The last leg of a long Sojourn: Heraklion, Crete

Crete is an island steeped in ancient history, lore and legend. It is the seat of the oldest civilisation in Europe. For centuries it has been attacked by many including the Romans, the Iberian Muslims, the Byzantines, the Venetians and the Ottomans. The locals met each of these aggressors with courageous and stiff resistance.  The architectural and cultural fusion of the various attackers and the locals could be seen everywhere by the discerning eye.

Crete tickled my military mind. Two facets from military history. One, the Siege of Candia (modern Heraklion). The venetian ruled city was besieged by the Ottomans for 21 long years from 1648 to 1669. The second longest siege in military history. Despite stiff resistance the Ottoman forces were eventually victorious. And then more recently the Battle of Crete. On 20 May 1941, the Germans launched Operation Mercury, the first ever Airborne invasion in military history. The Allies and Greek forces simply capitulated in 48 hours and the island of Crete fell into German hands.

After alighting from the bus, we walked a kilometer to the Minoan Knossos Palace, a city steeped in antiquity, which was inhabited continuously from the Neolithic period until the Fifth Century AD.  The palace was built on the Kephala hill and had easy access to the sea and the rest of the island.   According to tradition, it was the seat of King Minos.  The Minoan civilization was a Bronze Age civilization on the island of Crete and neighbouring islands which flourished from about 2600 to 1600 BC.

The first excavation of the site was conducted in 1878 and was followed by the long-term excavations (1900 to 1930) by Sir Arthur Evans, a British archeologist, who uncovered virtually the entire palace.  The palace was a multi-storey building with painted plaster, marble revetment and wall-paintings adorning the rooms and passages.  The palace also had a complex drainage and water-supply systems.


As we walked into the palace compound, we were welcomed by a dancing peacock.  The dance was obviously not to impress us, but the peahens in the vicinity.


Let me venture into a pictorial account. This is where the ‘West Porch’ of the palace stood, a roofed area opening onto the central court, supported by a column of which part of the gypsum base remains.


Here is a restored version of ‘South Propylaeum’ by Evans who put up a copy of the ‘Cup-Bearer’ fresco on the wall, depicting a man holding a libation vase.


The ‘Pitho’i (large storage jars) on the East side of the Propylaeum indicate that this area was used for storage.


The ‘Throne Room’ as per Evans is the room used for ceremonies with the king in his religious capacity. However, Evans believed that it was unlikely to have been a ‘Throne Room’ in the modern sense of the word.


The “Queen’s Megaron” at the South-Eastern part of the Palace is believed to be the apartment of a queen. The suite includes a toilet, bathroom, and store room, as well as a light well to provide the apartment with light during the day. This is famous for the Dolphin  Fresco,  reconstructed from fragments as a wall fresco by Evans.


The ‘East Wing Staircase’, was built into the side of the hill on top of which lies the rest of the Palace, with two storeys below the level of the Central Court. Today, a large part of it has been reconstructed in concrete.  Evans believed it to be the residential quarters of the Royal family.


The ‘Magazine’ to the north of the East wing staircase took its name from the pithoi that were found here. The jars have relief disk and rope decoration.


An open air paved narrow passage linked the Central Court with the North Entrance. On the right and left were two raised colonnades known as ‘Bastions’.  Evans reconstructed the Bastion on the West side with a copy of a restored relief fresco of a bull. The wall painting may have formed part of hunting scene.


We hopped on to the next bus at the Palace of Knossos and hopped off at Eleftherias Square to commence our walking exploration of the city centre.  In the Venetian period, Eleftherias Square was used as a training ground for the Venetian mercenary army, and was called Campo Marzio or Piazza d’Armi.   When the St George Gate was built in the 16th century, the square was renamed St George Square.   Eleftherias Square also housed circular underground granaries, in which the Venetians stored grain for emergencies such as sieges and houses a large water cistern.  During the Turkish period, Eleftherias Square was an open space.   Prior to World War II, British troops camped on the walls and trained in the square, as the Venetians had done centuries earlier. Any connections with ‘Game of Thrones?’

