cj#541> Crete Diary: Knossos re-interpreted


Richard Moore


        Returned Sunday from a _really_ relaxing two weeks with
(girlfriend) Monica in Crete, framed by a couple days at each end in
Dublin, partying with her brother and his partner.  We spent the first week
in Lutro -- a sleepy village accessible only by ferry -- and rented a car
for the second week, touring the island and staying mostly in a beautiful
and inexpensive hotel (the Flisvos) in Hersonymos.  After the unwinding
week in Lutro we didn't mind the glaring tourism and wares-touting of the
more populous realms.  Spent a day at the fabulous reconstructed ruins of
Knossos Palace, an architectural marvel that I'm not sure has been
surpassed since, in terms of balance, scale, variety, elegance, and
coherence.  Let's take a detour to investigate the palace -- it seems the
acheologists blew it on this one big time...


        The palace is huge and sprawling (approximately 150 meters on a
"side"), incoroporating some five stories, with light shafts that give all
the spaces an open feeling.  Enough of it was preserved (or has been
reconstructed) to give a good sense of what it was like, though what's
there is only a fraction of the artist's rendition of the full structure.
Apparently the palace itself is what became, in later mythology, the
Labyrinth, and Daedelus was indeed the architect.  The direct connections
to Greek mythology, and the quality of the surviving portions, are
inspiring to the imagination.  Hard to believe it's a full millenium older
than classical Rome.

        Interestingly enough, many of the features seem to be inadequately
interpreted by the archeologists, and it was compelling to try to figure
out what was really going on there.  For example, there are structures
called "Lustral Pools" where the only explanation offered (at least in the
on-sale guidebooks) is that they "were for some ritual purpose".  After
descending into one of them, I started developing my own theories (as you
might expect).

        A U-shaped staircase takes you down into a rectangular pool several
feet deep.  After sitting down at the bottom for a few minutes, I climbed
up the staircase (with its two bends) and had a clear sense of "emerging"
from a sub-world back into the daylight.  When you consider that the
"creation myth" of the Minoan civilization was that Zeus emerged from the
Mediterranean and stepped onto Crete (with Europa on his back), then one
might suspect that a Lustral Pool is a way of personally experiencing that
"emergence/creation act" -- of becoming one with "the underworld" and then
returning rejuvinated into "the world".  Perhaps one stayed under water for
some brief moments, and then climbed ritualistically out -- a precursor of
baptism.  Some heavy stone compact objects (bowls, urns, whatever) were
found adjacent to some of the pools, and would, like a scuba diver's
weights, have facilitated staying briefly under water.  Pottery was
extremely advanced (the delicate china cups are as good as any we have
today), and stone objects would have been passe if containment was the only

        It would seem that water was central to the conciousness and
imagination of the Minoan civilization.  Minos' power was based on having
the first strong European navy, controlling trade on the nearby seas, and
stemming piracy.  The palace has an extensive under-floor drainage system
-- very modern in design, with inter-fitting terra cotta clay pipes.  But
the guidebook says this system is misleading, and water would have been in
relatively short supply.  It ain't necessarily so.

        Many of the horizontal surfaces would have been strikingly lovely
if flooded with a shallow sheet of water, and there are abundnant
indications that they were.  To begin with, many of the surfaces are
cobbled by what the guidebooks call "crazy paving" -- irregular flat stones
of green schist with red plaster in the interstices.  On first seeing this
paving (in stark contrast to the other, perfectly smooth, stark-white
gypsum surfaces) it gave me an immediate impression of representing a
shallow, rocky, sea bottom.  If the surface had an inch or two of water
covering it (or flowing over it), the illusion would be compelling indeed.
Not only that, but most of these surfaces are traversed by raised walkways
-- just high enough to provide dry passage over a sheet of water.  The
guidebooks say only that these paths were "procession ways", with no guess
as to why they were raised.

