Crete: A mixture of myth, legend, reality and the city of Knossos

Knossos on the island of Crete dates to the Bronze Age making it a fascinating place to visit with its legends of King Minos and the famous Labyrinth.

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The north portico at Knossos which is said to be the oldest city in Europe (wikipedia)
The north portico at Knossos which is said to be the oldest city in Europe (wikipedia)

KNOSSOS, Crete, June 25, 2016 – From a chronological standpoint, Greece is sometimes difficult to comprehend because you have to think backwards in time in order to go forward. Everything is B.C., which means dates go backwards, in ever increasing order.

The Aegean Sea is home to the Greek iles (wikipedia)
The Aegean Sea is home to the Greek isles (Wikipedia)

Even so, Knossos on the island of Crete, which dates to the Bronze Age, is a fascinating place to visit with its legends of King Minos and the famous labyrinth.

Knossos is considered by many to be the oldest city in Europe, and that fact alone makes it alluring.

The first settlement dates to around 7000 BC, while the first palace is estimated to be roughly 4,000 years old with a date of 1900 BC.


Thanks to its location, roughly equidistant from the European mainland, Africa and Asia, Crete has long been a crossroads. The city of Knossos is evidence of that with its ruins, which appear more Egyptian than Greek.

Map of Crete -- Knossos is on the northern coast in the center (wikipedia)
Map of Crete — Knossos is on the northern coast in the center (Wikipedia)

Knossos was discovered in 1878, but it was another 22 years before English archaelogist Sir Arthur Evans began excavating the site. Not only did the size of the excavation exceed Evans’ expectations, but so too did the discovery of two ancient scripts, which he labeled “Linear A” and “Linear B.”

Evidence from the layering allowed Evans to determine that Knossos had been part of the Minoan civilization, which flourished from approximately 3650 B.C. to 1400 B.C. and predated both the Mycenaean civilization and ancient Greece.

Frescoes at Knossos (wiklipedia)
Frescoes at Knossos (Wikipedia)

The palace was unquestionably the center of all things ceremonial and political during the Minoan period. It is a maze of human presence with workrooms, living areas and storerooms near the central square.

One of the striking aspects of Knossos is the distinctive red color that can be seen everywhere. The palace’s indoor and outdoor murals provided graphic insights into life on Crete as it was nearly 6,000 years ago.

For travelers, the Greek mythology is arguably the most enticing aspect of the ruins. King Minos lived in a palace at Knossos, where he had the architect Daedalus build an elaborate labyrinth in which to contain his son the Minotaur.

Minotaur -- Half bull, half man (wikipedia)
Minotaur — Half bull, half man (Wikipedia)

A labyrinth is a massive maze that becomes so confusing to navigate that it is virtually impossible to escape unless you know the key. Fearing that Daedalus would reveal the secret of the labyrinth, Minos kept the architect and his son Icarus trapped within the maze.

However, being an inventor as well as an architect, Daedalus designed two sets of wax wings, one for himself and one for his son, so they could fly out of the labyrinth in case of an emergency.

The myth says that Icarus’ youthful exuberance got the best of him during his flight, going ever higher until he got too close to the sun. The wings melted and the boy fell to his death in the Aegean Sea.

As for the Minotaur, he is a mythological creature with the head of a bull and the body of a man, as described by the Roman poet Ovid.

Daedalus and Icarus building the Labyrinth (wikipedia)
Pieter Bruegel’s depiction of Icarus falling into the sea (Wikipedia)

According to the legend, the king’s daughter Ariadne fell in love with an Athenian named Theseus who had volunteered to slay the Minotaur. Ariadne gave Theseus a ball of thread that he used to mark his path into the labyrinth.

Following his victory over the beast, Theseus and Ariadne fled Crete, but he later abandoned her on the island of Naxos.

Part of the difficulty in separating truth from reality in Greece is not only the chronology of events, but also sorting out what is real and what is legend.

Icarus flies too close to the sun (wikipedia)
Icarus flies too close to the sun (Wikipedia)

While Minos was a fictional character, the Labyrinth of Knossos does exist, and it is easy to see how the combination of time lines, civilizations, mythical creatures and real people can eventually become a muddle.

Added to the story is the fact that there has been some speculation that Crete is actually the result of a volcanic eruption on another Greek island called Santorini.

According to some analysts, Crete may actually be a link to the lost city of Atlantis.

Anyway you look at it, Knossos on the Aegean island of Crete is an enjoyable outing. It is, in its own way, the Pompeii of Greece.

Ruins of the city of Knossos on the island of Crete (wikipedia)
Ruins of the city of Knossos on the island of Crete (Wikipedia)

For the most enjoyable experience, keep your curiosity to a minimum as you sort out the names and dates and you will be pleasantly rewarded just as long as you don’t get lost in the labyrinth.

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Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award-winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.

Taylor is founder of the Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)

Read more of What in the World and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News

Follow Bob on Twitter @MrPeabod

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