The Labyrinth of Messara, Crete - famous visitors
The first foreign traveler to visit the Labyrinth
in Gortyn and describe it as an ancient quarry of porous rocks was
Cristophoro Bouondelmondi in 1415. In his works, "Description
of the Island of Crete ," Bouondelmondi confuses, like everyone
else at the time, the Knossos Labyrinth with the "hypothetical" (as
he calls it) Labyrinth in Gortyn. The same Gortyn, which was no
longer the capital of Crete, he names it Knossos (noble city of Knossia
Following is his pertinent description of the Labyrinth:
"In the north, two miles away from the
noble city of Gortyn , there is what today is believed to be the
Labyrinth. The entrance is difficult to access initially then it
widens. There is to the east a first corridor of two hundred steps.
Another one with a northern direction seems to be endless. At least
that's what the locals claim. We observe many galleries, entangling
one another and all of which seem to come back to the point where
they begin . . ."
In 1680, the English traveler Bernard
Randolph remained in the Labyrinth
for one hour. He advanced less than 100 meters, which was the length
of the yarn he used to keep from getting lost. He offers very few
facts about the cave, but mentions encountering a large number of
The French botanist Joseph
Pitton de Tournefort explored the Labyrinth more thoroughly on July 1st, 1700. In his
letter to the Royal Academy of Sciences in 1704, he refers to the
cave analytically. He gave special attention to the recorded names
and dates of visitors, even mentioning some of them.
Richard Pococke, the English cleric and traveler,
makes a brief mention of the Labyrinth. He visited the cave in 1739
and walked almost its entirety.
French linguist and historian Claude-Etienne
Savary's description is also quite brief. He visited the cave 40
years later in 1779. However, it is possible he never got as far
as the "Altar Chamber."
In October of 1783, two officers of the French army - Philippe
de Bonneval, a warship captain, and Mathieu
Dumas, an infantry officer - visited
Crete on the order of Louis the XVI. Theirs was a clandestine mission - espionage - and
its purpose was to gather information regarding the island's forts
and strongholds. The spies also sought to obtain knowledge of Crete's
military forces, as well as its government, population and economy.
Along with their escort, they visited the Labyrinth and explored
it in great detail. In their report to the King, they gave an incredible
physical description of the cave, even providing its first map.
Then, in 1817, Austrian doctor and botanist Franz
together with the French consul de Vasse and his
visited the cave. Sieber, ignoring Bonneval's and Dumas' visit, mapped
the Labyrinth in greater detail. He noted in his book that
now no one can get lost. The consul's secretary named all the chambers
and corridors of the Labyrinth, and these were the names the Greek
Another brief description of the Labyrinth was offered
by English traveler Charles Rochfort Scott, when
he recorded his impressions from his visit to the cave in 1834.
Sometime later, Tomas Abel
Brimage Spratt, an English
captain (later an admiral) visited the cave with Captain H.
Using Sieber's cartography, they traveled throughout the Labyrinth,
and discovered that some of its areas were not mapped out.
geologist Felix-Victor Raulin visited the Labyrinth
in August 17, 1845 , and made an extremely detailed presentation,
including a historical retrospection of previous searches.
the last of the well known people to tour the Labyrinth and write
about it was Doctor Iosif Hatzithakis, who visited the cave in
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