Categories
Greece (Crete) Uncategorized

Phaistos, Crete: The most famous Greek ruins you’ve probably never heard of

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A peek into the past in the hills of southern Crete

Phaistos. Phaestos. Festos. Faistos. And then in Greek, it’s spelled Φαιστός.  No matter how you spell it, each name refers to Phaistos Minoan Palace, the second most important site (after Knossos Palace in Heraklion) of the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete.

We visited Phaistos last summer in late June. After touring the archaeological sites at Athens, Mycenae, Delphi, Olympia, and Knossos, we made a final stop at Phaistos. After a confusing morning journey by public bus from Heraklion, we made it to Phaistos in plenty of time to take a leisurely self-guided tour, eat a small lunch beneath a pine tree, and have a cold drink and ice cream in the small, on-site gift shop before hopping on a bus back to Heraklion. Here’s my post about how to get from Heraklion to Phaistos, click here.

If Minoans are new to you, here are a few facts about the culture from my husband:

  • The Minoans, named for their ruler, the mythical King Minos, are known for their advanced civilization that settled the island of Crete and other surrounding islands.
  • The Minoans were great sea travelers.
  • They built enormously sophisticated palaces for their royalty. The palaces were very “high tech” for the time period and exhibited a distinctive and advanced architectural style.
  • Phaistos was the region that produced Kamares ware, a pottery style dating from the 1800-1700 BC. Kamares ware, named for the nearby cave where it was found, is known for its dark background and white brushwork. Kamares wares were considered luxurious to own and were exported throughout the Mediterranean to Cyprus, Egypt and Palestine.
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Kamares ware, including these vessels, were found at the Minoan palaces at Knossos and Phaistos. | Photo: M. Yung

A self-guided tour of Phaistos is relaxing and quiet. Unlike Knossos, there are no guides-for-hire who approach you as you enter offering to walk you through the site for a fee.

While these guides are likely very helpful for many tourists, we doubted that they were truly needed, considering the large number of detailed placards placed throughout the site. Granted, that assumes one doesn’t mind reading.

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This photo is taken from the opposite side of the palace grounds.   Jerzy Strzelecki [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D
When you do stop to read the signs, you can learn a lot. Here are some basic facts taken from a placard found at the entry to the main site:

  • The hill of Phaistos was inhabited as early as 4500-3200 BC in the Final Neolithic Age.
  • The first palace of Phaistos was active from 1900-1700 BC. The palace controlled the plains and valleys found below the palace hilltop.
  • The city of Phaistos — and Minoan culture in general — flourished until  323-367 BC.
  • The Phaistos Palace grounds included a central court, surrounding wings, multi-story buildings (similar to Knossos), gateways and open balconies.
  • More facts follow the next few photos.
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Phaistos is found on a hilltop in southern Crete. The valleys on all sides of the hilltop are blanketed with olive trees, grape vineyards, cypress trees, and farms. There are several caves in the surrounding hills also. Many items, including pottery, have been found in these caves. | Photo: M. Yung
  • The first Phaistos Palace was built around 1900 BC.
  • It covered 8,000 square kilometers over three terraces.
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Tickets to the Phaistos site are 8€ each. Getting there is inexpensive, too, via public bus.
  • The original palace was inhabited for 250 years and destroyed and rebuilt three times.
  • It was destroyed the last time by an earthquake around 1700 BC.

It’s amazing that visitors are allowed to walk on stones laid nearly 3,700 years ago!

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Little at Phaistos seems to have changed since the 1919 photo above. It’s still isolated, quiet, and remote. | Photo: M. Yung
  • After the earthquake, the ruins were covered and a new palace was constructed on that.
  • This last palatial site was smaller, but according to the placard, “more monumental.”
  • This last Phaistos Palace was destroyed in 1450 BC, but not rebuilt.
  • Two more facts follow below.
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It’s amazing how little has changed over the years. This photo from 1919 shows the steps leading to the West Court. The theatral area and diagonal wall appear in the lower half of the picture. | Frederic Boissonnas [Public domain]
  • The city of Phaistos continued to be inhabited and thrived in Hellenistic times from 323-367 BC.
  • In 150 BC, Phaistos was finally destroyed by Gortys. When Rome conquered Crete in 67 BC, Gortys became the capital, replacing Knossos.

But back to our tour…

The main reason we wanted to visit Phaistos: the pithoi.

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Two pithoi appear below a reconstructed walkway. | Photo: M. Yung

These pithoi (the singular word is pithois) are well-known in art history circles and Phaistos is considered the premier site for this particular kind of storage vessel. In fact, my husband hoped the site would have more available to see, as he had seen photos of many more pithoi on display here.

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A room with storage jars known as pithoi. | Photo: M. Yung

Still, it was fun to wander the grounds and find a pithois tucked away here and there. There were more to see in an area of the grounds covered with metal shelters; however, these shelters were in large areas closed off to visitors.

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Mitch walked as far as he could into the Magazine of the Giant Pithoi, a room that contained  several large pithoi jars. | Photo: M. Yung

In fact, this was our main disappointment with Phaistos:

a good portion of the site was closed.

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The shrines of the West Wing were predominantly small rectangular rooms that contained benches. According to the placard, inside these rooms excavators found ritual vessels, figurines of deities and other cult objects. | Photo: M. Yung

There was definitely a feeling that Phaistos is overlooked and forgotten.

  • a few signs were missing
  • some barriers were broken
  • a wooden observation deck had missing boards

Generally, Phaistos seemed neglected. And this isn’t really surprising, considering Greece’s other economic priorities.

True, due to its location, Phaistos sees fewer visitors than other more popular Greek archaeological sites. In fact, Phaistos doesn’t even make this Top 20 list of Greek ruins.

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Photo: M. Yung

Still, Phaistos is a valuable peek into the past, and among art historians, it’s well-known and revered.

