Tribute to Crete

And so we return.  No black sail. No king leaping to his death in the sea below.  No seven maidens left behind in a labyrinth, nor any single maiden abandoned, forlorn, on a rock. Our tribute to Crete, bloodless aside from scratches, blisters, perhaps a piercing, is more joyful and less dramatic than ancient counterparts.  Yet it is heartfelt.

Ah, Crete.  We already miss your rugged, mysterious landscape, the smell of wild thyme and sage, the sound of goat bells and bleats.  And to the Cretan people, we offer our deep gratitude.  We have learned about your culture, art and architecture through the ages: Minoan, Mycenaean, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian, Ottoman and modern.  We have experienced your traditions, your fierce pride, your independence and humor.  And we have benefitted beyond measure from your splendid hospitality.

To our fellow travelers:  We have, each of us, grown.  We became closer as we shared learning, joy and adversity.  In years to come, we will share memories and friendships that began here.  Finally, to our readers: Members of this group will go on to inscribe new adventures of learning and travel, but they will be recorded elsewhere.  This is the last entry of Cretan Tales. Thank you for following our stories.  We leave you with a few more pictures from our trip.






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The Show Must Go On

After a day of freedom around Athens we set out for our last day abroad. We watched the sun come up on the rooftop of our hotel while Maddie set the tone for the day by talking about the New Acropolis Museum. She told us about the controversies surrounding construction of the building due to the fact it is built over a 2000 sq. meter ancient Christian town. Even though the excavation is displayed through a glass floor many still disapprove of the location and the modern style of the architecture. The museum was closed due to the arranging of artifacts from the old museum to the new. It is estimated to reopen in March of 2009!

Starting our trek up to the top of the Acroplois, we took a rest at the theather of Dionysus. Katie gave the group an inside look to the ancient times. She talked about the layout of the theater, the seating arrangements, the characters, and some acting tips. The theater was the birthplace of Greek tragedy. Ameila then followed by telling everyone about the structure of the plays, costumes, scenes, and actors. From the two presentations we learned that only male actors were allowed on stage and only three actors could be cast by a single play write. This meant that costumes, such as masks, had to portray age, gender, and specific character. Also, the acoustics were not perfected at this time so large extravagant gestures were necessary to convey the meaning of the play. The theatre we were seated in is estimated to have held 17,000 guests along with a special front row of thrones for important community figures.


Our faithful leaders kept saying “hike, hike, hike” aswe approached the top of the Acropolis. We visited two specific temples, the Temple of Athena Nike and The Erechtheion. Jaclyn and Kelly gave their presentations and gave us facts on architecture (Doric vs. Ionic style), rituals, myths (such as Poseidon vs. Athena over the Erechteion), and reuse of materials. This concluded all 18 presentations to be heard this J-term. As the rain started to fall we set sights on our last ancient ruin…THE PARTHENON!!! The largest building standing in Athens is a wonder to all Greek architecture. Most temples are a hexagon style, however the Parthenon stands proud with 8 front columns. This rare style leads scholars to believe that this was not a working temple, but merely a house for all highly treasured statues of the time.


As the rain kept coming down it was such a convience that the nearest shelter was the Agora ( A MUSEUM)!!! This was our final stop as a group in Athens. We hit the museum right before closing time so we got a quick glimpse of some last minute artifacts. We saw a potty training chair, a reconstructed tomb with bones and treasures, a voting box with voting disks that suggest tampering of votes, and medicating  jars that could have possibly contained hemlock for executions.


With our last metro tickets in hand we all set out to explore Athens for one last time!

Randi and Anne

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Free Day!

     After a long and rocky night on the ferry we finally made it back to Athens! Arriving at the Herodion around 6:30 am we had the entire day free. Some of our weary travelers took naps before taking on the city while others grabbed some caffeine and headed out the door.

Barron, Furches, Gilmore, Marion, McColly-Fleener, and Platt had one goal in mind, going to the Olympic Stadium. Professor Richter wasn’t sure if we would be able to enter the stadium but we found a way aka we were lucky enough to have a swim meet going on at the same time we were there. The indoor pool was amazing and to see these young athletes going the full distance of the pool in a little over 40 seconds was insane. We pulled a Professor Salowey and found a way into the main football/track and field stadium. Most of our morning was spent wondering around the stadium which helped us wake up and find the urge to shop! Monastiraki square was our primary shopping destination, having six women shopping together doesn’t work out so we decided to split up, three and three. All parents and friends will have to wait until we get home to know any of our purchases. We made McDonald’s our meeting spot and when 12:30 rolled around we came out of the shops to meet a sea of all black, protesters (don’t worry it was peaceful!). “This is sketch,” said Barron right as she entered the square. Yet the friendly English speaking manager at McDonald’s explained to us that it was nothing to be afraid of, so we ate lunch and continued shopping. Then it was back to the hotel to rest before dinner.
     Other people spent most of the day shopping and relaxing the hotel.  As for myself (Kristen) I decided to venture out straight after breakfast to the Hellenistic Ministry Of Culture Numismatic Museum (The History of Coinage) where I learned about coinage in Greece and in the EU and in the Roman world.  The museum was actually the residence of Heinrich Schliemann (a famous archaeologist that we have been studying about on our trip)-so it was decked out in mosaic floors and painted ceilings.  It was extremely beautiful.  On display was his own personal collection of coins from around the Mediterranean world and from other places.  It was extremely interesting to see how the Owl of Athens has been in use for more than 2000 years. I also went shopping and venturing around the Acropolis and into the “tourist  streets.” 
     Our day ended with a group dinner that was in a very lovely restaurant.  The menu of our last full meal included greek salad, grape leaves with minced lamb and rice, cheese pie, zucchini cake things, and a choice between chicken souvlaki or pork, and then fruit and assorted chocolates.  Our tour company owner’s daughter gave us all rememberance gift of our trip here which was a small ceramic bowl  that was hand painted.

