The Magnificent Palace of Knossos in Crete Was Stronghold of the Powerful Minoans
Knossos palace is a spectacular archaeological site which was once the center of the Minoan civilization on the Greek island of Crete. The site contains a number of ruins from the Minoan period, the most impressive of which is the Great Palace, known also as the Palace of Knossos. Although dubbed a ‘palace’, it is more accurate to refer to it as a ‘palace complex’, as it contained not only structures that would have served as a royal residence, but also those that played an economic, religious, and civil role in the society.
Archaeological evidence suggests that the site of Knossos was occupied by humans as early as the Neolithic period (the 7 th/8th millennium BC). Although human habitation at the site continued in the following millennia, it was only during the Bronze Age, about three/four thousand years later, that the first palace was built.
The Beginning of the Great Palace of Knossos
The first palace was built at the beginning of the Middle Minoan period, which lasted from 2000 to 1580 BC. This period may be further divided into two phases, the Old Palace and the New Palace, the former lasting from around 2000 to 1750 BC, while the latter was from around 1750 to 1500 BC. Although the ruins of the first palace were buried under subsequent palace structures, archaeologists have a rough idea of how it may have looked based on these remains. At the center of this palace was a rectangular courtyard, around which were individual structures, including storerooms to the west and northeast of the courtyard.
Millennia-old amphorae in Knossos that have been pieced back together. (Ioannis Syrigos)
In the centuries that followed the construction of the first palace, Knossos was ravaged by earthquakes, and the palace too was damaged. Nevertheless, the damaged areas were rebuilt, and new structures were added over the course of time. Around 1720 BC, however, the old palace was completely destroyed by a massive earthquake. Others, however, have suggested that the destruction occurred at a later date, around 1650 BC. In any case, a new palace was built, the remains of which occupy the excavated site today.
The ruins of Knossos palace, as they are today. (Ioannis Syrigos)
How Was the New Palace Different Than the Old Palace?
While the old palace is characterized by its bulky and massive walls, the new one was a lighter structure, thanks to architectural innovations. The new palace made extensive use of colonnades and flights of stairs were built to connect the different buildings in the complex. Like its predecessor, the new palace was centered on a courtyard which was surrounded on all four sides by various structures.
The palace had four entrances, one in each direction, and there was a royal road running to the north of the complex. Apart from royal quarters, the palace complex also contained such structures as workshops, shrines, reception rooms, and storage facilities.
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The new palace made extensive use of colonnades. (Ioannis Syrigos)
It was also during this period that frescoes were used to decorate the walls of the palace. At the southern entrance, for instance, is the Corridor of the Procession (known also as the Processional Walkway) where there is a fresco depicting a procession. Other well-known frescoes from the palace include the so-called Prince of the Lilies, the Ladies in Blue, and the Dolphin Fresco. It may be mentioned that only small fragments of the original frescoes were unearthed and were subsequently reconstructed.
The famous Ladies in Blue fresco that once adorned the walls of Knossos palace. (Ioannis Syrigos)
How Was the Palace of Knossos Destroyed?
The middle of the 15 th century saw widespread destruction across Crete. According to one hypothesis, the island suffered a series of devastating natural disasters, such as earthquakes. Another hypothesis suggests that the island was invaded by the Mycenaeans from mainland Greece. In any case, the Palace of Knossos survived, although all other palace complexes on the island were destroyed.
Moreover, the palace continued to serve as an administrative center, as attested by the thousands of clay tablets bearing administrative records in the Linear B script. It was sometime during the 14 th century BC that the Palace of Knossos was destroyed, perhaps due to a fire, an earthquake, or a revolt against the Mycenaeans. The palace was abandoned and was eventually forgotten.
It was only during the 19 th century that the Palace of Knossos was re-discovered. In 1878, Minos Kalokairinos, a Greek antiquarian and merchant, spotted the site. The first systematic excavations, however, commenced at the beginning of the 20 th century under the direction of Sir Arthur John Evans. Today, the Palace of Knossos is a tourist site and is on the UNESCO World Heritage Site’s Tentative List, as part of a larger group known as the ‘Minoan Palatial Centres’.
Top image: The Palace of Knossos, Crete. Source: Pavel Timofeev / Adobe.
By Wu Mingren
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