Crete and Santorini — The Rise and Fall of Minoan Civilization — Andante Travels: Part II

Andrea on the Excursion Boat in Santorini

Andrea on the Excursion Boat in Santorini

To continue….

Scrottling at Phaistos, I found a sherd with a red stripe and blackened scorch marks, which Sandy identified as dating to 1800 BCE.  Of course, he didn’t give me the year to begin with.  He identified it as being from Middle Minoan IA, or something.  I felt like I’d found the Holy Grail.  Oh joy, oh rapture!

Another feature of Phaistos that we discussed is the way the Eastern side of the Central Courtyard (or Bull Ring) is left undeveloped, bedrock, unlike Knossos, where Sir Arthur Evans located the residential chambers, the Hall of the Double Axes and the Queen’s Rooms.  Both were illuminated directly by the rising sun.  At Phaistos, he said, there may have been a “rock garden,” sort of a “wild” area – it wasn’t very big – to sit and greet the morning in.  It was a very nice thought.  The area is at the edge of a crag.  We sat beneath the shade of the tree and gazed out upon the glory of the Megara Plain.  At Knossos Sir Arthur Evans had mistakenly built a wall, which effectively shuts out the sun in these chambers.  Thinking they were the King’s and Queen’s Quarters, he deemed privacy a necessity, but there never was a wall there in antiquity.  None of these “palaces” were walled.  They were open and contained entrances on all four sides.

We returned from our excursions for a lecture and dinner at the Hotel.  The lecture was fascinating.  Sandy had intimated during the preceding days that he would talk further about the Double Headed Axes (Doo Das) and the Horns of Consecration (Whatsit.

The import of the lecture was that Minoan culture was most influenced by Egypt.  Hatshepsut, the mother of Thutmose III, who acted as his regent and proclaimed herself Pharoah, received Minoans (Keftiu) asking for “the breath of life,” i.e. food.  There was famine in Crete    I can’t find my notes at the moment, so I’m winging it.  These suppliants are pictured in the tomb of one of her chief officials, Senemet.  They are completely identifiable by their costumes, wasp-wasted kilt, bare chests, lovelocks.  Would that men still dressed that way!

 Some are even carrying bull rhytons like the famous one in the Heraklion Museum.  By the time Thutmose III took over the throne, the Keftiu are gone.  They are replaced by the Prince of the Danae (Danaans, one of the Homeric terms for Greeks).

This helps fix the time of the Theran eruption, when the Minoan needed the assistance of Egypt to rebuild their home and the advent of the Mycenaean suzerainty over Crete.  Greek myth states that Daedalus was taught architecture in the Egyptian Faiyum, the first labyrinth.  Possibly the Minoans brought Osiris back, the god that is torn apart and reborn every year, and hieroglyphic phonetics.  Both Osiris and Isis make use of Double Ax iconography.  The famous Parisienne is wearing an Isis Knot.


At Gortyn we were waited on by a young man sporting an Isis Knot.  I had to ask Sandy for his interpretation.

Sandy also told us a part of the myth of Daedalus and Minos I’d never heard before.  As far as I knew, after Icarus fell into the sea, there were no further consequences to the escape.  However, (I’m quoting Wikipedia here) the myth of Daedalus also relates that after Icarus had fallen into the sea, Daedalus arrived safely in Sicily, in the care of King Cocalus of Kamikos on the island’s south coast, where Daedalus built a temple to Apollo, and hung up his wings, an offering to the god.  Minos, meanwhile, searched for Daedalus by travelling from city to city asking a riddle. He presented a spiral seashell and asked for a string to be run through it. When he reached Kamikos, King Cocalus, knowing Daedalus would be able to solve the riddle, privately fetched the old man to him. He tied the string to an ant which, lured by a drop of honey at one end, walked through the seashell stringing it all the way through. Minos then knew Daedalus was in the court of King Cocalus and demanded he be handed over. Cocalus managed to convince Minos to take a bath first, where Cocalus’ daughters killed Minos. In some versions, Daedalus himself poured boiling water on Minos and killed him.

The anecdotes are literary, and late; however, in the founding tales of the Greek colony of Gela, founded in the 680s on the southwest coast of Sicily, a tradition was preserved that the Greeks had seized cult images wrought by Daedalus from their local predecessors, the Sicani.[   (Wikipedia)

Sandy mentioned that the Minoan fleet that had gone in search of Daedalus were lost at sea in a great storm or by a great wave, possibly by a tsunami from the eruption of Thera.  In any case, the tsunami did destroy Crete’s fleet and put an end to their thalassocracy, opening the way for the Mycenaeans to invade.

But, about the Horns of Whatsit, Hathor is often represented as a bovine head.  There is a rising sun between her horns.  The Egyptian symbol for the horizon also looks like the Horns of Consecration.