The Phaistos Minoan Palace reminds us that we shouldn’t underestimate the abilities and ingenuity of ancient cultures. For example, precisely placed stairs and drainage pipes made of solid stone show us the resourcefulness of the Minoans.

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Drainage pipes were used at Phaistos. | M. Yung

 

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This is the Queen’s Megaron (throne room) found at Phaistos. It is covered by a metal shelter on this side…
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…and this side, too. | Photo: M. Yung
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The Phaistos Disk is on display at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. The disk represents one of the greatest mysteries of archaeology. No one knows the meaning of the symbols incised into the clay. It was made between 2000-1000 BC. It measures about six inches in diameter. | Photo: M. Yung
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Photo: M. Yung

It was a beautiful sunny day when we visited Phaistos. In fact, by early afternoon, we were ready to hop on an air-conditioned bus and make the trip back to Heraklion.

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This photo shows the theatral area on the left and stairway to the West Court on the right. | Photo: M. Yung
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Here I am walking near the theatral area in the West Court. The wall to my left can be seen on the left side of the preceding photo.
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Kouloures, large stone-built structures, show time-consuming craftsmanship. | Photo: M. Yung
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Relics from the past are scattered across the grounds. | Photo: M. Yung
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This photos shows the surrounding hillsides. I’ve circled in red additional outlying structures that were subordinate to the palatial hilltop above.  We ate our lunch (that we had packed and brought with us) on benches beneath a pine tree right above this scene. | Photo: M. Yung

Mysteriously, no one knows for sure the reasons for the collapse of Minoan culture, including the civilization at Phaistos.

Perhaps that’s a fitting conclusion for this archaeological site that today is still out-of-the-way, obscure, and famous.


Thanks for reading! This post is another installment from our cross-country Greek odyssey last summer. It’s amazing how many more sights I have yet to write about. Follow my blog for more travel posts, including this one from our final day in Greece when we visited the site of Paul’s To an Unknown God sermon.

Categories
Greece (Peloponnese) Uncategorized

Visit Mycenae: Feel the quiet power of the Lion Gate

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No, this isn’t our photo, but we did take the next one below. The photo above, however, shows more of the famous Lion Gate at Mycenae. Credit: Andreas Trepte [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D

What you can expect to see at Mycenae

Ask an art historian about Mycenae and they will likely mention the Lion Gate, the monumental sculptures carved at the entrance to the citadel at the Mycenaean acropolis.  While the Mycenaean civilization they guarded through the millennia was buried and ravaged by time and destruction, the lions remained quietly standing, sentinels that protected the inhabitants within.

Today, Mycenae is still a protected site. Mycenae and the nearby Tyrins were inscribed upon the UNESCO World Heritage Liston December 4, 1999.

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According to a placard at the entrance to the site, “Inscription on this list confirms the outstanding universal value of a cultural or natural property which deserves protection for the benefit of all humanity. The two most important centers of the Mycenaean culture dominated the Eastern Mediterranean from the 15th to the 12th centuries B.C. and played a vital role in the development of the culture of Classical Greece.  The two citadels are indissolubly linked with the Homeric epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, that affected European art and literature for more than three millennia.”

 

This isn’t the first post I’ve written about Mycenae. My first post was written on the road during  the middle of our cross-country six-week Greek odyssey last summer. That post was much more concise; it included a handful of photos, but nowhere near the number of photos in this post.

Enjoy these photos and if you have a visit to Mycenae in your future or if you’ve been there already, please leave a comment and share your thoughts.

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Tickets are 12€ each and include entrance to the archaeological site, the museum and the Treasury of Atreus.

After purchasing your ticket, you’ll walk on grounds that surround the hillside below the citadel on the acropolis, the uppermost part of the site. Beehive tombs and other city structures can be seen around you.

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The latest “funerary monument” beehive tomb is on the hillside below the acropolis. It was discovered by chance by villagers during the time of Ottoman rule.
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The same tomb… just a little closer.
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And closer still. Here, I’m standing in the doorway where apparently some scaffolding is used to bolster the heavy stones. My husband, Mitch, is standing along the far wall, to show the size of the tomb.
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And… looking up at the ceiling of the beehive tomb.
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Outside the tomb, you can see theater seating (circled above in red) put in place by Greeks in Hellenistic times.

And another tomb…

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Another beehive tomb we encountered on our way up to the acropolis.
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I took this shot inside the tomb. The stonework is unbelievable.
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Get a load of those lintels above!
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Here’s a shot looking straight up at the underside of those mammoth lintel stones.

 

 

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There’s more than one acropolis in Greece. This is the acropolis –the highest place — at Mycenae. It is also referred to as the citadel and was the home of the palace, House of Columns, grave circles, and other structures. If you tap the photo and zoom in you can see tiny figures walking along the very uppermost edge. The walking tour takes you from the edge of this parking lot up to the various sights on the acropolis and the surrounding hillsides.
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This is Grave Circle A, part of “an extensive cemetery” at Mycenae, according to a placard at the spot. “It was used exclusively for royal burials during the 1500s BC. The shafts, which you can walk down (see below), were near graves that held the bodies of royal family members and grave goods. Those goods can be found at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. Here’s my post on that museum.
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This circular enclosure was an updated feature added to enhance the royal burial ground. When was the updating done? 1250 BC.
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A view from the citadel at the acropolis. The hillside is filled with myriad structures, foundations, and remains.  According to a nearby placard, most of the ruins visible today date to the 13th century B.C., but there is evidence that use of the site began in the Early Helladic period (3000-2000 BC.) 
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This is another photo from the citadel. Some of the structures on the acropolis include a large court complete with porticoes and antechamber, and the megaron, a political hub with administrative and military functions.
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We marveled at the size of this lintel piece on the citadel. 

There’s much more on the acropolis at Mycenae. Click here to see my other post about Mycenae that includes more photos from the top, including the House of Columns.

