Being the birthplace of Zeus and Europe’s first advanced civilization, the Minoans, Crete is its own soap opera of history wrapped into Greece’s largest island. Its history has been written for around 5,000 years with its first inhabitants logged in Neolithic times. From its Minoan palaces, Turkish mosques, Venetian strongholds and even a godly cave or two, Crete offers a trip back in time corner to corner. If you want to follow Crete’s legendary and historic soap opera, you won’t want to miss these four ancient sites.
Knossos: The biggest and most famous ancient drawing card on Crete is easily the Palace of Knossos. Located just outside of the sprawling city of Iraklion, Knossos is Crete’s most popular ancient attraction. The area once served as the capital of Minoan Crete. The remains of two major palaces along with several restorations can still be seen today. According to legend, the Palace of Knossos belonged to the legendary King Minos. It was been inhabited from the Neolithic period until Roman times. Archaeologist Arthur Evans began excavating the site in 1900 and would piece together what he speculated the space once looked like. The palace of the Minoan civilization certainly seems to have a bit of the archaeologist’s liberties taken but it is impressive nonetheless. You can see the mosaics and frescos found at the palace in the Iraklio Archaeological Museum.
Ideon Cave: Lodged into the mountains of Western Crete, you can crawl down into Zeus’ supposed birthplace. Crete’s highest mountain Mt. Psiloritis harbors the Ideon Cave, where according to legend the god Zeus was brought up to his greatness. The cave served as a place of worship beginning in 4000 B.C. to the first century A.D. The Ideon Cave acted as a pilgrimage site of sorts, as concluded due to all of the artifacts left behind like gold jewelry and a bronze shield. While there is not much to the cave, it does offer a cool from the hot Greek summer sun. You can reach the cave after a steep but short hike from the parking lot.
Rethymno’s Venetian Fortress: Buried in Rethymno’s Old Quarter, the Venetian Fortress stands tall and proud. The fortress was constructed from 1573 to 1581 in order to keep out the pirates and the Turks. Once you enter its thick golden walls, you can roam the space and its scattered structures including a partially restored mosque. While there is not much to the old fortress, it is still a stop where the imagination can roam to another time, all while appreciating sea and city views.
Phaestos (pictured): If you head southwest from Iraklion by about 60 kilometers, you can meet Crete’s second most important Minoan palace, Phaestos. The palace features unreconstructed ruins, differing from the big cheese Knossos. However, its unaltered ruins are part of the appeal of Phaestos. The palace was built in 1900 B.C. and rebuilt after an earthquake around 1650 B.C. The Greeks continued to roam the palace city until the second century B.C. Phaestos isn’t just notable for its ruins and history, but it boasts breathtaking views of the Mesara Plain and Mt. Psiloritis.