THE MESARA IN TRAVELLERS' TEXTS: THE QUEST FOR ITS PAST AND THE EMERGENCE OF ITS ARCHAEOLOGICAL LANDSCAPE
Crete was an attractive destination for European travellers as early as the medieval period. The memory of its ancient culture, the natural environment and the “exotic”, to European eyes, character of its inhabitants made travellers turn their attention to the island of Minos. Later on, the revival of interest in antiquity motivated many literate people to travel to Crete in order to “discover” ancient cities and artefacts with the assistance of local guides.
The Mesara plain was of particular interest to those travellers. There could be found the dwelling of the legendary Minotaur, the so-called Labyrinth, which was actually a quarry and the most important “tourist” attraction of Crete until the discovery of Knossos by Sir Arthur Evans at the beginning of the 20th century. Moreover, the ruins of Gortyna, the capital of the island during the Roman period, lay close by. It is important to mention that the Labyrinth and Gortyna were, almost exclusively, the only ancient sites depicted on maps by early cartographers.
In this text we examine not only the archaeological and classicist perspective of these tours but also the travellers’ interactions with the local population of the Mesara and their relations with the Ottoman authorities.