Sunday 31 March 2019

Unusual Weather Patterns

During the last quarter of March 2018 we anxiously awaited the arrival of the "Beast from the East". When he came he brought snow, and in his wake I took the following photograph - we were lucky in our area as we only saw a light scattering of snow.
 "The Beast" created a chilly scene and there were very few signs of Spring.
We have just returned from a trip to Devon during the same March period as last year. In comparison the skies were blue, it was very warm, and the sun shone every day.
All of these plants were photographed on the 25th March 2019. They were either growing wild on the banks of Devon country lanes or in two gardens visited.

However, there is something very strange going on here - I wonder if you have noticed it too? 

Why are plants that normally bloom several weeks apart flowering at the same time?  I can only assume that it must be the result of the long hot 2018 summer followed by the mild winter, or is it climate change? 

Wednesday 27 March 2019

Knossos Palace

Who were the Minoans? We know that they were a civilisation that inhabited Crete over 4000 years ago. Do we understand exactly who they were when so much of their history is entwined in Mythology?
The Minoans never developed an army since they had no enemies, maybe that is why mythology became such an important and integral part of their lives. Many questions regarding the Minoan civilisation remained unanswered until the dawning of the 20th century.

Enter Arthur Evans - born into a wealthy British family, a bright boy who attended Harrow School, then Oxford University, and who later became keeper of the prestigious Ashmolean collection.
He travelled to Crete, and whilst there became convinced that a typical olive tree covered hillside close to Irakleio was the site of the ancient Palace of Knossos. 
Crete's liberation from the Ottoman rule in 1898, four years after his visit, then made it possible for him to buy the land and he began work excavating it in 1900. He endeavoured to find sponsors and help, but no one had any interest in sponsoring or working on what was considered at the time to be simply "fairy tales". Evans decided to fund all of the work himself, paying colleagues and friends to assist him - his belief in his own conviction was deep and profoundly held. Unbelievably within the first few months of excavating he hit the jack pot by discovering the palace's 4000 year old 'throne room' much to everyone's surprise, that is, apart from Evans himself.
Knossos is such an exciting place to visit. Should you go, then I would recommend that you visit either during Spring or Autumn, and make sure that you arrive at the site first thing in the morning. You will then appreciate Knossos unhindered and experience both it's peacefulness and tranquillity. 
The two storeys in the eastern wing are connected to one another by means of a system of stairways know as the Grand Staircase. There are a total of four flights of stairs, two for each storey. 
There is some controversy connected with the restoration work carried out at Knossos which involved the re-creation of several Minoan frescoes by Piet de Jong and Emile Gilli√©ron. They worked with Evans to make sense of the wall painting fragments that were found - the original fragments and reconstruction of which can be seen today at the museum in Irakleio. I personally liked them, they gave me a sense of just how colourful and attractive the Palace must have been.
A bull fresco adorns the Northern Propylaea. Images of sacred bulls outlasted the Minoan civilisation which in turn helped to foster the legend of the Labyrinth and the Minotaur.
This Northern Propylaea was the main gateway to the palace complex. 

An entrance ramp is located just below the propylaea seen to the left. Large robust square columns lined the entrance, which along with the floors were all made out of polished white alabaster. It would have all looked absolutely incredible - pure white, translucent and highly polished.

The entrance then leads on down to The Royal Road which is the last vestige of a Minoan road. This connected the port and harbour to the palace complex, thus providing travellers with easy access to the palace. This area also acted as a reception courtyard - the Royal family would entertain guests here along with the members of court who would stand on the tiered platforms, parts of which can just be seen on the left.
The Throne Room was the first area that Evans discovered.  This chamber was built for ceremonial purposes, and the squat alabaster type dishes were actually found on the floor during excavation. They indicate that a ceremony to propitiate the deity was actually in progress at the time of the palaces destruction.

The Throne Room is considered to be the oldest Throne Room in Europe. On this photo a small alabaster throne can be seen which is certainly the oldest one in the Aegean region. Three Griffins are painted on the walls, two of which are both facing and flanking the throne.

There is much more to see than I have shown, but this print gives some indication of how the palace looked and also the large area that it covered. It is now known that it wasn't just a palace, but also a ceremonial and political centre for the Minoan civilisation and culture.
The indications are that the most likely cause of the devastating destruction of the palace was due to fire and a large earthquake in 1700BC. 

Thursday 21 March 2019

Return to Matala Beach

During the 1960/70s Matala was the not the remote small coastal beach where Zeus galloped ashore 4000 years previously with Princess Europa on his back, or even the quiet little bay that we have just visited. It was a place that was hip hop, and buzzing, where sun seeking hippy travellers, including Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, and Cat Stevens all pitched up and stayed whilst on the legendary hippie trail. They took up residence in the cliffside caves, which are in fact a 2000 year old Roman Necropolis, albeit not old in terms of Cretan history. There are few remains to be seen today of that colourful period apart from the odd wall painting. During that period Matala provided the hippies with an idyllic escape from an ever increasingly hectic world.
It was at Matala Beach that Joni wrote Carey.

Music is my weapon 
Peace is in my soul

I wonder what happens to "hippies" when they grow old? Perhaps they now stay at Hotel Fragiskos, in Matala, and remember their days in Crete!

