Digging deep


It’s difficult to explain how impressive Crete and Santorini are – they are both a constant reminder of the longevity of human existence, and indeed the resilience of the Earth and its ability to survive all the horrors that are thrown at it. After all, if Crete can survive the marauding hordes of beer-swilling fish-and-chip-eating English yobs every summer, it can survive anything.

We’ve only arrived on Santorini today, but already we’ve seen some awe-inspiring views on a short walk from our cave-like hotel in Oia. The island was given its current form by a volcano eruption in around 1500 BC, which blew out the entire centre of the then-much larger land mass and leaving only small islands around the edge. It’s believed that the eruption was four times more powerful than the 1887 explosion at Krakatoa, with the blast capable of being heard on the Scandinavian peninsula.

The tsunami caused by the volcano is put forward by many experts as the reason for the destruction of the Minoan civilisation in Crete. Although much bigger than Santorini, and of continued economic and military importance today, Crete is still a small island. Yet the number and sheer scale of archaeological sites is out of all proportion to its size. Knossos is well known, but the palace of Malia is in many ways even more impressive given that it has largely been left as it was discovered. Sadly the Kiss Me Kwik hat-wearing brigade just down the road at the resort of the same name are too busy at the Fun Beach or eating chips as England play football and rugby, to take the short walk to a site of such potential importance. I always thought Chester had archaeological significance, but a visit to Malia almost has you believing that my hometown is about as noteworthy as the excavation of an out-of-town shopping complex that was abandoned in 1993.

Even more stunning was a visit to the remains of the city of Lato, a few miles outside Aghios Nikolaos. Built into the side of a calf-punishingly steep mountain, the remains of many buildings are still intact, to the point where you can almost hear the locals gatherings in the squares around the shops and workshops. The Ministry of Culture in Greece charge a frankly insulting €2 for admission to the site, which can barely cover the maintenance of the toilets, let alone ongoing archaeological work. And yet still there were only six other people on the incomprehensibly large site, in the whole time that we were there.

The Artist Formerly Known As Soon To Be Wife (please feel free to leave comments on the site as to what you think I should rename her now that we’re married) is an incredible source of knowledge when it comes to visits to sites of historical relevance. Poring through all the books ever written on the two islands, she’s capable of coming up with unique nuggets of information on every site we visit to add colour and inrigue at all times. Who needs a tour guide when you’ve thankfully got America’s most inquisitive woman by your side?

That said, she’s just fallen asleep, so I’m off to read my book. I’m not sure “Bobby Charlton: The Manchester United Years” is on the officially sanctioned curriculum for this week, to be honest…

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