, you are so clever to go the train station for your taxi, and for joining another group for the tour. And bold indeed! I'm not sure I could have done that. Their prices are crazy though--that would be 300 Euros for a tour--I'll come make up stuff at that rate an hour.

    I love the myths from Greece, could read them over and over, as they seem to change from book to book as well. Or my memory just forgets the pertinent facts. I love the book The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, if you're interested. And Irving Stone wrote a fine book about Schleimann's discovery of other greek ruins, can't remember the name of that book.

    Anyway, more stories please.

    jxg



    ReplyDelete