Knossos is the largest of the Minoan palaces. Covering a vast area of 6 acres, (24,000 sq metres) built on five levels and having over 1,500 rooms, accommodating a large court. It is believed that over 100,000 people lived in and around the palaces quarter. Neolithic remains suggest that there were settlers here as far back as 6000 B.C. With the first Minoan palace constructed around 2000 B.C. What is left are the remains of the reconstructed even grander palace that replaced the one destroyed by the greatest catastrophic earthquake of all in 1500 B.C. When the tidal wave of Thera (Santorini) destroyed most of the island. All of the Minoan palaces were autonomous and independent from each other, but they appear to have followed a common policy which was controlled by the central more larger and opulent palace of Knossos. 


The ruins at Knossos were discovered in 1878 by Minos Kalokairinos, a Cretan merchant and aficionado of antiquities. This brought to light part of the storage magazines in the west wing and a section of the west facade. After Minos Kalokairinos, several people attempted to continue the excavations, but it was not until March 16, 1900 that archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans, an Englishman of independent means, was able to purchase the entire site and conducted massive excavations. He had many talents, firstly working as a journalist and war correspondent prior to becoming director of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford at the age of 33. Ten years later, in 1894, that post led him to Knossos for the first time and he became intrigued by the thought of the ancient palace buried beneath. This wealthy and tenacious man took five years to purchase the land from its Turkish owners. His finding rewrote the history of the ancient world. He continued to work until 1935 at the age of 84, and was knighted for his achievements in 1911. At the entrance to Knossos is a bust of Sir Arthur Evans (1851-1941). 


The impressive palace was gradually built between 1700 and 1400 B.C. with rebuilding work after many destructions brought on by earthquakes. There was many structures on the site prior to the building of the first and smaller palace.  The original design of this can no longer be seen because of the subsequent changes. Built around a central courtyard, the palace was divided into two main wings. State and religious matters were dealt with in the west wing, whist the east wing was residential and ancillary. The 1,000 plus rooms are connected with corridors of varying sizes and direction, which is different than other palaces of the time period which connected the rooms via several main hallways. 


Surviving features related to lighting, ventilation and sanitation illustrate how advanced Minoan society was. The entrance is through the west court, passing the circular pits possible originally grain silos or where devotional objects were placed at the end of sacred rituals. When these were excavated remains dating from around 2000 B.C. were revealed. The west wing had a ground floor and two further stories, the top most of which housed the official sanctuary. Raised pavements thought to have been processional ways crossed the wing and were decorated with frescos (wall paintings where the painting is painted directly onto the damp plaster, so that the colour sinks into it indelibly), today these show a part of men and women carrying gifts and ceremonial vessels. 


Arthur Evans hired a French artist to repaint all of the frescoes on site, once the originals were moved to the Archaeological Museum in Heraklion. The corridors linked a variety of courtyards and rooms which were littered with the remains of altars, bowls for ritual purification and broken pottery thought to be used in religious rites. The most unusual remaining feature of the west wing is the enormous sacred Horns of Consecration, which once crowned the palace roof but are today situated in the courtyard. The heart of Knossos is the central court, originally surrounded by high walls, it is where the bull-leaping rituals and athletic contests depicted in the frescoes took place. On the east side of the court, the grand staircase leads down to what Arthur Evans believed were the royal chambers. This is now also blocked off, but you can descend via a corridor to your left. 


These are the best preserved rooms, and though they are built into the slope of the hill, they are lit by a clever system of large light wells surrounded by colonnades, these internal courtyards supplied light as well as fresh air to the palace. Look out for the King's chamber, whose ante-room is marked with shields and the sign of the double axe. The throne remains, complete with the outline of the column supported canopy that covered it. Giant double axes were found at Knossos, and were through to be a symbol of religious and political power. Although slightly smaller, this was again decorated and ventilated using the light well system. 


The Queen's chamber is adorned with a delightful fresco of dolphins. Sadly the adjacent rooms, which held a clay bathtub and flush toilet, where rainwater was used to flush waste from the toilets down into a central drain which fed into the nearby River Kairatos, are no longer on view. An interesting feature of the Queen’s  is its floor, which demonstrates the different styles of paving used in the palace’s history. Rough stone was used in the earliest phases, phases, followed by mosaic and finally fine gypsum slabs.


To the north of the royal chambers are the palace workshops and the magazines of the giant 'pithoi' (large clay vases) used to store olive oil and wine. 400 'pithoi' were found at the palace of Knossos. An average 'pithos' held about 1100 pounds of fluid. Perhaps because of the weight, 'pithoi' were not stored on the upper floors. Beneath the 'pithoi' were stone holes used to store more valuable objects, such as gold. The palace used advanced architectural techniques, for example, part of it was built up to five stories high. A Theatre with some 500 seats lies northwest of the palace. The royal road, with original paving stones dating from the third millennium B.C. leads north and may once have run all the way to the sea.


The south 'propylaea' (entrance way) has tapering white columns and the fresco of a cup bearer. Arthur Evans gave the frescoes and rooms their names, such as the 'piano nobile', taken from the Italian Renaissance. A staircase' leads up to it, where there is a good view over the central court and the store rooms with their giant  'pithoi'. In the northwest corner of the court, is the throne room decorated with frescoes of griffins. Any population center requires facilities in support of human needs and that is true of the palaces as well. Knossos had an extensive sanitation and water supply and the Minoans famous, 4000 year old drainage systems.


These are stone structures with running water used to flush the lavatories in various rooms. Stone ducts also formed drains which led rainwater from the courts outside the palaces, to eliminate the risk of flooding. Finally, water was piped down from often remote springs, along extensive stone aqueducts. Drinking water from Mount Jouktas to the south was piped into the palace. This water was collected in cisterns which were connected to clay pipes and cylinders narrowed at one end to create a pressured head of water distributing clean drinking water throughout the palace. 


The rooms of the palace were heated on cold winter days by open wood-burning hearths on the floor. Only one closed fireplace has been found to date, in the throne room at Knossos. The palace windows were unglazed, as the Minoans lacked the necessary technology to make panes of glass. However, some windows of thin sheets of alabaster have been found. They are so fine as to be semi-transparent, allowing light in but preventing anyone from seeing clearly either in or out.


It is possible of course that Minos was a title and not a personal name noticeably like the Egyptian Pharaoh, and at least 22 rulers carried that name. These priest deities built the impressive palaces of Knossos Phaestos Malia and Zakros where they ruled a rich, artistic culture that was very ritualistic. The Minoans loved games and athletic contests. Bull-leaping is depicted everywhere as being and a favourite display. The athletes would grab a charging bull by its horns, somersault over its back, and then land on their feet with arms outstretched or raised in a victory display. Similar to the stance taken today by athletes when they have completed a somersault on the floor, or from any apparatus. This dramatic feat displayed great courage, agility and skill.


Bulls seemed to have had a strong religious significance in Minoan society, representing virility and were depicted on many vases and sculptures as well as adorning the palace walls. Ceremonial vessels called 'rhytons' were carved in shapes of the bull's head. Bulls were captured and their throats cut with the blood placed into these sacred vessels. A ritual honouring the bull was used in this way in sacrificial rites.





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



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