Knossos, the largest Bronze Age archaeological site found on the island of Crete, was the political and ceremonial center of the Minoan culture and civilization. It consisted of an ancient Palace as well as the city that surrounded it. The area is located south of the modern-day city of Iraklion, which is on the north coast of Crete.
Archaeologists believe that Knossos was first inhabited during Neolithic times, starting around 6,000 B.C. However, the First Palace on the site was not built until around 1,900 B.C. on top of the ruins of the previous settlements. Around 1,700 B.C., an earthquake or foreign invaders destroyed this Palace, along with other palaces on Crete. Almost immediately, the Palace was rebuilt on a grander but less massive scale.
In 1894, Sir Arthur Evans discovered the Palace of Knossos. However, it was not until 1900 that he and his team were able to start the excavation of the site. His restoration work has been the source of frantic controversy among archeologists ever since, though it does provide the visitor a sense of what the palace might have looked like.
One of the most interesting discoveries in the Palace of Knossos was the large number of murals that decorated the walls. These paintings portrayed a non-militaristic society, one whose activities included fishing, athletic competitions and rituals such as acrobatics on the back of a charging bull.
When walking through the Palace, a visitor has the chance to witness some of the amazing frescoes that adorn the walls in several sections. Most of these frescoes are reconstructions by Piet de Jong, and were often recreated from only a few bits of painted plaster. Many original and reconstructed frescoes are housed in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, with replicas of them adorning the Palace. Many contain paints that are still vivid after 4,000 years. For instance, upon entering the Palace, one can view the stunning Fresco of the Procession. Other frescoes, entitled the Parisianne, Cup Barer and Tripartite Shrine, adorn an area of the Palace called the Piano Nobile, which is a large courtyard.
One of the most popular frescoes, found in the Queen’s Apartments, is the Dolphin Fresco. A replica of this work is found over a doorway in the apartment, while the original is displayed in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. This fresco, with its bright colors, is considered one of the most striking works of Minoan art within the Palace of Knossos.
The Palace incorporated numerous rooms. One of the most dramatic was the Throne Room. It consisted of a large chair, built into the wall, facing several benches. In addition, this room included a tank, which archaeologists believe was an aquarium. On the south wall is a fresco depicting mythical beasts called griffins, with a lion’s body and an eagle’s head.
One of the most interesting aspects of the Palace of Knossos is its place in Greek mythology. Many myths seem to be based on various aspects of the Palace. These include Daedalus building a Palace with no exit, Icarus traveling to the sun with his wax wings and the Theseus fighting and killing the Minotaur in the Labyrinth.
A walk through the Palace of Knossos allows the visitor to view all the unique aspects of this ancient building as it was in the past. In addition, doing so allows them to take a step into Greek mythology, something that they may only have experienced through a book.