At the turn of the 20th century, the square was the inhabitants’ main recreation area.  The most recent restructuring was intended to give it a modern look and the air of a major European city.  The square, retaining some of its eucalyptus trees, was paved with marble and was decorated with metal pylons symbolising ships’ masts, reminiscent of the city’s maritime history. The people of Heraklion have never been happy with this new square and there are ongoing discussions about changing it and we all generally tended to agree with the locals.


In the centre of Eleftherias Square stands the statue of the Unknown Soldier, a 20th century creation.  On national days and on the anniversary of the Battle of Crete, the Heraklion authorities lay wreaths here in honour of those who sacrificed their lives for their motherland.


We then walked to Kornarou Square, named after the great Cretan poet Vincenzos Kornaros (1552-1613), who grew up in Heraklion and wrote ‘Erotokritos’. This is a romantic epic poem written in the Cretan language about the love of Erotokritos and Aretousa, often compared to ‘Romeo and Juliet’.  Kornarou Square is adorned with a fountain and a statue of Erotokritos on horseback, bidding farewell to his beloved Aretousa.  The statue was a bit confusing to us as we initially perceived it as a multi-headed and multi-legged horse with two horsemen.  On reading the information tablet we realised that it was the artist’s multidimensional depiction of the hero and his horse showcasing movement and drama of the scene.


We then moved to the Agios Minas Cathedral, the seat of the Archbishop of Crete of the Greek Orthodox Church, dedicated to Saint Minas, who was declared the patron saint of Heraklion during the Turkish period.  It was built over the time period of 1862 to 1895. The construction was interrupted during the Cretan Revolution of 1866 to 1869. The church has a cruciform architecture with a central dome.

The name Minas is rare in Heraklion, which sounds strange for a city whose patron saint he is. The reason for this is given in an old story.  During the Turkish rule, illegitimate children were often left on the steps of the church of Saint Minas. The church took care of the children and named the boys Minas.  Thus the Cretans preferred to avoid the name.


To the Left of the St Minas Cathedral stands the original little church of Saint Minas built in 1735.  It housed the Greek Orthodox Church’s Metropolitan of Crete for the first time after the Turkish occupation.

From the cathedral, we returned to our hotel for a wash, change and rest.

 

Wireless Electricity


(Image Courtesy SemiWiki.com)

We moved to Canada in 2004 and the house we purchased had telephone cables and co-axial TV cables running to all rooms.  We then used a dial-up modem connected to the telephone cable for accessing the Internet.  Any room which needed a telephone had an stand-alone machine.

With the availability of cheaper digital cordless telephone with four remotely connected handsets and also with multiple facilities like answering machine, call display, etc, the first set of cables to be decommissioned were the two-wire telephone cable that connected every room of the house.  We still had the coaxial TV cable running to all rooms.  Now the telephone handsets started communicating wirelessly and the handsets could be moved with its battery charger to any room it was required.

With the introduction of cable modem, router, and Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) telephone system few years later, the two-wire cable was terminated outside the house.  We had to now run Cat 5 cable all through the house where ever a computer was to be connected to Internet.  In an year came the Wi-Fi.  In came a new Wi-Fi router and out went the Cat 5 cables.

Introduction of revolutionary Universal Serial Bus (USB) to connect anything and everything to a computer or a computer like device overhauled the cabling system of modern gadgets.  Most cellphones and electronic devices started using USB charging.  Most electrical outlets in hotels, airplanes, trains and buses came with USB ports built in to facilitate charging without an adapter.  Home improvement stores started selling electrical outlets with USB connectors.  Thus most of the electrical outlets at our home took a new avatar with USB port.

Introduction of Light Emitting Diode (LED) in home lighting, TV, computer monitors, displays on most home appliances has in effect reduced electricity consumption.  Now most devices at home (except appliances like fridge, dishwasher, laundry systems, oven, cooking range, microwave oven, etc) use 12 Volt Direct Current (DC) as power source.  Major weight and space consuming element of an LED bulb is the rectifier circuit which converts high voltage Alternating Current (AC) to 12 Volt DC.

