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May 26, 2007

Road Trip Day #2: Knossos Palace

As I've mentioned, the Palace at Knossos is by far and away Crete's biggest man-made tourist attraction. Our guide book advised us to get there early to avoid the crowds and the heat.


Although we'd set off early, thanks to my crazy navigating and failure to find Knossos, by the time we got there it was already heaving. We stopped for a coffee before venturing in to attack the multitude of coach trips and force our way into the palace.


Knossos was uncovered in the early 1900s by British Archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans. The remains date from around 1,700BCE - 3,700 years ago. Evans "reconstruction" of the site has subsequently come in for significant criticism from academic circles.


He rebuilt parts of the palace in concrete to give an impression of how it looked, and as a result as you wander the site, the most impressive things to see are actually only one century old, not 37 centuries old.


In my view this is a little bit crazy - illustrated no more so in one section where it appears that you are viewing a replica of a Minoan fresco which is carefully protected by glass, whilst standing on what I believe was an original bit of floor, which is getting worn away by the people standing on it to look at the faked fresco.


It brought home to us again how amazing Herculaneum is in Southern Italy, where thanks to the same volcano that buried Pompeii an entire town survives, including the upper stories of buildings and some of the wooden doors and staircases that led to them. At Knossos the upper floors are all the construction of Evan's 19th century imagination of how the palace might have been.

Of course - the site is still impressive and some imposing original remains are on display. The throne room has amazing frescos intact.


One of the entrances to the site is Europe's oldest known paved road - The Royal Road.


Nevertheless, we couldn't help but feel a little underwhelmed, as you realised that the majority of the famous red columns we have seen on postcards all over Crete were actually made by an Englishman, and that we had seen more of the original frescos in the museum at Iraklion than we did on site at Knossos.

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Ercolano/Herculaneum is a bit similar - a lot of the best bits have been poached/saved for the museum in Naples.

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