But for now, on to the museum…

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The sign at the entrance  to the museum reads in Greek “Archaeological Museum Mykines,” which English speakers say Mycenae.
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The cup looks very contemporary; however, it was made from 1350-1300 BC. The deep bowl in the back was made 1250-1150 BC.
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This ivory Mycenaean sculpture was made between 1250-1180 BC. It stands between only 3-4″ h. Read this post for more information about this little number.
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These “anthropomorphic figure” sculptures captivated me. I still am surprised at how contemporary the expressions and poses appear. These were made about 3,200 years ago… 1250-1180 BC! Simply stunning. 
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This anthropomorphic figure appears at the far right in the photo above.
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The spiral motif is timeless. This stairstep was decorated with a repeating pattern. 1450-1350 BC.
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A variety of personal items were excavated from the sites at Mycenae. These combs are dated 1300-1180 BC. The colorful faience and glass necklace at left? 1400-1040 BC.
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This large storage jar is overwhelming in its size. 

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This photo, found on Creative Commons, shows the back side of the museum. When you visit the museum, you enter on the opposite side and and unable to see the various levels of the museum that descend down the mountain slope. Photo Credit: George E. Koronaios [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D
After touring the museum, we decided to leave the main site and walk back down the highway to bring our Mycenaean odyssey to a close. The sun was out in full force and we felt the pull of a mid-afternoon nap in our comfortable AirBnB. Here’s a post about our wonderful hosts.

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By the time we left, the crowds were increasing. Even so, the park wasn’t especially crowded. No lines. No waiting. No hassle.

But before that, we knew we wanted to check out the Treasury of Atreus, also known as the  Tomb of Agamemnon. One arrives at it when you head back down the highway toward the town of Mycenae. We had noticed it on our way up earlier that morning.

The Treasury of Atreus isn’t an afterthought… it’s a must-see.

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Just outside the main site, your ticket will allow you into the Treasury of Atreus. Here, you’ll find a guard station, a park bench or two under some pine trees, and, if I remember correctly, a vending machine. There are no facilities. 

But why is it called a treasury?

It’s called a treasury — and not a tomb — because treasures were placed inside to commemorate the ruler buried within.

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This is the Treasury of Atreus, also known as the Tomb of Agamemnon. It’s a large “tholos,” or beehive tomb on Panagitsa Hill at Mycenae. It was built in 1250 BC.

Just so you know…

The Treasury of Atreus has no real connection to Agamemnon. The Mycenae archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann named it thus and the popular name persisted. According to this article, the royal buried here would have ruled at an earlier date than Agamemnon.

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I took this picture looking back from the entrance to the Treasury of Atreus.
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That lintel above the entrance to the tomb weighs 120 tons!
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This is a more accurate picture of the inside of the Treasury of Atreus. It’s dark inside… and nice and cool, too.
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We walked along an asphalt highway up to the Mycenae Archaeological Site. It was a sunny and breezy day. 

I hope you enjoyed this photo essay about Mycenae. It’s a lonely yet so important archaeological site.

Greece, including the Peloponnese region (that part of Greece connected to the mainland by the land bridge at Corinth), offers a plethora of ancient sites. It’s truly difficult to visit them all. In fact, we already are making a list for sites to see when we return someday.

But in the meantime, if Greece is in your future, make time for Mycenae.


Thanks for reading! Make sure to leave a comment or share a thought about this post or to share news about your own visit to Greece. I’m looking forward to hearing from you. 

 

Categories
Greece (Athens, Delphi)

Need a new perspective on Ancient Greece?

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This plaque has Acts 17:22-31 inscribed in Greek. The scripture appears later in this post.

The Areopagus in Athens puts Ancient Greece in its proper perspective

This morning, we walked through Athens to the Areopagus, the location of a judicial

court, where Paul made his “To an Unknown God” sermon to the Athenians with—wait for it— the Acropolis in the background with its temples to Athena, Poseidon, Erechtheus and  other mythological deities of Ancient Greece.
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The Acropolis is right there! Paul was pretty daring in his speech to those gathered. Notice the procession of tourists creeping up the steps of the Propylaea, the entry staircase to the Acropolis and its monuments. And yes, that is graffiti on the rock in the picture. There is graffiti everywhere. Some of it is artful, but much of it is mere vandalism.
How fitting that we saw this on our last day in Greece. Walking on the rocky (and extremely slippery) outcropping where Paul would have stood is a highlight of our trip. This spot puts all the pagan monuments and temples that we’ve seen in their proper perspective. Yes, they are beautiful works made by man, but they are worthless in the eyes of God.
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The rocky outcropping is expansive with incredible views of Athens below. I would tell you to wear good shoes, but even good shoes will slip on the time-worn marble. Everyone was sliding around, grabbing onto each other, scooting down on their rear ends. There are metal stairs, but even those are slick. 

Acts 17:22-31 

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’[a]As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’[b]

29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.

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Our last day in Greece! Our plane leaves at 6 a.m. tomorrow!

Thanks for reading and for joining me on our trip to Greece! I have only missed a handful of daily postings during the time we’ve been here. Writing and posting daily was one of my goals, and I feel positive about my progress. Follow my blog for more stories and travel memoirs that I will be writing in the coming weeks. I have so much more to share! 

Are you traveling anywhere over the summer months? Leave a comment with your plans or a link to your blog!

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Greece (Crete)

Travel on Crete: How to get from Heraklion to Phaistos by bus

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It’s not easy, but it is possible to take the bus from Heraklion to Phaistos

Today, my husband and I visited Phaistos Minoan Palace, arguably the second most important Minoan archaeological site on the island of Crete in Greece. Phaistos has been on our bucket list for our journey through Greece, and because we’ve relied on bus travel for much of our trip, we’ve learned that things can go wrong.

For example, your driver may miss a stop, turn around, and go back. Your driver may make a package delivery you weren’t expecting, adding minutes to your ride and causing you to miss a connection if you have one.

