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General about Knossos palace

Crete was the site of the earliest high civilization in Europe. For two thousand years there flourished a culture called Minoan, after King Minos. This civilization was characterized by unique artwork and architecture, notably the imposing complex of buildings at Knossos. The layout of Knossos was so complicated that it would have been incomprehensible to visitors, contributing to the myth of the Labyrinth.

Guides at Knossos today escort visitors to gaze in awe at the "throne of King Minos", but such ceremonial seats as have been restored more likely served a presiding religious official than a king. The "palace" itself may have been a religious center. And since the deity worshipped was female, the throne was as likely to have served for a priestess as a priest or king.

The abrupt end of the high Minoan civilization has always been a great mystery. It is now believed that the eruption of the nearby volcanic island of Thera, with its shock wave, clouds of ash and tidal waves, weakened the civilization so much that mainlanders were able to take over rule of Crete. Indeed, when Krakatoa, a volcano in the South China Sea, erupted in 1883 the sonic reverberations traveled three times around the world, and the sky in New Haven, Connecticut, glowed so strangely that the fire department was called out. Ash was ejected almost twenty miles into the air, and day was turned to night for almost three hundred miles around. It has been estimated that the magma chamber of the Thera volcano was five times as large as that of Krakatoa.

Thera is today called Santorini. Its steep cliffs are remnants of the volcano's rim, and the harbor is actually its flooded interior. The eruption left the volcano hollow inside, and when it collapsed some time later the waters of the Aegean rushed into the cavity. Rebounding when they hit bottom, they caused a tsunami or tidal wave. A tsunami caused by an earthquake in Chile in 1960 was still thirty-five feet high when it reached Hawaii. It is estimated that the Santorini tidal wave started at a comparable height and was still twenty-two feet tall when it reached the shore of what is today Israel. This would have destroyed the low-lying coastal settlements of Crete. Folk memories of this event may underlie the legend of the lost island-continent of Atlantis.

The palace of Knossos burned down a number of times. Open flames, resinous wood and a plenitude of oil storage jars make for a volatile combination in earthquake country. The final conflagration, however, was caused neither by an earthquake nor the volcanic eruption of a neighboring isle. Though its source remains a mystery, it left a profound impression on the people of Knossos. The site was abandoned, as if haunted.
The features of the palace depend on the time period. Currently visible is an accumulation of features over several centuries, the latest most dominant. The palace was thus never exactly as depicted today. In addition, it has been reconstituted in modern materials. The custom began in an effort to preserve the site from decay and torrential winter rain. After 1922, the chief proprietor, Arthur Evans, intended to recreate a facsimile based on archaeological evidence. The palace is not exactly as it ever was, perhaps in places not even close, and yet in general, judging from the work put in and the care taken, as well as parallels with other palaces, it probably is a good general facsimile. Opinions range, however, from most skeptical, viewing the palace as pure fantasy based on 1920s architecture and art deco, to most unquestioning, accepting the final judgements of Arthur Evans as most accurate. The mainstream of opinion falls between.


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youtube.com By Moonik (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons 

Site geography

View to the south. The hill in the background is Gypsades. Between it and Knossos is the Vlychia. The South Entrance is on the left. View to the east from the northwest corner. In the foreground is the west wall of the Lustral Basin

From an archaeological point of view, the terms, "Knossos," and "palace," are somewhat ambiguous. The palace was never just the residence of a monarch. It contained rooms that might have been suitable for a royal family. Most of the structures, however, were designed as a civic, religious and economic center. The term, palace complex, is more accurate. Anciently Knosos was a town surrounding and including Kephala Hill. This hill was never an acropolis in the Greek sense. It had no steep heights, remained unfortified, and was not very high off the surrounding ground. These circumstances cannot necessarily be imputed to other Minoan palaces. Phaestos, contemporaneous with Knosos, was placed on a steep ridge commanding the access to Mesara Plain from the sea, and was walled. To what degree Minoan civilization might be considered warlike remains debatable. Whatever answer is given, Knossos bore no resemblance to a Mycenaean citadel, whether before or during Mycenaean Greek occupation.

