Crete is home to the oldest civilization of Europe. The Minoan civilization predates that of the rest of Europe by a good few hunderd years. The temples and palaces they built were the basis of many myths and are still one of the most impressive archeological sites.
Iraklion, the capital of the island, will probably be your point of entry. It is connected to many European capitals by direct flights and boats leave to Athens and Santorini on a regular basis.
Sights you will have on your to do list include Hania the second town of the island, the Knossos a visit to some of the Venetian castles (Imeri Gramvousa, Frangocastello e.g.) and the town of Agios Nikolaos with its great beaches nearby.
Iraklion is the biggest city in Crete with a population in excess of 120000. It concentrates most of the economical activity of the island, and is the main port of entry to Crete for the majority of visitors. The Iraklion airport received last year approximately 15% of the total tourist traffic of Greece.
History is very much alive in Iraklion just like in most Greek cities. The central square while surrounded by cafes, stores and restaurants, is dominated by the fountain of the Lions, built by Morozini the venetian governor in 1628. The Town Hall, is today housed in the Venetian Loggia, a building from the same era.
At the end of the central market is a coffee house, housed at the “Koubes” a fountain built by the Turks when they converted the nearby church of the Saviour to the Valide mosque. All around the old part of the city ,a visitor can walk following the old Venetian walls that meet at a bastion, called “Koules”, that dominates the old harbour of the city .
The visitor to Iraklion should definitely visit the archaeological site at Knossos and the Archaelogical Museum of Iraklion that houses most of the Minoan findings in Crete. Special attention should also be paid to the Historical museum of Iraklion that houses findings from the early Christian era to today and the Museum of Natural History.
Hania is one of the nicest towns in Crete, with wonderful houses, parks and squares and a well designed town-plan. The Public Market is an impressive building, in the town center, built at the beginning of the present century (1911) and houses grocery stores, butchers’ shops, a fish market and vegetable shops. The Public Gardens, next to the Market, are ideal for those in search of shade and tranquillity. Northeast of the gardens is the beautiful neighborhood of Chalepa where the residences of Prince George and Eleftherios Venizelos were.
The old city has preserved to a great extent the distinctive atmosphere and charm of the Venetian and Turkish periods. Entire Venetian, Turkish and Jewish quarters are saved, with well preserved buildings in the narrow picturesque streets. One of the most significant buildings is the large Venetian church of Aghios Frankiskos which today houses the Archaeological Museum of Hania.
The old city leads at the harbor, where many Venetian and Turkish buildings are preserved. At the entrance of the harbor, at its northerst point, is the renovated fort “Firkas”, built on 1629, that today houses the Maritime Museum of Hania as well as a summer theatre, where drama performances are presented. Opposite the Firkas fort, is the magnificent Venetian lighthouse, built on the 16 century and restored by the Egyptians. The harbor is protected by a Venetian breakwater, built of huge stones. At the center of the breakwater are the ruins of a fortress.
West of Hania, at a distance of 4.5 km, is the hill of Profitis Ilias, where the memorial and tomb of Eleftherios Venizelos and his son Sophokles are located. Hania can be the starting point for a tour to the western Crete, a part of the island with magnificent natural beauty. There are lots of places worth seeing , within driving distance (two to three hours) , the most famous being the Samaria Gorge. This is a National Park of Greece that starts at the village of Omalos, at an altitude of 1227 m. and ends after a walk of approximately 18 Km to the beach
Knossos, was where the first Minoan palaces were created about 2000 B.C. They show some concentration of power into the hands of a central authority. This concentration led to a sudden political, cultural, economic and religious reorganization of life. Knossos, Festos, Malia, Zakros, Agia Triada and other smaller palaces and villas were created in the same time period. It seems that there was co-operation among the palaces since no signs of competition have been found.
The palaces forced a hierarchical organization of the society with the king at the top of the pyramid. An important role in the maintenance of this hierarchy was played by religion.
From the myths that have reached us, we may conclude that the king was presented to the people as a representative of and communicator with the deities. Minos had the reputation of a just king who imposed fair laws given to him by these deities.
The palaces were not only the homes of the king and his family. They have sections devoted to the deities, rooms for ceremonies, for ceramic and seal production and large storage sections for merchandise and agricultural products. The palaces had an organized administration. Many inscriptions which have been found list the offerings of the people. Commerce with Egypt and the East was under the control of the palaces.
The technical innovations that were developed to support the basic needs of the first palaces are simply amazing. The sewage system was very complex and it remained the best in the western world until the Roman era (almost 2,000 years later!).
Stone pipes led the water into a central sewage system, with pipes decreasing in size in order to increase water pressure and drive out obstructions. In Knossos, the Minoans channelled drinking water from Mount Youktas, a distance of about 10km, to a water tank in the palace.
They used pipes that fitted one within another, perfectly engineered to carry the water through an uneven terrain of hills and valleys. Similar systems existed in the other palaces. The palaces as well as the houses outside the palaces are multilevel; the lower level often did not have windows because it was used as a storage area.
