After the Lockdown, Go Off the Beaten Path in Galatas



Minoan Palace of Galatas
The Minoan Palace of Galatas is near the village of Galatas, not far from Arkalochori, south of Heraklion, Crete. Photo: Mihaela Lica, Greek Reporter

The Greek government plans to reopen all the archeological sites in the country on May 18, 2020 – and new social distancing rules during visiting hours will apply. But remote sites, such as the Minoan Palace of Galatas, some 30 kilometers (19 miles) south of Heraklion, Crete, will unfortunately have to keep their gates closed because they will not be ready for tourists for years to come.

The Minoan Neopalatial structure at Galatas was excavated from 1992 to 2010 by a team led by archeologist Dr. Georgios Rethymiotakis. The digs revealed a palace with an ample courtyard, a West Court with storage buildings, the South Court with an altar, and several other buildings.

Archeologists are still studying the site currently, and additional digs are expected to continue as the bulk of the buildings at the ancient site remain underground. On special occasions, such as the “Earth Water Fire” event in July of 2019, Rethymiotakis conducts short tours of the site to introduce locals — and some fortunate foreign visitors — to the mysteries which envelop this remnant of ancient Minoan civilization.

Galatas Minoan Palace main courtyard
Courtyard of the Minoan Palace of Galatas, as seen during the “Earth Water Fire” event in July 2019. Photo: Mihaela Lica, Greek Reporter

The palace is not a tourist destination, like Knossos, Malia, or Phaistos. It is also not easily accessible. There are no ticket booths on-site, no museum, no souvenir shop, and no parking. If you are not familiar with the village, you will miss the winding, wild pathway which leads from the main road uphill to the ruins.

It’s not a strenuous hike, nor is it long, but you will need proper footwear and a bottle of water, especially if you decide to take a walk up the Kephala to see it in the summer.

A chain-link fence surrounds most of the archeological site, which is not too large, so you can walk around to take in as much as the eye can see, and you will not miss out on some of its most distinctive features.

The views of the valley below from atop the Kephala are equally rewarding. If you are into hiking and discovering new destinations off the beaten path, it is well worth the trip.

Galatas ruins capers
Caper plants in bloom among the ruins of the Minoan Palace of Galatas. Photo: Mihaela Lica, Greek Reporter

An amateur botanist will also appreciate the lovely flora of this ancient place: wild thyme bushes spread purple patches along the path, and there are even caper plants in bloom between the ruins, dressed in ashlar masonry.

If, by the time you visit, the COVID-19 restrictions are eased, and restaurants are back in business, tour the village of Galatas, not far from the palace, for a meal at To Mourelo Tou Ladomenou.

This must-visit establishment serves rustic-style Cretan fare in a homey ambiance, perfect way to top off your visit to the archaeological site. End your trip with a stroll around the village to see the abandoned Ottoman homes, which form about half of its area. The architectural details of many of these gems are still clearly visible and will give you a glimpse of the town’s great beauty in days gone by.