The ruined city of Knossos, the major "palace" of the ancient Minoan Crete civilization, is the number one tourist site on Crete. For that reason we were a bit reluctant to go there.
But since I've had such a fascination with Minoan history and its art and artifacts for so long, it seemed slightly strange to be in Crete and not visit this site I had imagined all these years.
I guess, in a sense, I preferred to have the pure mental image in my mind, rather than subject my long-held romantic notion about it to today's reality. Luckily we arrived early enough in the day, and of course late enough in the season, that the place had only a few busloads of visitors with whom we shared the experience.
There is evidence of habitation on Crete as early as 128,000 BC. In 5000 BC agriculture was practiced on the island, making it the first European civilization, meaning that a conscious social ordering, established cities and the development of commerce came to Crete before anywhere else in the European world.
The Palace at Knossos was active from 2700 to 1450 BC, the center of a thriving and sophisticated culture that traded all over the Aegean and exported products that were found by archeologists as far as Egypt and Syria. This was a matrilinal society and the mother Goddess was worshiped, which made it a more peaceful culture. Their art pictures athletes, beautiful people in exotic dress and charming animals, rather than the warriors that were later idolised in Greek and Roman imagery.
Arthur Evans, a British archeologist, began excavating the site in the early part of the twentieth century and reconstructed parts of Knossos in a way that is very controversial today.
The culture was named "Minoan" not by the people who lived there themselves, but by the Greeks who spoke of king Minos and of the labyrinth, where he was thought to keep a bull. Certainly the palace compound itself is so massive and labyrinthine that it is no wonder these ideas took hold. And certainly bulls had a special place in Minoan art and imagination.
After visiting the site, we went to the archeological museum down the road in Heraklion, where many of the artifacts that were unearthed at Knossos are displayed.
While looking at these amazing objects, which are as much as 5000 years old, I couldn't help but wonder what all has improved in life since that time?
Safety pins are apparently not a modern invention.
Glass objects that have survived for thousands of years. The colors are extraordinary.
And even the games, which were just as elaborate all those thousands of years ago...
Have modern designers created anything more useful or beautiful?
Even the faces, the sculpture, the painting, have not, in my opinion, been much exceeded since these eons ago.
It makes me wonder about the concept of human progress.
It was a real thrill to see the famous mosaic of the bull jumping youth, which has pride of place in the Archeological Museum in Heraklion.