That’s why yesterday we figured out EXACTLY how we would make the trip today. We bought our tickets a day early for not only Phaistos, but also for the bus station from where we would depart. In the end, we had a successful trip, but it wasn’t without a good dose of head scratching, miscommunication, wrong turns, and a frantic last-minute ticket purchase.

Part of our confusion was due to the scarcity of up-to-date timetables and not knowing the location of Heraklion’s KTEL Central Bus Station (the main bus terminal in Heraklion). The rest of the confusion was due to a general lack of detailed, timely information on how to get to Phaistos in the first place. It’s not listed as a destination on the pull-down destination menu on their website; however, the printed timetable does list Phaistos as a destination. Go figure.

In addition, there simply isn’t much info on websites such as TripAdvisor and Rome2Rio. Instead, what you will mainly find are other people on TripAdvisor looking for the way there, too.

Here’s how to get from Heraklion to Phaistos:

  1. Get a KTEL bus timetable brochure from any KTEL ticket kiosk or at the KTEL Central Bus Station. You will need this timetable to figure out when the buses leave and return from Heraklion and Phaistos.  Read on for how to find KTEL Central Bus Station.
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    I’ve circled the part of the KTEL timetable brochure that shows the Heraklion to Phaistos and the Phaiston to Heraklion schedules. Side note: There are multiple ways to spell Heraklion and Phaistos. Heraklion is also spelled Iraklio. Phaistos can be spelled Faistos and Festos. Moires is also spelled Mires. Take a look at the Greek spellings, too, so you can recognize them if needed.

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    Here is the June 2019 KTEL timetable brochure. We used it July 6 and the times were still the same.
  2. Go to KTEL Central Bus Station (the main terminal) and get there well ahead of your bus’ departure time. Get there early (thirty minutes or more) on the day you plan to travel or buy them the day before like we did. Do this in case any unforeseen complications arise and cause you to arrive late and  miss your bus because you didn’t have your tickets purchased.
  3. To find the KTEL Central Bus Station, we asked a ticket seller in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. (We didn’t see any informational signs to direct travelers to the station from the popular museum where both city buses and KTEL buses drop off and pick up.) The ticket seller told us to walk behind the ticket kiosk on the circle next to the museum, and then take the stairs down the hill. At the bottom of the hill, turn left and follow the street until you come to a large dark gray bank (Pancretan Cooperative Bank) on your left. It has a modern look, with lots of large mirrored windows. When you get to the bank, you will see the KTEL Central Bus Station in front of you at the corner of Efessou and Leof. Ikarou.IMG_1072
  4. Walk down the stairs behind the bus station, go through the waiting area that looks like a large outdoor cafe, and go inside.
  5. Get in line at one of the six ticket windows and tell the clerk when you want to go to Phaistos based on the times available per the timetable brochure. We purchased only our tickets (7.10€ each) to Phaistos ahead of time. Because we didn’t know how long it would take to see the site, we didn’t know what time to schedule a return bus. IMG_1074
  6. You will take an approximately one-hour bus ride from KTEL Central Bus Station in Heraklion to Moires, where you will change to another bus bound for Matala. Phaistos is on the way to Matala.
  7. When you get to Moires, get off the bus so you can hop onto another bus headed for Matala. To do that, go inside the KTEL ticket office (there’s not a station–just a bus stop and a ticket office with a bunch of boxes scattered on the floor). The ticket office has a small KTEL sign on it and is about one hundred feet from the bus stop. Ask the ticket clerk how long it will be before the Matala bus arrives. In our case, it was about ten minutes away.
  8. Watch for the Matala bus. You will not need another ticket to get on the Matala bus.
  9. The bus ride to Phaistos from Moires on the Matala bus takes about fifteen minutes. The driver should stop at Phaistos, but he might not if you don’t tell him you need to stop there. Do that when you board or during the ride. Don’t assume other riders are going to Phaistos. (If they’re tourists, they’re probably going to the beach in Matala.) We were the only two people on our bus today headed for Phaistos. Here’s the sign for Phaistos Minoan Palace. Get off here.

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    Here’s the sign for the archaeological site. Note the spelling variation.

9. Tour Phaistos Minoan Palace. It might be a good idea to buy a guide book and thumb through it before entering the site so you can understand better what you’re seeing. Phaistos doesn’t appear to have the marketing support that other sites such as Knossos does. By the way, tickets to the archaeological site cost 8€ each. It took us about 1-1/2 hours to see the site. It would have taken longer, but some of it was closed for maintenance.

10. Leave Phaistos.  There were bus schedules taped to the windows at the archaeological site ticket booth and inside the bus stop out near where we disembarked. These should coincide with the KTEL timetable brochure. But to double-check, use the chart (see photo below), and find the bus that departs from Matala and arrives in Heraklion. In the photo below, I’ve circled the part of the schedule that contains the route that begins in Matala, stops at Phaistos, and makes the connection in Moires again onto a bus that returns to Heraklion’s KTEL Central Bus Station where you started.

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11. When your bus arrives from Matala to pick you up at Phaistos, board it and buy your tickets from the driver. Our tickets were 1.80€ each. This paid our way back to Moires.

12. At Moires, you will need to disembark, (just like you did earlier), go inside the KTEL ticket office, and buy tickets to take you from Moires back to Heraklion’s KTEL Central Bus Station where you started. For us, these tickets cost 6€ each. We nearly missed our Heraklion-bound bus in Moore’s because it was fifteen minutes late arriving in Phaistos. As a result, we arrived at Moires at 1:55 for a 2 p.m. ride. If there’s any question that you might not have your tickets before the bus leaves, go ahead and board the bus, and as you board, tell the driver you will be buying tickets directly from him. We saw many riders on both KTEL and city buses buy their tickets directly from bus drivers.

