europe, Greece

Heraklion and Knossos- 7 Days in Western Crete

I visited Crete for a week in June 2019, using public transport to get around. In my posts I focus on points of historical interest, as well as good places for food, costs, and travel.

Click through for posts on the other visits of the trip:

CHANIA; RETHYMNO; SAMARIA GORGE as well as ALTERNATE PLANS we made if we had more time.

HERAKLION

HISTORY:

The capital of the island has a long and varied history. Its most famous local site, KNOSSOS, is covered in its own section. Heraklion is a good base to the centre in the island and visit both sides. Like the other cities, large Venetian walls surround the main centre of the city, although there is a lot more going on outside the walls too.

A city has been at the location since the Minoan period, and at throughout time seen a change of regimes from Roman, Arabic, Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman. The long and varied history is seen in the architecture as you walk around.

THINGS TO SEE:

Venetian structures such as the Morosini Fountain and the loggia appear in amongst the streets which are more urban that in the other visited locations. The driving, however, is a bit more chaotic than that of the largely car-free historic centres of the other towns. Take precaution when walking.

At the port, the Venetian fortress sits out in the sea front, whilst other large Venetian buildings surround the area.

Souvenir shops were the most varied of the three cities, and had the lowest prices. I picked up a great pair of slippers for about €8 which I highly recommend.

FOOD:

Peskesi. This place provided traditional Greek dishes made in the their own farm. Amazing service, incredible food. Highly recommend.

KAFENEION O LAKKOS. In the former artist and writer district of Lakkos, we stopped for coffee in the shady and colour area. It was nice coffee and away from the crowds.

KNOSSOS

HISTORY:

I feel like I would have been a terrible archaeologist to go all the way to Crete and not visit Knossos. This remarkable archaeological site has evidence of occupation from 7000 BC, an elaborate kingdom in 1900 BC, and used two unique ancient scripts (Linear A and Linear B, the former still not deciphered) which are some of the earliest evidence of writing in the world. However, in booking flights, it was easier for us to fly in and out of Chania, whilst Knossos is better accessible from Crete’s capital, Heraklion.

Knossos was the centre of the Minoan world, a Bronze Age civilisation, though evidence of people in the area date back 9000 years. At its peak nearly 4000 years ago, the city’s population reached 100,000 people.

The archaeology of the site is fascinating, as it was practically fully excavated by British archaeologist Arthur Evans in 1900, who uncovered many artefacts and structures and created his own ideas of the site based on his finds. In place of the excavation, Evans recreated how he believed the site and the extensive palace once looked. The frescos are based on how he saw the frescos look when being excavated, and the buildings based on how he believed the site would have looked at its height. The recreation is in itself now a historical site, with the concrete used to create the buildings – state of the art at its time- is now in need of major upkeep due to the short (in terms of a 9000 year old site) life of concrete (around 50 years).

Notable finds include texts in ancient, undecipherable languages, elaborate bull headed vessels, snake goddess statues and many MANY other incredible finds all housed in the museum in Heraklion.

It is home of the legendary labyrinth and its fiendish inhabitant, the Minotaur.

TO SEE:

We got up early as we had heard Knossos (which opens at 8am), gets very busy. However, we got confused with our bus stop- the best bus stops to get for Knossos are at the main bus station or the stop outside the archaeology museum. Tickets can be bought in kiosks or ticket machines. We stopped on a road side and had real trouble finding the right bus stop until we made our way to a main one.

We arrived at Knossos and found there was a large queue (due to arriving late). Whilst my partner stood in it, I went to the stalls along the front selling nicknacks and bits and pieces for pretty cheap. One 5 euro hat later and the queue had moved along quite well.

The stalls sold competitively priced souvenirs and hot weather essentials.

Knossos was very full of tour groups from all over the world. The large groups seemed to take up the main route and walkway, so we decided to start from the back and work our way sporadically across the ruins, avoiding the major groups as and when.

Knossos is one of the more interesting archaeological sites I have been to- it is less of a ruin to explore and more one man’s vision of what the site would have looked like partially in its heyday. It is well worth several hours of exploring.

Having seen all we could at Knossos, we waited outside for the bus back to the city, which stopped outside the ARCHAEOLOGY MUSEUM.

The museum contained the finds recovered from Knossos, as well as other notable sites from around the island. The frescos, goddess statues, and other remarkable objects were all available for public viewing. There is a huge array of well kept artefacts and well worth visiting.

KNOSSOS TICKET PRICES:

KNOSSOS- €15

MUSEUM – €10

KNOSSOS AND HERKALION MUSEUM COMBINED- €16

BUS: The Knossos bus is one of the few buses on Crete that allow you to buy a return ticket, it is also cheaper to buy your ticket at the machine at the bus stop (which can be found at the larger stops I outlined) rather than on the bus. {€2.50 each way on the bus or €3.70 return at the machine)

The bus to get is the 2 or the 21.

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