Crete Part IV: Minotaur Hunting

Fun fact: Before I finally admitted that my true calling in life was to work in agriculture, I went through a brief stint as an aspiring anthropologist. I love love love ancient history, especially the bronze age. Ever since I learned about Greek mythology in 4th grade, I have dreamed of visiting Greece and going on a quest fit for a demigod.

Or maybe I’ve just been reading too much Percy Jackson.

Don’t judge me.

Whatever the case, my Cretan adventure wouldn’t have been complete without a bit of archaeological exploration. And so it was that after our visit to the Zacharioudakis Vineyard, a group of us went to visit Phaistos Palace, the ruins of a Minoan palace built around 2000 BC.*

There wasn’t much left of the palace (as can be expected of something over 3000 years old…) but it was easy to imagine the grandeur of this place when it was brand new. The sheer size of it was incredible, and the fact that even what little remains is still around to be touched by my modern hands absolutely blows my mind. As I ran my fingers along the rough surface of a stone wall in the storage rooms, I thought of the men who carved that stone out of a mountainside almost four millennia ago. Did they know that their handiwork would last as long as it has?

One of my favorite Greek myths is that of Theseus and the Minotaur, which takes place near Knossos Palace on the north side of Crete. I wanted to find that mean old Minotaur** and talk to him about the health benefits of vegetarianism, so my friends Liza, Daryl, and I went up to Heraklion to pay him a visit.

We didn’t find the Minotaur, but we did find a lot of spectacular archaeology. Minoan culture was matriarchal instead of patriarchal, so it was interesting to see the influence of a woman’s touch. Not only was the Queen’s chamber much bigger than the King’s chamber, but there were frescoes and murals everywhere (reproductions).

Most of the original digging about at Knossos was done by Sir Arthur Evans, an archaeologist who spent 35 years excavating the site and painting reproductions of all the artwork. It was amazing how much had survived, considering the same earthquakes and Achaen invasions that destroyed Phaistos also destroyed Knossos. It’s also amazing how much they were able to piece together from the fragments left in the dust.

Even if we didn’t find the Minotaur, we certainly had fun looking for him. And like all good quests, sometimes the best part isn’t actually finding the beast, it’s the adventure you have along the way.

Right, Percy Jackson?

* Well, the first palace was built around 2000 BC. That palace was destroyed and rebuilt three times before 1400 BC.

** Did you know that he actually had a name? It was Asterion! Also, can you blame him for being cranky? He was the unnatural offspring of a beast and a human, and his mother was so ashamed of his bullish behavior that she locked him away forever in a giant maze.

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