The Lató served up a lavish breakfast buffet: bacon, sausages, grilled mushrooms, scrambled and fried eggs, crêpes and jam, loukoumádes (small pastries dipped in honey), xertígana (which Dorothea had learned is the correct name for the miniature díples we’d found in our room), croissants, breads, rolls, paximádia, various fruits, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, four kinds of cheese, salami, yogurt, honey, prunes, pomegranate seeds, four juices (including peach), coffee, tea, and other breakfast beverages—and even more. Needless to say, we didn’t sample everything, not even in the course of four days, but we indulged ourselves as far as was consistent with being able to arise and walk afterwards.
25th August street
We decided to follow, more or less, a walk that was outlined on a map we had received at the hotel desk, first walking the four or five blocks to 25 Avgoústou, the pedestrian street, then turning left and south, instead of right and north as we had done the previous day. Instead of heading for the harbor, we were heading toward the city’s center.

The name of the street, ‘25th of August,’ commemorates a momentous event in Cretan history that took place here in 1898. The Great Powers of Europe (represented by Britain, France, Russia and Italy) had compelled the Ottoman sultan to grant the Cretans home rule, although not full independence, and sent fleets to the island to ensure that this arrangement was implemented. The Muslim population of Crete, unwilling to surrender power to the more numerous Christians (and to see Crete become part of Greece, which was the majority's plan), resisted stubbornly. On September 6, 1898 (August 25 on the Julian calendar then in use throughout eastern Europe and the Middle East) a group of Christian officials, duly appointed by the new government and escorted by a detachment of British troops, arrived in Iráklio to take over the tax collection offices, the only potential source of revenue for the new state.
British cartoon: 'Admiral John Bull' expelling the Sultan from Crete
The full Greek name of the street—Ódos Martírion 25-Avgoustou (‘Street of the martyrs of 25 August’)—indicates what happened. The soldiers and officials were attacked and fired on by a furious mob of Muslim Cretans. 17 or 18 of the soldiers (and presumably some of the officials, though the accounts I’ve seen don’t say) were killed, and a riot began in which the Christian quarter was burned, and 300 to 500 Christians—the majority of those then living in the city—lost their lives. (One of these victims happened to be the British vice-consul in Iráklio.) Turkish soldiers eventually restored order, but they took their sweet time about it. The Great Powers’ response (in addition to the British hanging 17 Muslims whom they identified as ringleaders) was to order all Ottoman troops off the island. It wasn't quite the British chastisement this cartoon suggests, but from then on there was no further doubt that Cretan independence and union with Greece were simply a matter of time.

Click the button below to go to a page with more information about this turbulent epoch in Crete's history.
St. Títos' church
Thankfully, nothing violent was happening on 25 Avgoústou on this peaceful Sunday morning. We walked past St. Titos’ church, dedicated to the first bishop of Crete, who according to legend came to the island as a companion of St. Paul and remained to lead the local Christian community. The first church on the site was built in the Byzantine period, after Crete had been reconquered from the Arabs by the general Nikephoros Phokas. St. Titos had lived in Gortys, the Roman capital of the island, but this inland city had been destroyed in the Arab conquest in 827 or 828, and when the Byzantines reversed this in 960, the capital remained where the Arabs had put it, in the city they called al-Khandak, which is now Iráklio. The relics of the saint were removed to Venice when the city was surrendered to the Turks in 1669, and the new rulers converted the church to a mosque. It was badly damaged in an earthquake in 1856 and completely rebuilt (still as a mosque) at that time. But after the Turks were gone, it became a Greek Orthodox church again, and one relic, the skull of St. Títos, was returned and deposited there in 1966.
Renaissance elegance in the Venetian Loggia
Immediately after St. Titos, we came to the Venetian Loggia, a public building that served as a gathering place and a kind of nerve center for the leading gentlemen of the town and of Crete. Venice chose to govern the island from afar, so there was no official assembly, but the Venetian governor (at least sometimes given the title “Duke of Crete”) often needed to rely on a consensus of the local nobility, so each important city had its loggia. By architectural definition, a loggia has on at least one side a gallery open to the street. This one—the fourth in a succession of loggias built in Iráklio after the Venetians took over Crete in 1210—dates from the 1620s. It had to be restored in the 20th century because of damage done by time, earthquake, and finally World War II. The restoration was faithful—it won a European award in 1987—and the loggia has lost none of its Renaissance elegance. It now serves Iráklio (with discreet modern additions) as the city hall.
Morosini fountain
Outside the Loggia, 25th Avgoústou ended in an open square (plateía) named by city authorities after Elefthérios Venizélos. Locals, however, though mostly respectful of their late statesman, tend to be annoyed by this official tampering with the common name they all go on using: Lions square, or just “the Lions.” This is a reference to the Morosini fountain, which stands in the middle of the square. Like the Rimondi fountain in Réthymno, it was built in the 1620s and immediately became the city’s central distribution point for water. Francesco Morosini, the same governor who had the loggia built, got his name on it. The water poured from the mouths of three lions, probably salvaged from an earlier fountain, that had been carved back in the 14th century, and fell into a surrounding pool designed with eight lobes, their low walls adorned with classical figures having various aquatic associations. This design makes it easy for quite a few people to fill their water jars at the same time.
Porch of St. Mark's church in Venizelos square
The square—whichever name it’s called by, Lions or Venizélos—was full of people strolling around, sitting at cafes, taking pictures at the fountain, and for the most part ignoring African street vendors who were setting mechanical toys on the pavement in the hope of attracting customers.

