The Making of the Cretan Countryside

Landscape around Knossos, Crete. Image: Randy Peters, Flickr

By Dr. Doniert Evely (Curator for the British Holdings at Knossos, British School at Athens)

Just over a century ago, Arthur Evans began his monumental task of revealing the Bronze-Age Palace at Knossos – and simultaneously his imagining of the Minoan way of life. Of the objects he unearthed in those dramatic days, much remains still in the care of the British School at Athens (BSA), who maintain a research outpost here to this day.

Bust of Arthur Evans at Knossos. Image: Wikimedia commons

Dedicated to research

On behalf of the Greek State, the BSA curates the finds of not only Arthur’s excavations, but of all those undertaken by us since then: millions of sherds and items of other materials.

This resource has always been open to research and publication by any professional working in the field of Aegean studies: they come from all over the globe. The School’s facilities at Knossos are located on the former estate of Sir Arthur Evans, close to his residence – the Villa Ariadne. The Taverna houses simple self-catering accommodation and a library designed to support research on all aspects of Crete (with emphasis upon Aegean prehistory and the archaeology of Crete). There is a series of storage and study areas, of which the main is the Stratigraphical Museum. The results of their labours in the Stratigraphical Museum bear fruit in tomes and articles, in documentaries and films: some 400 such in the last decade alone.

Evans himself was fully aware of and responsive to the need to disseminate his finds and ideas to each and everyone: hence his sometimes controversial restorations in the Palace. Continuing the tradition the BSA in Knossos is organizing a series of short residential courses: some targeted to meet the more specific requirements of the specialist, others designed to satisfy the enthusiasm of the interested layman. The topics often stretch beyond archaeology into ecology and historical analysis of a landscape for example.

A portion of Arthur Evans' reconstruction of the Minoan palace at Knossos. Image: Wikimedia commons

A journey into the Cretan landscape

The next such course is entitled The Making of the Cretan Countryside. Ecological-historical in nature, it aims to demonstrate on the ground first the varying natural habitats that have emerged on Crete over the millennia, and then how they were exploited and thus altered by human activity – from Minoan to modern times. Field-trips and walking in field and on mountainside are combined with evening talks to provide one with the insights and knowledge by which to ‘read’ the landscape. An opportunity to visit the Palace is included, with the Knossos Curator in residence (as the Institute’s head is traditionally termed).

A remarkable guide

The course is guided by Oliver Rackham, from Cambridge University. He is uniquely equipped for the task, having spent some four decades in exploring the flora and ecology of the island, very often in the company of archaeologists. He is just as well known for his work on the British countryside. With the pirate Rackham the Red in his lineage, one can be assured of bold – even swashbuckling – leadership!

As well as exploring a range of natural terrains (maquis, phrygana, even steppe) and experiencing the upland plateau of Lasithi with its Venetian field-system set against the impressive and myth-laden mountain ranges, you will be introduced the more rolling countryside closer to the Knossos valley, to the mysterious strip-cultivation in the broad Mesara plain and to the mixed world of urban ecology.

Lasithi plateau above Tzermiado. Photo: damiandude (Flickr, Creative Commons license)

The Course:

Dates: 22nd to 28th April 2012, at Knossos, where the Villa Ariadne Taverna, the long-time residence of archaeologists, is at your disposal. Recently refurbished, it offers a plain but hospitable ambience.

Fee: £435.00 per person for shared accommodation (2 people to a room), or £495.00 for the one single room (22nd to 27th April): full board, bed and transportation on island. 6 places remain.
The price does not include travel to and from Crete or insurance cover.

Please contact D. Evely on for further details, including manner of payment and other terms and conditions.
Last day of application: 29th February 2012.

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