My second day at sea during my first Greek island cruise started bright and early, with our first visit scheduled to begin at 7 a.m. shortly after docking in the port of Heraklion, the largest city in the island of Crete.
Our wonderful guide was waiting for us at the port, ready to take us on our morning mission: to explore the remnants of the ancient Palace of Knossos, once the center of the very first European civilization, the Minoans (1900 to 1400 BC), and residence of the famous King Minos, who turned Crete into a mighty empire of the seas.
This impressive archeological site is adorned with beautiful ancient frescoes representing the lifestyle and history of the handsome Minoans. You can also admire huge vases used to contain grains and other provisions, preserved in excellent shape in a subterranean labyrinth uncovered under the remains of the palace and linked to the legend of the mythological Minotaur and its Labyrinth.
While we didn’t see any signs that prove that the half-human, half-bull creature ever existed on the island, hearing our expert guide narrate this and other stories right on the ancient sites that would have been a witness to them was in fact educational and exciting.
After the Minoans, other civilizations ruled in Crete including the Romans, the Byzantines, the Ottomans and the Venetians. To this day, a significant Venetian influence can be appreciated in many of the city’s prettiest plazas, buildings and fountains. The Renaissance arts played an important role on the island and painters like El Greco lived here, too.
But there’s more to Crete than its historic and mythological relevance. Romantic towns like Chania on the westernmost side of the island combine medieval architecture, elegant residences and a Venetian port. Our guide also talked about the island’s many beautiful beaches and crystal-clear water, and how we would need to plan for at least a weeklong trip in order to begin discovering all of the richness of Crete.
How about you? Have you been to Crete? How much time did you spend there?