I’ve had an interest in Egypt as a backdrop for Bronze Age Greece, the foil of the Hittites, who were the allies of the Trojans, but I’ve never really been smitten by Egyptology, in spite of Amelia Peabody et al.  My interest has been awakened though, especially since I’ve been reading Nefertiti and The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran.

Another feature of Minoan construction were “Lustral Basins.”   Sir Arthur Evans was the first to call them that.  These are small, sunken chambers reached by a stairway.  In the case of Knossos, there is a Lustral Basin off  the throne room connected by an L-shaped or dog-legged stairway, Lustral Basins.  There is often a balustrade running alongside the stairway, normally ending with a pilaster supporting a column.   Lustral Basins were an inside joke, at least among Andrea, Geneia and I.  All of the examples at Knossos, like the one at Mallia were lined with gypsum and so Evans thought they were used for bathing—a clay tub was even found in one of them (see below). However, a few of them were found in areas of the palace, the Throne Room for example, where relaxing in the tub seems unlikely. We asked Sandy what it really meant, “lustral basin.”  He could only comment, with a shrug of the shoulders, that Evans thought it was there that the King or Queen went to “lustrate,” which left us none the wiser.


This interpretation has come under question in recent years, however. For one thing, the rooms are not very well designed for that particular purpose. Gypsum is not the ideal waterproofing agent (for one thing, it is somewhat water soluble) and, in any case, not all of them have paved floors. The fact that—in a palace noted for its superb plumbing— there are no drains in any of the rooms also raises doubts. Of course, it can be argued that the bathing was done in clay tubs, which were then carried away by servants to be emptied but that assumes that the tub found in the bathroom of the so-called Queen’s Quarters at Knossos (above) was used for that purpose. In fact, they are a type of coffin known as a larnax .Many lustral basins were found to contain cult objects such as offering tables or sacred vessels and the walls are often decorated with religious themes, such as the those (see above) associated with the gathering of the crocus harvest from House Xesté 3 at Akrotiri on Thera. This would seem to indicate a religious function, to be sure, but one more associated with the renewal of the nature. Many scholars now prefer the term Adyton, a Greek term meaning “off limits” and referring to the most holy part of a Classical temple.

The Linear A language has been worked on ever since the discovery of the ancient tablets and is as yet “officially” untranslated.  However, Sandy believes it has been deciphered by an amateur named Hubert LeMarle and that it is in fact Proto-Sanskrit.   LeMarle actually gave him his book – I have to find this – and Sandy shelved it along with all the other umpteen books claiming to have translated Linear A.  Later, when being consulted for a movie, he was asked for some Minoan chants, because the screenwriter or director needed his Minoans to be chanting something.  “What did they sound like?”  So, in order to give the guy something, Sandy grabbed LeMarle’s book down from the shelf and read him some transliterated mumbo-jumbo to be used in the background of Ariadne’s Dance..  Then, the movie-maker asked, “But what does it mean?”  So, Sandy went back to see what LeMarle had offered as a translation and found that it made complete sense.  For instance, one line read, “I have purified myself with olive oil..(inscription missing) holy water for my lady.”  He read on.  Another line read, “I consecrate thirty two units of wine to the heights of the heavens and for Ashera Deke, as I gazed at the moon.”

In the Linear A phonetics, the name Ashera is A-sa-sa-ra.  Now there is a Luwian (perhaps the language spoken by Trojans) Ashassarames; a Hittite Ishassarames, a Hurrian Ishera and a Canaanite Mother Goddess, Ashera.  Somewhere in this discussion (lecture), Sandy also wrote out As-i-rai-ro-ja.  I’m not sure if that was from the same inscription or another one, but he related it to Aser or Usar and thought it could be the same god as Osiris.

Anyway, for his part, Sandy now believes that Linear A is Proto-Sanskrit, hence Indo-European, and it offers all sorts of interesting lines of investigation.  He says that none of his colleagues have ever had any contact with Hollywood and he attributes his being a lone believer in LeMarle’s theory to this fact.  Haha

I almost stood up for my applause after this lecture and slide show.  There is a lot that I can’t remember sufficiently well to relate, but I LOVED it.  You just don’t get this on most vacations!

The next day, we visited the Archaic hilltop city of Lato, which initially looked older than it really is.  The builders of Lato intentionally imitated Cyclopean Wall structure, cutting irregular stones and piecing them together.  They evidently thought there would be some prestige in it.