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Rock the Boat

dsc02726Our morning started off with a short walk to the Herakleion Museum in the rain. We had visited it previously but had not seen all the exhibits. So, today we examined the remaining artifacts. We focused our attention on the Phaistos Disk, which is a terra cotta disk with Linear A writing engraved on it. This artifact has been described as unique and per Jerome Isenberg a possible counterfeit. His theory is based off of the fact that the edges of the disk are very smooth and the symbols on the disk resemble letters of modern languages. Also, the excavator had not recorded the find until the following day, which has created the most suspicion. Isenberg filed a request for carbon dating to be done on the piece but it was denied. To finish our day at the museum we did a group activity to further investigate the relationship between nature, religion, architecture and materials used in the art of the time period.

Following our lunch break we toured the city for Venetian influence in architecture. Walking down the city streets towards the harbor, Professor Salowey pointed out some Venetian edifices. Reaching the Koules Fortress, which extends into the Venetian Harbor, we examined a relief that is commonly used in Venetian imagery, the Lion of St. Mark.

Our tour continued through the city as we explored several churches. We paid close attention to the Ayios Titos Church that went through many phases of occupation and destruction. We walked through the alley and ended up at the Morosini Fountain, which is located in the center of the city. We found this to be an important navigational tool in finding our hotel.


To finish off the day we visited of tomb a famous Cretan author, Nikos Kazantzakis, he wrote the novel Zorba the Greek which was later made into a movie. His grave sits at the top of a hill overlooking the city by the Martinengo Bastion. The inscription on his memorial read, “I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free;” which is a famous line from one of his works.

Yesterday was our last day on Crete; last evening we said our goodbyes to our well-known bus driver Yorgus and boarded the ferry to return to Athens. Our ride was a bumpy one and made it difficult for us to finish our blogging. The stormy sea had many of our company fearing for their lives. After a restless night we landed safely in Athens and headed off to the hotel.

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Thursday, January 22nd – A Bit About Archaeology

The first stop in our bus tour this morning was at a windy overlook in view of the island of Mochlos (the site of a Minoan town and cemetery) and the quarry from which the stones were cut on the mainland. As we walked past the gorge that was once the Minoan quarry Prof. Salowey pointed out that tool marks could still be seen where the rock was cut.



We walked from the bus down into a little seaside village and sat on a taverna veranda with a good view of the island and the ruins surrounding the tiny church. Mochlos island is most famous and known for three things: 1)There is a burial site on the west end of the island where several burials were found and a few containing extravagant grave-goods proving definitively that there was a hierarchy in Minoan culture (though we may not know the exact purpose of it), 2) Crushed and molded olive-pits were found at the site and researchers believe were used as fuel for fires (a method still used today!), and 3)the oldest European potter’s wheel was found at this site.

After hiking up the hill to the bus again we headed out for Pachia Ammas and the INSTAP archaeological center there. Our guide for the center was Eleanor Huffman–a very enthusiastic archaeologist herself, who excitedly explained to us all the intricate processes and protocol that an archaeological site require. She first demonstrated for us some “tools of the trade”: a good hat to keep the sun off your face, a hedge trimmer, a trowel, a small pick-axe, and a brush.


Next stop, outside. Our guide took us to see the siv, where tons and tons of dirt from a site will be sorted, cleaned, and dumped. The siv is essentially a barrel with an upward facing shower head in it. It separates out solid objects in the dirt by what floats and what sinks (small bones, roots, and seeds will float while larger bones, ceramics and other goodies will sink).

She then gave us a tour of the laboratory where all the information that is extracted from an ancient site is analyzed and recorded. Everything from the color of the soil at the site to the chemical composition of the pottery is examined and methodically recorded. This is also the room where all the puzzles are put together and pieces are joined to create restored ancient pottery.

The final stop on our tour was the drafting room where an artist measures and precisely sketches each artifact that comes from the site. The artist can provide the public with images of what the pottery may have looked like when is was created but also archives the pottery so that later researchers can analyze a piece even if they cannot see it.

After taking leave of INSTAP we walked down a rocky path to the town nearby and had a sea-side lunch at a Taverna. We then got back on the bus and headed to the town of Neapolis for a coffee break at the foot of the Lassithi plateau where, according to myth, the baby Zeus was hidden and raised as a child.

