Knossos Palace: the milestone of the Minoans’ civilization

The palace Knossos is located south of the cosmopolitan Heraklion city near the north coast of Crete island. It was built during the Minoans’ civilization by covering about 150,000 square feet (14,000 square meters). The palace was surrounded by a town in antiquity. The palace of Knossos came to light in the bright 20th century when it was excavated and restored by a team led by British archaeologist Arthur Evans and nowadays it’s considered as one of the “must-see” Crete archaeological sites.

When the palace was first built “it must have been a remarkable sight, quite unlike anything seen on Crete before,” writes J. Lesley Fitton in her book “Minoans (Peoples of the Past)” (British Museum Press, 2002). She notes that although other settlements on Crete around this time built palaces of their own, none was as large as Knossos. “Knossos perhaps began as a ‘first among equals,’ and the relationship between the powerful groups that built the palaces may not have been entirely friendly.” The position of Knossos was not accidental, and Fitton notes that it lines up with a sanctuary located at Mount Juktas to the south.

 

 

Mysteries & Different Beliefs

Although the Minoan Knossos palace was excavated a century ago there are still many assumptions that sciences have about the site and the ancestors who lived in it and Knossos frescoes.

 

For instance, the chronology of the palace is a matter of scholarly debate. Construction of the palace appears to have begun around 1950 B.C., although there may have been structures predating it. This “first palace”  was damaged (likely by earthquakes that perhaps were connecting to that one of Santorini island) around 1700 B.C. and a second palace was built on top of the old one. Recently, however, scholars have called into question how extensively this “first palace” was damaged, write researchers Colin Macdonald and Carl Knappett in a chapter of the book “Intermezzo: Intermediacy and Regeneration in Middle Minoan III Palatial Crete” (British School at Athens, 2013). The papers published in their book raise the possibility that rather than a “first” and “second” palace, there were several phases of renovation and change that occurred over a period of centuries.

The actual name of the people who lived in the palace is unknown despite the plethora of Minoan frescoes. The Minoan writing system is undeciphered and the name “Minoans” comes from Arthur Evans, who believed that he had found the palace of “King Minos,” a mythical Cretan king, the son of Zeus and Europa, who supposedly constructed the labyrinth in order to conceal the Minotaur. Today, archaeologists know that King Minos likely did not build this palace.

 

 

 

Frescoes of Knossos

Palace of Knossos – the frescos of the Minoans intrigue our senses, below you will see the Bull Leaping Fresco which is one of the most famous of all. It brings into question the nature of the relationship of the earliest inhabitants with the bull. Of course, it seems that the young boys or girls are jumping the bull…is this part of a display of skill or a bull-fighting sequence like that in the Spanish culture?

 

 

 

Also below you will see the fresco named Minoan Lady which shows beautiful blue colors and the distinguished profile of a beautiful woman.

 

 

 

The Palace incorporated numerous rooms. One of the most dramatic was the Throne Room. It consisted of a large chair, built into the wall, facing several benches. In addition, this room included a tank, which archaeologists believe was an aquarium. On the south wall is a fresco depicting mythical beasts called griffins, with a lion’s body and an eagle’s head.

 

It is believed to be the oldest throne room in Europe, and most certainly the oldest alabaster throne of the Aegean region. At the beginning of his research, Evans thought of it to be the seat of King Minos.

 

 

 

However, more recent theories suggest that the room was not used as the king’s throne room. There are many signs that suggest it was actually a sacred space, a sanctuary for a high priestess or embodiment of a goddess during rituals.

 

Artifacts & Art

Palace of Knossos – unique statuettes and jewelry were found giving us questions about the role of women in the Minoan civilization, such as the Snake Goddess.

 

 

 

Theories abound about the rituals and the type of society of the Minoans. The art shown here is enough to set historians on myriad paths of interpretation.

 

Were they a Goddess-based culture? Were they peaceful and nature-loving? Did the women hold power and lead the spiritual life of the island? Was this the home of the Queen instead of King Minos?

 

The British archaeologist that excavated the site was an interesting character named Arthur Evans, see more about him here; a full biography which shows his life’s work in uncovering the Minoan history of the island. He controversially reconstructed many features of the site according to his own imagination.