Entrance to Lato:

Entrance to Lato:

Lato:  Harris, Kitty, Elaine, Ann Lato:  Cyclopean Walls Andrea at Lato Theatral Area, Lato



Notice in the pictures above, the imitation Cyclopean Walls, the Cistern with Steps Leading Down to Water Level, and the Theatral Area

Lato sprawled over several hills.  Geneia could have skipped the rest of the day just to climb these hills and explore the maze of great stone walls.  We were shown the meeting place for administrators, with a central fireplace and sofas.  They took their meals there and came to the door after discussion to announce decisions.  Outside there was steps upon which were held public meetings.  Steps were often built for seating.  Nearchus, a former pirate who became Alexander’s best admiral, was from Lato.

In my notes, I have recorded that during Ottoman Rule, no excavating could be done on Crete.  In 1894, Evans considered digging at Lato, mistaking the architecture, especially the city gate, as a cyclopean citadel of the Mycenaean Age, but due to the Ottomans, he could not.  So, he went to Knossos, which he bought.

We had lunch near the sea, then took a cruise to the island of Spinalonga, a former leper colony.  It was mobbed with people, probably because it has become famous in a novel called The Island by Victoria Hislop, which several of our party had read.  There were so many subjects for plein air painting.  It’s really a lovely place, in spite of its being in ruins (see above).  That lends it a certain charm though.  It would be wonderful to spend the day wandering alone, if all the other tourists had departed.



Spinalonga Venetian Fortifications at Spinalonga Venetian gun ports by the Sea Symbol of Venice:  The Lion of St Mark, winged, and an open book Spinalonga SpinalongaNotice in one of the pictures above, the Symbol of Venice, the Lion of St Mark with an Opened Book, on the Old Venetian Fortress

From Spinalonga, we drove to a new hotel, the Elounda Palm.  Our room was extremely…orange.

It's just a little orange in here!

It’s just a little orange in here!

We were supposed to visit the well-preserved Minoan city of Gournia, but it happened to be closed on our scheduled day.  So instead we went to Vasilliki, which had been closed for quite a while for the sake of conservation.  Sandy was eager to see what had been done there, but could actually see no difference.  Scottling here,  I found the only piece of Vasilliki Ware found by anyone (see below).

The surface of the wares is covered with a red or brown semi-lustrous paint that appears mottled, an effect achieved by uneven firing.Vasilliki Ware was made in Early Minoan IIA and IIB (about 2500 to 2200 BCE) and has mottled glaze effects due to early experiments with controlling color.  Geneia found a tiny sherd of the even more exquisite Kamares Ware (see above).

We also found obsidian.

There was no guard at Vasilliki, as there had been at other archaeological sites.  The gate was cracked open and the linked wire fence had bent up next to the gate.  There was an “official” notice left by someone tied to the wire.

Homemade sign at Vasilliki

Homemade sign at Vasilliki

From Vasilliki, we drove to Chamaizi, the only round house in Crete.

Our Glamorous Companion on the Way to Chamaizi

Our Glamorous Companion on the Way to Chamaizi

It is – guess? – located on a high hill overlooking the sea.  It is an oval shaped building with a cistern in the center.

Cistern at the Center of the Round House at Chamaizi

Cistern at the Center of the Round House at Chamaizi

There is some mystery about how they obtained water up there.  One of our group, Ann Salusbury, brilliantly suggested to Sandy that the roof was sloped inward, allowing the rain to drip off the roof into the cistern.  Sandy wrote it down.  It’s location is evidence of the danger incurred by living at the sea’s edge.  After the end of the thalossocracy, Cretans were very mindful of the danger of piracy.  They built on high hills – I’d consider some of them mountains – and commuted daily to the sea to fish.  Chamaizi, and perhaps wine at lunch inspired me to write a song, or to be just, new lyrics to an old song  (All I want is a room in Bloomsbury from The Boyfriend).  It goes:

All I want is a house in Chamaizi,

Just a round house for you and me.

One roof’s enough for us;

Can’t be bothered with frill.

Can’t bring much stuff with us,

Cause we live on a hill!

Every evening we’ll gaze out to the sea,

Loving life in Minoan Mid (II) A or B.

Our new roof’s tipping;

The rain keeps dripping;

There’s plenty of water for tea,

In our darling round house in Chamaizi!

Pirates may swarm the coast,

But we won’t care.

We’ll moon them and wave our derrieres!

Nothing awes us

Except for Knossos!

We’re just delighted to be

In our dear oval house in Chamaizi!

Andrea, Geneia and I actually had the temerity to sing it to Sandy, Gudrun, Elia and Richard , Harris and Kitty and Diana  after dinner that night, complete with gestures and dance steps.  The next day Sandy called it “Chamaizi, the musical.”  I rather think this performance crowned the vacation for me.  (Authors have no modesty.)

