In 2006, I was lucky enough to be selected on a field school of 20 students to spend 6 weeks in Greece and Crete, visiting various archaeological sites and completing coursework based on our experiences. This trip (which I extended with additional travel on the end) occurred at the end of a long, hard academic and personal year, and was probably one of the best experiences in my whole life. To this day, I remain friends with my fellow travellers, who were an incredible bunch of talented, bright individuals, and I am eternally grateful to be able to visit such an incredible smorgasboard of ancient sites, many of which are off the tourist path, or not open to tourists at all.
The trip was, for a variety of reasons, totally metal. I thought I’d resurrect a few of the old photos to show you why Greece and Crete are totally metal countries to visit.
And, although they adopted the Euro, things are pretty cheap over there, especially now their economy is rather shite. They can be a strange people, the Greeks, but also incredibly warm, proud and welcoming.
Keep in mind, most of these pictures were taken over five years ago, so I look a bit younger, and my hair is shorter.
1. Visit Archanes-Phourni Cemetery
In my honors dissertation “Minoen Funerary Rituals: Zombification of the Dead” I wrote extensively about this site, and it remains one of my favorite ancient sites in the whole world. Located on top of a craggy mountain (like practically every archaeological site in this region of the world, Phouni is an ancient ceremtery site in use from 2400 to 1200BC. The site consists of a mixture of Minoen and Mycenean tombs, including shaft tombs, some of the earliest examples of tholos tombs, ossurarys, and chamber tombs. The site was built on and added to over a period of a thousand years, with many tombs opened, rennovated, shifted around, and bodies moved from place to place during this time.
Cool stuff found: a dismembered horse, a chamber tomb inside Tholos A containing a “royal” burial of a women surrounded by jewelry. A bull’s skull, seals, an Egyptian vase, amulets, knives, vases, lead weights, a wine press and libation table from the building thought to be a place for guests to the cemetery to hang out, buy some pots to stick in their relatives grave, and chill out with a glass of wine after a hard day’s mourning.
As this site is a little off the beaten track, you’ll probably have it completely to yourself, which is great for taking metal photographs.
And, as a bonus, if you’re not sick of cemetaries, the shaft tombs at Arkedi cemetery might also interest you. I always though this would be the perfect site for a black metal video.
2. Drink Raki / Retzina and party like it’s Summer in Greece
Raki is an anise-flavored spirit, and Retsina, a wine made from pine resin, and both are available in giant plastic bottles for about 3 euros from every corner store. Retsina smells and tastes like turpentine, and Raki, like anise-flavored turpentine. In Greece, you WILL get invited into a back room somewhere and forced into drinking about ten shots of the stuff. In Greece, you WILL dance like a silly person and have arm-wrestling competitions. In Greece, you WILL hold strange themed parties in hotel rooms and listen to terrible pop music and wake up the next morning under a bridge with no idea how you got there or why you’re covered in Forero Rochiers.
When we were in Greece, THIS song was HUGE. It makes me giggle so much – seriously, you will laugh.
I mean, that is NOT a pretty man. But the chorus! “I surrender to your victory!” “Like here? Nowhere!” I giggle :)
Knossos was the political and spiritual heart of the Minoen culture – a sprawling palace built in many stages over the Minoen period. The earliest inhabitants of this site date from 7000BC, and it declined over the Roman period till it was eventually buried and forgotten. It’s the palace of the mythical king Midas, and meant to be the location of his Labyrinth housing his Minutaur. The palace itself is labyrinthine – a maze of rooms, courtyards and stores.
Now, I’ve seen many a castle and palace on my travels, but they never fail to fascinate me, especially those as ancient and mysterious as Knossos. This 1000-room site contains many mysteries, including walled “lustral basins” with descending steps which were thought to be some kind of ritual bathing pool, but as there’s no evidence of drainage, no one is sure what they were.
At Knossos, you’ll encournter a series of “reconstructions” erected by archaeologist Arthur Evans in the 1970s. In fact, most of the site has been reconstructed and this has irreversibly damaged the site. Evan’s reconstructions are a HUGE point of contention among scholars, museum officials and archaeologists. They are probably not accurate, not because Evans was a terrible archaeologist, but because with any reconstruction you have to make a thousand tiny decisions that you can’t discern from the archaeological record, and each one of them is a chance to get it wrong. They are colored by the period in which they were constructed and by the trends in archaeology at the time. But they also help the public to walk onto the site and visualise it – to see what living in that great stucture might have felt like. They give the site a life that many others lack.
4. Scale the Gorge of the Dead
Right next to the ruins of the Kato Zakro palace is the Gorge of the Dead, which you can tell from the name alone is going to be a totally metal travel experience. ICrete is famous for it’s gorges – fierce, craggy slashes criss-crossing its belly like scars on an emo kid’s arm. In the cliffs of the Gorge of the Dead you’ll find caves where bodies of . The remains and funerary objects have long since been removed to nearby museums, but you can still find some of the caves intact.
A well-trodden but poorly-maintained goat path meanders through the gorge floor, or, you can do what many of us did and scale the craggy cliffs. It’s an easy climb, especially if you’ve had any experience with rock-climbing (like me!) but bring sensible shoes – not jandals. Almost all the plants are prickly.
It’s approximately a 2 hour walk at a brisk pace, but if you want to do some climbing, it will take much longer, or you and just go in a little way and retrace your steps. If you like barren, lifeless landscapes, the Gorge of the Dead has a lot of appeal. I can see why the Minoens wanted to be buried here.
You’re not really supposed to climb up to the tombs but hey, we’re metal, so we’re big fans of “Breaking the Law”.
5. Souda Bay
In WWII, British and Commonwealth troops withdrew from Greece and 25, 000 men, mostly New Zealanders, landed at Souda Bay in April 1941. The Germans arrived the following month and the allies moved in to Sfakia. The Germans occupied Souda Bay until 1945. Now, the area houses the largest Allied War Cemetery on the island.
As always, I’m stunned to tears by the care and reverence shown to our dead in countries that are not their own. As a final resting place, it’s truly beautiful.
And, near Souda Bay in the town of Chania is the Avalon rock and metal bar (or at least, there was when I was there). I didn’t get to go, which was a bit sad, but I’ve heard it’s pretty cool.
Sorry, I realise this was a bit cemetery-heavy. I could easily do another post with more great archaeological sites from Crete. What an incredible island.
To get to Crete, you either need a decent boat or you take a half-hour flight from Athens. During summer it’s swamped with tourists soaking up the beaches, but i went in November, the weather was perfect, and the hotels were empty and incredibly cheap. Definitely a place to be in off-season.
Have any of you ever visited Crete? If so, what were your favorite spots?