The Palace of Knossos




The Palace of Knossos was the centre of the Minoan civilization and the fabled home of King Minos and the Minotaur, which was contained in the labyrinth below the palace. Knossos developed during the Neolithic period (7000-3000 BC) and was a major centre of trade during the period 3000-1900 BC when the first Palace was constructed. The site was excavated and reconstructed during the 20th century, although the work carried out has been subject to criticism.  

Situated 5 km south from Heraklion. Knossos flourished for approximately two thousand years and was the centre of Minoan civilisation and the capital of Minoan Crete. The Palace was the main centre of power in Crete and the Palace of the legendary King Minos. Today it is accepted as the symbol of the Minoan civilization and is renowned for its size and design, but also for its construction materials and the advanced building techniques used. 

Knossos itself developed during the Neolithic period (7000-3000 BC). When the earliest traces of inhabitation have been found.  The site continued to be occupied during the period 3000-1900 BC when it was the major centre of trade which, due to its ties with the majority of cities in the Eastern Mediterranean, had a significant effect on the economy of the region. This resulted in its political development and the construction of the first Palace of Knossos and in it thriving both socially and economically. 

In 1700 BC the first palace was destroyed by an earthquake and was rebuilt on an even grander scale on the ruins of the previous one. In 1600 BC it was severely damaged by the eruption of Santorini and in 1450 BC by the colossal volcanic eruption of Thera. Around 1400 BC it was once again damaged when ravaged by fire.  Following the invasion of the Mycenaeans it was used during their occupation as their capital during their rule of the island of Crete, something which lasted until 1375 BC. During this period, it suffered extensive damage.  It was then abandoned marking the end of Minoan civilization. Although the area and the site covered by the palace was occupied again from the Late Mycenaean period until Roman times.

Although it has been suggested that Knossos was destroyed by the volcanic eruption on Santorini, it is generally accepted that the cause was due to the invasion of Crete by Greeks from Mycenaean. Knossos was still prosperous at the time and it is suggested that its destruction was due to the Mycenaeans, wanting to remove it as a rival power.

The palace is associated with Greek mythology and the legend of the Minotaur. The Minotaur had the body of a man and the head of a bull and was killed by Theseus after he was delivered to it as a sacrifice. It is also associated with the story of Daidalos (Daedalus) and Ikaros. Daidalos constructed the labyrinth in which the minotaur was held. Once constructed Daidalos and his son Ikaros were not allowed to leave the island so they made wings to escape but Ikaros was killed when he fell to earth after flying too close to the sun, which caused the wax which held his wings together to melt.

Excavation work at the site started in 1878 when the site was discovered by Minos Kalokairinos while Crete was under Turkish occupation. It wasn’t however, until 1900 that the main excavations in Knossos began by the English archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans (1851–1941), these were to continue for 35 years. 

The size of the site and the duration of the work far exceeding his original expectations. Much of the restoration work that has been carried out at the site was carried out by Evens, although this has been subject to criticism. The reason for this is due to him recreating much of what he believed the palace would have looked like using modern materials and techniques. An example of this is that no columns have been found, indicating that they were made of timber. Columns at Knossos - unlike the remainder of Greece which used stone - were made from Cypress trees inverted so that the column was wider at the top than the bottom. Although no columns were found the bases existed, indicating their position. Evens therefore, constructed the replica ones using modern techniques such as stone and concrete.  

Much of the reconstruction work carried out by Evens used concrete, so Visitors today will find it difficult to see what is original and what has been reconstructed, although all the completed work is reconstructed. This has however, produced a reconstruction which is not a true depiction of the palace as it was at any time in its past, but it has preserved the site from deterioration. The modifications that have been carried out make it very difficult to gain an accurate impression of the original plan and design.

The site seen today dates mainly from the Late Minoan period and consists of over a thousand rooms which include workshops and storerooms, many of which contained large clay vases called pithoi which were produced within the palace. The palace also contained facilities for grinding grain and the production of wine and oil.  The palace consisted of living and administrative rooms connected by corridors. 

The main buildings of the palace covered an area of 20.000 square meters. with its out-buildings covering an area of five acres. Constructed of ashlar blocks and decorated frescoes mainly of religious images it consists of buildings up to five storeys high. The foundations and lower course were stonework while the main structure was built of large, unbaked bricks. It was constructed of a variety of building materials and contained marble revetments and painted plaster. It was adorned with wall-paintings both in the rooms and adjoining passages. 

The roofs were flat and consisted of a thick layer of clay placed over brushwood. Internal rooms themselves were illuminated by light-wells and many had columns of wood supporting beams that were used to reinforce the masonry. The chambers and corridors were decorated with frescoes showing scenes from everyday life and scenes of processions. No scenes related to Warfare were found.

The palace had a large central courtyard which was probably used for public ceremonies and meetings and had living quarters, storage rooms and rooms for administration positioned around the courtyard. It also had a monumental staircase leading to state rooms on an upper floor. It contained bathrooms and toilets, complete with a closed drainage system. A second courtyard, known as the West Court, was the official approach to the palace and was also used as a ceremonial area.

The West Wing contains the Throne Room with a gypsum throne with benches on three sides, these have a seating capacity of 16 people. It also contains a lustral basin which it is believed was used for purification or ritual washing purposes. Although the fact that it had no drainage has led some to question its use and suggest that it was used as a water reservoir.  The West Wing also contains rooms for administrative and religious activities. 

The East Wing contained the residential quarters and large reception rooms. These include the Queen's Hall and the Hall of the Double Axes which are approached by the imposing Grand Staircase.

The South Wing contains the South Propylon, the Corridor of the Procession and the South Entrance, with the fresco of the Prince of the Lilies.

Leading from the North Entrance was a road that led to the harbour of Knossos. This entrance is flanked by elevated stoas, including the one at the west being decorated with the Bull Hunt fresco.

Leading from the North-west corner of the palace was a large, stone-paved processional way known as the Royal Road, which led from the Small Palace to an open-air theatre.







Copyright - All  Photographs copyright Ron Gatepain

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