When dreaming of a summer escape and cruising a sampling of the Greeks Islands became a reality…
The Greeks have always had a deep appreciation and an intimate relationship with the sea. With an extensive, intricate coastline and more than 240 inhabited islands that are peppered throughout the Ionian and Aegean seas.
During the peak summer months in Crete…it gets ‘Hot’, very hot with the mercury reaching into the 40s. It’s late July and my birthday month. My birthday gift to myself each year is to do something I have never done, or go somewhere I have never been.
A short break island hopping cruising through the Cyclades and stopping in at the high points of interest islands of Santorini and Mykonos and continuing through the Dodecanese to explore the medieval history that awaits on the island of Rhodes and the humble quaint island of Patmos and then beyond, cruising through to the north eastern Aegean and a stop in Kusadasi, Turkey to experience all that was and is, the magic ancient city of Ephesus. This short island hopping break beckons a welcome relief; and Greece’s Celestyal Cruises can take me there.
I learn that there are options for boarding and departure locations, and as I’m living on the island of Crete, I have the opportunity to board the ship in the islands capital – Heraklion – GR Ηράκλειο, Irákleio and to see the city from the sea.
The beautiful island of Crete, the largest of Greece’s islands nestled between the Sea of Crete and the Libyan Sea in the Mediterranean boasts mountain ranges that run the length of the island, ravines and vast plains that make it seem more like a country unto itself, than another Greek island.
The city of Heraklion and the island’s long and tumultuous past is recorded back as far as the 7th millennium BC and predates the Minoan era. The Minoan’s were the centre of Europe’s most ancient civilizations and the first people in Europe to build Palaces. Heraklion is located close to the ruins of the Palace of Knossos, which during Minoan times was the largest centre of population in Crete, between 3500 – 3100 BC. With the fall of the Minoan era, the capital and the island was left to be stripped and looted by bandits and pirates and was a battle ground for vying city states until the Romans conquered in 69 BC.
The slaughter of Saracens and the safe haven for pirates was resolved under the command of Nikephoros Phokas, who later became the Emperor. The city was further looted, before being burned to the ground in 961 and falling under the rule of the Byzantine Empire and its control for 243 years. Feuding between the local native inhabitants and the Venetians continued across the island until 1669, when the Ottoman Empire took possession. The new victor held control of the island until 1898, however not without continuous uprisings and unrest. The Greek War of Independence in 1821 and subsequent battles during the Balkan War, WWI and WWII, saw more destruction and slaughter of the local Cretan population by Turkish and then German soldiers. Following many years of unrest through various battles the signing of an unconditional surrender by a German Commander was signed on May 9, 1945 at the Villa Ariadne at Knossos.
I have had the opportunity to visit the Palace of Knossos, which is only a short drive from the city’s harbour on a number of occasions and each time I learn more about the Minoan era and the Cretan Goddess Ariadne, whose name means both “scared” and “pure”.
The Minoan culture is known for its sophisticated ethos, love of nature and peaceful rule. The palace’s peaceful setting, free of fortifications and defences, provides a vast panorama of the surrounding landscape.
Greek Mythology: The Goddess Ariadne GR – Θεά Αριάδνη, the Minoan Snake Goddess is the daughter of King Minos and Queen Pasiphaë, granddaughter of Helios and Zeus. It is said that she was the official companion of Dionysus. Yet, according to myth Ariadne in an attempt to help her beloved Theseus, leaves a golden thread to escape the labyrinth of the half man, half beast, the Minotaur. Following the demise of the monster, the hero took her with him to the island of Naxos only to abandon her following a visit by Dionysus in his dream. Ariadne embodies the scared marriage having endured the trials of betrayal and abandonment. She is an influential representative in the world and watches over our loves and labours, our trials and triumphs, as well as our worldly concerns and attitudes. Wandering around the ruins, the story of Ariadne and her ill-fated affair with the man-god Theseus sparks the imagination.
Ariadne figurine image is that of a woman with hands held up with a snake in each hand, and was used during worshipping practices that symbolises the rebirth, resurrection or renewal of life following a transition into the underworld.
In astrology Ariadne represents abandonment as an archetypal process that strips away the mind’s illusions in order to hear the calling of the true self. Confronted by the painful reality of being left the individual is forced to relinquish their hopes and fantasies in order to awaken to the authentic path of the heart.
Ariadne embodies the soul in relationship that must first experience the painful course of the labyrinth before a divine connection can be realised.
Learn more about where the Goddess Ariadne and other Greco/Roman Goddess are located in your horoscope and what this means for you, here.
I have time to roam around Heraklion city centre, before finding my way to the port in time for the ships departure.
Passing through the city CBD and the historic Town Hall, that is now part of the 1962 reconstructed building of Loggia – Armeria. Built by the Venetians, the armoury was used to gather, store and guard the largest bank of ammunition. During the Ottoman era, the historic building was used as a treasury to collect the islands taxes.
Continuing through the city centre and passing through the Eleftheriou Venizelou Square, more commonly known as Lions Square and the Morosini Lions Fountain. Built in 1628 during the Venetian rule to commemorate the Venetian success, of bringing water to the city. The ornately decorated Lions fountain depicts scenes from Greek Mythology and is a central focal point in the city.
Walking through the local market stalls to the end of the lane and seeing one of the many Venetian Fountains that are located throughout the city. During the Venetian rule the need was to supply water to the city, then known as Chandakas due to a lack of spring water. Water supply was achieved with the construction of cisterns and wells, both public and private and various fountains with exquisite designs, like Bembo Fountain, built between 1552 – 1554 located in Kornarou Square.
Back to 1821 (street) and turning left I continue along Pl. Agaias Ekaterinis to reach the small Sinai Monastery of Agia Aikaterini – GR Μονή Σινά Αγίας Αικατερίνης, Saint Catherine founded in the 10th century.
The Monastery of Saint Catherine’s income was contributed to by the Saint Catherine School of Sinai and during 1550 – 1640 was an education facility where ancient Greek writing, Philosophy, Theology, Rhetoric and Hagiography (Icon painting) was taught.
Adjacent to the monastery, in Saint Catherine square GR – Πλατεία Αγίας Αικατερίνης is the smaller and older Saint Mina and the Saint Minas Cathedral GR – Άγιος Μηνάς, named after the martyr and wonderworker (285 – 309 AD). Minas was born in Egypt and became a Roman army officer who suffered imprisonment and torture, before being beheaded for upholding his faith; and becoming the patron Saint of Heraklion. The cathedral is the largest in Crete and one of the largest in Greece.
It was interesting to learn that very few children are named after the Saint. The story I was told, that during the Turkish occupation illegitimate orphaned children were left on the steps to be cared for by the church and the boys were named, Minas. For many years the name Minas was associated with being illegitimate, thus parents avoided giving their children the name.
It’s getting closer to late afternoon, so I make my way along the sea front and the fortress walls that were built during the Arab period, 9 – 10th century and the Castellum Comunis at the entrance of the harbour, built during the 10 – 13th Byzantine period, along with the 13th century Rocca al Mare constructed by the Venetians that became known by its Turkish name Koules Castle, that dominates the modern port of Heraklion.
Looking back as we set sail from Heraklion port, the sight of the 16th century Koules Fortress located at the entrance of the port gives a more imposing sense of greatness of protection that once safeguarded the city, with an impressive backdrop of a hazy summer day and the Asterousia Mountains.
I settle in and find my way around my temporary floating home for the coming days.
This blog is part of a series of posts about the Greek Islands and ancient historic sites in Greece. I hope you enjoy reading and that I bring some inspiration (if needed) to visit this amazing and magical part of the world.
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