Located at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and Africa, Crete is the biggest island in the Aegean Sea. This is where the Minoan civilization, a mysterious culture that was well ahead of their time, thrived more than 4000 years ago.
Crete has many archaeological sites belonging to the Minoan civilization, including palaces at the following four sites: Knossos, Phaistos, Malia, and Zakros. The Palace at Knossos is the most famous among them.
Knossos is believed to the oldest city in Europe and is the place of the legendary King Minos.
Discovery and Excavation
Although Minos Kalokairinos, a merchant of Heraklion, discovered Knossos in 1878, the credit for bringing world’s attention to Knossos goes to Arthur Evans, a British archaeologist who started excavation in 1900 and continued until 1934 with some interruptions during World War I. He and his team retrieved a large number of artifacts and restored and reconstructed parts of the palace. Some of the reconstruction was the creation of Arthur Evans imagination. Based on his findings, he published a four-volume book work titled The Palace of Minos at Knossos.
The team led by Arthur Evans also discovered tablets inscribed two different scripts, which he named them as Linear A and Linear B. While they appear similar, the contents of the inscriptions belong to two entirely different languages. The language of Linear A is Minoan, which is probably close to Sanskrit, whereas the language of Linear B is Mycenaean, which is close to Greek.
Because of its closeness to Greek, Linear B inscriptions have been mostly deciphered. The Linear B tablets were inscribed later than Linear A tablets. It appears Linear B descended from Linear A and the Mycenaean used it even after the collapse of the Minoan civilization.
Palace at Knossos
The Knossos Palace was a massive complex of structures that included royal quarters, religious halls and storage rooms. There were two versions of palaces at Knossos. An earthquake destroyed the first palace (1900 – 1700 BCE ). A new palace (1700 – 1450 BCE) was then built at the same site.
Knossos had maze-like structures with some buildings having multiple floors. See the images below.
Ruins of the Palace of Knossos
The entire complex was designed with a very sophisticated water management system to supply fresh water to the residential quarters and an underground sewage system to flush out the waste. The water was available even on the upper floors of multi-storied buildings.
Horns of Consecration
As mentioned earlier, the bull played an important role in Minoan religion and everyday life. Many buildings in the Knossos site had the bull horns like structures on the top. Arthur Evans called them “Horns of Consecration.”
The image below shows the reconstructed structure of bull horns.
The Horns of Consecration symbols were found on Minoan seals as well.
Hall with Columns and Frescoes
The ruins have many reconstructed halls with wooden columns painted black and red as shown in the image below. Arthur Evans used archaeological facts and some imagination to reconstruct the hall, and he did so by using modern materials.
Unlike the columns in Greek buildings elsewhere, the Minoan columns are wider at the top and narrower at the bottom.
Mounted on the walls are the copies of the frescoes that were reconstructed by using their fragments found at this site.
The Throne Room is one of the important structures in the Knossos Palace. The purpose of this room is still being debated.
Built into the wall in the middle of the room is a rock throne flanked on each side by the frescoes of Griffins, which are the mythological creatures with the head and wings of an eagle and body and tail of a lion.
A circular tub called lustral basin In front of the throne, which was likely used for ceremonial purposes. Built into the wall next to the throne are the benches that can accommodate about 16 people.
Believing that this place was King Minos’s apartment, Arthur Evans named it King’s Megaron. Using some imagination, he reconstructed it using modern materials. He also placed a reconstructed wooden throne inside this structure.
This structure is also called the Hall of the Double Axes because of the double-axe symbols found engraved on the walls of a well inside this structure.
The Queen’s Megaron was assumed by Arthur Evans to be the queen’s apartment, but there is no archaeological evidence to prove it. The suite has a hall with the famous Dolphins fresco, bathroom, toilet, and small well.
Bastion of the Bull
Located near the northern entrance, Bastion of the Bull is yet another structure reconstructed by Arthur Evans by using his imagination. As you can see in the image below, the famous Charging Bull fresco is engraved on its wall.
This where the visitors to the palace were received. The Theater Area is also connected to a road called Royal Road.
The Minoan art includes frescoes, pottery and bronze sculptures.
Beautiful and colorful frescoes decorated the walls of the Minoan palaces and houses. They followed a certain color code, perhaps borrowed from the Egyptians. Some of the codes are, red for men, white for women, yellow for gold.
The images below show the replicated frescoes displayed at the ruins of the Knossos Palace.
Frescoes on display at the Palace of Knossos
Prince of the Lilies Fresco
This is one of the well-known Minoan fresco and believed to represent the Priest-King of Knossos. It was reconstructed from the fragments retrieved from the archaeological site. The duplicate fresco is on display at the Corridor of Procession located on the Knossos Palace.
Bull Leaping Fresco
The Bull-Leaping fresco depicts a dangerous game of leaping over a bull, and it was played by both men and women. In the image shown below, the person who leaps over the bull is believed to be a man and the persons standing in the front and back of the bull are believed to be women. The gender of the players is inferred from the color code used by the painters, i.e., light color for women and brown for men.
It appears that the game of Bull Leaping was important to the Minoan culture, and the game could have been ceremonial.
Although smaller pots were discovered in the Minoan archaeological sites, Minoans were known for their giant jars called Pithoi.
Pithoi jars were likely used as storage devices for liquids, grains, dried fish and olives. Several hundreds of them were found in the ruins at Knossos. Because of their size, they were typically placed on the ground floors. Pithois are differentiated based on their size, the number of handles and decoration on the outer surface.
Arthur Evans found a number of giant Pithoi jars in one place, which he named it “The Magazines of Giant Pithoi.” See the images below.
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