Return to Atlantis

Return to Atlantis - Avenue21We flew Ryanair, so we knew that you get what you pay for, and you don’t pay much. Luxuries, like sitting together, are upgrades. So for an additional 15 euros, I could sit behind my brother, and for 15 more, he could sit in front of me… Plus we had priority boarding. I hate waiting in lines, so this seemed like a decent deal.

But then a poorly-washed couple plus their two babies filled the 2 seats next to mine, and stunk up the deal. To top it off, the stewardess told us that 5 people on 3 seats are too many, so could I please move? Well, given that crying was the babies’ favored means of communication, I gladly left my preferred seating.

Lunch time

For lunch the expectations were low again, unlike the prices. But hey it’s a holiday, I’ve been eating remarkably healthy lately, so why not treat myself to some french fries?  Here’s why; even though microwaved fries can be half decent and even crunchy, this odd-looking pile could only be eaten with a spoon. But to give credit where credit is due; the bottled water was flawless.

Of course these little inconveniences don’t really matter, it’s all about the destination. Dennis and I returned to Crete to see our parents again, who moved to this largest of the Greek Islands almost 15 years ago.

Return to Atlantis - Avenue21

My parents’ lovely house on Crete

Minoan Times

I’ve liked Crete since elementary school, when I learned that it once was the center of the Minoan civilization. Some 4,700 – 3,600 years ago, this Island Kingdom flourished and reached levels of civilization that were barely equaled by the Roman Empire 1,500 years later. But around 1570 B.C. the Minoan civilization seemed to disappear almost overnight. And it’s quite likely that all this served as inspiration for Plato’s introduction of a fictional country called Atlantis into his works Timaeus and Critias, some 1200 years later.

The Atlantis story describes a highly civilized island kingdom that pissed off the gods and was swallowed by the sea after a catastrophic series of earthquakes. So let’s take a look at what happened to the Minoans. They’re generally considered to be the first advanced European civilization. And in those days, Crete pretty much ruled the Mediterranean. Until it all ended with a big bang, in app. 1,570 B.C.


The island of Santorini is located 120 km North of Crete, and was probably either a Minoan province, colony or close trading partner. Unfortunately the island was also an active volcano that had erupted numerous times in the century leading up to the big finale. The eventual “Minoan Eruption” was huge, it’s the biggest volcanic event in recorded history, and Santorini (a.k.a. Thera) was literally blown to pieces.

The eruptions deposited up to 60 meters of volcanic ash and rubble on what was left of Santorini, and Crete wasn’t spared either. But while the skies blackened, there was something worse on its way for the Minoans. Recent scientific evidence shows that the Cretan North shores were hit by several tsunamis of over 20 meters high, which traveled hundreds of meters inland. The biggest wave of the 2004 tsunami in Thailand and Sri Lanka also reached a height of over 20 meters, killing an estimated 280,000. And that was just that one wave, not a series…

The end

The killer waves didn’t just wash away entire Minoan cities, they buried them too. The tsunamis scooped up tons and tons of material from the bottom of the Mediterranean and mixed this with thick layers of pumice (volcanic rock that is full of small holes and is therefore lightweight enough to float) and deposited this over their world.

The disaster killed an estimated 80% of the Minoan population. But the merciless water didn’t only destroy the Minoan Navy, harbors and cities, it drowned their entire belief system. The Minoans loved the sea, but now the gods had used it against them. The gods, the sea, their religion; nothing made sense anymore…

So after the Minoan eruption, Crete was left with a decimated, desperate and defenseless population that was basically a sitting duck for the barbarians at the gate. So when the Mycenaeans from the Greek mainland invaded, this was the deathblow for the Minoan civilization.

Minoan mural from Atlantis, Crete - Avenue21

Minoan dolphin mural in Knossos, Crete


Under scientists, the theory that the Minoan Kingdom was Atlantis, is the most widely accepted. But the idea of a lost civilization under the sea is such a romantic notion that people will always wholesale in theories. Many would love to place Atlantis near their own country, whereas some even prefer to believe that it was an alien settlement. So of course I can’t be certain if and where Atlantis really existed. Nobody can, but if I have to choose any sophisticated civilization whose island kingdom was flooded by waves, the Minoans get my vote.

Regardless of the legends, I like Crete. It’s the greenest of the Greek Islands, has a large variety of beaches, it’s subtropic, has a rough mountainous surface that makes biking from A to B a true workout and you can find history around every corner. Because you can have a drink at an outdoor café, notice something in the natural wall behind the bar and realize that it’s the shard of a cup that a Minoan drank from some 3,600 years ago. Poor bastard, never knew what hit him…

Return to Atlantis - Avenue21

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