I FEAR the weekend interlude into historical trivia has, this week, been interrupted by my expedition to Crete. On such visits Sarah and I sometimes conduct a ‘Bramber Tours’ (that’s what we call it) of a small portion of the island on behalf of whoever comes to join us – in this instance, John and Mavis. Our visitation was for ten days of which John & Mavis were with us for eight. We collected them from the airport at Heraklion and proceeded to the well-trawled Minoan site of Knossos (check out previous posts in June). The Bronze Age ‘palace’ of Knossos (c 1700-1450 BC) is situated just south of the airport and so is, of course, an essential first trip as it is probably the most famous site on the island (well, it is if you are interested in ancient history and/or archaeology). For April the weather was very agreeable, the sun revealing itself without interruption.
Knossos in the Central Court – the buildings are nearly all Sir Arthur Evans’ reconstructions – to the left, the cult rooms (front walls are genuine Minoan); in the centre, Evans’ staircase to his speculative first floor; and to the right (ground floor), the Throne Room
The ‘Bramber Tours’ itinerary for the week consisted of just three trips including the one to Knossos and two from Mochlos, the small village where we all stay (see end of May post last year – the part 1 of ‘Travels in Crete’). The other two visitations were focused on such places tourists are less likely to visit – for reasons, usually, of their obscurity.
The first of these was the Richtis Waterfall. An impressive natural location if you can ever find it. The journey took us eastwards from Mochlos to Exo Mouliana. Here we turned off the village at a sign ‘Richtis Beach’ (which you can only see coming from the other direction!) and drove down hairpin bends (John referred to it as a white-knuckle ride ….. but I knew what I was doing!!). After about 15 minutes we came to the beach – we ignored that (it’s nothing very much) and turned right into a car park area for the waterfall (although you wouldn’t know it was for the waterfall). Some common sense has to prevail to follow an ‘almost’ obvious path to the waterfall. It took us up and down a rocky terrain, through woodland, occasionally crossing very narrow but shallow parts of the river itself – so it is useful to wear shoes/sandals that you don’t mind getting wet. The excursion through the ‘enchanted forest’ took about 40-45 minutes but depends upon how fast you are proceeding of course. The end result, when the waterfall reveals itself, is worth the effort. We concluded the day, still in glorious sunshine, with a beer or two back in Mochlos at Taverna Kochylia (see, again, end of May post last year).
Richtis Waterfall (some 30 m in height)
The next trip was up into the mountains from Karvousi, just west of Mochlos. Further hairpin bends were are encountered but the ‘road’ (you can just about call it that) is not too bad and, after turning left at the first fork, it leads to the 3000 year old olive tree of Vouves. This tree dates back to the Minoans and is still going strong. It cannot be exactly dated by radioisotopes because its heartwood (naturally occurring chemical transformation …. oh, look it up) has been lost over the years but has been roughly dated by its size and general annual ring growth. This makes it approximately 2000 years but scientists from the University of Crete date it around 4000 years old (well, better for tourism). Anyway, let’s split the difference at 3000 years (which seems to be the general consensus of opinion). In 2009 it was declared a protected natural monument and was classed as ‘monumental’ by the Association of Cretan Olive Municipalities due to the large size of its trunk. The trunk has a perimeter of 12.5 m (41 ft) and a diameter of 4.6 m (15 ft).
‘3000’ year old olive tree
Different view of ‘3000’ year old olive tree (not my photo but gives you a better idea of scale)
Part of this same trip was the Late Minoan IIIC site of Vronda (okay, that’s four trips in all). We returned to the fork (mentioned above), and took the right turn and on up into the mountain. The Minoans headed into the hills after the invasion of the Mycenaeans from mainland Greece around 1450 BC and this is one such site in which they settled. It is interesting to wonder how they actually got there as it’s hard enough by car! The rocky ‘road’ (you can hardly call it that now) is a somewhat difficult terrain to travel. I recall the last time I did it was in a four-wheel drive jeep – much more sensible than a Toyota saloon weighed down by four people. To make matters worse I missed the site and carried on up the ‘road’ that became less and less agreeable. Realising my error it was time to turn back. Well, that was easier said than done on this narrow track. Fortunately I found a small inlet to enable me to carry out the manoeuvre but not before all three of my passengers decided to exit the vehicle and volunteer to walk back down the rubbled pathway to the sought-after Minoan settlement.
Most of Vronda is very late Minoan, 1200-1025 BC (the ‘IIIC’ part of Late Minoan above) and has a fair share of hearth and oven occupied buildings and several small tholos tombs (see those of Mycenae in one of last July’s post). The pattern of buildings suggests the nuclear family as a basic social unit with each family cooking and eating together in large rooms. So now you know.
Vronda tholos tomb entrance (centre) with lintel above
The day was completed with a visit to the Tholos beach down from Kavousi so John could go for a swim before embarking back to Mochlos and Taverna Kochylia for another beer or two (sound familiar?).
Tholos beach, Kavousi
From Mochlos – I forget which evening this was but the full moon delighted us by rising up from behind the hills
Artemus Smith’s Notebooks
I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:
I decided to introduce a very good friend of mine to my wife the other day and so took him home, unannounced, for dinner at 6:30 pm, after work.
My wife was not impressed. She screamed her head off while my friend sat open-mouthed and listened to the tirade which (cutting it a little short) went a follows ….
“My hair and makeup are not done. The house is a mess and the dishes are still in the sink. Can’t you see I’m still in my pajamas and I certainly can’t be bothered with cooking tonight! Why the heck did you bring him home unannounced you darned fool?”
I replied with the truth, “Because he’s thinking of getting married.”