We arrived in Heraklion early in the morning, roughly between 6 and 7am and made the long trek from the harbor, quite a bit of it uphill, to the El Greco, our hotel for the night. At just 43 euros with what would be a pretty good breakfast, it established a pattern we’d experience for the rest of our time in Greece and on the islands; reasonable and nicely appointed lodging for not much money.
As it was too early to check in, we stored our luggage in a handy closet designed expressly for this purpose and doubled back to Lions Square for breakfast outdoors at Kirkor, one of a number of restaurants lining the plaza that contains one of the town’s signature features, the Morosini Lions Fountain.
We enjoyed two coffees with milk, a large yoghurt with fruit, and a Bougatsa, the traditional pastry of Crete which typically consists of either semolina custard, cheese, or minced meat filling between layers of phyllo. It was quite tasty, but unfortunately, circumstances would dictate that it would be the one and only time we’d eat one. We lingered over breakfast in no real hurry to go anywhere; it was a beautiful morning, pleasantly warm, clear blue skies, and the type of weather we’d enjoy throughout our stay in Greece.
We walked around town familiarizing ourselves, large in its way yet compact enough to cover by foot in under an hour. A bit before noon we returned to the El Greco and moved our bags to the room. Small and yet efficient, it was equipped with a work desk, night stands and our own bathroom, as good as it gets by any standard.
We then walked up to the municipal bus stop to take the five-kilometer ride out to Knossos, the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete and sometimes referred to as Europe’s oldest city. Settled as early as the Neolithic period, the name Knossos survives from ancient Greek references to the major city of Crete. The palace of Knossos was the largest and most splendid in the Minoan world. It was nearly square in plan and had over 1,500 rooms arranged on three or four floors.
The palace was abandoned at the end of the Late Bronze Age, c. 1380–1100 B.C. for reasons unknown to this day. It was discovered again in 1877 by Mino Kalokairinos, a Heraklion lawyer and antiquarian, with excavation and some controversial restoration, performed by Sir Arthur Evans beginning just prior to 1900.
Initial restoration efforts focused on conservation and consolidation of the ruins of the palace. After 1925 the work became bolder and more extensive. While originally Evans had used the same raw materials as the Minoan architects (Poros stone, gypsum and wood), he now began using new building material to copy the ancient materials and took the extra step of painting them.
Regardless of where you land on the appropriateness of this methodology, it is nevertheless true that the restoration was carried out in such a manner that today the ancient and the modern form a uniform whole.
It was pretty warm walking around the ruins and by the end of our visit we were a bit tired, coming on top of the early wakeup call of the morning. We bussed back into the center of town and after grabbing a quick bite completed our afternoon with an enhanced look at Minoan culture by visiting the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, home to the most notable and complete collection of artifacts of that civilization.
Here we were able to view originals from the Palace of Knossos, including the Rhyton, and the Bull Leaping and Prince of the Lilies frescos. Also on display was the Phaistos Disc, discovered in the Minoan palace-site of Phaistos, in 1908.
Its exact purpose is unknown, as no other examples of it have been found, providing little additional context for meaningful analysis.
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped in briefly at the Agios Titos Church, a fine example of Greek Orthodox design and execution.
Later, we finished out our day by having a very nice meal at Peskesi, a highly recommended place we discovered through Trip Advisor. Here is my review of the place with them:
We did a quick search on Trip Advisor for this place, not wanting to eat at the many places that crowd the main square. We were absolutely amazed at the service and the imaginative food we were served. The breadbasket and cheese spread are fantastic, a varied selection of bread unlike what you normally receive. My wife ordered the goat and I the pork in lemon, both large portions and both delicious.
We closed out the meal with free dessert (that seems to be commonplace here in Crete) and a shot apiece of their homemade Raki infused with a flowery scent. Absolutely a treat!
El Greco Hotel: https://www.elgrecohotel.gr/en/
Lions Square: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lions_Square
Heraklion Archaeological Museum: https://www.heraklion.gr/en/ourplace/archeological-museum/archeological-museum.html
Phaistos Disc: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phaistos_Disc