13. Once you’re seated on the bus in Moires, enjoy the approximately one-hour drive back to KTEL Central Bus Station. Our return ride took a different route from what we took in the morning and it followed a windy, mountainous road with vast, breath-taking views of olive groves and vineyards punctuated with oleander and cypress trees.


Thanks for reading! Greece can be tricky to navigate, especially with changing bus schedules, language barriers, and stations that close or change locations. We needed a blog post about this very topic a couple of days ago. We searched quite a bit to find the way to Phaistos. I hope this helps some readers find their way there. By the way, I plan to write a post about our visit to Phaistos in the next few days. 

Click like, leave a comment and follow my blog for my daily travel posts from Greece and Italy, including our AirBnb stays and also to catch that Phaistos post. 

Categories
Greece (Crete)

Knossos Palace: A Minoan Culture Club

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Classic photo of the Palace of Knossos. Behind the red columns, you can see the famous Bull Relief Fresco that is shown in the last photo of this article.

Treat yourself to Heraklion, Crete in Greece

“The Minoans. Very smart people,” the guard told me, tapping her index finger on her temple. She had just explained to me (without my asking, by the way… she was that enthusiastic and had walked over on her own to explain) the purpose of a raised ridge near the lip of a large pithoi storage jar at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. The ridge was wide enough to hold a small bit of liquid. Why? To keep ants and other insects from reaching the grain, wine, olives, olive oil, or whatever else was stored inside. Yes, that’s innovative. But that’s the Minoans.

So even though we’ve been amazed at the age of the monuments and temples at Mycenae, Delphi, Athens, and Olympia, none of these are as ancient as Knossos and the greater Minoan culture.

If you’re unfamiliar with Minoan history or culture, here’s a short blurb from the foreword of a book we purchased in the museum’s gift shop. The book is called Knossos: A New Guide to the Palace of Knossos.

“Knossos, the capital city of the Minoan world, is the most important site in Crete and second only to the Acropolis at Athens in all of Greece. It stands as the symbol of the Minoan Civilization, the earliest to evolve in Greece and Europe. “– Dr. Antonis Vasilakis

The introduction continues:

“Knossos is five kilometers southeast of Heraklion, on the hill of Kephala, and west of the river Kairatos. This advantageous location, which controlled one of the most fertile regions in Crete, was to become the heart of the Minoan civilization, considered to be the first in Europe. The hill of Kephala, inhabited continuously since 7000 BC, was the site of the first Neolithic settlement in Crete and over the millennia it grew into the powerful city and palace of Minoan Knossos.” — George Tzorakis, archaeologist

If you’re like me, the Minoan culture has always been a familiar term, but I’ve never really understood it or been able to recognize its art. Sure, my husband has always admired the Minoans, and has even used Minoan art and pottery to inspire his work, but I’ve never been able on my own to intelligently discuss the Minoans.

But after touring Knossos, I know a little more.  Spending two and-a-half hours at the site and another two hours in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum yesterday has given me a better understanding about not only this culture, but others that either occurred later or were influenced by it.

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A photo taken across one area of the grounds.
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An area adjacent to the grand staircase with the distinctive red columns and frescoes in the back.
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But Knossos has its controversy. The site’s reconstruction is largely the work of Sir Arthur Evans, who began a radical reconstruction program in 1925. Many of the excavations are based on Evans’ research for how Knossos would have appeared. The sign in the photo above explains the controversy very well and in an unbiased way; while some people think Evans’ team went too far in recreating the site, other people believe that without Evans’ reconstructive work, there would be little to show at the site.

 

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The Grand Staircase
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Large pithoi storage jars for holding wine, olive oil, olives, grains.
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Large pithoi jars made by my husband and inspired by the Minoan pithoi. These were made during his three-week art residency at Skopelos Foundation for the Arts on Skopelos Island. The residency ended June 25.
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We arrived at the archaeological site at about 8:30 a.m. Tour bus groups (above) arrived between 10-10:30. We walked right into this particular site (The Throne Room, below) at the grounds; these people will have to wait thirty minutes or more under a cloudless sky. 
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Panoramic shot of The Throne Room, a room used by the king.
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Mitch and I standing in front of a fresco reproduction on the grounds. The original is on display at the Heraklion  Archaeological Museum near the harbor in downtown Heraklion.
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This Bull-Leaping Fresco (1449 BC) is the most intact fresco from the palace. It’s also one of the most recognizable. It depicts a popular sport in Minoan culture, bull leaping. Contestants (male and female, according to the placard at the site) would leap and flip over bulls to compete. 
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The original of the Bull-Leaping Fresco hangs in the museum. Notice that only some of the original excavated pieces have been found. Archaeologists must research to make assumptions to recreate the larger artwork based on the found pieces. 
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Mitch photographing large blocks of gypsum, a popular building material used at Knossos. It was popular due to its ease of use and beautiful appearance when polished. These pieces are rough and have sharp edges due to being exposed to weather.
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A closer look.
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And still closer.
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In addition to using gypsum, the Minoans also used wood. The off-white trim work you see alongside the red is wood, probably cypress. Minoans understood wood’s plasticity that would support and complement stone and stucco.
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More gypsum walls and foundations.
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The Palace at Knossos was complex in that it included many layers of floors.
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The theater and River Road that visitors to the site use to exit the palace grounds.
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The Heraklion Archaeological Museum near the harbor in downtown Heraklion. Don’t let the museum’s plain exterior conceals the fact that inside is an incredible collection of Minoan art from not only Knossos Palace but other Minoan centers. 
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I was captivated by these Cycladic figures, small sculptures made by artists of the islands known as the Cyclades. These were made from 2300-1700 BC.

