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Cunard Queen Elizabeth 2016
Greek Islands Voyage
  Map Embarkation at Southampton  and the initial days at Sea La Palma de Mallorca Piraeus for Athens - Greece Cancelled, replaced by Heraklion - Crete Katakolon for Olympia - Greece Cancelled, replaced by Saranda - Albania Messina - Sicily Cadiz fot Seville - Spain and Activities during the Days at Sea

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Heraklion, Crete - Saturday 15 October

Due to problems with Turkey our original itinerary had been changed and Heraklion and Sarande had replaced Kusadasi and Mykonos. So we arrived in Heraklion, the capital of Crete, for the first time. Crete is the largest of the Greek islands; it is long and thin measuring 160 miles long and between 7 and 25 miles wide. Crete flourished more than 4,000 years ago and was the origin of the Minoan civilisation, with successive kings each named Minos. In those days, Cretans travelled widely across the Mediterranean and traded with other civilised states. The port of Heraklion has no tourist facilities and it is not allowed to walk in the dock area. Compulsory shuttle buses go to the dock gate from where it is a 15 minute walk into town.

The Queen Elizabeth was the only cruise ship to visit today so there was no competition for coaches or tourist guides. We chose a Cunard tour to visit Knossos and then tour a winery. Knossos is only four miles from Heraklion so the transfer was easy although the parking was busy and there were lots of tour buses. The site itself was very busy. We were each handed a standard 15 euro entrance ticket, but we would have had discounted entrance as student (free) and over 65 EU person 9€ if we had visited independently. Two hours were spent at the site and then only the main path through was completed. The congestion meant that we often had to wait in line to look inside important buildings with the longest queue being that to visit the famous Throne room.

The Palace at Knossos was built on the ruins of a previous palace destroyed by earthquakes along with the other palaces and most settlements in Crete in 1700 BC. The Palace we saw at Knossus were built during the period described as the Second Palace Period, dating from 1700 to 1350 BC and covered 22,000 square metres and had over 1500 rooms. Palaces were multi-storey and very complex. Walls were covered with brightly coloured frescoes. About 1450 BC the palace at Knossos was destroyed by the eruption at Santorini but was rebuilt and reconstructed. The final destruction was then in 1350 BC when the palace was burnt, and there is evidence of fire in blackened stone blocks. Arthur Evans of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford began excavations in 1900 and his pioneering work is remembered at the site with a bust. Almost all the Palace had been uncovered by 1903 and work continued until 1931. His research work was published as "The Palace of Minos at Knossos". The restoration included extensive use of reinforced cement and this can be seen, sometimes scumbled to resemble wood. Copies were installed of the marvellous frescoes and many original items are in the Heraklion Museum. Next visit we must go there. We later met other passengers who had caught the public bus, number 20, instead of taking a tour.

The guided tour achieved its objecive of taking us through the ruins. The Palace was large, parts of it originally occupying 4 stories. The mythical Minotaur, said to be half man and half bull, would have easily been hidden inside the labyrinth of rooms and corridors. The entrance gate led directly to the west side of the Palace and the description here is mainly limited to photos and their labels. The Palace divides into two wings surrounding a central court: the West wing which housed the religious and official state rooms and the East wing where there were workshops and the domestic quarter. The guide used two cheap guide books to illustrate her tour and we later purchased "Knossos - the Minoan civilisation" by Sosso Logiadou-Platonis for 7 euros. It gives a number of pictures which we could match with our own and better understand what we had seen, and the purpose of key buildings. Our tour started at the West facade and the West Court. The restored bright red columns show clearly where structural restoration has occurred, as in the South West columns chamber and pillar crypt near the Propylaea. The South Propylaea had two distinctive different white columns and we saw the first of many colourful restored frescoes. Here the images are of the cupbearer. Notice that in Minoan frescoes the bodies of the men are red colour, whereas women are white, and both have long hair and slim waists and wear a kilt. Nearby are vats reconstructed from fragments. One pair of sacred horns have been installed to indicate the size and location of what was a long line on top of the wall.

