Mid-February I traveled to Crete on business. As it was my first ever visit to the island I decided to go earlier to allow me to spend part of the weekend sight-seeing. So I traveled from Bucharest to Heraklion on a Saturday. The first surprise was the weather. I was under the naïve expectation that the weather would be mild as Crete is located in the Mediterranean halfway between Greece and the North African coast. The weather was actually rather chilly and windy and later in the week it turned into a strong storm with ferries staying in harbor and flights being canceled and even the Venetian port of Hania being flooded. The view from Heraklion to the south was of snowcapped mountains, not exactly something I expected in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. Yet, I wasn’t entirely unlucky with the weather. On Sunday, the morning started chilly but the sun pierced through the cloud cover and by mid-morning it had turned into a bright sunny, albeit not warm, day which remained like that till later afternoon. I could not have asked for more to complete the purpose of my coming early to Crete: the visit of the historic site of the Palace of Knossos. Yet, it turned out I was very lucky with the timing of my visit. A beautiful winter Sunday morning. I was the first visitor at 8 am. As a result of the earliness and the time of the year I had the grounds to myself. I took a guided tour and after the tour took much more time to wander around again. In all, I spent three hours on the site, virtually by myself as I counted only 6 more visitors in the entire time!
The Palace of Knossos is a remarkable site showcasing the degree of sophistication that existed 4’000 years ago. This sophistication is exemplified in many aspects, from architecture, to engineering, over craftsmanship in jewelry to the arts. The Minoans may not have had the “technology” and sophisticated equipment and tools at their disposal as we have today, yet they were able to equal us in thinking and creativity and applying it.
We can only guess what brought the demise of this fantastic and impressive civilization in the 14th century BC. We have to thank a local businessman, Minos Kalokairinos, and his passion for trying to uncover the Palace of Knossos as it was known from many old tales. He started excavating in 1877 but was stopped by the occupying Ottomans. Later, however, the Englishman Sir Arthur Evans, was able to purchase the land and obtain a permit from the Ottomans to excavate. He continued to excavate till the 1930’s. The most controversial part however is the bold “restorations” he embarked on the 1920’s. Today. and even then. these were frowned upon, yet they give an ordinary visitor a better idea of the magnificence of the works the Minoans were capable of. Sadly, as a result the site does not qualify as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, even though it should since the restoration does not take away the value of its heritage to our civilization and history. Currently it is only on the “tentative list” along with the other Minoan palaces on Crete.
The engineering qualities displayed are tremendous. The Minoans were able to build 4 floors high, 4’000 years ago! They also brought drinking water in clay pipes from the mountains kilometers away. And even more remarkable, they had canalization in the palace with clean water being separated from sewage. This very much reminds me of the Indus civilization, more than 4’000kms away, which in a similar time period was building cities with unbaked bricks and had canalizations too to separate sewage from drinking water as evidenced in the archeological site of Moenjodaro, in current Pakistan. Quite remarkable when you come to think that in the Palace of Versailles, built in the 17th century for the French Sun King Louis XIV, there were no toilets!
The decorations inside the palace rooms were exquisite by any standard. Plenty of murals many of which have been pieced together again and which can be seen on-site as part of the restoration work Evans undertook while the originals are on display at the beautifully refurbished Archeological Museum in Heraklion. One of the better known frescos is the one with the scene from the bull leaping game showcasing the successive phases of the game in which a contestant is leaping over the bull by grabbing its horns to leap over the back of the bull and land on his feet facing the animal’s back.
One should not skip a visit to the Archeological Museum of Crete in Heraklion. The museum has very recently re-opened after an extensive refurbishment project. The visit complements the tour of the Knossos Palace perfectly well. It contains a very large collection of items that were unearthed during the excavations and show all elements that were part of daily life in the Minoan civilization. There are some very refined pieces of gold jewelry on display showing the high level of craftsmanship that was mastered in these days without any of the sophisticated tools available to artisans today. This so well brought to live in the small, a few centimeters across only, pendant with bees dating from 1’700 BC.
