The palace of King Minos in Knossos is one of the most important ancient monuments in Greece. The first excavations were made in 1878 by Minos Kalokairinos.
The impressive palace was finally unveiled in March 1900 by archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans, who restored a large part of it using cement. His extreme and unprecedented choice was strongly criticized, however many believe that thanks to the restoration of Evans, we have a better picture of the place while the coarse restoration is in itself now an archaeological spectacle.
The palace, in addition to the throne room and the royal rooms, had rooms for craftsmen, storehouses, courtyards, a theater, ceremonial halls and other luxurious rooms. The pitchers and the frescoes found inside, make the palace a symbol of the entire Minoan Civilization.
Allthough the palace suffered significant damage in 1799 BC possibly by an earthquake, was destroyed in 1450 BC by a tsunami caused by the eruption of the volcano of Santorini and received its final blow around 1350 BC by fire, a big signiffant part of it, is well preserved until today.
The Palace of Knossos is the largest of the centers of Minoan power. It is a building complex that develops in an area of 15,000 sq.m., built on a large percentage on an artificial hill and was the most impressive of the Minoan palaces.
It was the administrative center of Minoan Knossos, located 5 km southeast of Heraklion. The first palace was built around 2000 BC. and according to tradition, the palace of Knossos was the seat of King Minos.
The palace is divided into several sections, each of which has a separate use. It was multi-storey, built with carved structures and decorated with magnificent frescoes depicting possibly religious ceremonies.
Impressive to this day, is the variety of building materials, colored mortars, orthomarbling and murals that adorn rooms and corridors.
The high technical knowledge of the Minoans is confirmed by original architectural and construction inventions, such as skylights and multi-doors, the use of beams to strengthen the masonry, as well as the complex sewerage and water supply network.
It had access from three entrances located on the north, west and south side. The palace is developed with 4 wings around the large Central Courtyard, a place of public gatherings.
The western wing of the palace includes the official areas of administrative and religious activities: the Tripartite Sanctuary, the Holy Treasures and the Pillar Crypts. Inside there are public warehouses (18 long narrow rooms) with large jars, sanctuaries, treasuries.
The Throne Room stands out, with the purification tank and the alabaster throne that is framed by desks and consists of the vestibule and the main space of the throne, while on the upper floors there are the ceremonial halls.
In the southwestern part of the palace, is the Second Courtyard, which was the official access to the palace, but also a place of rituals and the Western Entrance that leads to the Procession Corridor.
In the south wing the most important places are the South Propylon, the Corridor of the Procession and the South Entrance with the fresco of the Prince with the Lilies.
On the left side of the corridor, are the Propylaea and the famous Double Horns, one of the sacred symbols of the Minoan religion.
In the east wing develop the royal apartments, large reception halls, staff rooms and a sanctuary. The imposing large Staircase leads to them. Among the most important rooms are the Double Ax Room and the Queen's Apartment, with the dolphin mural.
The north wing is dominated by the so-called "Customs", a tank of purges and an open stone theater.
The History of Knossos
The city of Knossos was inhabited from the end of the 7th millennium until the Roman years. The oldest traces of habitation in the area of Knossos date back to the Neolithic era (7000-3000 BC), which is characterized by the stage of technologically advanced rural life (stone tools and textile weights).
Residents from foragers become producers (farmers, stockbreeders) and there is a tendency for a more systematic and permanent establishment. The settlement phases in Knossos follow one another, while the population of the settlement at the end of the Late Neolithic Age is estimated at 1,000-2,000 inhabitants.
In the Bronze Age, which is characterized by the processing of copper, the development of the settlement probably continues.
The habitation continues in the pre-palace period (3000-1900 BC), at the end of which the area is leveled for the construction of a large palace. This first palace was built in 2000 BC, but during the construction work, many older buildings were destroyed.
The settlement is now referred to as Ko-no-so in the texts of Linear Script B, of the 14th century BC.
The habitation with the first (19th-17th century BC) and second palaces (16th-14th century BC) was particularly intense, as well as the luxurious houses, the hostel and the Minoan infrastructure.
The palaces are built in places that control plains and accesses from the sea, while at the same time important settlements are developed around them.
Cities and palaces, however, remain uninhabited, confirming the so-called pax minoica. Around the end of 1600 BC, probably a large earthquake completely destroyed Knossos and led to large-scale work in the city and the palace.
The Minoans build a second, more majestic palace on the ruins of the old, somewhere between 1600-1550 BC. and at the same time other buildings were built.
The city developed to a large extent and its population was estimated by Evans at around 80,000 inhabitants.
Around 1450 BC, however, another earthquake, probably caused by the eruption of the volcano of Thera (Santorini), caused its partial destruction. It was restored again and used by the Achaeans (Mycenaeans) around 1450-1400 BC, who settled in Knossos.
The palace was finally destroyed around 1350 BC, by a large fire that started in the warehouses. After that, the palace was not restored and ceased to be inhabited. It remained, however, one of the most important city-states until the first Byzantine period. From the last Mycenaean to the Roman years it is inhabited again.
