It’s a place of history, legends, and Crete’s most extensive and important archaeological sites: Knossos Palace. If you’re planning an excursion there, (which you should) here’s everything you need to know before going!
Knossos Palace was the ceremonial and political center of the Minoan Civilization during the Bronze Age. Considered Europe’s oldest city, Knossos was once the city-state of Crete with the town surrounding the hill the palace is on.
The area actually has a very long history of human habitation, from the first Neolithic settlement around 7000 BC, until it kept growing in 1500 BC when the surrounding city had a population of 100,000. The palace suffered through an earthquake but then was reconstructed. It’s believed that the palace was abandoned around 1380 to 1100 B.C. for largely unknown reasons.
The excavation and exploration of the site has provided historians with a wealth of knowledge and insight into the Minoan Civilization. Tools like clay and stone incised spools and whorls point to a cloth-making industry and curvaceous female figurines indicate the worshipping of mother goddesses.
The palace structure we see today is not exactly as it looked in its original time, due to reconstruction and renovation throughout the years, and is considered by some archaeologists as a facsimile. The palace complex is not believed to have just been the residence of the monarch but also as the civic, religious, and economic center of Knossos, serving its citizens.
It is believed by some that the Palace of Knossos is the same palace which Greek mythology refers to in the Minotaur story. According to legend, Theseus, a prince from Athens, whose father is an ancient Greek king named Ageaus (whom the Greek sea is named after) sailed to Crete where he was forced to fight a terrible creature called the Minotaur. The Minotaur was a half man, half bull, and was kept in the Labyrinth – a maze – by King Minos, ruler of Crete, who lived in his palace at Knossos. It was said that the Minotaur was the King’s son. The king's daughter Ariadne however, fell in love with Theseus. When he entered the Labyrinth to fight the Minotaur, Ariadne gave him a ball of thread which he unwound, so that he could find his way back by following it. Theseus killed the Minotaur, and then he and Ariadne fled from Crete, escaping her angry father.
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What to expect
The archaeological site comprises about 20,000 square meters and over 1,500 rooms, as well as old village ruins in the surrounding hillsides of the palace complex. Be prepared to walk a lot! The most important part of the site is the Great Palace. The palace’s wings are arranged around a central courtyard, containing the royal quarters, workshops, shrines, storerooms, repositories, the throne room and banquet halls.
Then there’s the Little Palace, located west of the Great Palace and the second biggest building at Knossos. The Bull’s Head, a famous archaeological find made of steatite, was found in one of its chambers and is now exhibited in the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion. In the House of the High Priest, a stone altar was found, surrounded by double axe swords. The Caravan Serai is located opposite the Great Palace and it was the official entrance to the palace. It served as public baths with running water so that the traveller or visitor of Knossos could bathe before visiting the King. The Royal Temple Tomb-Sanctuary is located south of the Palace and it is considered to have belonged to one of the last Minoan Kings.
How to get there
It is very easy to get to Knossos from Heraklion. It’s a 15 minute car drive or you can take a bus from the main bus station at the Heraklion port. The buses come every 20 minutes. If you’re spending time in Heraklion, it’s a worthy detour. Happy exploring!