The complex was constructed ultimately around a raised Central Court on the top of Kephala Hill. The previous structures were razed and the top was made level to make way for the court. The court is oblong, with the long axis pointing north-northeast, which is generally described as "north." Plot plans typically show the court with the long axis horizontal, apparently east-west, with the north on the right, or vertical, with the north on the top. Either arrangement is confusing unless the compass points are carefully marked. To the north of the palace complex, about 5 km (3.1 mi), is the sea at the Port of Heraklion. Directly to the south is Vlychia Stream, an east-west tributary of the north-south Kairatos River. Kephala Hill is an isolated hill at the confluence.

The Kairatos River reaches the sea between the port of Heraklion and Heraklion Airport to the east. In ancient times the flow continued without interruption. Today the stream loses itself in the sewers of Heraklion before emerging from under a highway on the shore east of the port. It flows down from higher ground at Arkhanes to the south, where part of it was diverted into the Knossos Aqueduct. The water at that point was clean enough for drinking. When it reached Knossos it became the main drain of the sewer system of a town of up to 100,000 people, according to Pendlebury's estimate.Today the population is mainly to the north, but the sewer function continues, in addition to which much of the river is siphoned off, and the water table is tapped, for irrigation. Looming over the right bank of the Vlychia, on the opposite shore from Knossos, is Gypsades Hill, where the Minoans quarried their gypsum. The limestone was quarried from the ridge on the east.

The archaeological site, Knossos, refers either to the palace complex itself or to that complex and several houses of similar antiquity nearby, which were inadvertently excavated along with the palace. To the south across the Vlychia is the Caravanserai. Further to the south are Minoan houses. The Minoan Road crossed the Vlychia on a Minoan Bridge, immediately entering the Stepped Portico, or covered stairway, to the palace complex. Near the northwest corner of the complex are the ruins of the House of the Frescoes. Across the Minoan Road entering from the northwest is the Arsenal. On the north side of the palace is the Customs House and the Northeast House. From there to the northeast is the modern village of Makrotoichos. Between it and the palace complex is the Royal Villa. On the west side is the Little Palace.

The Royal Road is the last vestige of a Minoan road that connected the port to the palace complex. Today a modern road built over or replacing the ancient, Leoforos Knosou, serves that function and continues south. The excavated ancient Royal Road is part of the complex. The junction of the ancient and the modern roads is partly over the Little Palace. Just to the northwest of there, off the modern road, is where Evans chose to have Villa Ariadne built as his home away from home and an administrative center. The villa is on a slope overlooking the ruins. At the edge of the property, on the road, is a pre-excavation house renovated many times as a residence for the official Keeper, called the Taverna. Immediately to the south of the villa, over parts of the Little Palace, is the modern Stratigraphical Museum, a square building. Excavation continues sporadically on its grounds. To the south of the museum is a modern settlement across from the entrance to the west court. Parking facilities are to the north, off Leoforos Knosou. A band of fields has been left on the northwest between the palace complex and the city streets of Heraklion. The east and west are protected by north-south mountain ridges, between which is the valley of the Kairatos.

General features

Magazine 4 with giant pithoi placed by the archaeologists for display. The compartments in the floor were the permanent locations of pithoi, or storage jars, like these, which stored wet and dry consumables, such as wine, oil and grain. When full, they were multi-ton and immoveable. They were sunken for easier access to the wide mouths and for support.

The great palace was gradually built between 1700 and 1400 BC, with periodic rebuildings after destruction. Structures preceded it on Kephala hill. The features currently most visible date mainly to the last period of habitation, which Evans termed Late Minoan. The palace has an interesting layout– the original plan can no longer be seen due to the subsequent modifications. The 1,300 rooms are connected with corridors of varying sizes and direction, which differ from other contemporaneous palaces that connected the rooms via several main hallways. The 6 acres (24,000 m2) of the palace included a theater, a main entrance on each of its four cardinal faces, and extensive storerooms (also called magazines). Within the storerooms were large clay containers (pithoi) that held oil, grains, dried fish, beans, and olives. Many of the items were processed at the palace, which had grain mills, oil presses, and wine presses. Beneath the pithoi were stone holes that were used to store more valuable objects, such as gold. The palace used advanced architectural techniques: for example, part of it was built up to five stories high.

Water management

The palace had at least three separate water-management systems: one for supply, one for drainage of runoff, and one for drainage of waste water.

