Tag Archives: Knossos

Crete – The Palace of Knossos and the Minotaur

Knossos postcard 1

The ruins at Knossos were first discovered in 1878 by a local man, Minos Kalokairinos, and the earliest excavations were made. After that several Cretans attempted to continue the dig but it was not until 1900 that the English archeologist Arthur Evans purchased the entire site and carried out massive excavations and reconstructions.

These days archaeology is carefully regulated and supervised by academics who apply scientific rigour (except for Tony Robinson and the Time Team of course) to make sure that history isn’t compromised but it was very different a hundred years ago when wealthy amateurs could pretty much do as they pleased and went around digging up anything that they could find of interest and aggressively reinterpreting it.

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Arthur Evans

 

Entrance Tickets – Ephesus, Turkey

turkey-ephesus

I am not a great one for ruins.  Generally it requires an enormous outlay of imagination and patience for scant reward but the site at Ephesus is so rich that I can walk on 2000 year old flagstones with recognisable buildings on either side…” – Michael Palin – ‘Pole to Pole’

Historically inspired by the visit to the Temple of Apollo at Didyma we were looking forward now to our bus trip to Ephesus and to Heirapolis (Pamukkale) to visit more ancient Hellenistic and Roman sites.

The bus was to collect us at eight o’clock so we woke early and after a modest breakfast made our way down to the appointed rendezvous point outside the apartment and then being the first to be collected began the tedious job of picking up our fellow travellers.

The problem with bus trips is that you cannot choose your travelling companions – it is a game of chance!  I imagined that we would be accompanied on this trip by middle aged historians in crumpled linen suits and battered panama hats, ladies in pencil-pleat skirts, archaeologists carrying trowels and leather bound notebooks and the entire cast of a Merchant Ivory film but at the first pick up we were joined by a Geordie and a noisy Lithuanian family and then horror of horrors by a misbehaving bunch of women who looked as though they should really be going to a market rather than one of the World’s finest archaeological sites.

You can call me a snob if you like but I couldn’t for the life of me understand why they were going on this trip.

It got worse.  It turned out that they were a darts team from Dagenham.  We were on a bus with an octet of middle aged women with inappropriate tattoos and piercings who were loud and embarrassing and behaved like escapees from a medical research centre.   I was horrified – we were going to spend two days with these people and as the journey started I looked out of the window and tried to block it from my mind.  I would rather have been travelling with a bus load of people suffering from an incurable tropical disease!

Ephesus Turkey

It took around about an hour to reach Ephesus and we passed through interesting countryside of agriculture, forests, villages, medieval castles and ancient temples but mostly through acres and acres of cotton fields which started at the side of the road and disappeared towards the horizon on all sides.  There was an awful lot of cotton out there and it turns out that Turkey is actually one of top world producers even though the product is of inferior quality to that of Egypt for example.

Eventually we arrived at Ephesus and ran the wallet robbing gauntlet of the hawkers and the unofficial guide book sellers and after a short break made our way inside the excavation site. It was busy of course but I expected that because this is one of the most visited tourist attraction sites in all of Turkey and we competed with bus tours and cruise ship day trippers from Kusadasi as we elbowed our way through the entrance and into the beginning of the tour.

Temple of Diana at Ephesus

We started at the top of the excavations and over the next two hours made our way down the ancient streets to the lowest point of the city which in previous times was the harbour which was difficult to imagine today because Ephesus is now a considerable distance from the shore of the Mediterranean.

We passed through hundreds of years of history, Greek theatres, Roman baths, ancient houses and even the public latrines and made slow progress towards the finest building on the whole site, the library of Celsus, which archaeologists have discovered doubled up bizarrely as a brothel!

TURKEY - Ephesus - The Library of Celsus

Ephesus was once one of the most important cities in Asia Minor, a natural trading crossroads between east and west and for a while enjoyed a status second only to Rome.  There is a lot of reconstruction of course but I am not averse to a bit of sympathetic reconstruction because without it it is difficult to imagine what it might have looked like.