Off to one side was St. Mark’s church, built (as its patron saint indicates) by the Venetians to be the city’s Catholic cathedral. When the Turks took the city, all the Venetians left, and whatever Cretans had converted to Catholicism went with them. The Turks followed standard procedure and converted the church to a mosque—but after they left a century ago, there were few if any Catholics in Iráklio, so the building is no longer either a mosque or a church; it’s used for performances and occasional lectures now. The porch, which you can see in this picture, is a popular place to hang out. A musical group was playing there on this Sunday morning.

25th Avgoústou comes to an end when it enters the square, but continuing to the south (at a slight angle) is 1866 street, which functions not at all as a street but rather as Iráklio’s market. Its name commemorates a major 19th-century uprising that, although crushed, was the first that attracted enough of the world’s attention to create some sympathy for the Cretans’ desire to throw off Turkish rule, beginning the involvement of the great powers in the “Cretan question.” The street is lined with shops of all kinds, although on this Sunday most were closed except for some selling food.
Map of a walk in Iráklio
We walked up to the end of the market street and turned east, as advised by the dotted line of the walking tour on the map. It's reproduced here, with the path we followed marked in purple (which I'm afraid obscures some of the street names). We soon came to Elefthería (‘Freedom’) square, a big and shady park, where we found an empty bench and sat down to rest. Quite a few families had brought their children to the park, much of which was smoothly paved, and we watched the kids zooming around on bicycles, tricycles, and roller skates—I could have gotten some cute pictures if only I could have moved at the speed of sound, or possibly the speed of light. The map shows that the park is near the eastern gate in the old city walls, but we didn't notice that at the time, and no obvious fortifications were visible from where we sat.

We were ready to go back to the hotel rather than explore further, so we crossed the park to Idomenéos street and followed northwards, parallel with 25th Avgoústou, until it brought us to Epimenídou only a short way from our hotel. In our room, Dorothea snacked on a couple of items she had saved from the breakfast buffet, but I had eaten plenty then, and wasn’t hungry.

At 3:00, George Papadopoulos arrived with his car and we set out for Knossós. It’s only 7 to 9 miles from where we were staying, depending on the route taken (information from Google Maps), but being so unfamiliar with the city I have no idea which way we went.

If you’re interested in the relics of the Minoan civilization that flourished in Crete as much as 4,000 years ago, the palace of Knossós is a good place to start. (If you want to get some idea of why this subject interested us, you could go to this page in the History section of the site:)
Many people know that Knossós was excavated early in the 20th century by Sir Arthur Evans—this work was the major reason for his getting the “Sir” in front of his name—and quite a few have also heard about the connection Evans made between the complex structure he uncovered and the Labrynth of Greek mythology—the sinister maze built by the master artificer Daídalos in which lurked a monstrous man-bull called the Minotaur.