 

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These cups look so similar to ones we use today, but they were made between 1800-1700 BC.
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An incredible collection of jars. Seriously beautiful.
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This is my husband’s version of Disney World.
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And more jars around every corner. Truly incredible.
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Can’t get over this octopus motif, an example of the “Marine Style” common to Minoan art. 
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Knossos Palace. By the way, banish our modern notion of what a “palace” is. Back in the Minoan era, a palace was more of a center of a community or kingdom. The Knossos Palace included administrative buildings and other functional structures, in addition to royal quarters and the like.
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Double axes of monumental size. The Minoan culture spanned the Stone Age and into the Bronze. 
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Can you believe this carved stone bull was made from 1600-1450 BC? It was actually used to hold liquids. There was a hole in the back for filling and then the liquid would pour out from the bull’s snout.
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A collection of figurative pieces. So expressive!
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A collection of burial coffins known as larnakes. One actually still had a skeleton inside.
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A fresco known as “Ladies in Blue.”  This is the original. A reproduction is found at the archaeological site. 1525-1400 BC

 

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Famous Bull Relief Fresco. Its reproduction at the palace is shown behind the columns in the first photo in the article.
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The book we purchased in the museum gift shot.

Like other Greek archaeological sites, tickets for Knossos were 16€ and included both the site and the museum. The tickets were valid for two days. That means you have all the time you need to tour.


Thanks for reading!  This is the fifth archaeological site we’ve visited during our Greek travels this summer.  Follow my blog for more stories from our trip. 

Categories
Greece (Peloponnese)

Carrying a torch for Olympia, Greece

Olympia, Greece was worth three bus rides and a taxi

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Here I am just looking out at all the layers upon layers of excavations.

Yesterday, we toured the Sanctuary of Olympia, the mammoth archaeological site at Olympia, Greece.  Thanks to the Olympic Games, I would venture to say that most of us have heard of this site. However, I myself didn’t realize that there was virtually a complete city in this location, in addition to the athletic contests.

Above is a diagram of the Olympia site that our AirBnb host showed us when we arrived at our apartment. See what I mean by city?!

It’s a good thing the archaeologists and designers placed an ample supply of informational placards around the site so people like me can understand and appreciate more of what they’re seeing.

To summarize, the placards placed at two locations near the front of the site read as follows:

“In this place Zeus, father of the Olympian gods, was worshipped, and splendid athletic contests, the Olympic Games, were celebrated. In the cella of the temple of Zeus was placed the enthroned gold-and-ivory made cult statue of the god, work of the famous Greek sculptor Pheidias, one of the seven wonders of the antiquity. Here too, nowadays the ceremony of lighting the flame for the modern Olympic Games is held.”

After I read those placards, I looked around and here was my first thought:  this place is huge.

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One ticket gets you into the archaeological site, the archaeological museum, and the museum of the history of  the Olympics.The site and museums are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Adult tickets are 12€ each. You can leave and return later in the day to any of the sites and even return the next day to continue your visit or see more. Note: We did not visit the Museum of the History of the Olympic Games. There was only so much time. If we had had another morning, we could have visited it then.

As I gazed across the grounds, as far as I could see were partially reconstructed colonnades, temples, baths, workshops, dwellings, and myriad other structures.

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The colonnade is a popular photo subject. Google “Olympia” and you will see lots of pictures of these columns.

This ability to see layers upon layers of excavations is the one major difference when I compare Olympia to Mycenae and Delphi, two other sites we had just seen during the previous three days.

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The Philippeion Tholos, a circular temple,  and the Temple of Hera in the background

By the way, we’re on a whirlwind tour of Greece. We’ve spent three weeks on the island of Skopelos and now we’re taking two weeks to see Athens, Mycenae, Delphi, Olympia and Crete. We will return home July 9.

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The Temple of Hera is in the background. In the foreground is the site of the lighting of the Olympic Torch that begins each modern Olympic Games.

At Mycenae and Delphi, you can definitely survey the sites across a hillside or from a high point (The Citadel at Mycenae, the Stadium at Delphi); however, at Olympia, you are looking through the site.

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The Tholos, a circular temple
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I took this picture because I couldn’t believe how sharp the scroll carving still is on these Ionic capitals.

For example, before you stands the colonnade of Palaistra. Beyond that, however, you see the impressive Tholos, and beyond that you see the standing columns of the Temple of Hera, and beyond that you see  the multi-tiered Nymphaion aqueduct fountain, through which you see the arched entrance to the stadium, the site of the first Olympic Games in 776 BC.

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Passing through the arched entry to The Stadium
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The marble starting blocks for the competing athletes at The Stadium
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The stadium, where foot races (forerunner to today’s 200-meter races) were held in the ancient Olympic Games.
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This is the workshop of Pheidias, the sculptor for the statue of ivory, gold, and bronze status of Zeus housed in the Temple of Zeus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
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This slab of carved marble is in Pheidias’ workshop

In other words, from any spot at Olympia, you will see layer upon layer of ruins in various stages of reconstruction. And then compressed between all those layers are stashes of more pieces.

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An earthquake in 522 AD 551 AD toppled these columns that stood in the Temple of  Zeus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Notice how the drums fell and appear almost like dominoes.

Perhaps a field of column drums, a row of lion head water spouts, a random six-foot-tall triglyph, a plot of Ionic column drums, then a plot of Doric drums, then a composition of more rare Corinthian capitals.

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Here I’m standing next to a triglyph, three carved “columns” that were placed between metopes, relief sculptures below the pediment (the triangular-shaped friezes). See caption for next image.
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I’ve circled a triglyph in the image above. I’m standing next to one of these in the preceding picture. I couldn’t believe how large it was.

 

So many pieces and parts, but if you need a quick list of the top sights within Olympia, I think they would be:

  • The Temple of Zeus
  • The Temple of Hera
  • The Tholos
  • The Stadium
  • Workshop of Pleiades
  • The Palaistra , which includes the Colonnade

What’s more, when you tour the park, you will walk right among most of the artifacts and monuments and stones. You may even walk right on the original marble steps placed in this city of 2,500 years ago.