After considering the issue I think I agree with Henry Miller who (writing about Knossos on the island of Crete) wrote in the ‘Colossus of Rhodes“There has been much controversy about the aesthetics of Sir Arthur Evans’s work of restoration.  I find myself unable to come to any conclusion about it; I accepted it as a fact.  However Knossos may have looked in the past, however it may look in the future, this one which Evans has created is the only one I shall ever know.  I am grateful to him for what he did…”

The guided tour through Ephesus was concluded by a visit to the Greek Theatre, which was later used as a Roman gladiator fighting venue and then we were out of the southern gate and heading back to the bus.  I could have spent longer at the site but our itinerary was determined by the restrictions of the tour bus timetable and it whisked us off now for an instantly forgettable lunch, which would have been alright in an emergency but not out of choice, at a tourist dining treadmill.

Temple of Apollo Didyma

Lunch over we now drove to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, although you would have to have a very good imagination to be able to understand how wonderful it was but could do no better than rely on the description by Antipater of Sidon, a Greek poet of the 2nd century BC:

“I have gazed on the walls of impregnable Babylon and on the Zeus by the banks of the Alpheus, I have seen the hanging gardens, and the Colossus of the Helios, the lofty pyramids, and the gigantic tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the sacred house of Artemis that towers to the clouds, the others were placed in the shade, for the sun himself has never looked upon its equal outside Olympus”

So it must have looked quite magnificent I imagine but except for one solitary column there is nothing there today and it turns out that if you want to see more, guess where you have to go, yes, the British Museum.  This was a staggering disappointment, it really needed some Arthur Miller approved reconstruction and interpretation and I for one was glad when it was all over and we were back on the bus and we could continue the drive to Pamukkale about three hours away to the east.

Ephesus Turkey

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Related Posts:

Spartacus the Gladiator

Rome

The Roman City of Pompeii

The Roman City of Herculaneum

The Roman Amphitheatre at Pula

The Aqueduct of Segovia

The Roman Buildings at Mérida

The Roman Ruins at Segóbriga

Diocletian’s Palace at Split

The Roman Buildings at Arles

Verona

The Greek and Roman Ruins at Empuria, Catalonia

The Palace of Knossos in Crete

Athens and Ancient Greece

The Acropolis Museum in Athens

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Greek Islands, Day Trip to Delos

Delos, one of the great classical archaeological sites of the Mediterranean, is a tiny island stretching only three miles north to south and barely one mile from east to west. It was here, that Apollo and his twin sister Artemis, son and daughter of Zeus and, like Delphi, is a major sanctuary dedicated to Apollo, the Titan god of gods and one of the most important in all of Ancient Greece.

It is the epicentre of the Cycladic ring and an uninhabited island six miles from its larger neighbour and is a vast archaeological site that together with Athens on the mainland and Knossos on Crete makes up the three most important archaeological sites in Greece.

Delos Greece Postcard

I imagine that the reason we are not so aware of it is because whereas a lot of the work in Athens and Crete was undertaken by British and American archaeologists Delos is predominantly a French excavation site and we prefer to concentrate on British rather than Gallic achievements.

The excavations on the island are among the most extensive in the Mediterranean; ongoing work takes place under the direction of the French School at Athens and many of the artefacts found are on display at the Archaeological Museum of Delos and the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.

In 1990, UNESCO inscribed Delos on the World Heritage List, citing it as the “exceptionally extensive and rich” archaeological site which“conveys the image of a great cosmopolitan Mediterranean port”.

Delos is just a short ferry ride from Mykonos.  We left the old port on a small ferry boat where we sat on the open deck and watched Mykonos slip away behind us and the approach to tiny Delos which took about half an hour or so.  It was already hot as we stepped off the boat and paid our admission charge to the island and took the pathway into the site.

There is no set route and visitors are allowed to wander in all directions along the rough paths and the dark grey stony earth overgrown with vegetation, strewn with ancient relics, ravaged by wind which moves across the embers of a past civilization and, if you listen to the warnings of the locals, home to poisonous snakes which will attack if disturbed so keeping an eye out for this danger we set off first to Mount Kythnos, the highest point and a stiff climb where, at the top, we were rewarded with sweeping 360º views of the Cyclades and beyond.

