Thursday, April 19, 2007

Agia Galini the pretty coastal village

Agia Galini is a pretty coastal village and its picturesque port lay in the sheltered bay of Messara which opens to the Libyan Sea.
Located on the southern coast of Crete, just next to the border separating the prefecture of Rethymno from the one of Heraklion, Agia Galini is about 60 kilometres from the town of Rethymno and about 75 kilometres from the town of Heraklion.
The attractive village has numerous accommodations of all categories and styles (even camping sites) to offer, as well as plenty of restaurants, taverns, bars, clubs, cafes and shops.
The high popularity of Agia Galini is justified by the many beauties and charms it offers in combination with good touristy facilities.
Narrow cobbled alleys are snaking from the port into the village and old houses are perched one above another against a steep cliff, offering a magnificent view over the Libyan Sea.
A beautiful pebble beach extends over a kilometre in front of the village, offering its crystalline warm waters to the visitors. Just beyond this popular beach is a lovely nudist beach with mirror-like waters.
On the eastern side of the bay, where the village coils up, many marine caves hide in the rocky shores and can be visited by boats which regularly leave from the port of Agia Galini.
Those wonderful caves are really worth the visit because of the astonishing light effects created by the rays of the sun on the blue sea. Frequent boat excursions are organised to the southern part of Crete.

Link to Agia Galini Video:

Sfakia: The authentic region of Crete

Sfakia, in the southwest of Crete, is the famous and most authentic region of Crete. Here you can find the last pieces of the old Cretan culture and nature, far away from mass tourism. Whether you are looking for the nice and quiet, on the natural beaches, or want to be active, with mountain hiking, swimming, diving and fishing: this is THE place! By the way, did you know Sfakia is Europe's southernmost part?

Nowadays Crete's main businesses are olive oil, wine and tourism. The latter is mainly centered along the North coast. The South West is sheltered from the masses by huge mountain ranges of over 2500 metres high. Only a few roads go south. There you arrive in a better climate region, even better than the Mediterranean climate! Since the mountains appear to sink directly in the sea, only small locations are suitable for villages. This scales down the possibilities for holiday resorts. Since Sfakia is quite remote, also the culture of their inhabitants is less business focused. Hospitality is still an art over here, with good tavernas, fresh fish and meat and very fair prices. The drinking water is mineral water from wells deep into the mountains. The natural beaches are wells of mountain rivers, with sweet water mixing with the sea. The best and most clear swimming water is here.

The hills and mountains are crossed by huge gorges; Sfakia's Samaria gorge is the biggest of Europe, but there are many more and all can be walked fairly easily. A ferry is connecting the villages along the South West coast; there is no noisy ongoing road. Directly from your hotel in Chora Sfakion, the small capital of Sfakia, you can start your daily programme: the beaches are only 25 meters away, more than 20 hiking routes start from here, all ferries come to Chora Sfakion and there is a good bus connection to the East and the North, by renovated 2 lane streets. You can also rent a car to explore the region, with its many small traditional villages.

In the evenings you have a choice of fine restaurants and tavernas, with local dishes of fresh fish, lobster, lam and goat or more international dishes. The Cretan wine is excellent and so is the olive oil and the Raki or Tsikoudia, as they call it: a tasty spirit made from the remains of the wine production. The Sfakians like to join you at your table and tell their stories or listen to yours. For disco and night clubs you have chosen the wrong place.

When you arrive by plane on Crete, you have the choice of 2 airports: Heraklion and Chania. If you have the chance, take Chania. This one is far more close to Sfakia, but even more important: it's small and quiet: check out is very quick and outside you can take the local bus, a pre-ordered taxi from Sfakia or rent a car. A one-and-a half hour's drive through the impressive White Mountains range down south brings you to paradise!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Minoan Places of Worship and Religion

We do not know for sure if Minoans believed in one god and one goddess with many manifestations or in many gods and goddesses. It seems, however, that the vegetation cycle was central to the religion of Minoans. In their religion there was a goddess and a god who got married. The young god, like the vegetation, died and was reborn every year. The goddess appears more frequently in designs and is presented as a Tree Goddess, Snake Goddess, Dove and Poppy Goddess, Sea Goddess travelling in her ship, Mountain Peak Goddess, Animal Mistress Goddess, and Mother Goddess. The Young God is presented as a Tamer of Wild Beasts or a Warrior. Many of these qualities were passed to different gods of the Greek pantheon as is the case with Zeus, who, according to Cretans, died and was reborn every year. The names of the Greek gods appear in the Linear B tablets of Knossos of the Postpalatial Period, but the Minoan religion was dominant in the island in this period. In some cases, the Minoan religion survived even in the Greek periods, personified by new gods, as is the case with the goddess Vritomartis and Dictinna of the Greek pantheon who, however, are manifestations of the Earth Mother Goddess.