        With this "water-surface" perspective, many features of the palace
become very interesting.  The main entrance to the palace (the Corridor of
the Procession) is a raised walkway which follows a narrow, twisting
corridor, with the Crazy Paving on both sides of the path.  It would appear
that one approached the palace over a simulated sea (the West Court), and
then followed a darkened water corrdor into the magic labyrinthian interior
-- a Disneyland-like entry into Poseidon Land!

        Continuing with "water conciousness" as one tours the palace
interior, one sees abundant floodable surfaces, water spouts, descending
water ways and waterfall features, water channels bordering stairways, etc.
The place would have been a water wonderland, with some portions "above
water", some skirting the surface, and some being simulated underwater
realms, such as the Queens Chamber which has the famous dolphin frescos on
the walls.  Each of the water features is either ignored in the guidebooks,
or else explained away as "handling rain runoff", or "supplying laundry
water", or whatever.  The Big Picture seems to have been missed entirely.

        The central feature of the palace is the Tripartate Shrine, which
symbolizes, according to the guidebooks, the Three Realms: Underworld,
World, and Heavens.  It would seem that the entire palace expands on this
symbology, with the higher portions being Heavenly, the Western and Central
Courts being the level of the sea, with the World surrounding them, and the
lower portions being The Underworld.  The Grand Staircase of the Royal
Suites spans the Three Realms, enabling the royal family to frolic at will
between Heaven, Earth, and Underworld.  The descending East Wing of the
palace is criss-crossed by slanting channels which look (when rendered as
dry) much like wheel-chair access ramps, but I think rather they were
coursing waterways, draining to the river below.

        In order for this interpretation to hold water (:>), one must find
the water supply mechanism, and one must find corroboration in the fresco
representations of the palace rituals...

        Near the edge of the West Court (which would be the highest point
of the imperceptably slanting Sea Level cross-section), there are three
large (5 meter diameter, 5 meter depth) stone-lined pits which the
guidebooks assume were disused, as they were covered.  More likely they
were concealed holding tanks, buffering the incoming water supply so that a
uniform flow could be guaranteed to the palace.  It is significant that a
sister palace (Phestos) has three similar holding tanks positioned in
precisely the same way, with respect to its entrance court.  Futher
research (and perhaps some focused excavation) would be required to explain
how the abundant nearby water sources found their way to the holding tanks.
But siphoning could well have been understood, as one mechanism, and the
famous Royal Road, which extends indefinitely off to the West, and includes
a raised central walkway, may have been a supply canal, doubling as a
ritual approach path.

        As for fresco corroboration, let us turn to the Fresco of the
Procession, which shows gifts being carried along the Corridor of the
Procession.  What do we see along the bottom of this fresco, intermingled
with the side-viewed crazy-paving stones?  Yes indeed -- a distinct blue
band, approximately 1.5 inches deep, with the bare feet shown just above
the water level.  The figures appear to be walking on a water surface, an
illusion which is achieved by the raised walkways emerging ever so slightly
and precisely from the surrounding water sheet.

        The genius of Daedelus becomes even greater if indeed one of his
architectural constraints was such a gravity-driven waterworks marvel.  The
large-scale alignment (not quite level) and flow-control requirements would
be awesome.  Remember -- you read it first in cyberjournal.  Then again,
maybe this interpretation is old-hat, but left out of the common
guidebooks.  If anyone knows, please write.


        One of the afternoons in Lutro was devoted to some journal work --
writing down life goals, project ideas, and the like.  Interestingly
enough, when the lists were complete, Internet activity didn't even show up
as a low priority item.  Then when I scanned my 500 incoming messages upon
return to Wexford, many of which would have been formerly fascinating, I
could only muster a mild boredom, and responded only to the truly personal

        Expect to see some new emphases and a different pace in
cyberjournal, but I can't tell you exactly what that means yet -- only that
many hours a day on the net is a thing of the past -- been there, done
that, and the T shirt has faded.  I will plow through the items that have
been sent in to cj, most likely this weekend, as an article is overdue to
New Dawn.


    Posted by Richard K. Moore  -  •••@••.•••  -  Wexford, Ireland
     Cyberlib:  www | ftp --> ftp://ftp.iol.ie/users/rkmoore/cyberlib