Aqueducts brought fresh water to Kephala hill from springs at Archanes, about 10 km away. Springs there are the source of the Kairatos river, in the valley in which Kephala is located. The aqueduct branched to the palace and to the town. Water was distributed at the palace by gravity feed through terracotta pipes to fountains and spigots. The pipes were tapered at one end to make a pressure fit, with rope for sealing. No hidden springs have been discovered as at Mycenae.

Sanitation drainage was through a closed system leading to a sewer apart from the hill. The queen's megaron contained an example of the first water-flushing system toilet adjoining the bathroom. This toilet was a seat over a drain that was flushed by pouring water from a jug. The bathtub located in the adjoining bathroom similarly had to be filled by someone heating, carrying, and pouring water, and must have been drained by overturning into a floor drain or by bailing. This toilet and bathtub were exceptional structures within the 1,300-room complex.

As the hill was periodically drenched by torrential rains, a runoff system was a necessity. It began with channels in the flat surfaces, which were zigzag and contained catchment basins to control the water velocity. Probably the upper system was open. Manholes provided access to parts that were covered.

Some links to photographs of parts of the water-collection-management system follow
Runoff system.Sloped channels lead from a catchment basin.
Runoff system.Note the zig-zags and the catchment basin.


Due to its placement on the hill, the palace received sea breezes during the summer. It had porticoes and air shafts.

Minoan columns

The palace also includes the Minoan column, a structure notably different from other Greek columns. Unlike the stone columns that are characteristic of other Greek architecture, the Minoan column was constructed from the trunk of a cypress tree, common to the Mediterranean. While most Greek columns are smaller at the top and wider at the bottom to create the illusion of greater height (entasis), the Minoan columns are smaller at the bottom and wider at the top, a result of inverting the cypress trunk to prevent sprouting once in place.The columns at the Palace of Minos were painted red and mounted on stone bases with round, pillow-like capitals.


Pithoi, or storage jars, at Knossos

Pottery at Knossos is prolific, heavily decorated and uniquely styled by period. It is used as a layer diagnostic. Comparing it to similar pottery elsewhere in the eastern Mediterranean, Evans established a wider chronology, which, on that account, is difficult to question successfully. On the negative side, careful records of the locations of some objects were not always kept, due to the very size of the project and the difficulties under which the archaeologists and workmen had to labor.


Bull-leaping fresco now in the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion. The duplicate shown here is fixed to the wall of the upper throne room.

The palace at Knossos was a place of high color, as were Greek buildings in the classical period, and as are Greek buildings today. In the EM Period, the walls and pavements were coated with a pale red derived from red ochre. In addition to the background coloring, the walls displayed fresco panel murals, entirely of red. In the subsequent MM Period, with the development of the art, white and black were added, and then blue, green and yellow. The pigments were derived from natural materials, such as ground hematite. Outdoor panels were painted on fresh stucco with the motif in relief; indoor, on fresh, pure plaster, softer than the plaster with additives ordinarily used on walls.

The decorative motifs were generally bordered scenes: people, mythological creatures, real animals, rocks, vegetation, and marine life. The earliest imitated pottery motifs. Most have been reconstructed from various numbers of flakes fallen to the floor. Evans had various technicians and artists work on the project, some artists, some chemists and restorers. The symmetry and use of templates made possible a degree of reconstruction beyond what was warranted by only the flakes. For example, if evidence of the use of a certain template existed scantily in one place, the motif could be supplied from the template found somewhere else. Like the contemporary murals in the funerary art of the Egyptians, certain conventions were utilized that also assisted prediction. For example, male figures are shown with darker or redder skin than female figures.

Some archaeological authors have objected that Arthur and his restorers were not discovering the palace and civilization as it was, but were creating a modern artefact based on contemporary art and architecture.

The throne

Throne from which the Throne Room was named, not the only throne at Knossos

The centerpiece of the "Minoan" palace was the so-called Throne Room or Little Throne Room,dated to LM II. This chamber has an alabaster seat identified by Evans as a "throne" built into the north wall. On three sides of the room are gypsum benches. A sort of tub area is opposite the throne, behind the benches, termed a lustral basin, which means that Evans and his team saw it as a place for ceremonial purification.

