Phaistos: the most unknown Minoan Crete

DSCN4408We all know the story and legend of the Minoan palace of Knossos, King Minos and Minotaur trapped in the maze. For many, including us, this is and has been one of the first things we visited here in Crete, as it is only right! But today, we want to talk about Palace of Knossos’“little brother”, the perennial runner-up that nobody remembers, but that is going to blow you away once you get to know it! We are referring to the Palace of Phaistos, Φαιστός (Faistos) in Greek.

DSCN4410Situated at 60 km south from Heraklion and 140km from our house, this palace represented the second most important palatial city of Minoan Crete, ruled, according to legend, by Rhadamanthus, son of Zeus and brother to Minos. The structure of the palace (or what is left of it) is very similar to the one of Knossos, but what makes it unique and unmissable is its authenticity and its mysterious ambience. In fact, contrary to its older brother, Phaistos has been brought to light without any restoration work, and for this we are proud to give credit to the Italian School of Archaeology ;-). The excavations, led by the archaeologists Luigi Pernier and Federico Halbherr, started in June of 1900 and dug out the ruins of several palaces that have been protagonists of the area for centuries. As a matter of fact, the first palace dates back to 2000 BC. Two collapses and two restorations followed to this, due to earthquakes and other natural disasters. Since 1450 BC, for centuries, the city of Phaistos represented the nerve centre of southern Messara Plain. The last palace lasted until the 2nd century BC, when the city was defeated by the Roman Gortyn.

DSCN4422The fact that it’s not as known as Knossos, not surrounded by extraordinary legends and without any restoration, makes it more appealing to us, as it stimulates the imagination; besides, it is never too crowded. We really enjoyed the magical atmosphere you will find yourself immersed in once you open the doors of the palace. For instance, let’s think about the Central Courtyard, today a huge and vague open space, once the throbbing heart of the city and centre of any politic, religious, social and economic activity. When you are in the middle of this courtyard and you are surrounded only by an unreal silence and the few ruins of a magnificent and bygone age, it’s quite exciting to imagine that 4000 years ago that same land swarmed with people, performances, voices, merchants, rites, and that all around there were colonnades, porticos, balconies packed with people watching the daily routine.DSCN4412 Carrying on our visit, it was fun to imagine the king and queen washing themselves, combing their hair or having an argument in the Royal Apartments, or the crowd attending a play on the steps of what it’s said to be the first Theatre ever built in the world. DSCN4449All of this is fostered by the surrounding landscape: on one side the immense Messara Plain, with its olive trees, flowers of every species and fields of crops, on the other side the majestic and still snow-capped Mount Psiloritis (or Mount Ida), the highest mountain on Crete (2.456mt).

As if this was not enough to make this place special, there are also some legends around the famous Phaistos Disc, dug out by the archaeologists inside the palace’s storage rooms, and now stored in the Heraklion Museum. This disc of fired clay, carved on both sides with a spiral of 241 symbols similar to hieroglyphics, remains incomprehensible to this day and it is surrounded by mystery. Some assumed it was related to religious and magical rites, others even say it is a fake; the certain thing is that its interpretation is still disputed. timthumb

Besides the palace, it is worth to visit the wild beach of Kommos, which is 15 minutes by car from there, and where there are few remains of what it was likely to be one of the oldest ports of Phaistos.

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DSCN4473At that moment, we headed home, and for lunch (at 3.30 pm, like real Cretan people!) we stopped at this picturesque inland village, at the foot of the mountains, named Spili. In the pretty historic centre, surrounded by majestic plane trees, narrow alleys and fabled houses, stands the beautiful Venetian fountain, refurbished, with 19 lion heads that spurt a water considered by many the best of the island (we can confirm!). The simple and relaxed tavern where we stopped is called Stratidakis: a pretty terrace overlooking the valley, simple and very tasty meals, cooked and served by the elderly melancholic-looking owner. Approved :-)!!

And also today we can definitely say “Super day!”. As always, Crete hasn’t disappointed us…See you next time!!

 

 

Wonders of Falasarna

At just 50 km from Chanià, the varied western coast of the island provides us with another wonderful area, the area of Falasarna (or Falassarna or Phalasarna), with its sharp-coloured beaches and the archaeological ruins of its ancient city. It was one of DSCN2264the main Cretan cities during the Hellenistic age, and it reached its period of resplendence between the middle of the 4th century BC and 67 BC, when the Romans decided to destroy it and lock its doors in order to eliminate piracy! But it became famous thanks to its natural harbour, the only one in the whole western coast of Crete. Sure enough, in the Hellenistic era, this city, whose name came after the homonym local nymph, was one of the most important maritime forts of the island.

DSCN2268The best preserved ruins are certainly the following: the round-based harbour tower (4th century BC). It’s the only visible one of the original four, and it’s divided internally by two cross-shaped walls; the small tanks, initially used in the public thermaeand then to wash the clay in the artisan workshops; the harbour quay, with still signs of the bollards; the fortified walls,and a throne carved in the rock, probably dedicated to the god of the sea, Poseidon.  DSCN2272

The site is not very big, you can visit it with a short walk and, despite the hot weather, this area is often windy, therefore we managed to fully enjoy the tour of these ancient ruins. It’s always amusing to imagine how the life here was in those days or how those people could be able to conceive certain architectonic features, according to us very modern! Ancient Romans and Greeks certainly knew what they were talking about!

DSCN2269This is another place that we recommend, especially if you stay around Chania, since it’s really close and easy to reach. Besides, the entrance price is only 2 euros! The opening times are: from Tuesday to Friday, from 9am to 3pm.

After stocking up in culture, we couldn’t help but dedicate ourselves to one of our most favourite activities, basking in the sun in one of the beautiful Falasarna beaches, with light-coloured and coarse-grained sand. This windy and lovely bay was once awarded the best in Crete, and one of the top 10 beaches in Europe. It includes 5 beaches, one next to the other. The main one is known as Pacheia Ammos, and it is 1 km long.

DSCN2285It’s easy to fall in love with the exotic colours of the sea in this protected area! Yes, you are right, we say that about every beach we visited so far, but it’s the simple truth! In regard to beauties, here in Crete you will be spoilt for choice! Moreover, if you love beach parties, we’ve been told that there are many in Falasarna during the summer, to be precise on the first Saturday of every month…a must see for us as well!!!

See you soon!

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Click on the map to see where these spots are