Knossós is one of four palaces from the Minoan era that have been found so far in Crete. Although it’s evident that they were dwelling-places for royalty (however that condition was understood by the Minoans), they are much larger and more complex than the palaces of modern kings and queens or the castles we read about in fairy tales. They sheltered very sizable populations, and it appears that the rulers also kept their wealth, much of it in the form of grain and olive oil, in a multitude of tiny storerooms that were part of every palace complex. It was the first of the palaces to be excavated, and Evans' work there is responsible for most of the modern world's perceptions of the Minoans—and perhaps for some of our misperceptions as well. On balance, though, I think we owe him a great deal. There is more information about him and his work at Knossós on the Minoan Crete page, which you can visit by clicking the button above.
Ground floor plan of the Knossos site
George, an experienced and very well-informed guide, took us around the site, pointing out interesting details as he kept us from getting lost among the extensive and potentially confusing ruins. As the map shows, Knossós is a huge complex, and this is only the ground floor; some buildings had several stories, a few parts of which were reconstructed. Evans and his crew must have worked very hard to excavate the entire site as carefully as they did in a mere five years.

The Minoan approach to architecture obviously favored adding on whenever and wherever necessary rather than tearing down an old structure to make a new statement on a blank slate—theirs was pretty much the opposite of the Manhattan approach. (An earthquake about 1700 BCE was responsible for some demolition, however.) It was easy for us to see why Evans decided that Knossós itself had inspired the Greek legend of the Labyrinth, where everyone (except the Minotaur and his nemesis Theseus) got hopelessly lost.

The complex occupies a hill, steep but not very high. George told us that all the Minoan palaces found so far have been near the sea—but not too near. Piracy (including raids on coastal settlements) is an ancient Mediterranean tradition and putting a treasure-stuffed palace right on the shore would have made things a little too easy for the pirates. The port of Iráklio is only a few miles away. A river used to run from Knossós to the seaport in ancient times, although now it disappears into the city’s drainage system before it gets there. I don’t know if the river was navigable by seagoing ships all the way to the palace, but it might have been; such ships were pretty small by modern standards. If they couldn't negotiate the river approach, the king could have dispatched a royal barge to collect an important ambassador and deliver him to the “receiving throne room” that Evans identified on the level nearest the river.
Rainwater drainage channel
We crossed plazas, climbed stairs, and peered into buildings that Evans had uncovered and in some cases partially reconstructed. The archaeological work had revealed more than the paving stones of plazas and the fallen walls of buildings. Knossós’ architects and engineers had provided not one, but two drainage systems: the principal one employed a series of neatly fitted terra cotta pipes to channel rainwater into the palace complex’s cisterns—an important economy in a dry climate. The pipes (which haven't survived intact) rested in stone channels like the one in the picture.

The other drainage system carried human byproducts and dirty water away from the most exalted latrines and bathtubs. (We can probably assume that such luxury was not available to everyone. The only toilet and bathtub that survived the ages were found in the quarters that Evans identified as the queen’s.) And there was also a third water system—not for drainage but to bring fresh water via aqueducts from a spring about 6 miles away.
Lábrys on a stone
The symbol of the double-bladed axe called the lábrys was carved in so many places that, although it must have been a religious symbol, it seemed also to have become a decorative motif. You might compare it with the many crosses to be seen in a Gothic cathedral like Chartres or Notre Dame—in some iterations, such as the crucifix above the altar, they have deep religious significance; in others—say, a row of crosses carved along a molding, the religious meaning, though never absent, is much less intense. George told us that the word lábrys, though it was preserved in Greek, was not native to that or to any other Indo-European tongue, and may well have been the word used by the Minoans. Moreover, the place-name suffix -inthos, which makes labyrinth mean ‘place of the double axe’ (and also occurs in other Greek place-names such as Corinth), is also non-Indo-European. So this name may well have belonged to the palace complex at Knossós, or perhaps to some part of it, in Minoan times.
A room with a throne
Among the rooms Evans had reconstructed was one with an alabaster throne built against one wall and heraldic griffins (an imaginary animal with a lion’s body and a bird’s head) painted on the walls. A large basin, which Evans speculated was used for purposes of religious purification, occupied the center of the room, which led him to posit that the ruler might have combined the functions of king and chief priest.

