Thursday, September 23, 1999


When we arrived I immediately recognized the famous red and black columns that were set up here and there, "restored" by Sir Arthur Evans. The columns are unusual because they are inverted, with the wider part at the top and getting more narrow towards the bottom. Archaeologists have guessed the reason might be more walking space, more surface area for roof supports, or simple aesthetics. Ultimately, we don't know why, and probably never will.

Here are there were alabaster blocks that had once stood in the thresholds of buildings thousands of years ago. Although they have been partially eroded by esposure to rain for millenia, they still make the place glisten and gleam. The climate was much different 4,000 years ago, of course, and trees were more abundant. Much of Knossos was probably made of wood, all of which is gone.

A long line of tourists formed at one building. This one housed the throne so well known and celebrated. They call this the throne room because of the greater number of doors in the walls (four per side) and its superior view of the river that would have been below. The famous throne might not be a throne at all, but because it stands alone in this important room, well, we guess that maybe this is the oldest throne in all of Europe. It was roped off, of course. Later I saw more such "thrones" in other rooms, which made me a little suspicious of the whole throne theory.

Not far from there was a balcony-type area with a restored painting of a bull. You may recall that the bull appears to have been sacred--structures resembling stylized horns are found about, there is evidence they sacrificed bulls, and in paintings they participated in bull-jumping. As much as serious historians criticize Evans for restoring parts of Knossos, I have to say that without his restorations, I would probably be pretty bored right now. Most of the areas we saw were little more than eroded, crumbling foundations. I was, however, surprised by the large amount of pottery that survived. We saw a large number of huge casks for olive oil. In some places the alabaster has turned black. The guides tell us that some casks of olive oil tipped over in an earthquake, broke open and spilled onto the floor. Inevitably a fire started and charred the alabaster, and perhaps parts of the city.

In many buildings there is an open-air chamber (a "lustral basin") that the archaeologists say had olive oil seeped into the floors. They theorize the Minoans would go here to perform purification rites and bathe in olive oil before entering the city. Again, we don't know. It's quite dangerous to try to guess what was in the mind of a Minoan living 4,000 years ago.

Seeing the pottery reminded me how much more I admire Minoan art than Hellenistic. The murals they painted represent sport, trade and nature. You see people in harmony with their universe. Nothing representing warfare or a preoccupation with death, slavery or power. Instead, they depict whimsical blue monkeys, dolphins, flowers and people carrying flasks instead of swords. I saw pottery decorated with beautiful and intricate spirals rather than the jagged edges and straight lines of the Hellenes.


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