The old palaces were destroyed three times between 1900 and 1700 B. C. The last time they were almost completely levelled by an earthquake and the Minoans found it pointless to try to repair them. All the palaces were rebuilt from the beginning after levelling the remains of the old palaces.
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A visit to 3,000-years-old Athens, the capital of Greece can be a dream come true or a nightmare. Usually it is a little of both. On the one hand, the city with its 4 million inhabitants, is surrounded by beautiful hills. On the other hand, the peaks can be obscured by terrible pollution.
At times, the horn honking and hustle and bustle of downtown will drive you crazy.
Suddenly, however, you will find yourself in the Plaka area wandering cobblestone streets lined with colourful houses, gardens, quaint shops and small tavernas. From the vantage point of ancient monuments and amphitheatres, you can look down on modern skyscrapers.
The centre of the modern city is on its turn borders on the Agora, an ancient marketplace.
The Acropolis, the hill upon which the Parthenon and other important ruins are located, is the first place you should visit. Not all its attractions are on top of the hill, so take your time to appreciate the ruins you will pass along your way upwards to the top of the hill. In fact, before starting up, take a look at the amphitheatres and the Odeon of Herod Atticus (this is one of the locations where the Athens Festival is held during summer).
As you climb, pause to look at the various views of the city -the layer of brown smog is seen less frequently than in the past thanks to restrictions on automobile use. Amongst the monuments to investigate on the Acropolis are the small Ionian temple of Athena Niki (also called the Temple of the Wingless Victory), the Erechtheion Temple, the Theatre of Dionysus and the Parthenon (5th century BC). There are also other temples, a museum and caves (though you are not allowed to visit these).
At the beginning of April, until the fifteenth of October, a sound-and-light show is held at 9pm. Many nights, these performances are in English and your hotel often has the schedule of these shows.
Other interesting things to see and do in Athens include taking a trip to the top of the Hill of Philopappou (Hill of the Muses) for a great view of the city and seeing the skirted soldiers (called Evzones) perform a changing-of-the-guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in front of the Parliament building on Constitution Square.
Afterwards, relax at the Zappion, a beautiful garden with shaded benches. You should also see the Temple of Olympian Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch (these are next to each other, just a few blocks from the Acropolis).
Be intrigued at the Roman Forum, or Roman Agora, by the Tower of Winds, built in the first century BC, and the Hadrian’s Library, which shows how he stored manuscripts. Not-to-be-missed either are the Presidential Palace and the National Archaeological Museum which is located at the Polytechnic University. Upscale shopping can be found at the Constitution (Syntagma) Square at the Kolonaki area and there is a flea market at Monastiraki (especially good on Sunday mornings).
There are several spots near Athens that can be visited as either full- or half-day trips.
However, when you have the time, spending the night there is a better option. These excursions include the Peloponnese Peninsula (Epidaurus Corinth Mycenae), Cape Sounion, Delphi Eleusis and Marathon.
Many visitors to Athens take a full-day cruise on a hovercraft out of the port of Piraeus to either Poros, Hydra or Aegina, three of the most popular Saronic Gulf Islands. Although a day trip is better than nothing, we feel that also in this case, one or two nights should be spent on each island.
If you are not planning to visit any of the Greek isles on your trip, visit a beach resort such as Glyfada (on the southern side of Athens, not far from the airport), Vouliagmeni or Varkiza.
They are not great for swimming, but are locally known as ‘tanning’ beaches. Just lay back and enjoy the sunshine after a steady walking-trip.
Although Athens gets more and more commercialised, it still manages to maintain its authentic side, not in the least because of its lasting remnants of classical times. The best thing to do is to start your trip at the Plaka, the centre of old antique Athens and decide what you would like to explore.
Or go to the centre of the present Athens, Sindagma Square, which in itself is not very interesting, but serves as a good starting point for walks to the main sights. Will it be the museums, the street markets or maybe the Acropolis site with its monuments?
Or maybe you should start with a visit to one of the two other areas packed with ruins, the Agora (northwest of the Acropolis) or the Roman Forum. Or simple deliberate on it when sitting outside a charming taverna at the Plaka, letting the world pass by. It is your holiday, isn’t it? Section Sights:Temples The Acropolis Hill is one of the main sights of Athens.
This ‘sacred rock’ of Athens served as a residential area from the Neolithic period onwards. Besides that, it was the matrix for the cult of the city’s patron goddess, Athena. During the Classical period, the monumental entrance to the area was constructed, the Propylaea. Besides that, three important temples were erected on the ruins of earlier ones, namely, the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, and the Temple of Nike.
All these monuments reflect the successive phases of the city’s history. Although these monuments were converted into Christian churches and houses belonging to previous invaders (such as the Franks and the Turks) at one time, after the liberation of Athens from the Turks, a large-scale restoration and preservation plan was made, which is still maintained on this very day.