It was a lot easier going back down and once back in the main city which was once home to thirty-thousand people (compare that with a modern population of eight thousand in Mykonos) we walked through a succession of excavated buildings, some with ancient frescoes and colourful mosaic floors, dismembered statues, altars, sanctuaries, agoras and reconstructed temples and arches.

At the centre we stopped to see the Delian lions, one of the iconic images of the Greek islands.  These were only plaster copies however because they are now kept in the island museum and one is missing because it was stolen and taken to Venice to become a symbol of that city.

Walking through the centre of the ancient city we passed the sacred lake where Apollo and Artemis were born and then to the far north of the island and the site of the ancient stadium and a view back across the water to Mykonos.

We had been continuously walking now for about three hours in the blistering sun without any shade so we made our way back to the main site and to the museum where we hoped it might be a bit cooler.  There was no chance of that and although it was light and airy inside it was oppressively hot so we rushed through the exhibits rather too quickly to do them any real justice and were soon outside again looking for refreshments.

Delos is well worth a visit but here are three bits of advice, firstly don’t miss the last boat home or else you will be stuck on the rather remote island all night long with the spirits of Ancient Greece and the snakes.  There is a superstition that no one should stay on the island overnight. Secondly don’t die on the island, no one is supposed to pass away on Delos, it is considered to be bad luck.

Finally, take plenty of water and a snack because there is only one small shop on the island attached to the museum and it is explosively expensive and bearing these two earlier bits of advice in mind we finished our tour of Delos by wandering back to the jetty and taking the early afternoon ferry back to Mykonos.

Journey To The North – Bishop Auckland

Witton Castle Durham

Land of the Prince Bishops…

Bishop Auckland in the northern County of Durham has always sounded to me like a place I should visit because a place with two names always sounds intriguing to me like Kings Lynn, Saffron Waldron and Westwood Ho!

Westwood Ho! incidentally has the distinction of being the only place name in England with an exclamation mark and this would be very impressive indeed were it not eclipsed by a parish community in Quebec, Canada called Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! which has two!!

But I have never been and that is all the more surprising because this is Kim’s home town.

Kim of course has fond child hood memories of the place, now half a century away and like most of us she laments the passage of time and the erasure of childhood memories; from her description of modern day Bishop Auckland I was certain that I was going to be disappointed.

Escombe Methodist Church 1963

Kim, centre row, third from left (1963).  No designer clothes or replica football shirts, hand knitted cardigans and home haircuts – those were the days!

We began at Witton Castle, a crenulated fifteenth century manor house which became the centre of a mining estate three hundred years later but by the 1960s had fallen into derelict disrepair where Kim would play amongst fallen statuary and in haunted rooms but more recently has been purchased, repaired and transformed into a holiday park and a restaurant which Kim doesn’t approve of at all.

All the way around she kept telling me how it used to look and I was reminded of the assessment of Henry Miller about the reconstruction of the Palace of Knossos on the island of Crete – “There has been much controversy about the aesthetics of Sir Arthur Evans’s work of restoration.  I find myself unable to come to any conclusion about it; I accepted it as a fact.  However Knossos may have looked in the past, however it may look in the future, this one which Evans has created is the only one I shall ever know.  I am grateful to him for what he did…”

There is no real castle at Witton Park anymore, but there is history and I could smell that in the breeze that brushed past my face as we walked around the adjacent gardens.

Escomb Church Bishp Aukland Durham

Next we went to the village of Escomb, once a pit village where Kim grew up and spent her early childhood.  Her memories have been bulldozed away now in frenzied 1960s slum clearance housing improvement projects and the dismantling of the pit and anything associated with it but the main reason to visit Escomb is to see the seventh century Saxon Church, quite possibly the oldest and the finest example of its kind in the country although this claim is contested by Bradford-on-Avon in Wiltshire, Barton in Northamptonshire and Bradwell-on-Sea in Essex.

I liked this place and even though the heart of the village had been brutally ripped out fifty years ago there was a genuine sense of community, after looking around the interior of the church on the way out we chanced upon a local resident who was coming to polish the pews or arrange the flowers or whatever and after only a short introduction Kim and this lady where exchanging memories and comparing a list of local acquaintances.

