Travellers from all over the world head to Crete for great weather and sunny shores – almost everywhere you go, from cafes and bars to hotels and restaurants, you end up with a view of the deep blue sea. But the real draw is the history – this island seems isolated here in the Mediterranean but if it could talk, it would tell you many stories and legends that have passed through this area.
Here are a few of the sights to see, all wonderful and all steeped in history and lore.
Knossos is the “largest Bronze age archaeological site” on Crete. Translation: it is really old. But it’s a beautiful place to explore and wander; there are some wonderfully well preserved frescos and paintings that feel like the painter has just wandered off minutes ago. To be honest, if you’re really into these sorts of things, I would recommend a guided tour of the area, just because there are so many facets of the ruins here that it’s hard to take it all in. For example, there are “liquid management” systems and primitive air conditioning. Pretty cool.
You don’t have to be a history buff to enjoy the sights of Rethymnon – one can only assume it was chosen as a defensive position not only for the view of incoming attackers but also the idyllic scenery. This is actually a Venetian fortress, built in the 1500s. It wasn’t a very effective defence, and the city was taken peacefully by the Turks during their invasion in the 1600s because the city was so weak with sickness and from previous attacks.
Crete has lots of hiking trails and you could spend weeks just exploring far far far off the beaten path. But I highly suggest you get some perspective (figuratively and literally) on Mount idea. You see, Mount Idea is home to the Ideon Cave, where it is claimed that Zeus, the Greek God, was born and raised. This is contested by another beautiful cave, Dikteon Cave in southern crete. Visiting both is worth it, if you want to try to decide for yourself where you think Zeus spent his time as wee boy.
Crete has a handful of museums, including a Maritime museum in Chania and a Folk museum in the aforementioned town of Rethymnon, but my vote goes for the Archaeological Museum in Heraklion. Their collection is massive, so definitely do not feel the obligation to look at every little statue and relic. But there are some really incredible pieces, like the snake goddesses – they’re so lifelike, with the details of the dresses that people wore. There are also several frescos and lots of jewellery.
Malia Palace is ruins today, but by walking around the site you’ll get some perspective on how big the Minoan societies were; this palace was thought to be built in 1900BC and incredibly it wasn’t the first palace built on the site. Nor are these ruins the only palace that was here – the actual building was a series of three ‘courts’ that made this certainly an impressive site during its time. This location was picked for its access to the main transport road back then but it’s a wonderfully peaceful area today.
Last but not least is one of my favourite myths from Crete, which you’ll find in the town of Gortys. This particular plane tree is a very unique tree – they say there are less than 50 of this kind on the island. The legend goes that Zeus saw the fair Princess Europe playing somewhere in the Eastern Mediterranean. He appeared in front of the Princess as a Bull and she began to pet the bull. The bull then carried the Princess off to Crete. Underneath the Plane Tree, Zeus turned himself back into a god and made love to the princess under the tree. Ever since, the tree never has lost its leaves in winter, unlike all the trees around it.
It’s a naughty little story, but just illustrates how much fun exploring Crete’s historical heritage can be. Don’t miss it – you can’t, as its all around you.
Posted : Monday, July 5th, 2010 at 11:44
Andy Hayes is a travel journalist currently based in Edinburgh, Scotland. When not criss-crossing the world to have his next travel adventures, he is spending time hanging out on his own website, Sharing Travel Experiences.