From the following periods some ruins are preserved, most of which are tombs and a small classical temple in the area of the palace. The city flourished during the Hellenistic period (sanctuaries of Glafkos and Dimitra, carved tombs, use of a northern cemetery, fortification towers).
In 67 BC. Quintus Caecilius Metellus Creticus conquered Knossos and founded a Roman colony called Colonia Julia Nobilis.
The "villa of Dionysus" with the magnificent mosaics belongs to this period.
The royal mansion
An important monument of Knossos, with a special architectural form, is the so-called "Royal mansion", located at the northeastern end of the palace.
It has a strong religious character and may be the residence of a prominent member of the aristocracy or the priesthood. Characteristic elements of the Villa are the multi-doors, the pillar crypt with a pillar and the double staircase. It was built on a section of the hillside, while its facade faced east, in the valley of the Kairatos river. The ground floor is preserved and part of the first floor has been restored, while there was a second floor above.
The Royal Villa was built during the Late Minoan I period (14th century BC) and is separated from the palace of Knossos by a paved road, which was named by the diggers "royal road".
Both its location and several architectural details show that the Royal Villa was organically connected to the palace. The walls are lined with plasterboard, as is the floor.
The forerunner was followed by the main hall of the building, with a rectangular floor plan. A very important element of this room, which is not found in other villas, is the stone throne, which was found in a niche on the south side.
The niche, in which the throne was found, was isolated by steps and columns and communicated through a skylight to the upper floor. This evocative architectural layout indicates that the area was intended for some religious rites.
The royal throne
The royal throne is located in the hall of the same name, Hall of the Throne, in the eastern wing of the palace of Knossos. It is alabaster and adorns the northern part of the room.
Its impressive feature is its high back, which culminates with a wavy end. The front of the throne depicts the young Moon, the Moon and above it a full moon, a full moon or the sun.
These embossed decorations may indicate the name or position of the man sitting on the throne, King Minos.
At the height of the seat surface on a bright red line are depicted two griffins sitting facing each other.
The griffins, mythical creatures, have a peacock head and a lion body, symbols respectively of a power both on earth and above ground. It is probable that the alabaster throne of Knossos was painted.
The Minoans were happy people. They enjoyed life and loved nature and fun. They lived in well-built stone houses, which had one or two floors, large windows and warehouses.
Many of the men were merchants and sailors. Others were craftsmen or artists. Others were engaged in fishing, agriculture and animal husbandry. The fertile land of Crete produced abundant wheat, barley, olives, and grapes. Beekeeping was also very developed. Some of their products were brought to the palace and stored in huge warehouses. This was a tax they had to pay to King Minos.
All the men dressed simply, wearing only a small cloth wrapped around their waist, called animals.
On the contrary, the women's clothes were elegant and luxurious. They wore fancy long skirts, short aprons, thin shirts, coats and scarves. They were dyed and combed with care, like today's women.
They wore hats, ribbons and jewelry on their heads. He was engaged in household chores and textiles. There were looms in almost every house.
They wore other fabrics and linen, but also very thin and transparent fabrics with beautiful designs. They had the same freedoms and the same rights as men. They also took part in festivals, competitions and hunting.
The children of the Minoans were trained from an early age. They played, like today's children, hunting, wrestling and board games, such as zatriki, which resembles today's chess, pillars and ankles.
The Minoans were also great potters. With the help of the wheel they made clay pots in many shapes and sizes and decorated them with many designs and colors. They painted drawings taken from nature, such as: flowers, leaves, animals, fish, shells, starfish, etc.
The art of seals was also developed in Phoenician Crete. The Minoan merchants, when concluding an agreement, used stamps to sign. The craftsmen who made them polished precious stones and engraved various shapes on them. No seal was the same as the other. Many Minoans wore their seals like rings. There were also goldsmiths, where goldsmiths made gold stamps and beautiful jewelry, such as bracelets, rings, earrings, etc
The Minoans, however, were also great painters. They painted magnificent murals on the walls of their houses, lilies, birds, animals, dolphins, princes and lords, but also priestesses, bulls, acrobats, etc.
Archaeologists have discovered in the palace of Knossos, but also in other mansions, frescoes of great art. The subjects of the frescoes were taken by the Minoans from nature and from religious ceremonies.
The happy civilization of the Minoans lasted over 1,500 years.
Tavrokathapsia, was a very important celebration and took place in Knossos in honor of Poseidon, but also in Thessaly, Smyrna and Tiryns, where there was a struggle to catch a wild or irritated bull.
The young men who took part in the fight were called bullfighters and tried to catch the wild bull on horseback, grabbing it by the horns and using ropes or wood, but never an iron weapon.
Then they sat on the neck or back of the animal and did various acrobatic figures and exercises. Unlike today's bullfights, bullfights did not require the death of the bull.
Their only goal was to show the courage and bravery of the athletes. Murals with representations of the match were found in the palaces of Knossos and Tiryns.
Performances were also preserved in various vases and coins of Thessalian cities.