"Exploring Crete" is Peter Sommer Travels' first scheduled tour in 2017. This year, to give an impression of the experience, we are providing a diary of sorts on our blog. Rather than describing every day in detail (you can check our itineraries on www.petersommer.com for that) every day we will pick one image we took that day, accompanied by some explanations and thoughts.
The final day of our "Exploring Crete" itinerary is a very important one for our tour narrative, as it permits us to draw together many of the different strands of history we have been referring to again and again over the previous ten days. For me personally, it also a very exciting day, because it gives me the opportunity to revisit a great many objects that I love, and to share them with our guests, by explaining their context and significance and by enjoying their sheer beauty together.
All of this happens during the only tour of this final day, but the longest individual visit of the entire trip: in the Archaeological Museum at Heraklion/Iraklio. That's where we went this morning. The museum is enormous and contains vast amounts of finds from all over Crete, ranging from prehistory to the Late Roman/Early Byzantine era. Reopened recently after very major renovations and redesign, it is now a state-of-the-art exhibit, well-presented, well-labelled and well-lit - a delight to visit and a delight to guide in.
There are more highlights here than I can list even in a blog post. Cases full of wonderful Minoan pottery, the famous fresco wall paintings from the Palace of Knossos, Minoan stone-carved vessels of incredible intricacy, also carved ivories, and many other objects throwing light on the Minoan civilisation, mysterious as it is and prone as it was to produce things of immense beauty. Beyond the Bronze Age, there is a series of galleries focusing on the Iron Age, the Geometric and Archaic eras, when Crete was a pioneer in the development of what we now know as Greek culture. Of special interest is the wonderful array of 'Daedalic' sculpture, material from the 7th century BC that draws together Middle Eastern, Egyptian and local traditions, and that can be seen as a forerunner of what we now understand as Early Greek art.
Our image shows a display of necklaces from the Bronze Age cemetery at Archanes Fourni, a site we would love to add to our Cretan itinerary once we can. It is sometimes considered the royal cemetery of Knossos (not that we know they actually had royalty in our sense of that word). The finds from there are superbly rich, and our picture is just a small sample. Gold and blue glass paste are the materials used to produce ornaments of extraordinary beauty and elegance. Other jewellery from the same context uses rock crystal, carnelian and many other fine imported materials, highlighting how palatial Crete was rich and stable enough to ensure regular imports of exotic materials and to maintain local craftsmen specialised in working them.
Our final visit was, of course, followed by a final dinner of Cretan specialities in one of Iraklio's best restaurants...