The room was accessed from an anteroom through two double doors. The anteroom was connected to the central court, which was four steps up through four doors. The anteroom had gypsum benches also, with carbonized remains between two of them thought to possibly be a wooden throne. Both rooms are located in the ceremonial complex on the west of the central court.

Griffin couchant (lying down) facing throne

The throne is flanked by the Griffin Fresco, with two griffins couchant (lying down) facing the throne, one on either side. Griffins were important mythological creatures, also appearing on seal rings, which were used to stamp the identities of the bearers into pliable material, such as clay or wax.

The actual use of the room and the throne is unclear. The two main theories are as follows:

-The seat of a priest-king or his consort, the queen. This is the older theory, originating with Evans. In that regard Matz speaks of the "heraldic arrangement" of the griffins, meaning that they are more formal and monumental than previous Minoan decorative styles. In this theory, the Mycenaean Greeks would have held court in this room, as they came to power in Knossos at about 1450. The "lustral basin" and the location of the room in a sanctuary complex cannot be ignored; hence, "priest-king."

-A room reserved for the epiphany of a goddess,who would have sat in the throne, either in effigy, or in the person of a priestess, or in imagination only. In that case the griffins would have been purely a symbol of divinity rather than a heraldic motif.

It is also speculated that the throne was made specifically for a female individual, since the indentation seems to be shaped for a woman's buttocks. Also, the extensive use of curved edges and the crescent moon carved at its base both symbolize femininity.

The lustral basin was originally thought to have had a ritual washing use, but the lack of drainage has more recently brought some scholars to doubt this theory. It is now speculated that the tank was used as an aquarium, or possibly a water reservoir.

  Minoan dresses

mThe Minoans, who lived on the Greek island of Crete between 3000 and 1600 B.C.E. , had a very complex culture, more advanced than many of the societies that followed it. This complexity is shown in the artistically designed and skillfully made clothing they wore. Much of our knowledge of this clothing comes from artwork that has been found at the sites where the Minoans lived, thousands of years before most recorded history. The society of ancient Crete was largely unknown to modern people until the late 1800s C.E. , when one of their ancient cities was discovered. Until that time most scholars thought that stories of a Cretan civilization ruled by a king named Minos were only legends. As historians began to study the ruins of the ancient Cretan city, they learned that the people who lived there had a richly developed culture with many similarities to modern societies. They called this culture Minoan, after the legendary King Minos in Greek mythology.

Minoans wore a variety of complex garments that were sewn together in very much the same way that modern garments are made. Unlike the classical Greeks who followed them hundreds of years later, the Minoans sewed skirts and blouses that were shaped to the body of the wearer. Crete is located in the southern Mediterranean and has a hot climate, so heavy clothes were not needed. Ancient Minoan men wore only loincloths, which were small pieces of fabric wrapped around the waist to cover the genitals. However, even these small garments were made with much attention to detail. Loincloths were made from a wide variety of materials, such as linen, leather, or wool, and decorated with bright colors and patterns. Many had a decorative pagne or sheath that covered and protected the penis, and some had long aprons in the front and back with tassels or fringe. While early Minoan men usually went bare-chested, in the later years of the Minoan civilization men often wore simple tunics and long robes.

The first modern scholars to study Crete were astonished by the design of the women's costume, including blouses and skirts that closely resembled modern women's clothing. Minoan women wore skirts that flared out from the waist in a bell shape, with many decorations attached to the cloth. Later designs were made from strips of fabric, sewn in ways that created rows of ruffles from waist to ankle. Women also wore close-fitting blouses that were cut low in the front to expose the breasts. A tiny waist was prized, and both men and women wore tight belts made of metal, which held their waists in. Some historians believe that these belts must have been worn since early childhood, forcing the waist to stop growing.

The figure of the Minoan woman, with large breasts, large hips, and tiny waist, was very similar to the female shape that came into fashion during the late 1800s C.E. , when women laced themselves into tight corsets to make their waists small and wore hoops under their skirts to increase the size of their bottom half. Some experts believe that Minoan women must have also had some sort of framework under their skirts to support the bell shape. In fact, so close were Minoan fashions to popular French fashions of the 1800s that one of the women in an ancient Minoan painting was nicknamed "La Parisienne" (the woman of Paris) by those who discovered her.
 By cavorite [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commonsd


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