But another possible interpretation might be that this “throne room” had an entirely religious purpose, with which the enthroned personage was fully concerned, and had nothing to do with sovereignty. Some scholars have offered the interesting suggestion that the seat of the stone throne has been sculpted to fit a woman’s bottom more comfortably than a man’s. Queen? Priestess? Both? Who can say?

Other scholars have emphasized various pieces of evidence that the room as Evans found it was given its final form during the Mycenaean occupation of the palace during its last 125 years (approximately 1450–1325 BCE). Pairs of griffins (which no one seems to consider a figment of the restorers’ imagination) were a common Mycenaean motif.

On the next-to-lowest level, we saw a large cool room with open sides, sheltered from the sun but cleverly ventilated. Perhaps it was the king’s sitting-room, as Evans asserted, perhaps not—but whoever got to hang out there was apparently someone very important, and there’s no compelling reason to reject the archaeologist’s assertion, speculative as it is.
The queen's mégaron
It’s in this part of the palace that Evans believed he had found the quarters of both king and queen. Wall decoration, though only fragments of the originals survive, often featured lively portrayals of various sea creatures such as dolphins. (However, the well-known fresco of dolphins now in what Evans decided was the queen’s suite was, according to the Rough Guide, found in a courtyard outside.) The supposed "queen's mégaron" ('great room' or 'hall') has been cited as an example of Sir Arthur's overzealous restoration.
Bull relief fresco
Another image that occurs frequently is that of a bull, seen in wall paintings and also in the three dimensions of elaborate libation vessels. (This fresco is in low relief, so perhaps that makes it two and a half dimensions.) Bulls had religious significance in most of the civilizations that surrounded the Mediterranean (and also in much of the vast territory to the north, east, and west inhabited by peoples whose languages and cultural traditions came down from the ancient Indo-Europeans). It isn’t surprising that the strongest animal found everywhere in this area—which is sadly lacking in elephants—would come to symbolize the power and invincibility these peoples saw, or desired to see, in the gods they worshipped.

In the preceding descriptions I’ve followed tradition in assuming that the rulers of Knossós were male. I don’t think anything to contradict that has been found in the information handed down from ancient Greece, but of course the Greeks (including the Mycenaeans and Dorians who followed the Minoans as masters of Crete) were as patriarchal as other Indo-European tribes. I suppose it’s possible that they dealt with traditions that contravened their fundamental assumptions about human nature the way most people do in our era: first by denial, then by memory loss. Perhaps that nice, comfy, woman-friendly throne (if that’s really what it is) challenges latter-day patriarchist assumptions.

We left Knossós as the daylight was beginning to wane and drove back into the city to visit Iráklio’s Archaeological Museum, which remained open into the evening (and, this being a Sunday, offered free admission). This is Crete’s central repository for Minoan relics (as well as those of other ages), and although Chaniá, Réthymno, Áyio Nikólaos and Sitía have their own museums, the most spectacular finds from all parts of Crete are gathered in this building. For several years now, the museum has been undergoing renovation, and only one exhibition space on the ground floor is open, but many of the best-known Minoan treasures are on display there. These include the bull rhyton (a libation vessel, much reconstructed under Evans’ direction), the famous bull-leaping fresco, and the Phaistós disk with its spiral text in Linear A, all of which you can see on the Minoan Crete page if you click here.
Bee pendant
The Minoans were accomplished potters and jewelers. One example of the latter that we saw in the museum was this famous gold pendant, unearthed at the palace of Mália, built on a symmetrical image of two bees face to face. The bees hold between them a miniaturized image of what might be a hive or a honeycomb, and the gold drop above it might represent honey. A slightly larger drop, fully spherical, is held in a tiny “cage” above their heads, the shape of which might lead one to interpret it as an octopus—also a popular Minoan subject, though I don’t intend to search for any symbolic connection between bees and cephalopods.

