By Phil Butler, Editor of Argophilia Travel News
An act of love by a Cretan woman named Anna Bastakis has given wings to a culture as old as time.
The new Minoan Theater and Culture Center outside Heraklion, the brainchild of this strong Cretan woman, presents the ancient history of the island using theater, food and art, bringing to life what is known about these most ancient and yet little-understood people.
And Anna and her husband Evangelos Grammatikakis are largely responsible for creating this cultural gem.
Some History and Context
The origin and history of the Minoans, who once inhabited the Greek island of Crete, are two of the world’s great unsolved mysteries. What we have in place of the known history of that amazing culture are scattered relics and fabulous examples of their unique arts and trades.
Very little is known about their language, their religion, or the intricate customs they must have practiced. Crete was at the center of a vast maritime network which stretched from famous palace complexes such as Knossos and Phaistos to the far reaches of the Mediterranean Sea since before the third millennium BC.
The archaeological evidence shows that Minoan Crete was central to an extensive trading network in copper and tin from the Cyclades and Asia Minor. The bronze, and the complex metallurgy this commodity made possible, first gave the Minoans power and prestige.
However, it was not until British archaeologist Arthur Evans discovered extensive ruins on Crete in the early 1900s that the modern world began to understand their significance. Evans was actually the first to name these ancient Cretans “Minoan” for the legendary King Minos, one of the sons of the god Zeus.
But this new Minoan Theater and Cultural Center venture is about something far more ethereal, and more important, from Minoan times.
From the moment the theater’s performers begin the reenactment of the spring ritual, when the priestess Phaedra, the daughter of King Minos, welcomes them, the spirits of those ancient people come alive.
Visitors to the island can now experience this spirit at the new theater and cultural center in Karteros, which is located only 800 meters from the famous Cave of Elefthyia. The area around the estate where the theater is located is a historic treasury of this and other sites from thousands of years ago.
The Ultimate Cultural Experience
The Minoan theater, Evangelos tells me, is a unique venue architecturally, as well as spiritually. The performance space is a one-of-a-kind amphitheater built using uncut stones transported from Mt. Juktus near Archanes, where King Minos is said to have led a procession from Knossos for ritual worship. The stones were transported and laid with extraordinary care.
From the 2,000 year-old olive trees Anna and Evangelos rescued and transported from beneath the Lassithi Plateau, to the Minoan cookware on which Anna cooks bread for guests, the Minoan Theater experience is a living tribute to one of humanity’s shining moments in history.
Another example of the exquisite care with which this couple brings ancient Minoan culture to life is the choreography of the ritual dance in the theater. Anna, whose family worked at Knossos with the famous archaeologists, pieced together the minute actions of the dancers from the study of more than 2,000 Minoan seal stones at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum.
For those who would like to be able to “see” the Minoans, the Karteros theater is among the most authentic such events anywhere.
To be able to share even a glimpse of life of the people who were said to be the happiest and most refined ever is what Anna Bastakis was dreaming of as she and her husband created the theater and cultural center.
When you are on Crete, take an afternoon or evening to live with the descendants of these ancient people, the people who changed the world with their beautiful style and spirit.