-Kelly Davidson and Jaclyn Norkus

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We are indeed Kri-Kri

This morning began with a short walk to the Sitia Archaeological Museum.  The highlight of their collection was the Palaiskastro Kouros, a small ivory man, and the theories surrounding him were explained to us by Kristen.  We were all in awe of the detail that was put into him, despite the fragmentation and burn marks.  The veins in his hands and fingernails were so lovingly carved.  There were also several interesting Linear A tablets.  img_8149 img_8159

After braving winding roads we reached Toploy Monastery.  Unfortunately no pictures were allowed of the church at all, so all we could manage was this drive-by photo.img_8162

 Toploy means “cannon ball” in Turkish due to fortress-like construction of the monastery.   It was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and Saint John the Divine by the Kornaros family.  In 1646 the Knights of Malta came to protect it from the Turkish, but instead they looted the place.  In 1766 the northern section of the building collapsed and was rebuilt.  Once inside the church it was obvious that it housed one of the most beautiful icons that we have seen yet.  Pained by Yianis Cornados in 1770 at the age of 25.  This particular icon is called “Great art Thou oh Lord.”  Only 10 of his icons have survived, Toploy Monastery owns two of them.  It depicted various stories from the Greek Orthodox prayer for which it is named.  Even the people in the background were shaded and showed expression.  The sky included constellations and the gold leaf shined and made the piece come alive.  At times it seems that the detail was so fine because he used a brush with a single hair.

After the monastery, we traveled to the Minoan town site of Palaiskastro (Greek for “old Castle”), and it’s situated right along the coastline.  The settlement was excavated from 1902-1906, but partially backfilled to protect the fragile structures.  The town features shrines, wells, roads, and houses entered on the first floor (as opposed to most Minoan houses entered from the second story).  It was great to walk through the three rooms of House #5 where the Palaiskastro Kouros was found in pieces by Sandy Macgillivray in ’88, ’89, and ’90.  Unfortunately for the residents of the this settlement, evidence was found that the site was deliberately torched with brush and plant  material.  img_8170 

But we were absolutely starving, so we picnicked on the beach shore, at Kato Zakros, and ate the best tasting sandwiches, nuts and olives, and baklava until we were stuffed!  A pretty cool sight was a shipwrecked boat of 200 people that had to evacuate.  They’ll have to wait for better weather to bring special machinery to remove it from the sand bars, so we just laughed at the idea of being shipwrecked on a deserted beach. img_8200 

Then we walked to the Palace of Kato Zakros, the smallest of the four Minoan palace complexes and the last to be excavated, in 1961 by Nicholas Platon.  This site is so special because it is the only perfectly preserved Minoan one, and over 10,000 artifacts were discovered in the palace’s 300 rooms.  We entered the complex as the Minoans would’ve have done over 3600 years ago, by way of the well-preserved road connecting it to the harbor.  We looked in-depth at the Kitchen-and-Dining Room, Royal Megara, Hall of the Cistern, and West Wing Shrine.  Kato Zakros was first built in 1900 BCE, rebuilt in 1600 BCE, and destroyed by a fire in 1450 BCE.  It was a rich find for archaeologists as precious rock-crystal and bull rhyta, 30 kilogram bronze ingots originally from Cyprus, and elephant tusks for ceremonial carving from Syria were found inside.  dsc03359

We then took a very relaxing hike the the Gorge of the Dead, or as the signs say “Dead’s Gorge.”  (Don’t worry Moms and Dads, the only danger was walking in fresh goat poop.)  The trail took us along the river bed and we were followed by at least two herds of goats, their bells echoing through the gorge.  Some girls even “Kri-Kried” their way up the gorge walls and were delighted by the find of a goat carcass. img_82282 img_8229 

-Mesa and Caitlin

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Life as a Leper

Today has probably been our most relaxing day in the trip so far. We loaded our bags onto the bus in Ayios Nikolaos and headed North along the Bay of Mirabello to the island of Spinalonga. Fortunately our bus driver Giorgos knew someone with a boat who could transport our group onto Spinalonga for a private tour of the island. The island is usually locked during the winter because it is the off season so we were very lucky to get to go. Originally the island was part of a peninsula but the rock was quarried in the 16th century and it became an island. In 1903 the island became a leper colony for all the lepers in Greece. There were enough inhabitants to warrant their own newspaper, shops, mail carrier, and there were 26 births on the island. The last inhabitant left the island in 1962 who was an orthodox priest.


            We traveled back to Ayios Nikolaos for lunch where we ate at a local restaurant. Then we traveled southeast to Gronia which is a Bronze Age civilization excavated by Harriet Boyd Hawes from 1901-1903. Harriet was the first woman to conduct a major excavation in Greece. The city was excavated in the “chasing walls” fashion and while it was the customary method at the time many historically significant artifacts were lost during the excavation. The site is located on the narrowest part of the island and the site is a mix of palace and town characteristics.

            After exploring Gronia we had a long and beautiful drive through the Thripti Mountains. These mountains are still alive and changing, which makes geologists nervous while traveling them. We have now arrived in Siteia where we will be staying for two nights. Later tonight we will be gathering again to watch the inauguration and receive free drinks from our wonderful Professors.


-Katie and Hardin


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