Sunday 17 March 2019


God of the sky, lightning, thunder, law, order and justice.
Zeus was the sixth child of the Titan Kronos. Kronos devoured his five previous children to prevent them from overthrowing him in the same way that he had overthrown his father, Uranus, ruler of the old gods. Zeus was born in secret in a mountain top cave in Crete, hidden well away from Kronos by his mother Rhea. 

He was raised in the cave by the goat Amalthea and the nymph Melissa. Amalthea suckled the infant and from her cornucopia came all manner of good things. The nymph Melissa also nursed Zeus and looked after him. She fed him her nourishing honey so that he would grow quickly.
When Zeus became a man he poisoned his father Kronos, King of the Titans, making him regurgitate his five siblings. His siblings then overthrew the Titans to become the new gods and goddesses.
Although Zeus was married to the goddess Hera, he also took many mortal lovers. A Phoenician princess named Europa became one of the objects of his desire. At his first sight of her he was infatuated by her striking beauty and grace. Not being one to ignore his desires, Zeus came up with a cunning plan to win her affections. He metamorphosed himself into a handsome, cute, white bull. Europa was busy gathering flowers along the shoreline, in what is today known as Lebanon, when she saw the bull. She was fascinated by its handsome appearance and gentle behaviour - she caressed and stroked him and then climbed onto his back. This was the opportunity Zeus wanted in order to abduct her,
he galloped into the sea and swam back with her to to the Island of Crete.

Abduction of Princess Europa by Rembrandt

They came ashore on this southerly beach in Matala. They were both hot and tired, and it is here that he revealed to her his true identity. He galloped on for a few more miles until he found a large shady Plane tree near what is now the Roman ruins of Gortys, and it is here that he ravished her. As a result she became pregnant with Minos, who became the king of the ancient Minoans in Crete.     

There is a more recent story about Matala beach, but that will have to await another time.

Wednesday 13 March 2019

The Potato Farmer

The hot Cretan sun burnt down on the farmer as he toiled his land - digging, sowing, and harvesting his potato crop ready for market. Life was tough, in summer it almost never rains in Crete, but luckily the Gods had blessed this farmer with good fortune. His land sat on an underground aquifer which he could access simply by digging a hole so that he could always irrigate his precious potato crop whenever it was needed. 
The farmer loaded up his cart with his latest crop of potatoes to sell at the market, but on the way he stopped off at the jewellers. He told the jeweller that he wished to sell some of his gold. The jeweller invited him to take a seat whilst he examined it in his office. Little did the farmer know that he was in fact contacting officials from the local authority. When they arrived they questioned him and said "where did you get the gold". He replied "from my gold mine, of course".
By digging water holes for his potatoes he had unwittingly stumbled upon a 4000 year old Minoan Palace in Malia, a place that was completely unknown in terms of Cretan archaeology. The famous archaeological sites in Crete had all previously been discovered by studying the ancient tales and legends handed down over thousands of years from Minoan history. Malia never received a mentioned in any of these legends or tales from antiquity.
Amongst the gold that the farmer found was this exquisite, now famous, pectoral pendant, consisting of two bees depositing a drop of honey in their honeycomb. They are holding the round, granulated honeycomb between their legs and the drop of honey in their mouths. On their heads is a filigree cage containing a gold bead, while small discs hang from their wings and the sting. This is a true masterpiece of the Minoan's skill, combining repoussé, granulated, filigree and incised decoration. This beautiful gold pendant is 4000 years old.
Unlike the UK where treasure trove is rewarded both to the finder and the owner of land, in Crete you only own what is on the land and nothing beneath the land. The farmer was simply given another potato field as compensation and sent off on his way.
The farmer found the gold in the early 1920s.
In the Aegean culture, the bee was believed to be a sacred insect, especially associated with connecting the natural world to the underworld, and this helps to explain why the above pendant was placed in a tomb. 
The bee was also the symbol of the Minoan goddess Potnia, meaning "mistress" who was also referred to as "The Pure Mother Bee". Her priestesses were given the name Melissa which also means "bee".

Tuesday 12 March 2019


Chania is Crete's prettiest town, with colourful old Venetian buildings set around a sheltered harbour that is guarded by fortifications. As well as Venetian ramparts and churches, a handful of old Islamic buildings serve as reminders of the 250 year Ottoman rule.
I was really impressed that so many of you guessed the island correctly. You certainly know your Greek Legends and Minoan pottery. 
The order in which the correct answer arrived are:-
1. Barbara
2. Jim
3. Patricia 
4. Ella
5. William
6. Janey
7. Susan
Congratulations and very well done to you all.

Monday 11 March 2019

“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveller only who is foreign.”

I have been holidaying on an island where ancient tales of yore are not only spoken, but are an integral part of the people's culture, but what is the island's name?

Hidden within these snow topped mountains there lies a deep cavern where a baby was said to be born in great secrecy...... 

but you will all know his name.
If you recognise who made these pots, which show a very distinctive pottery design and stylethen you are travelling along the right road. 
If you think in terms of Julius Caesar born over 2000 years ago and then think back to a time 2000 years before Julius - that is when these pots were made, so they are 4000 years old.
I have switched on comments moderation - if you answer correctly I will hold your comment back to give everyone an equal chance.