 

 

 

When walking through the Palace, a visitor has the chance to witness some of the amazing frescoes that adorn the walls in several sections. Most of these frescoes are reconstructions by Piet de Jong and were often recreated from only a few bits of painted plaster. Many original and reconstructed frescoes are housed in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, with replicas of them adorning the Palace. Many contain paints that are still vivid after 4,000 years. For instance, upon entering the Palace, one can view the stunning Fresco of the Procession. Other frescoes, entitled the Parisienne, Cup Barer and Tripartite Shrine, adorn an area of the Palace called the Piano Nobile, which is a large courtyard.

 

 

The first Palace of Knossos

Although the remains of the “first palace” mostly lie under later palace renovations, archaeologists have been able to put together a rough picture of what it looked like in antiquity.

The first Minoan Knossos Palace was built around a central court and contained a plethora of storage areas. On the northwest side of the central court was a room that researchers refer to as the “early keep” and near that another section referred to as the “initiatory area.”

The initiatory area contains a “lustral basin,” which consists of a square tank, sunk into the ground, with a staircase descending on two sides, writes Arnold Lawrence and Richard Tomlinson in their book “Greek Architecture” (Yale University Press, 1996). They note that several of these basins were built in the palace. “For lack of any better explanation, the original use is assumed to be religious, in connection with some ritual of anointing, but there would have been no drawback to using the basin as a shower-bath provided the water was mopped up quickly.”

The walls of the first palace were bulkier than those built later on. “On the whole, the structure of the earlier Palace was bulkier, more massive, than that of the later Palace in general layout and in individual details,” writes researcher John McEnroe in his book “Architecture of Minoan Crete” (University of Texas Press, 2010). He notes that the column bases and pavement were made of stones of different colors.

The development of the palace coincided with the appearance of the still undeciphered Minoan writing system.

Also in this early period, the different regions of Crete maintained their own distinct style of pottery and material culture.

 

 

The end of the Palace Knossos

Around 1450 B.C., a cataclysm hit the island, Crete. Fitton notes that all the palaces on the island, with the exception of Knossos, were destroyed. What exactly happened nobody knows. One idea is that a series of natural calamities, such as earthquakes, hit the island. Another idea is that Crete was invaded by a people called the Mycenaeans (lead by king Menelaos), whom researchers know came to occupy Knossos.

Recent research into these tablets provide clues into the lives of women who lived in Mycenaean-controlled Knossos. For instance, the tablets show that “Knossian women were attested to as owning their own land, and were recorded in ways completely analogous [comparable] with male landholders,” writes Barbara Olsen, a professor at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, in her book “Women in Mycenaean Greece, the Linear B tablets from Pylos and Knossos” (Routledge, 2014).

“Moreover, the land was not the only property held by women in Mycenaean-era Knossos. Various women were also attested as having massive amounts of food-stuffs, slaves, raw and finished textile products, and luxury goods such as gold and bronze vessels,” wrote Olsen in her book.

Knossos appears to have been destroyed sometime before 1300 B.C., apparently by fire. The Mycenaeans would see their civilization collapse around 1200 B.C.  A series of population migrations, possibly spurred by environmental problems, swept across Europe and the Near East. In the period after this collapse, the people of Crete took to the hills, living in elevated settlements in hopes of surviving the calamity that had befallen the ancient world.

 

Plan to visit Knossos

Experience the world-famous archaeological site of Knossos Palace and the iconic Museum of Heraklion like a true VIP within a chauffer-driven private tour.

 

What’s Included

8 hours duration

Personal pick-up and drop-off with a flexible start time

Chauffeured premium vehicle on disposal

Private local insider guide

Archaeology specialized private guide

VIP skip-the-line accesses

Mineral water, fresh fruits, and nuts of Crete island

Child seats (if requested)

Wi-Fi, USB sockets & hygiene vehicle amenities

 

Knossos Palace Opening Hours

Below is the most recent information for the Knossos Palace opening hours.

1 November to 31 March: 08.00-15.00 every day 

From 1st to 29th of April: 08:00-18:00 every day.

From 30th of April until November: 08:00 – 20:00.