According to historians, only ruins of the Minoan civilization that existed on Crete are left. The inhabitants of the Greek island are ready to argue with this. The palaces really collapsed, but the Minoans are alive
The ruins of the Minoan palace of Malia resemble a country garden. Surviving fragments of walls, boulders – like partitions between beds. Clay vessels as if prepared for watering. The reddish earth is weeded by the sun, which completely burns out the weeds during the summer, and fertilized by the sea. From the mountains, blue and heavy, like gigantic waves, a fog is approaching, soaked in thyme and hops.
Nothing has been growing in this “garden” for a long time, except for wild plants. It is hard to imagine that 4,000 years ago a mighty two-story complex of 7,500 square meters with an amphitheater, balconies, porticos, frescoes was erected here … Now only palaces, hotels, taverns and shops for tourists flourish on the coast of Malia.
— Minoan palaces really crumbled like sand. But not the Minoans. It’s just that now we live pano, that is, upstairs, – a salesman from a local shop named Telemachos assures me. – Don’t you believe me? Elah[translated from Greek. “okay”, “come on”]. Take a closer look. I have Cretan eyes and curly hair. There is nothing Hellenic, Venetian or Turkish in my face. I'm a Minoan!
Having learned that I'm going to “pano” too, Uncle Telemachos wraps me a couple of Cretan cucumbers from his own mountain garden at home. They are round, with longitudinal slots, almost white, like stones turned by the sea.
The Cretans believe that in the first millennium BC, when the Achaeans captured the island, the Minoans left their palaces on the seashore and went into caves and gorges. There they formed new settlements, brought in goats and sheep, planted beds. The Achaeans did not interfere with them. The mountains seemed to the conquerors impassable and unsuitable for life. So, according to the local version, the Minoans managed to escape and preserve the “purity of the ethnic group.” Even the Cretan scientists adhere to this point of view.
– Actually, it is generally accepted that the Minoans “merged” with the Achaeans. Two peoples became one. However, there is no evidence, – says professor-historian Antonis Vlavogilakis. – Modern Cretans, of course, differ from the ancient Minoans, but probably because of the metamorphoses that have occurred over the centuries. Personally, I, like my fellow tribesmen, consider myself a Minoan and I am proud of my origin. It was our ancestors, along with the Egyptians, who laid the foundations of Western culture.
< h2>A sharp turn
The mountains of the Kourtaliot Gorge in southwest Crete —like a giant layer cake. In such “layers” the ancient Minoans hid from the first invaders. There was a turn in the fate of this people.
Among the stone layers are the dense greens of Cretan oaks and pines, rosemary, Cretan cistus, honey-yellow gorse flowers. This complex mountain filling is stuffy, hot and sweet. It's good that there are ice waterfalls below that feed the river.
The highlanders have laid down a legend about these waterfalls. Allegedly, among the Minoans who settled in the gorge during the period of early Christianity, there was a hermit Nikolaos, who was nicknamed Kourtaliotsky. Once there was a drought, the river evaporated. Nikolaos prayed for a week and abstained from food. Then he struck the rock with his staff, and the keys were hammered from there, over the years they grew into waterfalls. Since then, the elder became the patron of the shepherds and farmers of Crete.
– The conquerors did not encroach on the mountains: they did not take into account that the soil there, containing clay and iron, is fertile, olives and grapes can be grown on it, & nbsp; — explains my guide Anastasia. She has been living on the island for seven years, she is equally well versed in the mountain paths and traditions of Crete.
Having moved to the mountains, the Cretans raised the production of wine and honey according to Minoan recipes. Scientists believe that both industries existed 3,000 years ago. This is evidenced, in particular, by a stone vat for crushing grapes with feet (potetiri), installed in the Palace of Knossos, and a gold pendant in the form of two bees holding a drop of honey in their paws, found during excavations in the necropolis of the Minoan palace of Malia. The products were exported across the Mediterranean, including to Egypt.
— What is the difference between Minoan wine and honey? — I ask Anastasia.