I have seen this happen before, in 2008 in Pula in Croatia in a chance breakfast encounter in a hotel Kim recognised the local Durham accent of a fellow traveller and within two minutes had established that they came not just from the same county or the same town but from the same village, knew the same people and used to go to the same school – it is sometimes a very small world!

As we drove away back towards Bishop Auckland through woodland and pasture it was hard to imagine that this was once a huge industrialised area with both open cast and deep shaft mining but also a massive ironworks with a mill, which was one mile long and half a mile wide all of which has been demolished with little trace.

And so we finished in the town of Bishop Auckland  where Kim had painted a grim picture of decline and deprivation but I found a pleasant county town with an open market place and an especially fine Wetherspoon pub before moving on to the jewel in the Crown – Auckland Castle, the home of the Prince Bishop’s of Durham.

It turns out that until 2010 this was the official residence of the Bishop of Durham but strapped for cash the church decided to sell both the building and the collection of unique paintings inside until a local businessman stepped in and bought them both and now has grand plans to finance a proper restoration and make this place a major tourist attraction.  I am not so sure about that and was pleased to see it today before the swarms of visitors arrive and even Kim was forced to grudgingly concede that this intervention represents progress.

I liked Bishop Auckland and as I left I was determined to return again quite soon.

Have you ever been pleasantly surprised by a visit somewhere?

Aukland Castle Bishop Aukland Durham

Weekly Photo Challenge: Ephemeral, The Geysers of Iceland

Geyser Iceland

Luckily the nearby geyser Strokkur erupts much more regularly every five minutes or so to heights of up to twenty metres (that’s the equivalent of about five London double decker buses).  Crowds of people were gathered expectantly around the glassy pool waiting for the translucent blue water bubble to foam and then dramatically break through the surface forcing many gallons of boiling water and hissing steam into the air.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Signs

Iceland Geyser Warning

There were about thirty other mud pots and water pools and it was a good job that we had the benefit of the advice of the previous tour guide because he had provided warnings on temperatures and what you could comfortably touch and what you couldn’t because some of the pools contained boiling water that would strip flesh from fingers as though putting an injudicious hand into a pool of piranha fish and would have surely involved an unplanned trip to the infirmary.

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Iceland Geyser statistics

Iceland, The Golden Circle and the Geysers

Iceland Postcard

“The problem with driving around Iceland is that you’re basically confronted by a new soul-enriching, breath-taking, life-affirming natural sight every five goddamn minutes. It’s totally exhausting.” – Stephen Markley – ‘Tales of Iceland’

Today we planned to drive one half of the Golden Circle to see the hot water geysers at the rather unimaginatively named Geysir and then the waterfalls at Gullfoss.  We were hoping for improved weather but after breakfast and as we left the hotel we were to be disappointed because there was grey hanging cloud and a slight dampness in the air.

 The road out of Reykjavik took us eastwards and as we drove we began to appreciate fully the landscape and as the sun began to make a jagged appearance through broken clouds we stopped for a while to enjoy the wide open spaciousness of the countryside.

Living in a crowded country it is nice to visit places where there is no one else about and there was a real sense of solitude and isolation and this was is surprising really when you consider that Iceland only has a population of slightly over three hundred thousand people and that population density is the lowest in Europe at less than three people per square kilometre. That is about a hundred times less than the United Kingdom at two hundred and forty-four people per square kilometre and a lot less crowded than the most congested country, which is Monaco, at sixteen thousand four hundred people per square kilometre which probably explains why it is difficult to get a sun bed on the beach or a sensible restaurant reservation there.

Further along the route we came across some Icelandic ponies that were obligingly posing for visitor photographs and a bit of petting.  The ponies are unique to this country with laws that prevent the importation of any other equine breeds that might compromise the pedigree and after the ponies we stopped for magnificent views of the River Sog with the sun hugging the horizon and shooting teasing shafts of temporary brightness through the heavy clouds. What little sunshine there was, we welcomed because it transformed the khaki scrub into flowing golden meadows and a symphony of winter colours stretching across vast open fields to magnificent snow capped glaciers beyond. 

