Myths and Legends of Ancient Greece
My best friend Liza traveled to Greece this past summer and spent some quality time on the island of Crete, enjoying the lazy beach relaxation, delicious Greek cuisine and its wonderful, hospitable people. She also had a chance to explore several islands nearby and was kind enough to share her knowledge and impressions of ancient Hellenic civilization in this post. It made me want to immediately take off on an ancient Greece adventure and cross it off my bucket list. I bet you’ll feel the same way after reading it. Enjoy!
1. What impressed you the most among architectural/historic landmarks in Crete or other islands?
I think it was the Brangelina mansion that I spotted out of a bus window on my way to one of the excursions. Just kidding! =)
There are tons of great places that are definitely worth visiting. One of the most renowned sites is the Knossos Palace that, besides its impressive intricate architecture, is also the cultural symbol and proof of the existence of the Minoan civilization, the most ancient civilization in Europe. Other amazing places include the Cave of Zeus, the Lasithi Plateau — which is a picturesque valley among a mountain range; the two uninhabited Gramvousa Islands featuring the Balos lagoon with its beautiful pink sand beach, and of course the entire island of Santorini.
To be honest, I didn’t see much in Crete just because I only had 10 days and was mostly looking for some quiet beach leisure time. Besides, Santorini impressed me much more than Crete even though it is way smaller. Its historic heritage is incredible.
Initially, around 3,000 years BC, it was a round shaped island with a big volcano crater in the middle. But 15 centuries later a horrible eruption not only changed the shape of the island, but also affected the historic path of the entire ancient world. As a result of that eruption, the crater collapsed, forming an enormous funnel that was immediately filled in by the sea. After the water evaporated, a forceful explosion caused a tsunami that struck the northern shore of Crete, which is 130 miles away from Santorini. This event initiated a decline of the Minoan civilization that existed for more than 300 years.
As for the ancient island, after the eruption it turned into a crescent shaped chain of smaller islands with Santorini among them. By the way, the volcano is still out there, and its crater is buried under the sea. I learned that some scientists see the drowned island as the basis for the legend of Atlantis.
But aside from its history, the island is incredibly beautiful. I especially liked the towns of Oia and Fira. Oia is mostly known for its postcard-style snow-white houses with sky blue roofs, and Fira is a small Greek town with many scenic views.
We spent one day on the island, and only the round trip took about four hours, so I strongly recommend devoting at least three days to Santorini to truly be able to enjoy the splendor of the island.
2. What was the most breathtaking moment you experienced there?
I experienced some strong emotions in Psychro Cave, also known as Diktaean Cave, where according to legend, the Goddess Rhea gave birth to Zeus, the future Father of the Gods of Mount Olympus. She was hiding him there from the Titans’ leader Cronus, who was earlier predicted to die by the hand of his own son. Trying to prevent the prophecy from coming true, he started swallowing all his newborn children whole. But Rhea gave him a stone instead of a baby and hid the newborn in the cave.
When Zeus grew up, he started the great war of Gods against the Titans. The Titans were toppled, and the rest is history. I know it sounds a little ludicrous but that’s what Crete is all about! The island is soaked in the myths and legends of ancient Greece, and many of the Gods were either born there or at some point lived on the island. I’m not a big believer in all those myths but even I felt some kind of surreal energy inside this cave.
To get there, we took a bus ride to the mountains and then walked a mile up a very steep hill. We then descended 300 feet to the very bottom of the cave where the temperature was no more than 14C (57F). The cave was full of stalagmites and stalactites, which made it even more magical.
3. How was the food and the service in restaurants?
It’s hard to judge because I stayed at a great all-inclusive hotel, where the service was excellent and the food was solid but still mass-produced. I had a chance to dine out a couple of times, and what impressed me the most is how simple but delicious the food was. It’s not a pretentious, high-quality cuisine, but a very rustic, authentic food. The service reminded me of a grandmother’s love and care for her grandchildren — hospitable and soulful!
4. What did you think of the locals?
Again, it’s hard to judge because inside the hotel everyone had to be “friendly” by definition, but all the people I met outside the hotel were very welcoming too and also very religious.
5. Tell me about the sea and the beaches.
I was not that impressed by the beaches of Crete. There were not very many picturesque and clean beaches. But I really liked this one beach on Santorini – it featured black volcanic sand that was particularly fine and soft. The water was a little chillier but very clear.
6. Would you go back there? Why or why not?
I don’t think I would just because there are so many other beautiful places in the world where I would love to go. On the other hand, I wish I had spent more time in Santorini to fully enjoy its beauty.
7. Please share anything you think is worthwhile about the nature, gastronomy, people and activities you experienced in Greece.
In general, I love Greece for its simplicity and affordability, and also its great history, delicious olive oil and islands full of striking beauty. By the way, the Mamma Mia! movie only proves my point. It was filmed on the Skopelos and Skiathos islands of the Sporades Archipelago. And even though some people might not like the movie, they can’t deny how amazing the nature scenes were. And also I realized that for me, the perception of any destination depends on whom I travel with. Good company will make any trip unforgettable!
(Translated and edited by The Compulsive Traveler)