The Minoan Palace of Knossos
Knossos is the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete, probably the ceremonial and political center of the Minoan civilization and culture. It is a popular tourist destination today, as it is near the main city of Heraklion and has been substantially, if imaginatively “rebuilt”, making the site accessible to the casual visitor in a way that a field of unmarked ruins is not.
Today, the name is used only for the archaeological site situated in the suburbs of Heraklion.
The palace is about 130 meters on a side and since the Roman period has been suggested as the source of the myth of the Labyrinth, an elaborate mazelike structure constructed for King Minos of Crete and designed by the legendary artificer Daedalus to hold the Minotaur, a creature that was half man and half bull and was eventually killed by the Athenian hero Theseus.
Labyrinth comes from the word labrys, referring to a double, or two-bladed, axe. Its representation had a religious and probably magical significance. It was used throughout the Mycenaean world as an apotropaic symbol; that is, the presence of the symbol on an object would prevent it from being “killed.”
Axe motifs were scratched on many of the stones of the palace. It appears in pottery decoration and is a theme of the Shrine of the Double Axes at the palace, as well as of many shrines throughout Crete and the Aegean. The etymology of the name is not known; it is probably not Greek. The form labyr-inthos uses a suffix generally considered to be pre-Greek.
The location of the labyrinth of legend has long been a question for Minoan studies. It might have been the name of the palace or of some portion of the palace.
Throughout most of the 20th century the intimations of human sacrifice in the myth puzzled Bronze Age scholars, because evidence for human sacrifice on Crete had never been discovered and so it was vigorously denied.
The practice was finally verified archaeologically. It is possible that the palace was a great sacrificial center and could have been named the Labyrinth. Its layout certainly is labyrinthine, in the sense of intricate and confusing.
Many other possibilities have been suggested. The modern meaning of labyrinth as a twisting maze is based on the myth.
The Minoan Palace of Phaistos
Phaistos, or more correctly the Minoan Palace of Phaistos, is located in the Messara Plain in south-central Crete, 55 kilometres south of Heraklion and a short distance from the archaeological site of Agia Triada, the archaeological site of Gortys and Matala.
Phaistos is one of the most important archaeological sites in Crete, with many thousands of visitors annually. Phaistos is “Φαιστός” in Greek and you may find it also written as Phaestos, Faistos or Festos.
The Minoan palace of Phaistos corresponds to a flourishing city which arose in the fertile plain of the Messara in prehistoric times, from circa 6000 BC to the 1st century BC, as archaeological finds confirm.
The history of the Minoan palace of Phaistos, like that of the other Minoan palaces of Crete, is a turbulent one:
The first palace of Phaistos was built in circa 2000 BC. Its mythical founder was Minos himself and its first king was his brother Radamanthys.
In 1700 BC a strong earthquake destroyed the palace, which was rebuilt almost immediately. However, Phaistos was no longer the administrative centre of the area, an honour which passed to neighbouring Agia Triada. Phaistos continued to be the religious and cult centre of south Crete.
In 1450 BC there was another great catastrophe, not only in Phaistos but across the whole of Crete. The city of Phaistos recovered from the destruction, minted its own coins and continued to flourish for the next few centuries until the first century BC, when it was destroyed by neighbouring Gortys.
The first excavations in the wider area of Phaistos were undertaken in 1900 by the Italian Archaeological School under Federico Halbherr and Luigi Pernier, continuing after the Second World War under Doro Levi. Most of the buildings visible today belong to the Neopalatial period (1700 – 1450 BC). Unlike Knossos, there have been no efforts at restoration but only conservation.
Malia Minoan Palace
The palace found at Malia is the third largest palace of Minoan Crete after Knossos and Phaistos. It occupies 7500 square meters at the edge of a fertile valley near Hersonissos in Northern Crete. The palace’s proximity to the sea was obviously important in the development of the site into a cultural hub for its ancient inhabitants. It was first built around 1900 BC, a time of feverish development for the entire island population. It subsequently followed the same cycle as the other palaces of the time, and it was destroyed by unknown reasons around 1650 before it was immediately rebuilt.
The ruins at the site today reflect this second rebirth of the palace on the ruins of the old one, and the excavations which persist to our day reveal a place of significant economic and political activity which lasted until its final destruction by fire in 1450 BC. The architecture of this Neopalatial palace roughly follows the plan originally laid by the destroyed palace. A large central court yard is surrounded by storage rooms to the east, the theater and several crypts and corridors to the West, and the main entrance to the south. Along the lines with other Minoan palaces, there is a smaller courtyard to the west where modern visitors normally enter the ruins, adjacent to the eight circular granaries.
Picture from area M at Malia, CreteAn extensive complex of settlements had developed around the palace itself. A large complex dating back to the Protopalatial period (area “M” to the north-east of the palace) included workshops, storage and cult rooms. Nearby excavations of the Necropolis at Chrysolakos (meaning gold pit) yielded a wealth of important Minoan artifacts, including the famous gold bee pendant now exhibited at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. Nearby to the north of the palace, excavations continue at area “K” which was the agora of Malia.