Iceland Sunrise

The drive to Geysir was much further than I remembered from a previous visit but along the way there were a number of viewing points and we might have stopped to see an old volcanic blow hole and according to the guide book now filled with turquoise blue water and an impressive waterfall with surging white water rushing over black rocks and creating a hanging spray of misty water, but as we drew into the car park Kim spotted a 200 krona entrance fee, declared it not worth the money and dissuaded everyone else from the viewing opportunity.  Rather selfishly I thought but didn’t really mind because I had seen it before.

Everywhere there was evidence of volcanic and geothermal activity with a strong smell of sulphur hanging in the air like heavy Victorian parlour curtains  and a landscape of cracked and broken rocks and deep fissures like open earth wounds that made the place seem precarious and exciting.  

Iceland, I thought, is a bit like Wales, but with attitude!

Finally, after I had nearly taken off the bottom of the car driving over the most vicious speed hump that I have ever encountered,  we reached Geysir in the Haukadalur valley, which is the oldest known geyser and one of the world’s most impressive examples of the phenomenon.

Geysir is a thermal park atop a vast bubbling cauldron of geothermal activity. Hot and cold springs, hissing fumaroles and sulphurous mud pots of unusual colours and temperatures decorate the surface.

I had seen geysers before at Yellowstone National Park in the USA  and these here were every bit as entertaining and impressive.  We followed the path past the mysterious bubbling mud pots and the threatening steam vents and I was able to act as guide because last time here  we tagged along with a bus tour party who had an entertaining and informative guide.   

Iceland Geyser statistics

The original great Geyser erupts only infrequently now so you could be a long time hanging around waiting for a show.  Apparently people used to encourage it to blow by pouring soap powder into the borehole as this was a generally reliable way of encouraging it to perform but eventually this stopped working because the residue of the soap clogged up the underground vents rather like an automatic washing machine that hasn’t been rinsed through.  Geologists now believe that it requires a dramatic event such as an earthquake to set it off again.

Luckily the nearby geyser Strokkur erupts much more regularly every five minutes or so to heights of up to twenty metres (that’s the equivalent of about five London double decker buses).  Crowds of people were gathered expectantly around the glassy pool waiting for the translucent blue water bubble to foam and then dramatically break through the surface forcing many gallons of boiling water and hissing steam into the air.

There were about thirty other mud pots and water pools and it was a good job that we had the benefit of the advice of the previous tour guide because he had provided warnings on temperatures and what you could comfortably touch and what you couldn’t because some of the pools contained boiling water that would strip flesh from fingers as though putting an injudicious hand into a pool of piranha fish and would have surely  involved an unplanned trip to the infirmary. 

After we had watched the geyser erupt a few more times we went into the nearby shop but left again almost immediately on account of the silly prices and because the coffee was served in cardboard cups rather than porcelain mugs (don’t ask me why)  and continued our journey towards Gullfoss and the falls.

Strockur Geysir Iceland Geysir Golden Circle

Ancient Greece and Rome

Rome

Roman Amphitheatre at Pula

The Aqueduct of Segovia

Segesta, Sicily

Segóbriga

Split

Split peoples square

Athens

Herculaneum

Pompeii

Palace of Knossos

 The Colossus of Rhodes

World Heritage Sites

Segovia

In 1954, the government of Egypt announced that it was to build the Aswan Dam, a project that proposed to flood a valley containing priceless treasures of ancient civilizations.

Despite opposition from Egypt and Sudan, UNESCO launched a worldwide safeguarding campaign, over fifty countries contributed and the Abu Simbel and Philae temples were taken apart, moved to a higher location, and put back together piece by piece.  At last the World was collectively protecting its treasures and hopefully never again will something magnificent like the Colosseum of Rome or the Parthenon of Athens be torn down and destroyed by following generations of rebuilders.

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Crete – Palace of Knossos and the Minotaur

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In 2001 I went to Crete with my son Jonathan and while we were there we visited the ancient site of the Palace of Knossos.  This is the largest archaeological site on the island and was the ceremonial and political center of the ancient Minoan civilization and culture who once lived there.

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