Early Days Chapter 05

Once on the Messara Plain I took a bus to Agia Deka (Ten Saints). The Messara is Crete’s biggest area of farmland. Here they grow everything that Crete needs. It is a large plain that is busy with people farming and working in the fields. Each field is beautiful thing. Carefully farmed and tended by people who feel a part of growing and nourishing crops. Some have tractors and large fields, others have a bullock that pulls the plough, but every bit of possible land is tended.

Each village we passed through has a richness of people and trucks. Many shops that sold hardware and all that was needed by people of the area. These were not poor people here. They were rich not only with money but with confidence and it was good to see such a thing. Tourism will come, even I could see that, but I doubted that it would mean that much to the Messarians.

Agia Deka is quite a large town, again with people coming and going and getting on with their business and their lives. It is interesting to note that such a way of life has carried on here for more than four thousand years. But I wanted to see Gortys. It was a few miles on past Agia Deka and although mentioned briefly in guide books, it has never been a serious tourist attraction. Gortys or Gortin was a Roman city. In fact it was a huge city back around the time of Christ. Set in the heart of the Messara it commanded vast areas not only of Crete but of the eastern Mediterranean. Today Crete has the unique Minoan culture and sites exist all over the island that tell this story. The main site is of course Knossos just outside Iraklion which was discovered, developed – and some say destroyed by Sir Arthur Evans who reconstructed his ideal of a Minoan palace. Who can say what Knossos really was – palace or place of death. Was it inhabited by Minoans who lived real daily lives or was it something else? Whatever, but the Minoans, the Greeks, the Venetians and on are the chronicled history of Crete. But I love the Roman sites, and although Gortys is barely uncovered, it mattered to me.

I took a second bus that dropped me off at Gortys. I have to say I couldn’t see very much. The famous part, the wall of words which described in Greek the Doric law to the locals was truly superb. It amazed me that they even had rules about the family, and about divorce and second wives. This is advanced stuff in terms of the Romans etc, but perhaps it shows also the confidence that has always existed on the Messara plain.

There was a small amphitheatre and some other things uncovered including a fine church which still burns a candle today. But it was outside this area that I most enjoyed. I crossed over the road and just walked the fields that I found there. There were olive trees with Roman column pieces bound up in their trunks. Everywhere I tripped over statues and columns, and it went on for miles around. I hope that in the future the Archeological Society of Greece opens up Gortys. It deserves to be excavated thoroughly. We have tiny buildings discovered in the UK and there is frantic excavation of them, but here in Gortys nothing was happening. It is a massive and important city, it deserves much better in the years to come.

Back on the bus and off to Festos. I had hoped to reach Matala that evening but it was beginning to be impossible. I arrived at Festos at about five o’clock and had a really good look at the site. It is pretty big in terms of Minoan sites and is not reconstructed like Knossos. You can see where everything is and, built on a hillside, the view it commands. There is a lot to see there but soon it was getting dark and I left to find somewhere to sleep. Actually there was very little around Festos in the way of room providers, so I climbed down the hill and sat at the bottom just thinking about the last few days of my life.

Crete may be Greece’s biggest island, but in terms of the world, it is very small. This evening I was on the Messara plain and just a day or two ago I was in Viannos. A few days before that in Myrtos. Each place was so different to the other. The sleepy beautiful seaside of Myrtos with no real memories of terrible warfare. The high village of Viannos with its horrendous immediate past. The Messara plain with its Roman and Minoan remains. Huge lost cities and civilisations engulfed in daily agriculture.

I had a fine piece of chicken from Yanni and some sausage left from Myrtos. I had some bread from the bakery in Agia Deka and a fine salad with cheese and olive oil. This made a great meal for me this evening as the sun went down around a man who had indeed filled his head and his heart with Crete.

Tomorrow I would go to Matala, why? I wasn’t sure, but I had heard that it was a fantastic beach where the world’s hippies came to live in caves and have their bodies bathed in sun. I would soon see for myself.

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