Tracing the footsteps of Crete’s ancient Minoan civilisation on your gap year
Of the many Greek Islands, Crete is the largest by area and is a place of great historical significance. Found south of the Aegean Sea, it is inhabited by over 620,000 people and is considered to have spawned the first proper civilisation in Europe by way of the Minoans.
From its beaches, landscapes and widespread wildlife to the dazzling relics of the past, it's an area of the world that shouldn't be missed out when travelling through the continent. For a more well-rounded few days of holiday, Crete should be the first stop of your Greek odyssey.
During an excavation in 1900, Sir Arthur Evans uncovered what is now known as the Ruins of Knossos. The British archaeologist uncovered many relics of the Minoan era, including a Throne Room that would have seated the priest-king of the time. Within the chamber, there is beautiful artwork that consists of, among other illustrations, two Griffins that are pointed towards the onyx marble seat. Although repositioned for access to the public, visiting the site feels like walking into an ancient time and should not be missed.
The Throne Room
Within the grounds of the ruins are also remnants of the Knossos palaces. The first of which was built around 1850 BC and the area has an area of 90,000 square feet. Many experts believe that it was lavish due to its size and the array of artefacts found on the site. Some of these include extravagantly carved fruit and dish stands, beautifully painted ewers and clay figurines, all of which can be found in the aforementioned Heraklion Archaeological Museum.
The secondary palace, which was built over the first incarnation after a devastating earthquake, has been heavily eroded over time, but there are parts still intact. For instance, the West Court's theatrical stage, which was used for festivals and religious activities, is still pretty much unharmed. The Propylaea staircase, too, which was made of slabs of gypsum slabs and located at the West Court, is still in one piece and looks incredible.
Palace of Knossos
The Heraklion Archaeological Museum
To further your exploration of Crete's past, the Heraklion Archaeological Museum in the island's capital is another crucial place to visit. Opening in 1883, it houses many collections of different Minoan artistry. It has gone through many a disaster, including three earthquakes and enemy bombardment through World War Two, but its priceless treasures have managed to remain undamaged. Standout features of the museum include the Phaistos Disc, a mystery of the ancient world that features an array of symbols in a spiral, and an ivory figure that was retrieved from the palace of Knossos known as the bull-leaper.
The Phaistos Disc
The Dikteon Cave
Topping off your voyage of the past should be the Dikteon Cave, which is located in the Lasithi district. Considered in Greek myth to be the birthplace of Zeus, it is believed that the natural wonder was a sacred place, with many religious instruments found at the scene when it was excavated. It also boasts an amazing view of the nearby surroundings from the cave's entrance, making it a place of real splendour.