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To take advantage of having a car, our second full day on Crete was dedicated to exploring the ancient city of Knossos. Located just outside Heraklion, Knossos is the most visited site on the island of Crete. Many singing high praises about the archeological site, while others are disappointed in its the preservation. I was determined to find out what all the fuss was about.
Knossos is hailed as the centre of the Minoan civilization, the earliest of the Aegean civilizations. The city was inhabited for thousands of years, beginning sometime in the seventh millennium BC during the Neolithic Period, and was abandoned after its destruction in 1375 BC which marked the end of Minoan civilization. The site was excavated and restored in the early 20th century by Arthur Evans. With this in mind, knowing what the site once represented, you can’t but help having high expectations.
There’s a little bit of mythology thrown in as well. According to Greek mythology, the King Minos had commissioned the architect Dedalos to build the palace in a way that no one can find the exit, to ensure that the King’s son, the Minotaur, could not escape. The King then kept Dedalos, and his son Ikaros, prisoners so that they could not reveal the palace plan to anyone.
Dedalos, who was a great inventor, built two sets of wings so they could fly off the island. He warned his son to not fly too close to the sun as the wax used to bind the wings together would melt. But Ikaros flew too close to the sun and his wings fell apart.
The palace is built on a slight hill which allows the palace to keep quite cool in the summer, despite the stifling heat. In certain parts of the tour, you could really feel the strong gusts of wind coming off the sea which was a welcomed relief (it really was much too hot for my liking).
According to Evans, the palace consisted of 1300 rooms connected by corridors of varying size and directions. There were entrances to the palace facing each direction. The North Entrance led to the harbour and was how visitors arriving by sea entered Knossos.
The palace was unique in that it had is own water management system. Pipes were built from a hill that was 10 km away. Our tour guide pointed it out to use and it was quite the distance to have built pipes to move water. The palace and surrounding areas all had access to running water.
Beyond that, the palace also had its own drainage pipes for sanitation. The Queen’s bathroom had a “flushing” toilet. Also, because of occasional floods the palace had a runoff system so to move the water around.
Below the palace are a series of storerooms where anything the palace needed was kept. There were barrels that held grains, oil and other food stuffs. It was lit by a series of lamps. Not so smart considering what was stored there. Needless to say, this lead to disaster when an earthquake struck, knocking the flames off the walls and into the items stored there, leading to massive fires that destroyed the palace.
The Throne Room is thought to be the centerpiece of Knossos. On the north wall, a throne is placed and flanking it are images of Griffins. It is thought that this throne is the oldest in the Aegean region.
The Knossos site has a troubled background due to how it was excavated and preserved. The methods used by Evans has been criticized by many modern archaeologists as being an over-interpretation of what remained, and of introducing materials foreign to Minoan architecture (such as concrete). Part of the reason why so little remains is because the city was destroyed twice by fire and natural disasters.
Knowing all this, I still wanted to visit the site. We signed up for a tour with a guide who was able to provide detailed information about the site. While it was interesting to see the site and hear the stories, I really felt that so much of it was speculation. Many of the “buildings” were just reproductions or if they were real, only small parts of the original remained. Almost everything we looked at was fake – just put there for tourists to look at – almost like Disneyland.
If you look closely, those pillars are made of concrete and those frescoes are too fresh to be so old. However, original fragments of the frescoes can be found in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum.
Should you go?
I leave that up to you. It was interesting to walk around and imagine what it might have been. The stories our tour guide shared were interesting, but it is so hard to tell how much of it is fact and how much of it is speculation. Everything is presented as if it were fact, but following research after my visit, I really don’t know. If you’re looking for a true historical account of the past, then you should probably skip this site. There are so many other interesting and true places to visit in Greece.
If you do decide to go, I recommend hiring a guide. There are no signs or plaques explaining what it is that you’re looking at. The site has guides for hire right outside the gate and we were joined by another couple for our tour.
Know Before You Go
- It’s easy to get to the site by car and you can’t miss it. There is an official parking lot right next to the entrance of the site. Don’t fall for other parking places nearby.
- Entrance fee is €6. There are also a few free admission days. You can also purchase a combined ticket to visit the Heraklion Archaeological Museum for €10. Hours vary – best to confirm with someone local (hotel, AirBnB host, etc).
- In the summer, be sure to wear a hat, slather on the sun screen and bring water. The site gets very hot and there isn’t much shade.