Saturday, 8 June 2013

Beneath the Cretan earth

I still find myself pondering, almost haunted by, a story I was told a few years ago on a trip to Crete. I was looking for signs of Crete’s Venetian past and had come to a village that had been overlaid by Venetian houses sometime in the sixteenth or seventeenth century. But in Crete the layers lie one on top of the other, the Ottoman on the Venetian, the Venetian on the Byzantine, far back through the Romans to the Dorians and the Minoans, sea people who came to the Great Island in boats. This village was typical – it was a site of great antiquity, of considerable interest to archaeologists

We stayed in a small hotel there, run by a local family; also staying were an English couple who were regular visitors and good friends of the owners. They related to us a curious tale, told to them by the owners.

Some while back, an English archaeologist and his family had come to live in the village; their children were the same age as those of the hotel owners, and they became very close friends.  The families spent a lot of time together; the Cretan children learned English from the visitors who would come most evenings to the hotel and pass time with them. The archaeologist was also deeply occupied studying the land and drawing plans of the ancient field systems.

One day the archaeologist was walking in some fields that belonged to the Cretan family, with, I think, all the children – certainly the Cretan children were with him. He spotted an interesting hole in the ground but nothing much was said about it.

That evening I think, or maybe the next, the details aren’t exactly clear, the English family didn’t appear at the hotel, which was extremely unusual. In due course the Cretans went round to the archaeologist’s house to see what had happened. They found no one there. Their Landrover had gone; the house had been emptied of possessions. The English family had vanished into thin air.

The children thought back to the hole in the field which had caught the archaeologist’s attention. They returned to look. It was obvious that it had been dug open. There was a pit inside which was empty. They never saw or heard from their good English friends again. Something had been found there that caused the archaeologist to scoop up his family and vanish. The Cretan hoteliers had since become very suspicious of visiting archaeologists and over-friendly foreigners… It almost has the quality of a ghost story.


  1. Unrelated but thought you might enjoy a note.
    Home after a month visiting Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, and England.
    It was a beautiful day in Painswick. Started our walk at the Tourist Office in the Town Hall and walked through St. Mary’s churchyard with the 99 yew trees, stopped at the Old Post Office, B & B’s, the soon-to-be-restored Art Gallery, fell short of the Rococo Flower Gardens, and ended with a pint at the Falcon Hotel.

    1. Hi Tim, I'm glad you enjoyed your trip to Painswick - and got a sunny day + the pint at the Falcon!

  2. The previous day we enjoyed Stowe-on-the-Wold, Bourton-on-the-Water, and Cheltenham. Could easily retire to Cheltenham. The Cotswalds are awash with tourists; a mixed blessing for the residents.

  3. Loved your story of Crete. We just completed our third visit there - long, winding ambles around the countryside - and our particular favorite areas on the southwestern coast, Hora Sfakia, Loutro, Agia Roumelli and Frankocastello. At some point in each of our visits one or the other of us will say, "Roger Crowley needs to write about the Venetians here." (Of course we'd just been in the Peloponnese . . .another book?