The Monastery of Agios Petros

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I’m back in Heraklion since the New Year festivities.  I find that whenever I set foot here, there is something else I had not seen before, and this time I’m writing about one such discovery.

Strolling around the seaside wall, I wandered into the ancient Monastery of Saint Peter (Agios Petros), built by Dominican monks.  It contains the only surviving 15th century frescoes in Heraklion.  This was a Catholic monastery, and one of the most important in the city.

The monastery has two main buildings.  This was not always the case, and the fact that you can see the marks of many different epochs if you look carefully at the building is the main reason that it caught my eye in the first place.  The main and original building dates back to the 13th century as a one-nave basilica, but it collapsed in 1303 and was rebuilt.  Chapels were built into it throughout the next three centuries.  Perhaps this period was not just about building and adding new chapels to the basilica, but also about rebuilding it over and over again, as it is said that it collapsed at least three times between the 14th and 16th centuries.  The two smaller chapels with vaulted ceilings that stand by the southern wall are from this time.

In 1669, shortly after the Ottoman invasion, it was turned into the Sultan Ibrahim Mosque.  A minaret was added at the southwest corner.  New windows were opened on the north and south walls during this period, too.

In the 19th century, the basilica collapsed yet again.  This time, it was rebuilt and a dome was added.  Some signs of this reconstruction can be spotted in the northern wall.

After the Turkish invasion was over, the religious building fell into disuse.  It was then repurposed as a cinema and then a carpentry.

In 1991, a comprehensive restoration started, which concluded in 2010.  The whole area was expropriated and excavations were carried out in the surroundings.  Archaeologists were fascinated by some of the finds from the 2nd Byzantine period. Some objects can be seen in the Historical Museum. The restoration was supervised by the Cretan Archdiocese, and the building’s religious vocation was also restored. In fact, in recognition of its history, it has become an interfaith place of worship, and also a venue for cultural events.

If you would like to explore Heraklion with  local guide, contact Karma Travel!  Their experts can also advise on interesting sights off the beaten track and sort out all your travel needs to make your stay in Crete unforgettable.

Agia Triada

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I’m visiting the remains of a summer residence of the king of Phaistos.  The site is named after what is now a ghost village, destroyed in the 19th century war of independence from the Turks -Agia Triada.

Archaeological finds have revealed that the site was inhabited as early as 3,000 BC.   The remains exposed to the public belong to a seaside villa, apparently built around 1,600 BC in the heyday of the Minoan civilisation. The palace was then destroyed about a hundred years later, and underwent several transformations throughout time. An imposing Megaron was built upon the remains of the walls of the villa, with further edifications enclosing an inner courtyard where public gatherings and ceremonies must have been held.

Zoom into the future, and a temple to Zeus was erected here.  Further down the line, around 1400 AD,  a Byzantine church dedicated to Agios Giorgos tou Galata, which still stands today, was built on this site.  The church is a small jewel in that it contains some fairly well preserved  and beautiful Byzantine frescoes.

My mind spins at the thought of a small city whose same stone structures were in use for nearly 3,000 years (through successive constructive and rebuilding phases)!  Surely, this is proof that there is something very special about this island, and this site in particular.

Some of the most impressive pieces excavated from this site include delicately crafted clay vessels and sarcophagi extracted from a series of tombs discovered to the northeast of the palatial complex.  I recall having seen them in the Archaeological Museum in Heraklion.  Sadly, I don’t think I paid enough attention to them.  I think another visit is due now that I have more context, and I will definitely need to look at the sarcophagi in more detail!

If you would like to come here and discover the mysteries of Agia Triada, contact Karma Travel!  They will be able to advise on transport, guided tours, and accommodation.

Back in Heraklion

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Back from my quick hop to the mainland, I used a morning to visit the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion, which has quite a few things of interest.  The exhibits take you back eight thousand years, with objects dating back to 6000 BC.  I was particularly interested in the Phaistos Disk, a clay disk with spiralling inscriptions that resemble hieroglyphs.  The meaning of this ancient text has not been deciphered yet.  There were also samples of Linear A and B inscriptions; of these two ancient forms of writing, Linear B has been partially deciphered because it’s identified with an early form of the Greek language called Mycenaean.  Linear A, on the other hand, pertains to a language that’s lost, so its meaning is uncertain.  Beyond these very interesting artifacts, there were a few sculptures that took my breath away. One of them was a ‘bull rider’ -the sculpture of a male figure that seems to graciously dive on air, whilst grasping the bull’s horns.

Photography was not permitted, so I could not take pictures.  The above is a view of Heraklion.

If you would like to book a guided tour of this wonderful city, including the Archaeological Museum, contact Karma Travel!  Their expert staff can also find you brilliant accommodation and organise your transfers.

Knossos

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A few miles from the center of Heraklion is Knossos, an archaeological site dating from the Bronze Age. Here you can explore the palace of King Minos, and follow in the footsteps of the legendary Minotaur and his labyrinth. The association of the site with the legend is no accident: archaeologists have found ancient Roman coins in the area, one of whose faces are engraved the Minotaur and the labyrinth.

Despite being in ruins, the archaeological site invites you to imagine a huge lively palace where many celebrations were held. The myths of Knossos tell us of a cruel King Minos, married to a woman named Pasiphae. She was the daughter of the sun and a prophetess, who was enchanted by Poseidon to fall in love with a bull and so gave birth to Asterion, the Minotaur. Daedalus was then commissioned to build the labyrinth to contain the beast. However, the beast was hard to appease, and every nine years it was necessary to offer it a victim. For this, King Minos had to choose seven men and seven women to send to the maze…

The experience of visiting Knossos is far more interesting and pleasurable if you have a tour guide to give you a little bit of background information, show you the site and tell you a few stories to make the place come alive.  Book your tours to Knossos and other historical sites in Crete through Karma Travel!

Heraklion

Heraklion

With much anticipation, I packed up and set off to Heraklion via London’s Gatwick Airport. You can get advice on convenient flight connections and fares from the experts at Karma Travel. Just drop them an email with your requirements!

As for me, even at the height of summer, I thought the airfares I got were not too expensive, so I was a happy bunny!

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