With these 12 Volt DC appliances, mostly using USB to connect to power source, isn’t it time that we wire our home with 12 Volt DC cabling with USB ports?

At the end of the nineteenth century, ‘War of Currents’ between the American entrepreneurs Thomas Alva Edison and George Westinghouse resulted in AC being used in homes as transmission, resulting in much reduced  costs and transmission losses in comparison to DC transmission which required booster stations every 10 km.  Nikola Tesla, then working with Edison, was in favour of AC and he disagreed with Edison about the use of DC current. Tesla resigned working for Edison and joined  Westinghouse.

Our sun, transmit energy as radiation through air without any wire. If we can build solar cell that can give near 100%  or even 70% efficiency, it will usher in wireless power transmission.

Tesla dreamt of a global wireless power grid that any home, business, or vehicle could tap into.  In 1934 the above drawing of a large transmitter appeared in an article on wireless power transmission. The caption read, “Nikola Tesla, electrical wizard, foresees the day when airplanes will be operated by radio-transmitted power supplied by ground stations.”  The closest he ever came to realising his dream of wireless transmission was the Tesla coil, which he created in 1891.

Researchers at Stanford University have developed a wireless charging technology capable of transmitting electricity wirelessly to a moving object nearby. If the technology is upscaled, it may allow electric cars to recharge while in motion.  It is nowhere near Tesla’s dream of airplanes flying on electricity.


(Image Courtesy Sid Assawaworrarit/Stanford University)

As the team described in their recently published Nature study, the transmission achieved was much smaller than would be needed to power vehicles. However, they did reach a kind of mid-range wireless power transfer based on magnetic resonance coupling. Electricity passing through wires creates an oscillating magnetic field, and it’s this field that causes a nearby coil’s electrons to oscillate. This in turn transmits power wirelessly. However, it’s a complex process and is only efficient when the oscillating coils are tuned with respect to the moving object.

Until now, this has been one of the primary problems for wireless energy transmission, because there hasn’t been a way to get the coils to automatically tune to moving objects. The researchers solved this problem by using a feedback resistor and voltage amplifier system to detect where it should be tuned to without help from humans.

This research is part of an overall push toward safer, clean energy highways with more manageable traffic that will eventually support self-driving cars.  If this dream fructifies,  you’ll be able to charge your electric car while driving on the highway. A coil in the bottom of the vehicle could receive electricity from a series of coils connected to an electric current embedded in the road.

With coils embedded in the roads, we could eventually enjoy a totally automated highway system. Self-driving electric vehicles could be wirelessly charged en route, and GPS and other navigation systems would also be powered wirelessly.

Stanford research team will pave way towards achieving Tesla’s dream of wireless electricity in near future.  In case they succeed in their mission, soon we will be using transmitted electricity to power our low powered DC appliances like home lighting, TV, computer monitors, etc.  This will allow lot of flexibility and reduce electrification cost.  LED lights will become much cheaper as they would have done away with the rectifier circuit.

Dreams pass into the reality of action. From the actions stems the dream again; and this interdependence produces the highest form of living.”   Anais Nin, French-American diarist, essayist and  novelist.

Lunar Landscape of Nea Kameni to Heraklion


Our boat anchored at the wooden pier of Erinia cove of Nea Kameni island.  We disembarked from the boat and entered the Nea Kameni National Geological Park.  There is a two Euro entry fee and the proceeds go to support monitoring of the volcano.


Vegetation is sparse with the volcanic rocks covered by red grassy bushes and yellow sulfur deposits.  The 30-minute hike up over this volcanic mountain is moderately challenging but worth the effort for the breathtaking view that it offers.  Hikers need to keep to the track full of stones and gravel formed due to cooling lava.  Hence, proper walking shoes are a must.


As we stepped into the Geological Park, the terrain was akin to that of a lunar-landscape.  As we climbed up the hill, on the sides were solidified lava ejected by the volcano called volcanic bombs.  These are the oldest volcanic bombs on the island and were the result of volcanic eruptions of 1573.