 

 

 

 

 

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Lion water spouts in a row on the ground surrounding the Temple of Zeus.

There are 1/2″-inch ropes that show you where you can and can’t go, and if you stray where you shouldn’t, you’ll hear a park employee sitting on a nearby park bench remind you with a sharp blast on a whistle.

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More columns.
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This was a building for council members. It contained water around the outside of this “curvy” centerpiece and also around the inner section.

Late last night, one couple climbed upon a large “rock” to see the floor of the Temple of Zeus, which was roped off unfortunately. (You can see them in the picture below.) Suddenly, a shrill blast! They didn’t hear or didn’t recognize their offense. Another blast! They looked around, the park employees shouted something in Greek, and down they jumped.

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We couldn’t believe how large this capital (the top of a column) that  once topped a column on the Temple of Zeus. Note the visitors standing on the stone shelf—that’s a major no-no.
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Each capital had these notches carved into them to help them lock onto the column.

Perhaps they didn’t realize they were standing on an architectural relic. After all, there are so many stones EVERYWHERE.

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We returned in the evening to see parts of Olympia again. The light put a different cast on the monuments.

To be safe, when you’re at Olympia, assume that any rock is not actually a rock, but rather an artifact. If you want to sit down for a bit, look for an actual park bench. There are several. That’s the safest bet.

Or head over to the Olympia Archaeological Museum.

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The Olympia Archaeological Museum front entrance
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Various helmets excavated at Olympia
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This was a statue of Nike that used to be mounted on the Temple of Zeus.
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This is a statue of Hermes and was found in the Temple of Hera.
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One of two reconstructed friezes from one of the pediments on the Temple of Zeus. This one features Apollo (son of Zeus) in the middle.
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One of two reconstructed friezes from one of the pediments on the Temple of Zeus. This one features Zeus in the middle.
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More lion water spouts and other prominent sculptures are placed around the outside loggia of the museum. You can just walk right up to these. But don’t touch, obviously. There were no guards anywhere around, which surprised us.

Although Olympia takes some planning to reach, it’s definitely worth the visit.

The site and museums are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Adult tickets are 12€ each. You can leave and return later in the day to any of the sites and even return the next day to continue your visit or see more. We arrived at the archaeological site at 8:30 a.m. and left about two and a half hours later. Tour bus groups arrived around 10.

As it was getting quite hot, we left at 10:40, went out for gyros and a soda, and then returned to the air-conditioned museum for about two hours in the afternoon.

Later that evening, we returned to the archaeological site to see more and take pictures with the sun coming from a different angle.


The modern city of Olympia is a beautiful little city that is literally about two blocks from the archaeological site. I’ll write a short post about the town tomorrow. Our AirBnb host told us the permanent population is only about 700 people! 

Thanks for reading! Click like, leave a comment and follow my blog for more stories about travelling in Greece. 

Categories
Greece (Athens, Delphi)

Just Takin’ A “Delfie” Selfie

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A selfie in front of the Tholos at Delphi (say it Delfie)

“Delphi” rhymes with selfie

I didn’t know until yesterday that to pronounce Delphi like the Greeks, one pronounces it with the stress on the first syllable and with a long “e” sound on the second. Whoops. Silly me. If you pronounce it to rhyme with selfie, you’ve got it right.

So… I think it made perfect sense to attempt a Delfie selfie today when we visited the archaeological wonder. I don’t take many selfies (and by that I mean as few as possible), but this post includes two or three to take care of the issue for awhile.

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Another selfie in front of the Treasury of the Athenians

When we added Delphi to our list of must-see attractions, I had no idea we would be scouring over a steep mountainside full of pine and cypress trees. In fact, this is snow skiing country. The next town over, Arachova, offers skiing during the winter months. I guess I just didn’t realize how “Alpine” the Delphi would feel.

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Treasury of the Athenians

In a sentence or two, “Delphi could be described as a religious complex centered around the Oracle of Delphi that was located in the Temple Apollo,” according to a book we bought, Delphi and Its Museum, by Panos Valavanis. Delphi flourished during the Archaic and Classical period of Ancient Greece, roughly from the 6th – 4th centuries BC.

On the UNESCO World Heritage site placard near the entrance to the grounds, it reads:

“The archaeological site of Delphi is Panhellenic sanctuary with an international fame. Its remnants represent some of the foremost events of art and architecture. The sanctuary, which combines in a unique manner the natural and historical environment, is related to numerous, key events of Greek history that have an impact on the progress of civilization.”

It continues: “Inscription on this List confirms the outstanding universal value of a cultural or natural property which deserves protection for the benefit of all humanity.”

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Okay, not exactly a selfie, but a nice lady from Australia took this for us. We’re standing in front of the Temple to Apollo and the Serpentine Column.

Here are some major sites within the Delphi archaeological site:

  • The Treasury of the Athenians
  • Temple to Apollo
  • Theater
  • Stadium
  • Tholos at Delphi
  • The Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia

However, besides all these major sites, there are numerous other objects, foundations, walls, and monuments to distract and fascinate you. And don’t forget the magnificent natural beauty of the place.

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Theater on the left. Temple to Apollo is on the right. Clear down the hill you can see more ruins. This was taken on our way to the stadium all the way at the top of the site.

We took so many pictures at Delphi today that there’s NO WAY I could post them all. Here are a fraction of the photos we took at both the archaeological site and at the museum.

