Legacy’s Cultural Inspirations
“The Cycles with their trails that rise and fall, Time’s Wheel that knows the height and depth of all…All these now haunt my mind and bid me tell the accidents and fortunes that befell / A princess and her lover in the link / Of a romance in which no guile could slink. And all who love, who hold another dear, Let them all read what I have written here…”
The rich cultural tapestry of Crete is of course closely intertwined with that of Greece as a whole, but also has distinct elements and the city of Heraklion has long held a prominent place in the island’s cultural ascendancy. Crete’s strategic location has through the centuries made it a fiercely contested island and these struggles have both bred an undeniable independent streak in its people and sharpened creative spirits. Consider just briefly the trio of Cretan luminaries that inspire the design of our suites at Legacy Gastro Suites. Two of them, Vincenzo Cornaro—the celebrated poet who wrote the epic romantic poem Erotokritos—and Doménikos Theotokópoulos—the painter who would later become renowned as El Greco—were born in the 16th century in the Kingdom of Candia. That was the name given to Crete in the long period during which the island was an overseas colony of Venice. It’s important to remember that for centuries Venice was the most powerful maritime state in the Mediterranean, if not the world, and under their rule not only did Heraklion take on much of its present physical aspect, but culture and the arts too flourished in a way that would not be the case once the Ottoman Turks, following a long and nasty siege, seized the reins in 1669. Crete was essentially the Greek world’s final holdout against the Turks.
So it was in those last decades of Venetian rule, from about 1590 to 1669 that the Cretan Renaissance reached full flower. This was Cornaro’s time. According to Theocharis Detorakis, Professor at the University of Crete, Erotokritos “is the supreme achievement of Cretan literature and modern Greek literature in general.” It is an epic romantic story of the love between Erotocritos and Aretousa, written in rhyming couplets in the Cretan dialect divided into five acts and consisting of 10,012 iambic fifteen-syllable lines. One scholar has called it “an enchanting combination of ideas, emotions, pictures and a fastidiousness and vigor of style and composition.”
Crete was also a center of post-Byzantine art and indeed El Greco, born in Heraklion, trained as a painter of icons. Born in Heraklion as Doménikos Theotokópoulos (which is how he signed his paintings, even long after he left Crete), his Greek Orthodox family had settled in Heraklion after following initial friction with the Venetians, who were Catholic, in Chania. In Candia and Heraklion, in particular, there was a healthy cross-pollination of the Mediterranean’s Eastern and Western cultures, with some 200 painters thriving in the 16th century. After joining a painter’s guild as a young man, Theotokópoulos would go on to Venice to hone his craft before eventually settling in Toledo, Spain where he would continue to turn light and shadow into magic on the canvas.
If you flew in into Heraklion, then you landed at the airport named for the man whose statue sits outside the entrance of Legacy Gastro Suites: Nikos Kazantzakis. It’s difficult to overstate the importance of Kazantzakis in the pantheon of great modern Greek writers or to neatly sum up his monumental list of literary accomplishments in a short space. But what you should probably know is that before they were movies, both Zorba the Greek and The Last Temptation of Christ were acclaimed novels and Kazantzakis wrote them both. He also wrote other novels—lots of them—travel books, essays and plays and perhaps most ambitiously, he wrote a sequel to Homer’s The Odyssey, with some 33,333 verses. There is a faithful recreation of the author’s library, along with numerous copies of all his published books, at the fabulous Historical Museum of Crete in Heraklion.
An icon today, Kazantzakis was something of an iconoclast in his time. He wrote in Demotic Greek, the modern vernacular version of the Greek language, at a time when the literary fashion favored the older, classic form of Greek. He asked questions about his religious faith at a time when doing so could be and often was, construed by the powers that be as blasphemous. Consider that The Last Temptation was published in 1955, a time when the deeply conservative Greek Orthodox Church held far more sway in terms of public opinion that it does today. Indeed, the church excommunicated Kazantzakis and after his death in 1957, refused to allow him to be buried in a cemetery. Something to contemplate, perhaps, on a visit to the author’s well-maintained grave: it sits on top of a section of the ancient Venetian ramparts, from which you can see all of Heraklion before you, stretching out to the edge of the Mediterranean.
Author Anthoine de Grand