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Our tour begins on the spectacular Greek Island of Santorini, formed by the caldera that resulted from a cataclysmic volcanic eruption of 3500 years ago, where we visit the impressive remains of ancient Akrotiri and Thira. Our adventure continues as we travel by catamaran over clear turquoise waters to Crete, one of Greece’s most beautiful islands. This wonderful island is famous for its wild flowers, magnificent scenery and for being home to the Minoans, the world’s first advanced civilisation. Positioned at the crossroads of three continents, the island has held an important role in the Mediterranean region throughout history, both ancient and modern. A prized possession of major powers from the third millennium BC through the cultures of the Minoans, Mycenaeans, Romans, Byzantines, Venetians, and Ottomans, and as an occupied territory of Hitler’s Third Reich. Our fascinating tour of these major archaeological sites is led by Dr Chris Hale, curatorial assistant for the British School at Athens’ Stratigraphic Museum at Knossos. Chris has travelled widely throughout Greece participating in numerous archaeological excavations.
The lost world of the Minoans has intrigued people for thousands of years. Europe’s first great civilisation, an advanced society of artisans and skilled civic engineers with a maritime empire so vast it rivalled that of the ancient Egyptians, was inexplicably, and at the height of its power, wiped from the pages of history. The predominant theory regarding that destruction was that it was provoked by something as violent and as sudden as the eruption of Santorini Volcano. Ever since Sir Arthur Evans discovered the lost Palace of King Minos in Crete, archaeologists and scientists have been trying to connect the two events. In the summer of 1988, however, archaeologists digging on the island of Mochlos in Crete uncovered architectural and ceramic remains indicating that the civilisation continued to flourish for some 150 years after the eruption in about 1600 B.C. With the new discovery, archaeologists find themselves searching for an alternative explanation for the sudden fall of the Minoan civilisation around 1450 B.C. If the Theran volcano was not to blame, what then did bring about the fall of the Minoans?
- Staying in wonderful hotels
- Visit the recently refurbished Heraklion Archaeological Museum
- See Spinalonga
- View numerous excavation sites
"TCE are well organised, clearly experienced and willing to go above and beyond to ensure a positive experience"
Day 1 – Depart
Fly from London Gatwick to Santorini and check-in to our hotel for two nights.
Day 2 – Santorini, Akrotiri, Fira Museum
We explore the extraordinary Bronze Age site of Akrotiri buried by ash following a volcanic eruption c1500. In the afternoon we visit the excellent Prehistoric Museum of Fira which houses finds from the excavations.
Day 3 – Thera and Heraklion
The ruins of Ancient Thera, which became the urban centre controlling the whole island once Akrotiri was destroyed, are located on the western slope of Mount Vouna. The site offers spectacular views over cliffs that drop into the sea on three sides. After lunch we take the catamaran to Heraklion and check-in to our hotel for six nights.
Day 4 – Knossos and Heraklion Archaeological Museum
Explore the Minoan palace of Knossos, with its hundreds of small, interconnected chambers, conjectured to have been the Labyrinth of legend. In the afternoon we return to Heraklion to visit the Archaeological Museum, one of the most important of its kind in Greece. Fully re-opened in 2014 following an eight-year refurbishment.
Day 5 – Gortyn, Phaistos & Agia Triada
Drive to the south of the island to visit three important Minoan sites: Gortyn, particularly noteworthy for its Law Code, a lengthy wall inscription created in the 5th century BC; Phaistos, the second largest palace complex after Knossos; and the small but impressive site of Agia Triada where artefacts of the Minoan period were excavated.
Day 6 – Malia, Lato and Spinalonga
Drive to Malia, the third-largest Minoan palace in Crete, built in a wonderful setting near the sea and Lato, the Dorian city state and birthplace of Nearchos, the admiral of Alexander the Great, from here the view down to Lato’s ancient port, Agios Nikolaos, is magnificent. In the afternoon we take a boat across to the island of Spinalonga, former leper colony and Venetian stronghold.
Day 7 – Gournia and Mochlos
Travel to the east of the island to visit Gournia, the best example of a Minoan town in prehistoric Aegean, excavations continue today. After lunch we take a boat trip to Mochlos, one of the largest and most significant of the surviving Early Minoan cemeteries in Crete. Excavators have uncovered more constructed tombs here than at any other cemetery of any period.
Day 8 – Vathypetro
Excavations have brought to light a Minoan villa, a well-preserved oil press and storeroom containing jars. The distinguishing feature of this archaeological site is a tripartite sanctuary that was found within the villa’s precinct. Continue to Heraklion airport for our afternoon flight to London.
3-Day Extension - Chania & Western Crete
Day 8 – Aptera
After lunch drive west to Aptera, the largest Roman site on the island of Crete, located above the largest natural harbour in the Mediterranean Sea. With an altitude of 200m it affords an astonishing view of Souda Bay. Continue to Chania and check-in our hotel for the next 3 nights.
Day 9 – Chania
A day to explore Chania, Crete’s second city and one of the oldest and longest continually inhabited settlements in the world. We will visit the Venetian harbour and lighthouse, damaged during the bombardment by Germans in 1941 but later repaired and reconstructed, the Archaeological Museum and the Maritime Museum which traces Crete's centuries-old relationship with the sea, from the Minoans, through the Byzantine, Venetian, and Turkish periods, to the German invasion of the island during WWII.
Day 10 – Phalasarna
A fortified citadel and one of the most powerful naval ports in Crete during the Hellenistic period with direct links to Alexandria in Egypt. Its geographical position, the fortified closed port and the impressive public buildings suggest a healthy economy and a substantial population.
Day 11 - British War Cemetery Souda
The British Commonwealth War cemetery at Souda Bay. Among the British who lie here is John Pendlebury, the British archaeologist who was assigned curator at Knossos by Arthur Evans in 1929 and played an important part in counter-intelligence in WWII. Continue to Chania airport for return flight to London.
Recommended Reading List
- Abducting a General: The Kreipe Operation and SOE in Crete
- Architecture of Minoan Crete: Constructing Identity in the Aegean Bronze Age
- The Villa Ariadne Paperback
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