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Temple to Apollo is on the right. Other buildings (there are so many we couldn’t keep track of them all) are on the left.
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Carved inscriptions are on practically every surface.  Most of these were written by slaves who were guaranteed their freedom by Apollo, according to a book we bought in the museum.
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A closer view of the carved inscriptions.
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The long view of the wall. Most stones had inscriptions on them.
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Capitals that would have topped columns. They’re just here, there and everywhere.
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The Tholos, a round temple. This is the structure I’m standing in front of in the selfie at the top of this story.
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I took this to show the detail of the underside of the Tholos.
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The stadium clear up at the top of the site. Panhellenic Pythian Games were held here.
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We snacked on this stone bench over by the stadium. I think it could actually be a bench from the stadium itself. There are stone pieces everywhere. They had to fall there from something.
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Column drums that were stacked to form tall columns. That’s my purse next to one to show scale. In the background by the person in the pink shirt, is a base that these columns may have been stacked on.
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I thought this column was interesting because of its sharp edges. If you look closely, you’ll see carved inscriptions on the stones.
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A trough for carrying waters from the natural fountains on the mountain.
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It’s interesting. Right alongside some fire extinguishers and a storage chest, you’ll find ancient Greek columns. No big deal.

 

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And then we went to the museum.

 

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The Argos Twins, Cleobis and  Biton… Careful what you wish for. These were the boys whose mother asked the gods to bless them for carrying her to the temple of Hera. As a result, they were given the greatest gift… death at their finest moment.
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The Sphinx, a gift from the island of Naxos, given to Apollo Delphi to gain the gods’ favor.

 

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Aghias, son of Aknonis. An athlete (that’s why he’s nude) and shows how the ancient Greeks used contrapposto, which is an assymetrical arrangement of the body. Contrapposto allows a more natural stance.
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The bronze Charioteer is the grand finale of the museum.

We spent about four-plus hours total touring the archaeological sites and the museum. We started in about 9 a.m. and finished up around 1:30 p.m. The weather was very warm, but very nice in the shade.

We had about an hour before the tour buses arrived, so the sites really weren’t that crowded. And because many if not most people don’t go down to the Tholos of Delphi and the Sanctuary of Athena (which are located down the hill and separate from the main complex), we felt like we had a very thorough visit.

Tomorrow… on to Olympia!


Thanks for reading! Leave a comment if you’ve been to Delphi or if you have any selfie-taking skills to share! Follow my blog for more stories from our 2019 Greece trip.

Categories
Greece (Peloponnese)

Marry an artist and then go to Mycenae

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Mitch and I at the Lion Gate, the spectacular entrance to the Citadel at Mycenae

Here’s another perk of being married to an artist

A few days ago, I posted on Instagram about how one of the perks of being married to an artist is that you can tag along with them when they serve an artist residency in Greece.

Image-1Well, if you need another reason to marry an artist, here it is:

You have a built-in tour guide for all things artistic: museums, historical sights, and exhibitions. 

Today, I fully realized the benefits of being married to an artist while walking the grounds of Mycenae. Not having studied these incredible ruins for a degree in journalism and teaching, I really didn’t understand much of what I was seeing.

However, walking around with my husband, I gained a glimmer of understanding about the culture that preceded classical Greece and influenced western art, architecture, and philosophy.

Mitch was able to tell me that: the Lion Gate that leads to the Citadel at Mycenae is important because it shows a monumental post and lintel entry point. Another reason: those lions throughout history never became buried or destroyed. Always visible down through the ages, they created a landmark for historical study that continues in current times.

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A closer shot of the Lion Gate.

The Lion Gate structure, like all of Mycenae, was built  from 1600-1300 BC. When you wrap your head around that date, these ancient ruins— some of them today merely stubs of stone outcroppings and faint traces of walls and foundations–are indeed spectacular.

Many times today, I found myself asking things like:

  • “How in the world were they able to hoist that huge stone all the way up there?” 
  • “And why did they need that large of a stone in the first place?”

My husband Mitch is also able to tell me about the triangular openings above many entries. These triangular openings displaced the weight from above so the weight didn’t rest directly on the lintel. We saw several of these triangular openings on beehive-shaped tombs. Imagine how many failures were experienced over the years in order for the Mycenaens to learn and then apply this engineering principle in the surviving structures we admire today.

This was taken inside the Treasury of Atreus or the Tomb of Agamemnon. It’s mammoth. In fact, it’s the largest of the nine similar tombs at Mycenae.

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That’s one BIG stone above the doorway. See how it curves?
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See how that curved stone is actually bigger than it looks? You walk under it a good bit when you enter the tomb.

Another example of my husband’s knowledge that comes in handy when you go to places like Greece: Back in Athens, inside the Propylaea, the entrance to the Acropolis, one could easily walk under the ornate “ceiling,” never pausing to consider the enormous stones above.

In the next photo of the Propylaea in Athens, see the large horizontal pieces, some of which have new and whiter marble replacement pieces? Now see those stones in between those horizontal pieces? Those are separate stones placed over the horizontal beams.  Stone on stone on stone. Truly incredible.

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Ceiling of the Propylea at the Acropolis in Athens a few weeks ago.

But let’s return to today’s Mycenae visit.

Here’s I am again walking under a lintel that spans the posts, transferring the weight to the posts. Maybe this is common knowledge to you, but it’s new to me and fun to hear about from my husband.

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Post and lintel doorway at the Citadel

Another spot I saw today: the House of Columns at the Citadel at Mycenae. Notice the large stone in the front of the picture? Now see how there are four more behind it spaced regularly? Those used to be columns. Amazing.

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The House of Columns at Mycenae
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Quick summary of the importance of Mycenae

We walked the mile or so up the road to Mycenae from our AirBnB. It was a breezy, sunny day and warm, but not too warm. It was actually a nice walk full of oleander and olive trees.

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We started out here at our AirBnb. Yesterday was a long day. We arrived here last night after leaving Skopelos, ferrying to Skiathos, flying to Athens, and taking a bus to Fichti, where our host met us at the bus stop before driving us to Mycenae (spelled Mikines in Greece using English alphabet).

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Our AirBnb in Mycenae

 

Tomorrow, we head to Delphi, where Mitch will get to play tour guide again. What a perk for me!


Thanks for reading! Catch tomorrow’s post by following my blog. Ever been to the Peloponnese? Leave a comment about your experience.