The Labyrinth of Messara: Present And Future ( Epilogue )
Without a doubt, the Labyrinth,
with its ideal location and its horizontal layers of the same rock,
is an artificial quarry. The ideal thickness of the layers of pearly
limestone, and the ease by which these layers come off, were the
obvious criteria by which this area was chosen for the mining of
building material. Even the most inexperienced eye can distinguish
the scars of digging tools on the walls of the cave. For sure, thousands
of people - the original miners - worked through the centuries in
this confined, suffocating space, breathing dust and sweat from the
stagnant air made even heavier by the heavy lingering fumes of the
The original creators of the Labyrinth did not set
out to construct an impressively large and intricate cave for some
specific purpose. They simply wanted to mine the valuable limestone
- the perfect building material for home-construction in early, and
even later, civilizations. In what was an unimportant marking on
ancient maps, the original quarry somehow transformed over the years
into a sacred lace. Thusly, the Labyrinth is quite possibly one of
the very few cases where an area chosen as a work site eventually
becomes the object of universal admiration - a tourist attraction
of the highest magnitude.
Today, the old Labyrinth faces serious structural
problems. Most of the support columns have been collapsing under
the enormous weight of overlaying rocks and stones. Huge limestone
slabs, tens of square meters in area and weighing many tons, have
broken off from the ceiling - some have come crashing to the floor,
while others still hang dangerously from above. The explosions caused
by the German occupiers have totally destroyed a section of the cave,
and have dramatically worsened the structural problems throughout
the entire area between the two entrances.
Each year since 1999, when the Cretan Department
of the Hellenic Speleological Society began its systematical study
of the cave, many stone sections from ceilings and walls have collapsed.
And, no doubt, the natural destruction will continue and more and
more sections will have to be closed. Eventually, the total collapse
of the Labyrinth may become a reality, and all those valuable links
to past civilizations will be lost forever. But, will the end of
the Labyrinth really be the result of natural causes, or will it
come about due to the ignorance and indifference of those concerned
- especially those in positions of power?
The initiative and effort of the dedicated speleologists
from the Hellenic society to establish the cultural and social value
of the Labyrinth, as well as its on-going problems, are aimed at
touching the public's sensitivities on the subject. The same is true
with the informative stories which have been written in the special
publication distributed by the municipality of Mires . We want to
believe that with the publication of all these informative facts,
as well as with others that are sure to follow, we will don the cloak
of responsibility for all things lost, and take on the role of protectors
of the past. We must categorize and prioritize these responsibilities,
and, if we judge them to be of major importance - a lifeline to civilizations
past - then we must act to save our heritage for our children, and
our children's children.
Efforts For Restoring The Labyrinth
The Labyrinth with all its corridors and passages
of more than 3.5 kilometers could again become a major attraction
pole for millions of tourists. The municipalities in the surrounding
area have understood this fact and have been trying for years to
recover and restore this historical monument in the Mesara area.
Unfortunately, the Greek government has not shown any appropriate
interest in the project. Some of those in power have expressed a
view that the Germans, who destroyed it during their departure from
Crete at the end of World War II, should be responsible for its restoration.
During the occupation of the island, the German army used the Labyrinth
to warehouse arms, then dynamited this monument of Cosmic History
as they retreated, so that the allied forces could not use the armament.
This move, they say, would be a show of civility and respect for
the history of a country which they wounded irreparably.
For this reason, a few months ago the German Consul
in Iraklio, and the Military Attaché of the German Embassy
in Athens, visited the Labyrinth. The German officers' interest in
having the German state contribute towards the restoration was stated
to the media at the time. Many believed that something could be done
to have the Labyrinth reinstated as a monument of universal interest.
Also, its rehabilitation would provide an important site for every
Greek, foreign historian and history expert. Unfortunately, the Greek
state, through its General Army Staff, is simply not interested.
On the other hand, the Germans go just so far - without committing
anything. They are not willing to spend a penny for the Labyrinth's
restoration. They didn't give a penny anyway, when, during their
departure, they placed the dynamite and blew up this cosmic social
and cultural inheritance.
In his letter to Panayiotis Sfakianakis, Mayor of
Mires, the German Military Attaché, Squadron Commander Claus-Peter
Hornbogen, states that after the refusal of the Greek General Army
Staff to allow German soldiers, together with Greeks, to proceed
in the removal of the munitions, the action stops here, as Germany
is not willing to underwrite any of the economic cost for the Labyrinth's
According to the letter from the General Army Staff: "any
work in the cave's interior continues to present dangers to the security
of personnel caused by the static insufficiency in that its interior
walls are unstable and the scattered missiles don't allow work to
reinforce its inner walls. It was also asked by the municipalities
of the area to seal the entrances, at their cost, to avoid any further
(Note: The above mentioned copy is from the local
newspaper Antilalos tis Messaras, dated
June 14, 2005 )
The Labyrinth, Epilogue
What can anyone say about this unbelievable
story? For thousands of years the Messara Labyrinth in southern
Crete welcomed its guests, who left their signatures in its loins.
It offered refuge to the Cretans when persecuted by barbarian conquerors.
Its dark daedalean corridors and chambers gave food to the imagination,
and the Cretans' fertile imagination bore myths and fairytales to
the horror of children and the amusement of grownups.
For thousands of years the Minotaur had made the
Labyrinth its home - of course he didn't frighten anyone anymore,
since he was bested by the Greek hero Theseus. And, also for thousands
of years, the Labyrinth bejeweled Crete as an important landmark,
before being destroyed by barbarians who respected nothing - not
human lives nor civilizations.
The Cretan people, with their magnanimous souls,
can separate in their memories the Germans of the Nazi occupation
force from the German tourists who visit our country today and are
welcomed with open arms. However, the grievance remains: Once we
had a famous and historic Labyrinth in Crete and it was a part of
our identity. This part of us was taken, ripped from the soul of
our birthplace, with the arrogance of a conqueror. Certainly, times
have changed - but as long as some of us still know and choose to
remember we will be asking for it back.
NOTE. This story comes from the book "The
Labyrinth of Messara" by Kaloust Paragamian and Antonis Vasilakis.
English translation by Lou Duro for ExploreCrete.com - ALL RIGHTS