Checking Crete Off My Bucket List

Checking Crete Off My Bucket List

For most of my adult life, I knew that it was imperative that I go to Greece. I needed to see the cerulean waters, the whitewashed houses, and the archaeological sites. I couldn’t imagine a better place to visit to hit all the best destination marks – sun, sea, antiquity, and great local food. 

Land of kings, gods, and empires. Greece is famous for its history, sun-drenched Aegean islands, and warm, hospitable people. Ancient ruins abound in the capital city, Athens, including the Acropolis with the Parthenon temple, Temple of Olympian Zeus, and its Ancient Agora.

Happy to be at the Parthenon in Athens

From Athens, I traveled through the islands and landed in Crete. This particular Grecian island had been one of those places I held in the back of my mind as one I’d like to see, but couldn’t imagine actually going. I’d added it to my bucket list as a pipe dream. As a child, I’d obsessed over Greek mythology, particularly the myth of my namesake Ariadne of Knossos. Her’s is the story of the labyrinth and Minotaur, a terrifying creature of half-man/half-bull that demanded human sacrifices.

So imagine my delight at actually getting to visit the Bronze Age site of Knossos as it’s where this legend of the mythical Minotaur and where Minoan civilization stems from.

Section of the Central Court of Knossos

Even with my research and background, I didn’t expect the site to be as accessible and amazing as it is. When visiting, you truly get a feel for how the myth of the labyrinth became associated with the complicated floorplan of the palace.

It’s obvious as well, to see how the bull is prevalent throughout the Minoan culture. The site is famous for the Bull-Leaping fresco, a mural of a ceremony of sorts, which now lives at the local archaeology museum. There were relics of bulls found throughout the palace during excavations. It’s no wonder then that the Minotaur became part of the Minoan culture’s mythology.

The reconstructed limestone “horns of consecration” at the palace of Knossos

In fact, in the main palace courtyard, a large horn-like sculpture stands. This is not in fact a part of the original site but was erected by Sir Arthur Evens, the site’s original archaeologist, as a symbol of the importance of the bull to the culture (More on his work later.)

The site houses over 15 reconstructed Aegean frescoes, or plaster mural walls. Since there were artistic liberties taken with the reconstructions, it’s near impossible attribute the frescoes to any artist or pinpoint a specific time period. Today though, being among them, reconstructed or not, is absolutely worth the visit.

When walking around the palace I felt as if I had stepped into another time. It’s incredible to be among the reconstructed frescoes, see still-standing pithos (storage jars), and to imagine the daily lives of the inhabitants. Even if she is a part myth, it was amazing to walk among the halls and courtyards of Ariadne’s palace.

Pithos, or storage jars, in what was once a stock room
Frescos like this one of a griffin, have been reconstructed from fallen plaster and stucco

There’s so much to say about Greece – as with all destinations, it’s something you really have to see to believe, to feel for yourself. I can tell you that sailing among the islands is among my favorite memories. That eating dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) with lemon-yogurt sauce while looking down over a moonlit bay still tops the charts for the best meal. That finally checking Greece, and mainly Crete, off my bucket list means more to me than a stamp in my passport. That I stood in the palace of my namesake and imagined myth come to life.

Side note – At university, I studied the work of Sir Arthur Evens and his excavations of Knossos and research of the Minoan culture. Fun fact: It’s widely known in archaeological circles that Sir Evens is a great example of what not to do when excavating a site. Using rebar and cement in an attempt to recreate the layout of the palace of Knossos, Evens destroyed its historical integrity. Lucky for tourists that he did though because today you can walk around the reinforced palace of Knossos and imagine what it may have looked like in its prime.

Arianna Ambrutis

Having spent much of her life as nomadically as possible, Ari found a home with GET. As far as her travels have taken her, she's worked on an archaeological dig in Israel, sailed around Greek isles, experienced a crazy sunburn in Turkey, adores tomatoes in Italy, and thinks Paris and New York are just the bee’s knees. With her degree in Cultural Anthropology, Ari loves exploring a culture’s traditions, colloquialisms, and (most importantly) cuisines.

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