The gods and goddesses were closely associated with the king and queen. The male god was associated with the sun and the goddess with the moon. Certain animals like the bull, the wild goat, and the snake had sacred significance for the Minoans. The snake was a beneficent spirit that protected the home. The bull horns an the double axes are sacred symbols that appear everywhere in the palaces. The significance of the double axe is that it was used to sacrifice bulls to the divinity. Other sacred symbols include a knot, a figure-eight infinity symbol, a cross-in-a-wheel symbol and a holy tree symbol.

The places of worship of Minoan Crete were in caves, on mountain peaks, in small domestic shrines, and in special sections of palaces. Worship often consisted of offerings to the god, such as grain, figurines, animal models, double axes, weapons, and pottery. Such offerings have been found in several caves of Crete. The caves of Trapeza and Psychro in the Lassithi Plateau are examples of places where worship in caves took place. The Greek myths later said that the Mother Goddess Rhea hid the Young God whom the Greeks called Zeus in the cave of Psychro (Spileo Dikteon Andron), apparently associating a Minoan worship place and religion with a later god. Other important Minoan caves of religious significance include the Kamares Cave on the south side of Psiloritis, and the Skotino and Eilithia Caves (Spileo Eilithias) near Iraklion and the Spileo Ideon Andron, Oropedio Nida.

The Peak Sanctuaries were laid out on mountain tops or hill tops and they were built in a series of terraces to accommodate the number of people who would come on holy days. Large fires, which could be seen from long distances, were lit and the people would cast various offerings into the fire. Examples of Peak Sanctuaries are Karfi (above the Lassithi Plateau), Petsofas near Palaikastro in eastern Crete, and Mount Youktas near Iraklion.

In the palaces there are dark crypts for ritual purposes in almost all Minoan settlements. Rectangular altars of stone where sacrifices and burning of offerings took place existed in the palaces. One such altar still stands in Festos and Vathipetro.

Objects used in the ceremonies were offering tables, vessels with two or three containers for keeping small quantities of grain and other agricultural products for blessing (rhyton). When ceremonies took place in an open space, they were attended by many people and the priest had to speak through a triton shell in order to be heard. Dancing, bull fighting, and other athletic events were also part of the ceremonies. A number of clay figurines displayed in the Iraklion Museum represent dancers. A clay figurine found in the Kamilari tomb shows dancers dancing in a circle holding each other by the shoulders like modern Cretan dancers. Bull fighting was not fatal for the bull, but it could conceivably have been so for the athletes! In the bull fight the athlete seized the bull by the horns and performed somersaults over his neck. A number of frescoes and sculptures show such events. Boxing, wrestling and jumping were parts of the athletic events performed in such ceremonies.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Women in Minoan Culture

Urbanization dramatically changes social relations. In place of real, biological relationships based on kinship, urbanized cultures organize themselves around more abstract, less stable, and inherently unequal lines. In particular, urbanized society is organized around "class," that is, economic function, rather than kinship. Economic function produces a kind of social inequality, as administrators, kings, and priests, come to occupy economically more important roles (distribution and regulation) than others. While there is really no such thing as social mobility in the ancient world, class is inherently unstable as a way of organizing society.

Urbanization also produces a split in human experience; life is divided into a public and a domestic sphere. In small tribal societies, this split is non-existent or barely evident, but urbanization produces a marked distinction between these two spheres. Almost universally, men dominate the newly formed public sphere: administration, regulation, and military organizations. Social inequality, then, gets established along sexual lines as well as economic function. This is a dramatic and traumatic change for any society to go through; literally, the entire world view has to adapt dramatically to account for this new inequality. For instance, most religions probably began as goddess religions; the new urbanized societies, however, develop god religions in their place.

Crete, so singular in everything else, seems to have avoided this. Not only does Crete seem to be a class-based society where there is little class inequality, archaeological evidence suggests that women never ceased playing an important role in the public life of the cities. They served as priestesses, as functionaries and administrators, and participated in all the sports that Cretan males participated in. These were not backyard sports, either, like croquet. The most popular sports in Crete were incredibly violent and dangerous: boxing and bull-jumping. In bull-jumping, as near as we can tell from the representations of it, a bull would charge headlong into a line of jumpers. Each jumper, when the bull was right on top of them, would grab the horns of the bull and vault over the bull in a somersault to land feet first behind the bull. This is not a sport for the squeamish. All the representations of this sport show young women participating as well as men.

Women also seem to have participated in every occupation and trade available to men. The rapid growth of industry on Crete included skilled craftswomen and entrepreneurs, and the large, top-heavy bureaucracy and priesthood seems to have been equally staffed with women. In fact, the priesthood was dominated by women. Although the palace kings were male, the society itself does not seem to have been patriarchal.

Evidence from Cretan-derived settlements on Asia Minor suggest that Cretan society was matrilineal, that is, kinship descent was reckoned through the mother. We live in a patrilineal society; we spell out our descent on our father's side—that's why we take our father's last name and not our mother's last name. While we can't be sure that Cretan society was matrilineal, it is a compelling conclusion since the religion was goddess-based.