We next arrived at the central court which was very busy with tours. On one side was a fresco, behind glass, of the Prince with the Lilies. We joined the end of a long queue to look at the main chamber in the Western Wing, the Throne room. Other tours climbed up the modern restored Grand Central staircase to the floor above where there were interesting copies of frescoes. While we waited there was time to look at the NW entrance and the northern entrance, with their red restored columns. The Throne room antechamber had a wooden modern copy of the small gypsum throne with stone benches. The Throne room has a basin (not a bath) assumed for purification rituals. The walls were decorated with a large fresco representing griffins among vegetation, admired as restored copies.

The West wing had only two stories in addition to the ground floor but the East wing had four storeys. The eastern section of the Palace is one of the grandest parts. An adjoining veranda with many red columns contains a copy of a fresco painting of shields on a frieze of spirals. We descending the staircase carefully down to the Kings megaron and stoa. Much of the site is only viewed from a distance or behind perspex walls. The Queens megaron had a fresco of dolphins and fish. Water management and drainage was an important technology well developed by the Greeks and rain water which might have overflowed from the channels at corners was slowed down by a parabolic curve so it was not lost. There were also troughs to act as settling tanks and lots of drainage pipes across the site. Large urns had been restored, described as Giant Pithoi with relief medallions.

Finally the tour reached the northern entrance and the Bastion of the bull, with its gilded and coloured copy of the original fresco depicting the hunting of a wild bull with an olive tree. There is one example of masonic symbols, a double axe carved into stone. It is now clear that there is no outer maze or labyrinth on the site and the current explanation for the Minotaur myth is that there was something kept hidden within the complicated layout of the Palace itself. The final interesting building is the Theatre, on the edge of the Royal Road, it is small in comparison to the more recent Roman ones one is used to seeing and has a flatter and more square design. The road is paved and straight and is said to be the oldest in Europe. It leads to the Little palace, and to the nearby Villa Ariadne which was built by Evans as his home in the area from 1907. We had passed these as our coach drove from Heraklion to the parking at Knossos. As is typical, we would have preferred to spend more time exploring the site, and less time queueing to enter the various buildings. We hope to visit again independently.

The second part of the excursion was to visit a local winery. The Boutari Company was founded in 1879 and exports to over 35 countries. It has won such prizes as "International Winery of the Year" and "European Winery of the Year", and is proud of its special status among Greek wineries. The Boutari wineries group has six wineries in Greece: in Naoussa, Goumenissa, Attica, Peloponnese, Santorini and Crete. There is also a new winery in France in the Languedoc. The Boutari Winery in Crete is on the Fantaxometocho Estate outside Skalari village and close to Knossos, which was very convenient for our tour. Planting of the vineyard began in 1990 and we also noticed many young vines which had replaced past old local varieties with a mixture of local and international varieties such as Chardonnay and Syrah. They also have a number of trial areas of other older varieties of grapes they with to reintroduce. Although the brochure states the cultivation is organic, the winemaker said that the process had now changed because of size. The site around the modern production facility is 7 hectares so it is small volumes. The Boutari winery in Crete was completed in early 2004 and is described in their brochure as a "state of the art winery". The wine is intially fermented in stainless steel with temperature control and then transferred into oak barrels - a mix of American and mostly French oak of various ages depending on the wine. The underground cellar contained rows and rows of oak barrels. When it is time for bottling, wines for immediate consumption have screw tops whereas most which can be laid down have corks which are replaced every seven years. There is a lecture room where we watched a good, but not sharp, video about Cretan wines which was a useful introduction. In Crete Boutari produce six distinct wines - kretikos and fantaxometocho are white, kretikos and skalani are red and morschato spinas and ioulatiko are sweet.

We were then taken to the wine-tasting hall and offered three samples of wine and a platter of Dakos, a Cretan dried rusk topped with fresh tomato and cheese. The white wine was Moschofilero Boutari, from their Peloponnese vineyard, which is 70 hectares and mostly covered by the indigenous variety moschofilero, which was on the brink of extinction before the brand was established. The red wine was Cretan Kretikos Boutari Red, a blend of two local grapes - kotsifali and mantilaria. The sweet white wine was Cretan Moscato Spinas made from grapes which had been sun-dried so has an intense flavour. We subsequently bought the white (at 8 euros) and also the red Cretan Skalani (at 15 euros), a blend of 50% syrah and 50% kotsifali which they let us try when it was obvious we were buying. They said that they export internationally, including to the UK.

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Content revised: 31st October, 2016