We lunched that day at a café overlooking the island of Mochlos, which used to be attached to the mainland as a peninsula, but the level of the water rose in ancient times and cut it off as an island.  Mochlos was different from the other sites we’d toured.  The buildings were of shist masonry on the lower floor, with a mud brick upper floor.  Floors were also laid with slabs of shist.  All the others had been built predominantly of limestone.  The Late Minoan IA levels (1550 BCE?) are sealed by volcanic ash and pumice from the Thera volcano eruption .  The town was destroyed by fire at the end of Late Minoan , but not looted.  Human skeletons were found in the destruction levels, but bronze valuables ahd been hidden in two houses before they abandoned the town.  Immediately afterward the Greek language and Mycenaean burials began to occur.  Mochlos has an Early Minoan II (2500 – 2200 BCE) necropolis on a wide ledge overlooking the sea on the West side.  The tombs were built above ground and resembled Minoan domestic architecture, so they are commonly called “house-tombs”.  They are completely stone built, obviously by persons of some wealth.  Unsurprisingly they turned out to contain gold jewellery, silver plate vessels, stone vases and the earliest faience known in Crete.  An imported silver cylinder sea from Mesopotamia dating to reign of King Sargon of Akkad was also found in them.



Grandfather and Granddaughter casting off From MochlosElounda from Mochlos

We toured it before lunch and after lunch, Geneia and I swam across the “straits of Mochlos”and back.  Again, it was so gorgeous, but the brackish water was startling.  I find I just don’t care for brine, but the color is incomparable.  I was anxious to get back to our companions, relaxing in the taverna and clear my palate with water and wine.

We had one last night at the Elounda Palm Hotel and one more lecture.  I find that I’m unable to find my notes, but it was about the timing of the Theran eruption and gave the archaeological evidence, some of which I’ve related concerning the visitors to Hatshepsut and Thutmose III, versus the Carbon Date, resulting from a tree branch discovered beneath the ashes of Akrotiri.  Evidently it rendered a date of 1600 + or – 13 years.  He explained something about the “curve” of error and something else about the “curve” being flat during these particular years, which I’m afraid I didn’t understand.  He asserted that Radio Carbon dating was not entirely reliable, which I have read before.  The talk was designed to explain his comment early in the tour that the date of the Theran Eruption depended upon whether one was an archaeologist or a scientist.

The Elounda Palm Hotel was notable as a place where I could obtain a vodka.  I found that the British don’t drink vodka, and although we were served wine with every meal in Crete, lunch and dinner – a feature of Andante Tours that I ardently applaud – it was also rare in Crete, except where they were catering especially to foreigners.  I’d noticed Belvedere, an excellent and expensive Polish vodka in the bar when we arrived and thought to sample it later on.  It turned out that only the Pool Bar was manned in the evenings over dinner, so on night one I sauntered over to the Pool Bar to see what I could get.  They had Grey Goose, so I ordered a Grey Goose and splash of cranberry from the young, bearded, Cretan bartender.  He winked at me several times and spoke in a sultry voice, announcing to anyone who cared to hear that Grey Goose was a very fine, smooth vodka, as if commending my taste.  I thanked him with my typical bright sunny manner and retreated to dinner. It had been rather expensive, I thought.  Eight Euros!  I wondered if the general seductiveness had been white wash for charging me more than it was worth.  So, the next night I asked Richard Thornton, a charming Brit, married to an Italian and retired in Province, whether he thought I’d been overcharged.  I was satisfied after he told me what he’d paid for his drink that I had been charged the usual fee, which was indeed high, over $10.  He insisted on coming with me to the Pool Bar and even paid for my drink.  The sultriness was still there.  The guy said I could have “anything I desired.”  Did he double as a Pool Boy during the day?  We retreated back to our dinner.  I was glad I had Richard with me.

On our last day, the weather suddenly changed.  The sky became overcast and there was a wind that blew grains of sand all over our clothing and stuck to my lipstick.  We visited Mallia.



Theatral Area, Mallia Mallia

It was kind of poignant.  Here were all these people we’d spent the week with and I really liked them.   Elia and Richard invited us to come and visit them in Provence.  If it is at all possible, before they forget who we are, we’ll try.

We still had two more nights in England, but this was the end of the tour.  We said our goodbyes.  Joe and Elaine told me that Geneia and I had been “a ray of sunshine” throughout the trip, a tribute I that really gratified me.   It will be one of my warmest take-aways from this trip.  They were the people I’d like to emulate, adventurous and interested in everything.

I recommend Andante Travels to anyone interested in history and am enjoying reliving our days of travel as I sort through thousands of pictures (between Geneia, Andrea and I).  Viva Andante and the Minoans!

Luncheon with the Tour Group

Luncheon with the Tour Group

Anne, Diana, Harris and Janice

Our Tour Group

Our Tour Group

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Nona at Phaistos

Nona at Phaistos