A pious silence preseeded the procession into the Minoan amphitheater. A warm wind off the Crean Sea ruffled the crimson and gold banners of the flagbearers flanking five vessels. The priestesses strode forward as if in a solemn trance followed by Phaedra, daughter of King Minos. Looking on with the crowd we joined in collective amazement as the actors’ footsteps drummed in the motionless theater. As they drew closer to the sacred olive tree behind an altar, the delicate notes of ancient musical instruments tantalized our perception and held us captive…
A few nights ago my wife Mihaela and I were at a wonderful evening performance at the Minoan Theater in Karteros, outside of Heraklion. Both of us, and I must say most of the crowd on hand at that evening’s events, became participants in as authentic a reenactment of Minoan Civilization as you can imagine. The short story you are about to read is my clumsy attempt to convey the beauty of this theater recreation, and a short prospectus on how I see the Minoan Theater becoming a much more influential initiative.
When my friend Kallia Merkoulidi called one afternoon to tell us about a “must see” new attraction she’d discovered in outside Heraklion, we knew there must be something special in the tiny seaside village of Karteros outside of Heraklion. Kallia seldom makes a big deal of such things, and especially not where the wonderful Minoan Civilization comes into play. Her training in and passion for archaeology always seems to result in a “find” where things to see and experience are concerned. So, a trip with her small girls to a Karteros riding academy was the start of our discovery of something truly amazing. Fascinated by all things ancient Crete, my wife Mihaela and I waited on a call to visit the Equestrian Club in Karteros and the coming event at the Minoan Theater Cultural Events Center.
A Magic Gateway
The Minoan concept from this culture center portrays elements of what many experts say was an incomparable era of peace beauty and prosperity, and a people some historians claim were the happiest society that ever existed. Created from a vision of Anna Bastakis, who is the owner and director of the center, the Minoan Theater is a figurative, spiritual, and physical representation of a fragment of life from the time of the mysterious Minoan Civilization. What the visitor experiences on the grounds of one of Crete’s most famous equestrian centers, is like the “prestige” of a magic show. This is where the gifted illusionist brings back what has been made to disappear so that the audience “knows” the magic is genuine. In the same way, Anna Bastakis’ Minoan ceremony resurrects a ritual fragment of time at Knossos Palace during the early Bronze Age. However, in order to understand the dedication and attention to detail, Ms. Bastakis has put into the Minoan Theater, it’s important to first focus on the theater’s architecture.
“The feelings I had during my childhood never abandoned me, and throughout my life, I have been thinking of ways to highlight and bring this incredible civilization which I was deeply familiar with, to life. I embarked on a long term study of the pictograms of the rings, the seals and frescos of Minoan daily life.” – Anna Bastakis
The amphitheater where the central event of Minoan Days and Nights are presented is a work of art like no other I’ve seen. Designed by Anna Bastakis from painstaking research into Minoan architecture and engineering, the theater was meticulously handcrafted using stones from the distant sacred mountain Jukhtas overlooking the Archanes Minoan Palatial site to the south of Heraklion. Each of the stones set at the Minoan Theater was placed by hand, uncut and undamaged, in order to preserve the mysterious energy the sacred mountain of Knossos is said to possess. For those unfamiliar with such stoneworking craft, creating seats of an amphitheater made up of many 90 degree angles with uncut stone is not a simple task.
The meticulousness with which the theater was built is only a backdrop for the gifted artists wearing the flawless and intricate colors of the Minoan dress. From the exclusive musical composition to the lifelike effigy of the bull, every facet of the performance is well thought out to embrace the audience. The dances are perfectly choreographed, and even the expressions on the players’ faces convey the solemness of the sacred. As is the case with all experiential wonders, the Minoan Theater time portal is something you must walk through to understand. The fact that the theater’s creator studied 2,000 ancient Minoan seal stones in order to recreate the ritual performance bears mentioning here as well.
The Immortal Circle
The experience at this amazing culture center begins with this reenactment of a Spring ritual, and proceeds (in procession) to a gastronomy and festival event at another specially prepared venue. The culinary heart of the cultural center is equally amazing as not only a perfect dining experience but as an intimate entertainment venue as well. But the charm of this outdoor treasure is not architectural or acoustic. The place where Minoan Theater guests convene to eat, drink and listen is permeated by the spirits of Anna Bastakis, her amazing husband Evangelos Grammatikakis, and the ancient Minoans I’m sure were their direct ancestors. Each of the people associated with this center is deserving of their own story, but as Mr. Grammatikakis told me, “This is all Anna.”
Thinking about all I’ve studied here on Crete, I am reminded of the legend of the son of King Minos, Glaucus of Crete, whose daughter became the Cumaean Sibyl who was the seer who led to the foundation of Rome. Legends like this hold great importance – I cannot even say why I was compelled to mention this myth here – but here it is.
To be sure, the guest of this experience can expect to find Anna Bastakis making paper thin bread on a replica of 4,000-year-old cooking pottery in a recreated Minoan kitchen. The most important aspect of the Minoan Theater experience is being enveloped in a dreamlike idea, as close to being at Knossos and tasting what Olive oil, wine, honey, grains, and herbs could be made into by the ancient gastronomy wizards. Again, I cannot adequately express the essence of these people or this place. I can tell you that every TripAdvisor review of the experience bears a moment of “indescribable” – and there are only 5-star reviews for a reason. If you sit in the amphitheater, walk in the procession to the Minoan kitchen, and sit in for authentic Cretan music and dance, if you taste the gems of antiquity and do embrace the spirit of this place – you will have touched something immortal and sacred. Again, you must experience it to know.
At the end of the evening, after you danced like Zorba himself with all these beautiful people, you will discover a glimmer of the glowing heart of these Cretans. The Minoan Theater shows you a glimpse of how the world’s most interesting and least known civilization lived. An evening spent at these events is to be a Minoan at the dawn of time, and an actor at one of Crete’s most fascinating cultural experiences. I can only imagine how this cultural center will expand to present the wonders of Karteros and more Minoan mysteries. I am only sure that Anna Bastakis’ vision is tied to Knossos, the Minoan harbor near her riding academy and the theater, the Prince of the Lilies, and the mysterious Cave of Eileithyia a stone’s throw away from Ιππικός Όμιλος Ηρακλείου (Ippikos Omilos Irakleio). The sense I brought back with me from the Minoan Theater, from all the people we met there, is that this event has much more far-reaching power than entertainment value. I am sure many who attend will feel this way as well.
The Minoan Theater is an Argophilia “Top Ten” Crete Experience.