“They have a special taste because of the endemic plants. There are about 150 of them in Crete. Wine is made from local grape varieties: “plito”, “sultani”, “mandilari”. It can not be stored for a long time, you have to drink young. The drink tastes like diluted with water. And honey is obtained from the flowers of coniferous trees – cedars and pines, medicinal sage (fascomilo), a variety of oregano dictamos …
Meanwhile, we are jumping up 200 steep steps carved into the rock. Once on the highway, I clutch at my knee, aching from exertion. I see a skinny old man by the roadside, scorched by the sun and looking like a withered Cretan oak. He squints from under bushy eyebrows at my legs.
– Do your knees hurt? Ela. Buy dictamos from me, – the Cretan holds out the dried stems. – I had surgery on both knees, I drank the decoction for three years and now I jump through the mountains like a kri-kri goat.
I check with Anastasia, what a miracle cure.
— The Minoans believe that dictamos is a strong painkiller. Even Hippocrates discovered its healing properties. But perhaps the strongest drug that allows you to move mountains is tsikudya, Cretan vodka made from grape pomace. The Cretans heat tsikudya almost to a boil, inhale the vapors, then add honey and drink. If it doesn’t help, then the patient is incurable, you can order a memorial service.
Most likely, the new Minoans invented tsikoudya to withstand the harsh climate: snow lies on the peaks until June. From a distance, it looks like powdered sugar on a cake. Now I understand why some of the mountains of Crete are called White.
Yorgos at a height
“Drink tsikoudya from the road” – and the mountain from your shoulders, “- offers the owner of a cheese factory in the village of Agios Vasilios, where I stopped for a halt. The village is located to the west of Mount Ida (Psiloritis) with the highest peak in Crete (2456 meters). The local mountains are completely covered with greenery and look like bunches of spinach, which is very popular with local gardeners.
Vodka is clear and soft, like water from the Kourtaliot springs, to which a little grape juice has been added, sweetish.
The owner's name is Yorgos. The most common name in Crete. It means “farmer” in Greek. According to the Cretans, when agriculture became the main business of the Minoans, men began to address each other as “yorgos”. Many stopped responding to their real names and introduced themselves as Yorgos when they met.
Cheese maker Yorgos Laboudakis looks like a Cretan bearded hawk. All in black. On his feet are high leather boots, on his head is a bandana with a fringe falling over his forehead.
“These are our Minoan clothes,” Yorgos smiles. – Without it, the farmer is in no way. Boots – stivania – can withstand any stones and mountain thorns. They can jump faster than goats. Enemies will not catch up. And in the bootleg we carry a knife just in case. These shoes last for five years. When the boot is torn, we tear off the bootleg and sew it to the new sole. The headdress protects from the sun, it's like fire here. The tassels are a symbol of the tears my ancestors shed because of the invaders who tried to pulverize our culture… Ela. Let's have another drink. Now the snack will arrive.
Yorgos knocks over a glass, wipes his mustache, puts a cauldron on burner and pouring a jug into fresh goat milk.
– When it boils, I'll add a glass of grape vinegar. The milk will immediately curdle & nbsp; – and the Minoan mizithra cheese is ready. You can immediately take it with you to the mountains when you go to graze goats or cultivate the land. If the myzithra is salted and hung in a cloth bag for several days to drain the whey, you will get antotiro cheese. Well, if you put it higher in a cold mountain cave for a couple of months – there will be graviera cheese. A reserve for the winter, – explains the cheese maker, stirring the milk in a cauldron.
Yorgos puts ready-made myzithra on a plate, white crumbly lumps like fragments of limestone from the mountains, and pours honey thick as pine resin. The cheese is bland, almost tasteless, but with honey it becomes spicy, flowery, juicy…
“Myzithra is tastier when wrapped in puff pastry,” says 87-year-old confectioner Yorgos Padziparas. I decided to visit him in Rethymnon on a tip from a cheese maker. Kyrios (Greek for men) Padziparas alone in Crete remembers how to knead the right Minoan dough that can be stored in the mountains for months. It does not spoil either in the heat of summer or in the cold of winter. Bakers from all over the island come to the confectioner.