Hania on the North West coast of Crete is from a totally different era. Hania’s more recent heritage is Venetian and Ottoman. The origin of the name comes from its Venetian name “La Canea”. The intricate mesh of narrow winding streets of the Venetian old town surrounding the old harbor showcase the old Venetian and Ottoman architecture very well. Unfortunately, when I visited it was winter, hence no tourist season, and therefore most places were boarded up. With the storm raging it also turned the place rather grim.
Not only was it winter, Crete was also being hit by a severe winter storm. This storm translated into the quays if the old harbor being flooded and the water going into the little streets that lead from the old town into the harbor area. It makes for dramatic scenery, but sadly, also quite a bit of devastation. Clearly a place I would like to come back to under more auspicious weather conditions.
Last Updated: 28-03-2015
Copyright © 2015 Hans Dewaele – All rights reserved
Mid-January I spent a two days on a business trip to Thessaloniki. As I arrived on a Sunday afternoon, I took the opportunity to go for a short walk to see some of the sights in town. Unfortunately the weather was not very pleasant. Cloud cover and a light drizzle. And all the historic sites were closed, so they could only be viewed from the outside. Nevertheless it was clear that Thessaloniki is a beautiful city with a long history and I should make an effort to return for a proper visit of all the historic sights and museums.
Thessaloniki is a city dotted with landmarks as reminders of its long history. In the early 4th century AD Roman Emperor Galerius made the city to be the imperial capital. This lasted until the empire’s division in AD 395. Galerius left a number of monuments. There is the large ruins of the Palace of Galerius, but also the impressive Arch of Galerius which was erected in AD 303 to celebrate a victory over the Persians. It features beautiful sculptures depicting the battle. Then there is also the Rotunda of Galerius which was intended to become his mausoleum but instead was later turned into a Byzantine church and in to a mosque under the Ottoman rule.
Thessaloniki is dotted with Byzantine churches. One of the most important ones is the Aga Sofia which dates from the 8th Century. Its heritage of churches also ensured it got listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
About an hour’s drive from Thessaloniki one should visit the Royal Thombs of King Philip of Macedonia in Vergina. It’s listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The King was assassinated during the wedding of his daughter Cleopatra. The huge burial mound with the tombs inside has been turned into an exquisite museum showing the 4 tombs inside along with items that were found inside the tombs, each beautifully displayed in a show cases that let you see the items really up close, almost to the touch. The surrounding area also shows the ruins of the palace complex and the old capital. Unfortunately I only had time to visit the tombs.
Last Updated: 04-02-2015
Copyright © 2015 Hans Dewaele – All rights reserved
Went to Belgium for autumn break and stayed in De Panne. It’s the last town at the Belgian west coast bordering France. You can actually see the port of Dunkirk in the far distance. We have been going to De Panne on holidays for over 20 years. The kids love the beach, the pancakes and the Belgian waffles … I love the walks along the waterline in crisp fresh windy autumn weather when the air smells of salty sea water.
De Panne has the widest beach of the entire Belgian coast line. Particularly when it is low tide the beach can stretch to a few hundred meters in width. Hence it provides for plenty of space for sun bathers in summer and for a lot of different types of recreation in winter like walking and jogging along the water line or horse riding, or sail cart competitions.
After Belgium had declared and been granted independance by the big powers of the 19th century the first King of Belgium, the German Leopold I of Saksen-Coburg first set foot on Belgian territory when he disembarked on the beach of De Panne on the 17th of July 1831, four days before his installation as King of Belgium on 21 July 1831. There is a large monument to commemorate this. De Panne also served as the base for King Albert I during WWI.
De Panne is the only location in Belgium where one can prcatice the sailing cart sport on the beach as only there is the beach wide enough. These carts can accelerate to really strong speeds with the slightest wind. They are a really beautiful sight.
The beach in De Panne also functioned as a staging ground for the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force and French troops in 1940 after Germany invaded France and the allied troops had retretead to the port of Dunkirk and the surrounding beaches. A memorial at the beach today is testimony of De Panne’s contributions to this successful effort of saving the troops by repatriating them to England.
De Panne has a large protected nature reserve consisting of a small remaining part of what historically was a huge area of sand dunes bordering the sea. It’s a beautiful and quiet oasis of tranquility and peace. It remains one of the key attractions of the seaside town.
Last Updated: 29-10-2014
Copyright © 2014 Hans Dewaele – All rights reserved