Knossos: King Minos & the Labyrinth

There is a land called Crete, midpoint in the wine-dark sea, a beautiful land and fertile, gushing with flowing water. Many people live there – too many men to count -and there are ninety cities. They do not all speak the same language but a variety of tongues. There are Achaeans and big-hearted native Cretans, Cydonians and Dorians and wealthy Pelasgians. Here is the great city of Knossos, where Minos ruled, who every nine years spoke with mighty Zeus.

Knossos: King Minos & the Labyrinth Photo Gallery

With lazy grace a harem of peahens sashays across the palace’s West Court. A peacock, his coat plumage an iridescent blue, watches with proprietary eye, fanning his tail feathers and puffing out his chest before executing an elaborately geometric dance beneath the dull red-ochre columns. From the lush valley, hens’ squabbling provides an earthy counterpoint to the sighing of wood-pigeons from tall trees, their chorus punctuated intermittently by the hoarse barking of dogs.

In the strong light, edges seem razor-sharp. Palace buildings – low and rectangular, both startlingly modern and primordial – gleam in the sunshine, clean lines cleaving the profoundest shadow. Yet their regular profiles conceal an exuberant vitality. Frescoes and reliefs unfurl across their walls: griffins in a deep red landscape; blue dolphins gambolling amid a shoal of blue and orange fish; bronzed youths in pale-blue loincloths bearing vessels of all shapes and colours; wasp-waisted women with coiffed hair, kohled eyes and startling red lips.

Elsewhere a charging bull is frozen in midair, head down, hooves flying. On either side a woman, bare-breasted, bangles on her arms, with calf-length boots and hair cascading down her back, frames the animal. One seizes the bull’s horns; the other stands behind it, arms outstretched; while, poised above the bull’s back, lithe and sinuous, a young man somersaults towards her. It is all so tantalizing, all so pregnant with significance – for such a scene may well have spawned the legend of the Minotaur.

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