Days 7-12 – Crete

So, this past week we’ve been on Crete. I’ve decided to post about Crete all in one post, mostly because the sites we looked at were all very, very similar and not especially interesting to me, so I’ll just mention the highlights.
A basic background first, though. Crete is known mostly for its Minoan and Mycenaean sites, particularly Knossos. Though there was activity on Crete throughout the Classical, Hellenistic, and Roman periods, “archaeologists” in the late 19th century weren’t interested in any of it, looking instead for evidence of King Minos and the heroes of the Trojan War. The theme of the trip seemed to be “That one time Arthur Evans came here and fucked everything up.” Seriously, read about him; he’s fascinating, but wasn’t a very good archaeologist. Obviously part of it was just the time that he lived in, so he probably couldn’t help it, but still, we hardly know anything about either civilization because of all the damage these “archaeologists” did. Anyway, rant over.
I’m not super into Minoan/Mycenaean stuff, so while I found all the sites interesting, it’s hard for me to get really excited about them, so I’ll just give you the most fun moments:
Perhaps my favorite experience from the trip was on the first day. As I mentioned earlier, we arrived in Crete at 6:00 am and basically hit the ground running. We had lunch in a small town near the island of Mochlos. I was exhausted and really not feeling up to another two hours of trekking around the site. The cool thing about Mochlos, however, is that it’s really close to shore; in ancient times, you could walk back and forth between the “mainland” and the “island.” So, because it’s so close, we were given the option of swimming there. I knew, even though I’d just had lunch, even though I was about to collapse from exhaustion, that I needed to do that swim. So, a handful of fellow students and I dove in and made our way across the channel. The waves were certainly more of an obstacle than anticipated, but it felt amazing – the water was so refreshing and once I made it to the island, I felt completely revitalized. The site was neat as well; we jumped around like goats and were able to climb up to the top of the island to see prehistoric tombs. And, when we were given the option to swim back to the mainland, back into the water I went! ☺
I actually already wrote a post about Day 8, which features my second favorite thing, the hike through the Gorge of the Dead, so feel free to read that.
I did get to give my own presentation on Thursday, which I guess was fun. haha. The site, Gortyn, was interesting because it was a Roman site – it was capital of the Roman province so was fairly prosperous. We got to run around the site and all over the ruins, which was fun, but it was blisteringly hot, 45 degrees Celsius, so we all were drained pretty quickly. We actually ended up heading to the hotel early because it was simply too hot to be out. It was really nice to have an evening off to relax.
My last few stand-out experiences were all more modern. We visited the Arkadi Monastery, which was very important during the Greek War of Independence. We also got to visit a potter’s workshop, which was awesome because he showed us how to make a giant pithos, which was the type of pot that was used for storage during the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. It was amazing to see how easily he worked the clay, and how quickly he was able to make several smaller versions. Our last stop in Crete before heading back to the ferry was Etz Hayyim, a synagogue that had basically been abandoned during WWII and then brought back to life by Nikos Stavroulakis, who is now the director of the synagogue. He spoke to us about the history of Jews in Greece, which was fascinating. He was incredibly knowledgeable and very well spoken. I did not know much about Jews in Greece before, and I left the synagogue not only with a greater sense of history, but also with a profound admiration for the work this man had done.
I guess my list of highlights was a bit longer than expected, but that’s good, right?! We’re back in Athens now, with a little bit of time to relax before it all starts back up again. I’m going to try to be better about posting regularly, at least while I have access to internet!