Grandfather Yorgos —in a white apron and cap, slightly stooped, pointed-nosed like a pigeon — throws a lump of dough, pliable like clay, on the table and begins to knead it with his hands.
— I knead the dough in the evening and put it in fridge. Ancestors kept it in mountain caves,” explains the confectioner. If it does not tear, then the dough is good. While stretching, I wind kilometers. From the age of 20, when I took up this business, until today I circled the Earth several times …
Yorgos stretches the dough onto the table. Folding back the edge, the old man puts a newspaper under it. Through the thinnest layer, the word “Kriti” is clearly read in Greek.
– Now I will cover the dough with burlap and let it dry for half an hour. Then I cut into even parts, these will be layers. Between them I will put walnuts, myzithra or spinach – and into the oven. Or I’ll bake it without filling in olive oil, and then pour it with honey, – Yorgos argues.
– What is the secret of such a thin dough? – I ask.
– Flour, water and salt. And the hands of a Minoan, — the old man laughs.
Yorgos' workshop was hidden under the round vaults of the first floor of a stone house. The confectionery resembles a mountain cave, and the building itself seems to be carved right into the rock. The Padziparas family managed to hide the dough recipe here from all the conquerors. In the 13th century, Rethymnon was captured by the Venetians, in the 16th century by pirates led by Hayraddin Barbarossa, in the 17th century by the Ottomans. The latter tried to cut out the entire Minoan population, along with the culture, like a weed. However, the Turkish soldiers underestimated the Minoans. They were able to move mountains to defend their own.
Representatives of an advanced civilization that flourished on Crete in the Bronze Age (3000-1450 BC). The name comes from the name of the mythical king Minos, who ruled Crete.
Palaces are considered the main monuments of the era. They were built on the coast so that it would be convenient to conduct maritime trade: the Minoans produced wine, honey, olive oil, gold jewelry, tools, and ceramic dishes. The most significant Cretan palaces are Knossos, Phaistos and Mali. There were centers of cultural, economic and political life.
The most famous was the Palace of Knossos, where, according to legend, the architect Daedalus built the Labyrinth, where the Minotaur was imprisoned. The palaces were destroyed by a volcanic eruption on the island of Santorini around 1450 BC. e. Around the same period, the Hellenic tribes of the Achaeans came to Crete and mixed with the Minoans. Civilization ceased to exist after the Dorians invaded around 1200 BC.
Stronger than rocks
— My relative Gerasimos Pikrakis was the abbot of the Atali monastery in the 19th century. At the height of the Turkish invasion, he sailed to the island of Syros for weapons for the Minoan rebels. Gerasimos was taken prisoner, but he managed to escape. National hero. The people even made a song about him! – says the green-eyed Evangelios Pikrakis, the owner of the Ariadni shop of Minoan products in the port of Bali in northern Crete.
Before the arrival of the Turks, this port was also called Atali, but the conquerors renamed it. Bal – “honey” in Turkish.
Evangelios points to the mountains. I peer, but behind the oily olive sea I see only clouds and the sun, like myzithra with honey, and peaks covered with greenery. No monastery.
– The Minoan monks built them so that the enemies would not find, – explains Evangelios.
During the Turkocracy (as the Ottoman occupation was called here), which lasted more than 200 years, mountain monasteries considered the safest place. The monks hid women and children from neighboring settlements, and raised the men to resist and led the rebel detachments themselves.
Nevertheless, the Turks sometimes attacked the trail and dug up monasteries among the mountain layers. And then the monks went to their deaths to prevent the conquerors from defiling the Minoan heritage.
This happened to the monastery of Arkadi in the 19th century. The abbot, Father Gabriel, gathered about 200 rebels with their families within the walls of the monastery and prepared barrels of gunpowder. I did not have time to fight: 15 thousand Turkish soldiers surrounded the monastery. A demonstrative execution awaited the rebels: the Ottomans hung them, chopped off their heads. Knowing this, the Minoans in Arkadi set fire to powder kegs. All the monks and villagers, except for one girl, died. One and a half thousand Turkish warriors exploded with them.
