Knossos

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Knossos

The centre of Minoan civilisation and capital of Minoan Crete lay 5km south of Heraklion. Knossos flourished for approximately two thousand years. It had large palace buildings, extensive workshop installations and luxurious rock-cut cave and tholos tombs. As a major centre of trade and the economy, Knossos maintained ties with the majority of cities in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Wealth accumulation and the advancement of an urban lifestyle were the hallmarks of this zenith, which began circa 2000 BC and was typified by magnificent monumental buildings and a complex social structure.

The Minoan palace is the main site of interest at Knossos, an important city in antiquity, which was inhabited continuously from the Neolithic period until the 5th c. AD. The palace was built on the Kephala hill and had easy access to the sea and the Cretan mainland. According to tradition, it was the seat of the wise king Minos. The Palace of Knossos is connected with thrilling legends, such as the myth of the Labyrinth, with the Minotaur, and the story of Daidalos and Ikaros.

The first excavation of the site was conducted in 1878 by Minos Kalokerinos of Herakleion. This was followed by the long-term excavations of 1900-1913 and 1922-1930 of the Englishman Sir Arthur Evans, who uncovered virtually the entire palace.

The earliest traces of inhabitation in the area of the palace go back to the Neolithic period (7000-3000) BC). The site continued to be occupied in the Pre-palatial period (3000-1900 BC), at the end of which the area was leveled for the erection of a large palace. This first palace was destroyed, probably by an earthquake, about 1700 BC. A second, larger palace was built on the ruins of the old one. This was partially destroyed about 1450BC, after which the Mycenaeans established themselves at Knossos.The palace was finally destroyed about 1350 BC by a major conflagration. The site it covered was occupied again from the Late Mycenaean period until Roman times. Extensive reconstruction of the Palace of Knossos was carried out by the excavator, Sir Arthur Evans.

It was a multi-storey building covering an area of 20.000 square meters. Impressive features of it are the variety of building materials used, and the painted plaster, marble revetment and wall-paintings adorning the rooms and passages. The advanced level of technology attained by the Minoans is also demonstrated by some original architectural and structural features, such as the light -wells and polythyra, the use of beams to reinforce the masonry, and the complex drainage and water-supply systems.

The palace is set around a large Central Court, an area used for public meetings. A second courtyard, the West Court, acted both as the official approach to the palace and a ceremonial area.

The west wing was occupied by the official rooms for administrative and religious activities, including the Tripartite Shrine, the Sacred Repositories and the Pillar Crypts. The Throne Room is out standing amongst them, with its lustral basin and the gypsum throne flanked by benches. The most important areas in the south wing are the South Propylon, the Corridor of the Procession and the South Entrance, with the fresco of the Prince of the Lilies. The east wing contained the residential quarters and large reception rooms, the most important being the Hall of the Double Axes and the Queen''s Hall. These rooms are approached by the imposing Grand Staircase.

From the North Entrance, a road led to the harbour of Knossos. The North Entrance is flanked by elevated stoas, the one at the west being decorated with the Bull Hunt fresco.

A large, stone-paved processional way, the Royal Road, led from the Small Palace and the city to the Norh-west conrner of the palace, where there was an open-air theatral area.

Around the palace extended the Minoan settlement, with the cemeteries on the hills. Important buildings from this same period include: the South House, the House of ther Chancel Screen, the Small Palace, the Caravanserai, the Royal Villa and the Temple-Tomb. The Villa Dionysos with its floor mosaics (2nd c/. AD) is an important building of the Roman period.
The numerous finds from the palace, all of exceptionally high quality art, pottery, vessels, figurines, the archive of Linear B tablets, and the original wall-paintings, are all housed in Herakleion Museum.

Knossos is the site of the most important and better known palace of Minoan civilization. According to tradition, it was the seat of the legendary king Minos. The Palace is also connected with thrilling legends, such as the myth of the Labyrinth with the Minotaur, and the story of Daidalos and Icaros. 

The site was continuously inhabited from the Neolithic period (7000-3000 B.C.) until Roman times. 

The Linear B tablets (Mycenaean script) of the 14th century B.C. mention the city as ko-no-so. 

Intensive habitation occured mostly in the Minoan period, when the so-called first (19th-17th centuries B.C.) and second palaces (16th-14th centuries B.C.) were built along with luxurious houses, a hospice and various other structures. After its partial destruction in 1450 B.C., Knossos was settled by Mycenaeans from the Greek Mainland. 