Further walking up, we reached slopes of the dome of Mikri Kameni, the oldest lava on the island. The path that led us to the top of this dome, to the crater of 1570 eruption.


Our next halt was at the Dafne crater caused due to volcanic activity of 1925-1926.


We then came to the twin craters formed as a result of 1940 volcanic eruption.


Climbing further up, we came to Georgios dome peak.  The crater here was created in August 1940 by two large volcanic eruptions atop of the dome of George, which was created in 1866.


On top of the hill at about 127 meter we saw deposits of solidified Lava.  These rocks were formed due to cooling and solidifying of molten lava which erupted in 1950.


On the top we could see that many sensors were deployed. The seismic sensors monitor tectonic activity that may precede a volcanic eruption.  Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are also monitored.  With modern technology and monitoring, it is believed that scientists are in a position to forecast the volcano’s next eruption, at least a few months to a year in advance.


After spending about 90 minutes at Nea Kameni, our boat headed back to the Fira port.  As we stepped out of the boat, we could hear the cacophony of donkey drivers hailing for passengers.  The donkey is Santorini’s logo, its trademark mascot. During a Greek wedding, the bride rides a donkey to the church and back to her home.  We all decided to take the donkey ride up the 588 steps of Karavolades stairs.


These donkeys are well trained and the rider is required to sit firmly on the saddle.  There are no reigns and so the rider has little or no control over the animal’s movements.  As we sat on the donkey, they set off on the way up.  There were many pedestrians walking up and down, so also other donkeys coming down the stairs.  These donkeys steered their way through this ‘crowd’, as if they exactly knew what to do.   For the donkeys it appeared that their only aim was to reach the top as quickly as possible. The level of training was quite akin to that of the famed ‘Mule Artillery’ of the Indian Army.


On reaching the top, the donkeys stood at the donkey-taxi stand.  The drivers helped everyone to dismount.  We then had dinner at the Fira and returned to our hotel.

On June 15, after breakfast we checked out of our hotel.  Our ferry to Crete island was scheduled for 4 PM.  We then set out to explore the area around our hotel.


Economy of Santorini, like all other Greek islands, is supported by tourism.   Santorini grows a special variety of small cherry tomatoes, fava beans, yellow peas, cucumbers and white eggplants.   There are lots of wild fig trees growing all over the island.


Unlike the mainland of Greece, Santorini does not grow olive trees due to the strong winds and the lack of water.  Instead they grow a lot of pistachio trees.  The olive tree above grows between the buildings at the hotel.


From the Hotel, we walked down to Kamari beach resort.  On the Southern end towers the enormous rock of Mesa Vouno with the archaeological site of Ancient Thira on its top, 400 meters above the sea. The beach offers a wide range of facilities like sun-beds, umbrellas and various water sports.


The water is deep and blue, the sand is black.  The beach is filled with black sand and pebbles as a result of extensive volcanic activity over centuries.


We boarded the high-speed ferry operated by Minoan Lines to Heraklion, Crete.  The cruise was very comfortable and smooth.


We reached Heraklion port by 5:30 PM.  We drove to our hotel by taxi and checked in.  As the night fell, we walked to explore the city.


We walked to the largest cistern to provide drinking water to the Heraklion port. The cistern consists of two oblong vaulted chambers linked by arched openings. Light and air enter the cisterns through large light shafts on the top of the vaults.  Today, all the daily garden watering needs of Heraklion Port Authority (about 7000 litre of water) is provided from an underground cistern, built by the Venetians (People from Venice), hundreds of years ago.


Venetians also built a series of shipyards (known as Arsenali) at the southern and the eastern area of the port, in order to house and protect the activities of the building and repairing of ships.  These large, barrel-vaulted buildings were shipyards built by the Venetians and were capable of housing ships in need of protection or repair and for the construction of new vessels.


Night life in Heraklion is very hectic with shops, restaurants, taverns, discos, clubs, etc, all open till 3 o’clock in the morning.


Summer in Crete and in Greece means ‘tables outside’: The guests meet the local people and everyone joins the party.  We had Cretan cuisine for dinner and retired to our hotel.