Friday, May 17, 2013

Knossos, Crete

Sir Arthur Evans was an archeologist at the turn of the 20th century. He went to Crete to find ancient Grecian ruins. He found a veritable gold-mine in the site of Knossos, an ancient town with a Minoan-era palace. He bought the land and began to excavate. He did his best to preserve what he found, including reconstructing the site with concrete and a bit of imagination. Some of the authenticity has been lost, but surely many other things would also have been lost if not for his work. His contribution is a mixed bag but the site is quite amazing.

Bust of Sir Arthur Evans

The palace was built around 1700 B.C., replacing the old palace that had been destroyed in an earthquake. Knossos was the capital of Crete at the time. The palace grew and grew with many additions, perhaps inspiring the legend of the labyrinth with its own twisty corridors and complicated sets of rooms, passages, and courtyards.

Approaching the palace

Lots of rooms and staircase, lending a labyrinthian look

J is too cool for the staircase

More labyrinthy bits

It was the palace of King Minos (for whom the Minoan age was named) and it does feature several bull-centric art works, perhaps inspiring the Minotaur (Minos+taurus?) myth.

Bull relief fresco on the North Bastion

The Bull Jumping Mosaic in its natural spot

The first thing visitors see is the "kouloures" or pits just outside the palace area. The pits date back to the pre-palatial period (1900-1700) and were probably used first as granaries and later to dump trash. They were covered over in the palatial period.


Inside the pit

Off to the left is an area Evans called the "theater" because of the raised platform at the top of the stairs. Also, a road leads off to Irakleon from this side of the palace. Evans called it the "royal road."


The North Lustral Basin is one of the many such basins found in the palace. Their use seems to have been religious. Many vases or pitchers were found in the basins, presumably for a washing or purifying ceremony.

North Lustral Basin

Drainage for the palace

The Shrine of the Double Axes was used in the post-palatial period (1375-1200). The back of the room had a bench with a stone double-headed axe and some votive idols on a bench. All were used in religious ceremonies.

Shrine of the Double Axes

Restored Hall of the Double Axes

The Queen's hall or megaron nearby

Storage also nearby

The Throne Room had a stone seat and benches along the side walls. The seat has been replaced with a wooden replica. The room probably didn't have the function we associate with a modern throne room. Several oil jars were found that suggests a religious use to the room, with the king acting in his role as high priest of the community. The frescoes include griffons, a combination of lion's body and an eagle's head, symbolic of the power and magical abilities of the king.

Entrance to the Throne Room

Inside the Throne Room

View of throne and frescoes

The West Wing also did not function as fans of the White House might imagine. The rooms had several statuettes (including that crazy snake/fertility goddess) used in religious ceremonies. This area also has some storage rooms and other halls.

West wing, no oval office!

A large courtyard is found in the middle of the complex. The great hall of the palace was here, along with another shrine.

Great Hall

View down into lower levels

Also just off the main hall is the Room with the Copies, where copies of frescoes are on the walls. The originals have gone to museums like the Irakleon Archeology Museum.

Restored entrance to the Room with the Copies


Ladies in Blue

Fresco from Tripartite Shrine

Visitors can still see bits of the original language called Linear A, which has not been deciphered (Linear B, a later language, has been decoded). Cretan hieroglyphics were also in use during the palatial period.


On the outskirts of the palace are some buildings that were part of the larger city of Knossos, as well as many precious beauties.

South House

Unidentified building

Precious beauties

The site is an amazing bit of history. The Minoan civilization was clearly very advanced and perhaps the first great civilization in European history. It lasted over a thousand years and left an enduring mark on Western civilization through famous legends like the Minotaur and Daedalus and Icarus.

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