The city flourished again during the Hellenistic period (sanctuaries of Glaukos, Demeter, other sanctuaries, chamber tombs, north cemetery, defensive towers) and in 67 B.C. it was captured by the Roman Quintus Caecilius Metelus Creticus. The "Villa of Dionysos", a private house with splendid mosaics was built in the same period. 

Knossos was discovered in 1878 by Minos Kalokairinos. Arthur Evans conducted systematic excavations at the site between 1900 and 1931, bringing to light the palace, a large section of the Minoan city, and the cemeteries. Since then, the site and the surrounding area have been excavated by the British School of Archaeology at Athens and the 23rd E.P.C.A. 

The restoration of the palace to its present form was carried out by Arthur Evans. The interventions were mostly imposed by the need to preserve the monuments uncovered. The Archaeological Service of the Ministry of Culture carries out only consolidation work, whenever necessary.

Site Monuments:

1. The Palace 

The Palace of Knossos is the largest (it covers an area of 20,000 square metres) and most spectacular of all the Minoan palatial centres. It has all the typical features of the architectural type established in ca. 1700 BC: four wings arranged around a rectangular, central court, oriented N-S, which is actually the nucleus of the whole complex. The east wing contains the residential royal quarters, the workshops and a shrine. The west wing is occupied by the storerooms with the large pithoi (storage jars), the shrines, the repositories, the throne room and, on the upper floors, the banquet halls. The north wingcontains the so-called "Customs House", a lustral basin and the stone-built theatral area. The South Propylon is the most imposing building in the south wing. A second, paved courtyard to the west of the palace, equipped with the "processional ways" (narrow causeways), was probably used for religious ceremonies. The palace had many storeys, it was built of ashlar blocks and its walls were decorated with splendid frescoes, possibly representing religious ceremonies. The old (first) palace was built in around 2000 BC but it was completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1700 BC. The new (second) palace, more complex in plan, strongly resembling a labyrinth, was constructed immediately afterwards. In the middle of the 15th century BC the Achaeans from the Greek Mainland conquered the island of Crete and settled at the palace of Knossos. They used the Greek language, as is indicated by the clay tablets they left us behind, written in the Linear B script. The palace was again destroyed by fire in the mid-14th century BC (LM IIIA period) and Knossos ceased to function as a palatial centre.

2. The Little Palace

It lies to the west of the main palace and has all the features of palatial architecture: scraped wall masonry, reception rooms, a pristyle hall, a double megaron with polythyra (pi er-and-door partitions) and a lustral basin-shrine. Dated to the 17th-15th centuries B.C. 

3. The Royal Villa

It lies to the NE of the palace and its architectural form is distinguished by the polythyra, the pillar crypt and the double staircase, with two flights of stairs. It is strongly religious in character and might have been the residence of an aristocrat or a high priest. Dated to the 14th century B.C. 

4. The Frescoes Ηouse

It is located to the NW of the palace and is a small urban mansion with rich decoration on the walls. Dated to the 15th, 14th-12th centuries B.C. 

5. Caravanserai

It lies to the south of the palace and was interpreted as a reception hall and hospice. Some of the rooms are equipped with baths and decorated with wall paintings. 

6. The "Unexplored Mansion"

Private building, probably of private-industrial function, to the NW of the palace. It is rectangular, with a central, four-pillared hall, corridors, storerooms and remains of a staircase. Dated to the 14th-12th centuries B.C. 

7. The Temple Tomb

It is located almost 600 m. to the south of the palace and was connected with the "House of the High Priest" by means of a paved street. It seems that one of the last kings of Knossos (17th-14th centuries B.C.) was buried here. Typical features of its architecture are the hypostyle, two-pillar crypt, the entrance with the courtyard, the portico and a small anteroom. 

8. The House of the High Priest

It lies 300 m to the south of Caravanserai and contains a stone altar with two columns, framed by the bases of double axes. 

9. The South Mansion

Private civic house, located to the south of the palace. It is a three-storeyed building with a lustral basin and a hypostyle crypt, dating from the 17th-15th centuries B.C. 

10. The Villa of Dionysos

Private, peristyle house of the Roman period. It is decorated with splendid mosaics by Apollinarius, depicting Dionysos. The house contains special rooms employed for the Dionysiac cult. Dated to the 2nd century A.D.