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Greece » Crete » Heraklion Prefecture » Heraklion Sightseeing » The archaeological site of Knossos
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The archaeological site of Knossos

The archaeological site of Knossos is situated 6 kilometres far from Heraklio at the Southeast. The site is very easily accessible by all means: public buses run very frequently, taxis and tourist buses are available and you may always use rented or private cars and motorbikes.

Knossos is considered, and not without reason, as the core of the Minoan Civilisation. According to the myth, it used to be the seat of King Minos. Several fascinating and important myths refer to Knossos, as that of Labyrinthos and the Minotaur and the myth of Daedalos and Icaros. The site was continuously inhabited from the Neolithic period (7000-3000 b.C.) up to the Roman era. It is one of the cities mentioned in the texts of the Linear B script, used by the Mycenaeans and deciphered in 1952 by the British architect Michael Ventris.

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Urban development was intense during the Minoan period, as it is evidenced by the Palaces ( first and second ones, dated in the 19th -17th and 16th -14th centuries respectively), the luxurius houses, the famous hospice and the important infrastructure works.
In 1450 b.C., after a partial destruction, possibly due to external invasion, the Mycenaeans were settled at the place, assimilate the Minoan civilisation and push it forward up to 1100 b.C. when a new collapse gives an end to this continuity.
The city flourishes again during the Hellenistic period, as it is shown by the sanctuaries ( those of Glaukos and Demeter being the most important), by several chamber tombs and the northern cemetery and by the defensive towers.
In 67 b.C. Romans invaded Knossos, along with the whole island. It is from that period that comes the wonderful Villa of Dionyssos with the fascinating mosaics.

The ruins of Knossos were spotted in 1878 by the amateur greek arcaeologist Minos Kalokairinos. After him, many scholars of the time as Heinrich Schlieman and Arthour Evans tried to start excavations on the site, but were stopped by the exorbitate sum demanded by the owner of the field. After 1898, when Crete was declared autonomous, Arthour Evans was allowed to start excavations, which he conducted systematically from 1900 up to 1931, except for the period 1912-1922.
The excavations of Evans brought to light the Palace, a good part of the city and a large cemetery. The excavations are still being carried out in a broader area under the supervision of the British Archaeological School in Athens and the 23rd Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities.

The restoration of the Palace in its present form is the result of the work of Evans. In fact, Evans made broad interventions, which he justified by the need to preserve the monument. Today, the Greek Archaeological Service undertakes works of consolidation of the monuments only when that is absolutely necessary.

The archaeological site of Cnossos is vast and all the monuments (as the site itself) are worth seeing; but there are some that the visitor should never miss; moreover, they deserve a second and a third and a fourth visit...

The huge "Palace of Knossos" is the biggest (it is extended in more than 20.000 square meters) and the most splendid of all Minoan palatial centres known up to now. It follows the typical architectural style known from almost all the palaces built around1700 b.C.
The Palace was multi-storeyed, built with big carved stones, while the walls sere decorated with the famous wonderful wall paintings.
Four wings, with North - South orientation, are arranged around a rectangular central courtyard. At the eastern wing there are found the royal quarters, various workshops and a sanctuary. The western wing contains the storehouses with the well-known big jars ("pithoi"), the treasuries, the famous throne room and a number of shrines. At the upper floor of this wing there are found the large halls for the symposia. A building known as the "Custom-house", along with a purification cistern and a stone-made theatre are located at the Northern wing. The Southern wing is dominated by the grandiose Propylon. A second stone paved courtyard at the West, with narrow raised corridors seems to have been use for ritual activities.

The older palace was built around 2000 b.C. It is believed that this earlier complex was destroyed by an earthquake in 1700 b.C. Immediately after it collapsed, a new more magnificent palace was constructed on its ruins, with a labyrinth like arrangement. By the mid 15th century, the Mycenaens invade the Palace and dominate the city. It is from this period that come the first written evidence in Greek language, the clay tablets in Linear B script.

The Palace was destroyed again in the mid-14th century, this time by fire; it seems that it had never recovered from this destruction, as since then the site declines. 

The "Little Palace", dated to the 17th-15th centuries b.C. is found at the West of the main palace and it contains all the architectural features of the main palace.

The "Royal Villa" was built in the 14th century; it is located at the Northeast of the palace. It seems that it was used as the residence of an important person, possibly a member of the Minoan aristocracy or a high priest. The villa has a series of characteristic architectural features, as the "polythyra" (pier-and-door partition), a pillar crypt and a double staircase with two flights of stairs.

The "House of the Frescoes" (15th-12th centuries b.C.) is found at the Southwest of the Palace and it is a small urban house; what is interesting in this house is the rich decoration with frescoes.

The "Hospice" is located at the South of the Palace. The scholars believe that it served as a reception hall and a hospice for the illustrious guests of the king. Some of the rooms have a bath, whereas the walls are decorated with frescoes.

The "Unexplored Mansion" (14th -12th centuries b.C.) is found at the Northwest of the Palace. It is a rectangular building with a central hall with 4 pillars, corridors, workshops and a staircase. It is believed that it was a private industry.

The "Royal Tomb" is located at a distance of some 600 metres southern to the Palace. It was connected with the "House of the High Priest" via a paved street. It is suggested that it is the tomb of one of the last great kings of Knossos (17th-14th centuries). It has interesting architectural features, typical or this kind of construction: an entrance with a courtyard, a hypostyle, two-pillar crypt, a portico and a small anteroom.

The "House of the High Priest" is situated at a distance of 300 metres southern to the Hospice. It contains a stone altar with two columns with  two bases of double axes  to frame it.

The "Southern Mansion", dated to the 17th-15th centuries is found at the South of the Palace. It is a private, three-storeyed civic house with a purification cistern and a hypostyle crypt.

The "Villa of Dionysus" was built in the 2nd century A.D. and it is a private peristyle building of the Roman period. The house is decorated with wonderful mosaicsmade by Appolinarius, with scenes from the life of Dionysus, the god of wine. Some rooms are kept for the cult of Dionysus.
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