PHAESTOS - PHAISTOS - FAESTOS - FESTOS - FAISTOS

 

This Minoan palace is spelt in several differing ways and can be confusing for many so above are some of the variations you might find in books, road signs and maps. The remains of Phaestos is far more enjoyable to visit in some ways than Knossos. It stands on a hill overlooking the fertile Mesara Plain framed by the Asterousia mountain range sprinkled today with small villages to the south, the Lasithi mountains are to the east and west the Mesara gulf just beyond the low hill of Ayia Triada. Here there is no reconstruction work been undertaken which allows you a better perspective. The large central court, and royal apartments, the grand staircase and the nondescript spot where the fabulous Faestos Disc was found makes this a more memorable experience. 

 

The Disc which is only 15cm in diameter is now housed in the Archaeological Museum in Heraklion and is one of the most important and intriguing items ever found on Crete. Dated between 1700 and 1600 B.C. it was uncovered in 1903. The baked clay disc has spirals of pictograms on either side, including flowers, people and animals. No one has ever deciphered the code, but the most favoured theory is that it was a religious object of some kind, with the symbols perhaps being the words to a prayer of hymn. Here you find just a small car park at the end of a zigzag road up a small hillside on the way to the traditional village of Sivas and the coastal resort of Matala. From this spot you have an excellent aspect of the layout of the palace.

 

The panoramic view it is assumed was part of the attraction to the Minoans as prior to their settlement, deposits have been found as far back as Neolithic and early Minoan periods 3000-2000 B.C. The site was excavated at almost exactly the same time as Arthur Evans was working at Knossos by Federico Halbherr who also worked on Gortys. The first palace built here dates from around 19000 B.C. known as the Old Palace, some of its remains can still be seen on the western edge of the site. It has been destroyed and repaired twice prior to its ultimate destruction in an earthquake of around 1700 B.C. and is the second largest palace after Knossos. It was occupied until around 1450 B.C. 

 

Phaestos was the home of Radamanthis, the brother of the legendary King Minos. The palace continued to be used even after its destruction in 1400 B.C. although it gradually lost its power until the emerging centre of nearby Gortys destroyed it finally in 200 BC. As with Knossos the rooms are set around a central courtyard. During the rebuilding of the palace in 1700 B.C. several of the rooms from the old palace were retained in the new building, and archaeologists today have excavated several areas of the palace to reveal the older structures below. The west court, is a good place to try to picture the palace as it would have been.

 

If you go down into the court and look towards the easily recognisable grand staircase. The pavement of the west courtyard along with the few bottom steps of the converging staircases have been exposed during modern excavations, for they were buried one metre deep when the new palace was built. To the right of this are the remains of the western facade of the palace, built to bask in the glow of the setting sun. To the north of the court is the theatre area, and to the south some large storage pits, used principally for grain. If you climb the grand staircase you'll see to the right the storerooms within the palace, oil were stored in the vast storage jars called 'pithoi' that can be seen in almost every museum and site on Crete. 

  

It is not known for sure if the commodities stored at the palace were given to the royal family or if the building acted as a secure storage area for everyone to use. The palace of Phaestos used the small river Ieropotamos at the foot of the hill for its water supply, along with some deep wells on the palace hill. To the east you enter the impressive central court, a vast open area whose paving dates from 1900 to 1700 B.C. If you walk to the southern end of this there are good views over the plain, still a source of grain and olive oil today. It is the largest and most fertile of all the plains on Crete, producing huge crops of olives, citrus and other fruit and many types of vegetables. 

  

To the north of the central court the area becomes a little confusing, as the remains are on two levels, but beyond the small south court, which you may be able to identify, are the royal apartments. There are many chambers and antechambers here, with sets of rooms belonging to the King and another to the Queen. If you continue past these almost to the edge of the site, you can turn right and see on your right the walls and foundations of a row of small buildings. These were the palace archives, where the famous Disc was found a small object that preserves its secrets to this day, just as the palace preserves its own air of mystery and beauty.

 

 

  
  

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 More Round the Island pages
: Beaches - Western Crete : Apokoronas : Hania Town : Kournas Lake : Aptera :
: Frangokastello : Gramvousa : Spinalonga : Monasteries
: Phaestos : Gortys : Knossos:

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