The island of Crete is steeped in ancient history and has seen many civilizations come and go. The Minoans flourished here as early as 2000B.C. and they were followed by the Mycenes, Greeks, Romans, Venetians and Turks among others, each leaving their mark of human heritage. It was during the Roman times and the birth of Christianity that apostle Paul made an unscheduled visit here. As a prisoner aboard a ship bound for Rome from the Middle East, he and the crew took shelter from a vicious storm on the south side of the island.
“We made slow headway for many days and had difficulty arriving off Cnidus (harbor in southern Turkey). When the (north) wind did not allow us to hold our course, we sailed to the lee of Crete (south side), opposite Salmone. We moved along the coast with difficulty and came to a place called Fair Havens, near the town of Lasea.” (Recorded by Luke in Acts 27:7,8)
Here, Paul and his companions, spent an undetermined length of time before heading out to open sea (against Pauls’ warnings) to try to winter down at a more suitable harbor just west of Fair Havens. As we know, they never made it. Instead, they were driven out to sea and eventually shipwrecked on the island of Malta.
And so, another road trip grew into a caravan of sorts as we were joined by a couple of other families from our church, the Barkers and the Mabies, to visit the area where St. Paul (Agios Pavlos) had landed on Crete.
The four hour drive across the island was a beautiful one and we were rewarded with amazing views over the sea. Fair Havens isn’t much of a town or port – it’s big claim to fame is the cave that Paul supposedly took shelter in from the storm. Not sure how they figured it was THE cave since there are hundreds of them! Anyway, it was fun to imagine apostle Paul’s footsteps here.
After a short and somewhat disappointing visit to Fair Havens we headed out to visit a very significant and historically phenomenal site called Gortys. A little history here: The ruins of Gortys date much later than the Minoan palaces. It flourished during the 6th through 1st centuries B.C. and was a leading Cretan city. Among the ancient archeological sites like temples dedicated to various gods and deities, are the ruins of the large Roman settlement on this site. The most significant archeological feature in Gortys is considered to be the large slabs of stone on which the oldest Greek Code of Laws is inscribed dating from 450 B.C. (double click on photo to see detail)
Other sites of particular interest included the Church of St. Titus. On one of his missionary journeys, Paul left Titus behind in Crete to oversee the organization of the Christian church there. Judging by the size of the ruins alone, it must have been a grand church in its time.
As our friends returned home, we decided to stay on a day and explore the ancient city of Phaestos and the sea side village of Matala. While ancient Knossos enjoys more popularity with visitors, Phaestos is actually regarded as being equally important and certainly, more authentic, than Knossos. On its site are the ruins of two grand palaces – the first built around 1900 B.C. and the second built around 1600 B.C. As with other Minoan speculation, it is not fully understood what the destructive forces were behind this ancient civilization’s collapse although most scientific indicators point to natural disasters such as earthquakes and tital waves. We were disappointed to find the site closed (election day of something random) but could see the hilltop ruins from above.
Matala is a booming tourist town in the summer months – hard to believe in November! All but deserted, we enjoyed exploring around the area including poking around in the Roman cave-tombs carved out of the cliffs. Hard to believe the site is open to the public to tromp around on. In fact, Matala caves made modern history when hippie travelers like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez and Janis Joplin camped out in the caves during the 60’s. Creepy! http://www.explorecrete.com/crete-east/matala-caves.htm
A lot of great memories were made on this road trip but one we will always remember is the overnight digs we had in Matala. A rooftop room with a beautiful view of the sea seemed perfect until a huge thunderstorm hit in the middle of the night. We discovered that the roof was made of tin and as sheets of rain pelted down we had to literally yell at each other to be heard! Not much sleep that night but funny now looking back…