While I was typing “Minoan bee pendant” into Google, one of the suggested searches that popped up added the word “meaning,” but checking this out didn’t turn up anything that resembled sober scholarship. It’s true that the later Greeks considered bees sacred, an attitude that could have originated with the Minoans. However, it’s natural enough that bees, since they produced the main sweetener known to the ancient European diet, would have been honored by many peoples.
Snake goddess
Whether or not the maker or wearer of the bee pendant intended it to have a religious meaning, this figurine, known as the “snake goddess” is more obviously devotional. Sir Arthur Evans found it at Knossós, in what he believed to be a temple repository. With it was a larger female image that some scholars think represents the senior member of a mother-daughter pair. Once again there’s a possible connection with Greek religious tradition (ancient Greek, but of course many centuries more modern than the Minoans), for the Greeks are said to have considered every home to be under the protection of a sort of “guardian snake.” The Maenads, female spirits associated with the cult of Dionysos, were often pictured in the company of snakes and panthers—so perhaps it’s worth mentioning that some interpreters have identified the small animal sitting on the goddess’s head as a miniature panther, even though its size makes it look more like a housecat.
Minoan women, or goddesses, or priestesses
Wikipedia, the source of the information in the previous paragraph, remarks that the goddess’s “exposed and amplified breasts suggest that she is probably some sort of fertility figure.” That’s likely enough, but the snake goddess and other images (like this fresco from Knossós) of bare-breasted women with typically Minoan clothing and hairstyles originally led scholars to believe that exposed breasts were the fashion standard in Minoan Crete.

That may be true—I don’t think there’s enough evidence to be sure—but later scholars have suggested that the women these images were intended to represent were either goddesses or else priestesses participating in rituals. Their apparently identical costumes are more suggestive of a ceremony than a social gathering. Be that as it may, however, quite a few artists seem to have found the original interpretation hard to put aside.

After our museum visit, George dropped us off at our hotel. He was due back in the morning to take us to some of the outlying Minoan sites. We’d asked him about restaurants, and the first one he mentioned was Ippókampos, where we’d eaten the previous night. We decided to try his second recommendation, Istioploïkós, located near the ferry dock. On the map it looked quite close to the hotel, but as we’d learned on our trek from the bus station, we needed to negotiate the big staircase to get down there and back up again. The restaurant’s name means ‘Sailing Club,’ but, although operated by a genuine sailing club, it’s open to everyone—fortunately we didn’t have to present yachting credentials.

George had told us it was a local favorite, and the desk person at the Lató seemed to approve our choice when we asked for directions. We went down the long stairway, crossed to the harborside, and walked down the quay in the dark until we found the restaurant, whose address is simply “Limáni (‘Harbor,’) Iráklio.”
Outside tables at Istioploïkós taverna
The evening was mild, and we sat at one of its outside tables, under an awning, but otherwise unsheltered. It was perhaps 8:15 when we arrived, and too dark to think about taking a picture, but this (the only one I could find on the Web) is how it looks in bright daylight. Dorothea remembers that we sat at the table on the right. No boat was moored immediately outside on that night, though.

Only one other party was eating; more locals might have been coming later, or perhaps Sunday isn’t a popular evening to eat out (though it seems unlikely that, in Greece, any evening would belong to that category).

Our waiter spoke no English (more evidence that patrons are mostly local) but was very friendly and attentive. And the food was excellent. We started with two mezedákia: little spherical octopus croquettes, rather like crabcakes, and grilled haloúmi (the Cypriot cheese). With them we shared a salad with balsamic vinegar dressing and anthótyro, a milky, fresh cheese that can be soft like cream cheese or a little firmer, like mozzarella. (Since this was shredded over the salad, it came from the firmer end of the spectrum.) This was enough to satisfy Dorothea, but I also ordered an entrée of cuttlefish served in a sauce made with wine and cuttlefish ink. Everything was delicious.

From where we sat, we could see the docks where the ferries that bring seaborne travelers to Crete land. They are numerous, as befits the island’s biggest city and busiest port. While we were eating, we saw one come in—a large ship, spectacularly lit—though when I say large I’m not comparing it with the mammoth, multistory vessels that haul Americans around the Caribbean—and soon a procession of people laden with backpacks or suitcases came past on the quay.

At the end of the meal we were brought, with the customary rakí, three desserts: almond cake with ice cream, semolina cake (which the waiter called halvah cake—that’s the word in Greek: chalvá—and grapes. We returned to the hotel in a good mood, and didn’t even mind climbing the big stairs to get there. Of course, we weren’t carrying luggage this time.