On Wednesday 13th March a group of excited students and staff set out for Crete to see the Minoan palaces and industrial towns of 2,000 BC whose foundation walls and cobbled streets still exist today.
Having travelled overnight, our first task was to allow ourselves some recovery time. This we achieved by having a leisurely breakfast in a café off the Lions Square in the centre of Heraklion. Refreshed by this and later a delicious lunch of Greek salad and moussaka, we started the trip in earnest. The Heraklion Archaeological Museum opened our eyes to some wonderful original finds from these palaces, including the bee hive pendant, the double axes which were a symbol of power and an offering to the gods, the bull imagery reflecting their interest in bull leaping and bull sacrifice, and images of the snake goddess associated with the underworld. The upper floor had a hall of frescoes with early paintings depicting the early Cretan king, women, dolphins leaping and much much more. This whetted our appetite to see the sites. However, all good trips need to be supported by ice cream which we indulged in at a café, before completing the day with a visit to the early church of Bishop Titus whose skull is supposed to be buried there and the main Cathedral.
Day two involved a visit to see the Roman town of Gortys, the second largest palace of Phaistos ( which remains entirely in its original form) and the summer villa of the king at Agia Triada. The weather was less clement on that day but we managed to dodge all the showers while we were in lunch or on the coach. To relax in the evening, we indulged in learning some Greek and Cretan dances, ending up in a hilarious snake formation with everyone involved.
The third day took us from Heraklion to the far end of the island. On the way we saw two more palaces at Malia and Zakros, as well as the industrial town at Gournia where they made clay pots. We had lovely stops for coffee at Siteia and lunch at Zakros after the sun had come out to allow us to have a short paddle and a splash about in the sea. The final trip on this day was to the Dorian settlement at Itanos where we could find the remains of a Byzantine temple and some houses. Here, it was very rocky and as we climbed these rocks the wind began to howl. This did not stop our enthusiasm for engaging with this settlement or the monastery of Toplou which we visited afterwards. The journey home was long, but a stop along the way to see the beautiful sunset across the sea was very much worth it.
Our final day brought the champagne moment of visiting the restored palace at Knossos in glorious sunshine and 20 degrees celsius. By now the girls were very aware of the layout of a palace but greatly enjoyed seeing a palace more like it would have looked in ancient times. The colour, the size, the location and the mythology all intrigued them. No trip would be complete without some souvenir shopping and this we did both at Knossos and after lunch back at Heraklion. On our guide's advice our final stop was to the Historical Museum at Heraklion which put in perspective the complete history of Crete from 4,000 years ago until the present day. A wonderfully happy time was had by all and we all learnt a lot.
Mrs Elizabeth Rothwell, Head of Classics