Crete is the birthplace of one of the most glorious ancient civilizations: the Minoan Civilization. Its most important center was Knossos, with Phaistos following. The ancient disk found in Phaistos (the famous Phaistos Disk) is thought to be one of the most important archaeological findings of our time, one that carries valuable messages for the whole of humanity. It is yet to be translated, though. The Minoan Civilization had already been developed to a very high degree by 3.500 B.C., while it sustained its development until 12 century B.C.
Many legends were born in Knossos, such as the one of Minatauros, the monster with the human body and the bull head, which was killed by Theseus in Knossos’ labyrinth. The city of Knossos, which was never uninhabited since the Neolithic Era, was built in area of Kefala, 5 km southeast of Heraklion’s location today.
Although only a small part of it has been rescued, one has the opportunity to admire the achievements of that period, such as the water networks and the heating and cooling pipelines. The findings from the palace (pots, vessels, figurines, the board archive of Linear B script, and the original wall paintings as well) are kept in the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion.
Eleftherna is also worth visiting. It is one of the most ancient cities in Crete and the most important archeological site in Rethymno Prefecture. The city was founded in the 9th century B.C. and remained inhabited until the byzantine years. It was built in a strategic location, where the road from the city of Knossos, the road from the ancient city of Kydonia (in the other side of Crete – Chania) and the road from the holy Idi Mountain (Psiloritis) met. Precious findings have seen the light of day from the excavations in this area. Eleftherna changed hands but never stopped growing. During the roman years, city baths, cisterns, palaces, public buildings and a tower were built. The landmark was a church called Grand Vassiliki, which is saved until today. In 2010, a grave of a young couple was discovered in Eleftherna. The couple was covered with a cerecloth consisting of 3.000 gold leaves! The grave is aged 2.700 years.
Not far from Eleftherna lays the Holy Abbey of Arkadi, probably the most historic Abbey in Crete. It is built in a strategic location, on a fertile plateau of Mountain Idi (Psiloritis). In November 8th 1866, this Abbey saw Crete’s greatest sacrifice for freedom against the 250-year Turkish Domination. Almost 1.500 warriors from all over Crete engaged in a bloody fight against 15.000 Turks.
When the Greek defense broke, Cretans retreated in the gunpowder-keg. Captivity being the only alternative, Konstantinos Giampoudakis from Adele Village, lit the gunpowder, killing hundreds of Greeks and Turks. It is said that the bang was heard to Heraklion. The Abbey was completely rebuilt after its destruction.
Today, the only thing that reminds us the bravery of Giampoudakis and the warriors who died on his side is a cannon ball wedged in the age-old cypress on the right side of the church. Arkadi was designated a European Freedom Monument by UNESCO.