In another monastery, Preveli, two elders sacrificed themselves – Isaiah and Jeremiah. While their abbot Melchizedek Tsouderos was fighting in the village, the Turks reached the monastery and impaled the old men… But Melchizedek returned with a victory.
I manage to find Preveli only with the help of the driver Yorgos. Peeling stone walls are overgrown with wild grapes and merge with the mountains. Three monks live here. The monks planted a garden in Preveli, descending in steps to the milky-blue Libyan Sea. Peacocks, aloe and geraniums in clay vessels, cypresses. Almost like in the era of the Minoan palaces. It was not in vain that they fought.
Mountain for their own
Cretans often remember how their ancestors resisted the conquerors, and arrange village holidays in honor of the heroes. For example, May 20 & nbsp; – Day of the beginning of resistance to the Nazis. Hitler's troops expected to capture Crete in a day, the operation was called “Mercury”.
Enemy airborne troops landed on the island on May 20, 1941. But the invaders were met on tanks by Cretan militias and British, New Zealand, and Australian allies. And in the mountains, the Minoans came out to the Nazis – simple villagers with knives, rakes and shovels. As a result, the assault lasted 10 days. When the Germans managed to crush the resistance on May 31, the monks from the monastery of Preveli ferried the allies to the British submarine and saved five thousand people.
I walk up a narrow serpentine to the village of Daratsos in the region of Chania, hoping to get on a walk. The path uphill is steep. Feeling like I'm climbing a sheer cliff. There is an abyss on my side: one wrong step and I will jump there.
The white stone houses of Daratsos with sea-colored doors and shutters cover the mountain like snow. Some of the huts leaned over and almost sunk into the ground. The modern Minoans live here. Seeing me, people smile, nod.
– Jasu [“hello” in the Cretan dialect]! Have a drink with us! – a toothless, almost decayed old woman, wrapped from head to toe in a black scarf, hands me a glass of tsikudya and a barley crouton.
At the city hall, dancers line up in a semicircle. Holding hands, they perform chaniotikos. In the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion, a terracotta sculptural group is exhibited: the Minoans in an open round dance. The figurines are about three thousand years old, which means that even then dances were part of the culture. The villagers join the round dance and drag me along. And now I'm already jumping, beating the rhythm with my heel and soaring above the top …
My friend Miltiadis Despotakis, a native of Chania, is taking me back in a car. It is huge and reminds me of a mountain.
— What do you think, what are modern Minoans like? — I ask Miltiadis.
— We are kind, direct and open to those who we are valued and respected. Enemies & nbsp; – into the abyss, and for friends we stand with a mountain. Our ancestors were just like that.
Area of Crete 8450 km
Population < /strong>~617,400 people
Population density 75 people/km²
Area of Greece 131,957 km² (95th in the world )
Population~10,432,000 people (88th)
Population density79 pax/km²
ATTRACTIONS Palace of Knossos near Heraklion, Lychnostatis Ethnographic Museum in Hersonissos, Venetian towns Rethymno and Chania, Cave of Zeus (Dikteyskaya) above the Lassithi plateau.
TRADITIONAL DISHES fried feta with red hot peppers, puff pastries with cheese (tiropita) and spinach (spanakopita).
TRADITIONAL DRINKS tsikoudya, rakomelo (vodka with honey) .
SOUVENIRS olive oil, soap with olive oil, tablecloths and napkins embroidered with olives, honey.
DISTANCE from Moscow to Heraklion  ;- 2460 km (3 hours 45 minutes in flight)
TIME behind Moscow for an hour in winter, the same in summer
< strong>CURRENCY Euro
Photo: HEMIS (X5), SIME (X5)/LEGION-MEDIA
Material published in magazine “Vokrug sveta” No. 8, October 2020, partially updated in February 2023