Part of the Palace, Knossos
In the Odysseus, Homer states:
"Out on the dark blue sea there lies a rich and lovely land called Crete that
is densely populated and boasts ninety cities. One of the ninety cities is called Knosos and
there for nine years King Minos ruled and enjoyed the friendship of the mighty Zeus."
Most of Homer's 90 Cretan cities remain undiscovered. The ancient Minoan palace at Knossos was only discovered at the beginning
of the 20th century and has been (somewhat garishly) restored but is
a definite must-see for anyone with an appreciation of the past. The palace is the largest of the Minoan
sites, covering 22,000 square metres. Detorakis (1994:1) states that Knossos is the oldest known Cretan settlement with
evidence from the pre-pottery period (6100-5700 BC) including bones of domestic animals such as sheep, goats, pigs and cattle as well
as stone tools and seeds.
In the neolithic period (5700-2800 BC) there is evidence of cave habitation and houses made from
rough clay bricks, wood and stone. Crude female figurines suggest a female deity or symbol of fertility found elsewhere
in the Eastern Mediterranean - the 'Mother Goddess.' Detorakis (1994:2) says that we know little about the people and where
they came from.
Palace Fresco, Knossos
The Minoan Civilization
"The Minoan civilization is surely the greatest achievement of Crete, and the most important of the
bronze age cultures with the Greek world as a whole." (Detorakis, 1994:5).
Knowledge of Minoan civilization was preserved in the Greek myths of Minos and the Minotaur and the story of
Theseus. There had been some local small-scale excavations at Knossos towards the end of the 19th century. Knowledge
advanced rapidly, however, after Arthur Evans, curator of the Ashmolean museum in Oxford was able to buy land on the hill of
overlying the Knossos site and began digging. Evans' The Palace of Milos at Knossos (1921-1936) outlined
More controversially, he made a number of restorations of parts of the palace. Detorakis (Detorakis, 1994:6)
"His methods of restoration do not find many sympathisers among modern archaeologists who criticise
Evans for his arbitrariness in restoring much of the palace and for the weak basis of his artistic views." But he
observes that "...so far there has not been a single theory that has overturned the basic conclusions of the first
great archaeologist in Crete."
Other archaeologists, Greek and foreign, have made extensive investigations in Crete both before and after World War 2, revealing
more Minoan palaces, cemeteries and other findings. They include Phaestos, Mallia and Zakros and smaller sites at Monastirki
and Chania - all with palace complexes.
According to Platon's dating system (1958) the Knossos palace complex was built about 1950 BC and destroyed around 1700 BC.
Rebuilt on a grander scale, the palace was essentially destroyed about 1400 BC. The volcanic eruption at Santorini (Thera)
may have been the cause of the first destruction, accompanied by a severe earthquake as with the second destruction.