Heraklion . . . or Iraklio. Ah, yes, two spellings. And there are more: You can add an e between the l and i, if you want.
Heraklion is the zip-zooming, whirling, happening capital of Crete. We flew into Heraklion, but the airport is on the edge of the city, and our apartment is just outside the city. As yet, we haven’t been in the city proper, but that’s where the Archaeology Museum is, so here we go.
Though we had a car, we were not keen to drive in the city (we are sane, after all), so the plan was to take a bus. Mike and Barb learned what they could about the bus system from the Internet (a sketchy prospect, at best), and when the time came, I stepped up and did my part: I fumbled about and asked questions.
The morning was drizzly, and the forecast was for rain. It was a good day to spend in a museum. Not such a good day to walk to the bus stop, however. Too bad, so sad. We opted to leave umbrellas behind, not wanting to tote them around all day, and put our hope, fate, and dry bodies in rain jackets.
The bus stop was where it was supposed to be, according to our Internet source. We were off to a good start. A kiosk next to the bus stop sold tickets, and the attendant woman, who was hard at work making a fresh cloud of blue cigarette smoke in the tiny enclosed space, explained in broken English that any bus would take us in, but we needed a certain bus—the #6—to get back. All busses go into the city, but only a few come all the way out here. Makes sense.
Buses cycle through this stop every 30 minutes, and it took that long for the next one to arrive. I got on and started coughing: It was smoky. Because it was rainy and cold, all the windows were up. Sigh. Oh, Greece, for pity and good health’s sake, get a clue.
We took seats in the back. Windows were foggy, so we couldn’t see out, and we could barely hear, let alone understand, the recording announcing stops. Did we have an idea of how many stops there were between where we started and where we needed to get off? Can anyone see a sign at any of the stops? Should we just get off and walk; how many miles is it?
Finally, I screwed up my courage and activated my traveling superpower. I got the attention of an unsmiling, punkish-looking, solo-traveling young man—a kid to the likes of us, but maybe twenty-something—and asked, “Do you speak English?” I’ve found that most young people do. He nodded. “Have we passed the Liberty/Astoria stop?” He smiled ever so slightly then, comforted and/or amused by the clueless, old travelers. “No, I’m getting off there, too.”
Wonderful! We three relaxed. We had a guide off the bus: Follow that kid! He made eye contact and cocked his head as we approached the stop, and then nodded and waved when I said “thank you.” We went our way, and he went his. Somehow, no thanks to me anymore, we managed to find the museum.
This museum has artifacts spanning 5,500 years, from the Neolithic period to the Roman period. I didn’t mention it in the Knossos post, but under and around the Knossos site are even earlier remnants from the Neolithic period: homes and communities dating back into the 6th millennium BC. The Minoan artifacts, however, are the most famous. Here’s a tiny selection. We’ll kick off with our favorites—and conclude with the funniest.
Barb: Seeing things I’ve only seen in books.
Yes, Barb actively reads about and studies art and history. She studied it in school, too. One of the pieces she was excited to see in person was Mike’s favorite . . .
Mike: The bull’s-head rhyton
Remember what rhytons are? They’re libation vessels, a.k.a. wine carafes, or, alas, pitchers.
This one is from the 16th-century BC, found at Knossos. It’s carved from black stone, has gilded horns, a mother-of-pearl snout, and eyes of rock crystal and jasper. It’s an elegant piece of tableware.
Can you imagine that on your table? I can. Of course, on my table, rather than wine it would contain fresh lemonade or ouzo-spiked hot chocolate—both of which can be tied to Greece—but I imagine those would pour out just fine, too.
Jen: The wood model of Knossos.
This lacks the playfulness and humor of the Lego Acropolis, but it offers a different kind of fine craftsmanship instead, and it’s a fair trade.
The three circles in front of the palace are the kouloures, or grain-storage pits, and the stairs on the left are where the Royal Road comes into the palace complex. These are the warped and wonky stairs that I especially liked at Knossos.
Check out the multiple stories, many rooms, and central court.
See the Horns of Consecration? There are a whole bunch of them on the model.
Other Pieces We Liked, Including the Funniest
Every bit of this sarcophagus is painted with patterns and storytelling scenes in bright colors. It’s grand!
More Bull Dancing
Why, look! Here’s another depiction of bull dancing. This looks like a rhyton to me, but I don’t strictly remember.
These pots have a different look to them, textured with bumps rather than just painted with motifs and scenes.
Ahhh, pots with painted decorations; that’s more familiar. This groovy octopus motif was popular. I happen to like it very much myself.
A Board Game
A board game! Do you suppose anyone understands how this game was/is played? And was the board always curved like this, or is that the result of time and perhaps damage? Inquiring minds want to know.
I haven’t read any cautions about snakes in Greece, but surely they are here. Athena generally has snakes about her, and this is a snake goddess. And then there was Medusa’s snaky hair. I wonder how many snakes Greece has now.
The Fresco Room
The original bull-dancing fresco from Knossos. See the lumps like islands on the surface of the piece? Those are the original chunks recovered from excavations. The painting behind those chunks is filled in by an artist. I think the artists have done a great job, and I like being able to see what exists and what has been filled in.
I get it: This isn’t so different from Arthur Evans’s restorations. In fact, these are some of his restorations. I like these, while I didn’t like some of architectural restorations on the site. Go figure.
None of the original head pieces, the faces, the ornamented hair, remain from this fresco. Those are made up based on other images from the time.
We haven’t seen a lot of frescoes here in Greece, so it was nice to spend some time with these.
A Great Mystery
I was surprised this wasn’t Mike’s Favorite from the day because he’s been looking forward to seeing it. We heard a good deal about it in the courses we watched prior to coming. This clay disc was discovered at Phaestos, another Minoan palace, which we’ll visit tomorrow. It contains hieroglyphics stamped into clay in a clockwise spiral, from outside to inside. (I wonder how archaeologists concluded it’s a clockwise spiral rather than a counter-clockwise spiral from the center outward.) But it’s not a script anyone has been able to decipher. They’re not even sure it’s a script. The disc is one of archaeology’s great mysteries, and, by golly, we’ve seen the real McCoy.
Of course, a couple of archaeologists have posited that it’s a hoax, but most archaeologists believe it’s a real deal.
The Funniest Artifact
And I will leave you with this, hands down, the funniest artifact of the day:
It’s made of rock.
It is a wig, or at least a headpiece that imitates hair. Which is a wig.
The rest of this day will be continued . . . oh, no, it’s not over yet. We’re still dry.