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Minoan Palaces - Crete

The extensive Minoan palaces and the entire Minoan civilization form an important stage in the historical development of Crete, which is still shrouded in mystery and still attracts many experts in their desire to understand it a little more. Visit the remains of the royal palaces of Knossos, Festos, Malia, Agia Triada or Kato Zakros.

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History of the Minoan culture in Crete

The Greek island of Crete has had a long and varied history, which we can admire today thanks to the preserved monuments. One of the most interesting phases of Cretan history was certainly the era of the Minoan civilisation and the great palace complexes.

The first traces of the Minoan culture on Crete can be traced back to around 2700 BC. Economically and culturally, however, the Minoan civilisation was most active in the period from about 2,000 years to 1600 BC, when large palace buildings and new prosperous cities sprang up on Crete. Their inhabitants at that time already knew, for example, the potter's wheel and stamping. However, several strong earthquakes resulted in damage to cities, infrastructure and large palaces. The following period is thus characterised by new building activity. The palaces were enlarged, functionally more elaborate and their walls were decorated with paintings and magnificent frescoes. The so-called linear script, which is unique to the Minoan culture, also dates from this period.

However, from around 1450 BC onwards, the entire Minoan civilisation declined and eventually disappeared. The reasons for this are still the subject of speculation, but a combination of factors is likely - the area was hit by several other earthquakes, and at this time the Achaeans from mainland Greece invaded Crete, probably taking advantage of the weakening of the existing leaders. The palace at Knossos was gradually destroyed, followed by the great palaces at Malia and Phaistos, and finally the palace of Kato Zakros fell.

Minoan palaces and their characteristic features

Each of the Cretan Minoan palaces is unique, yet there are some common features:

  • The palaces are oriented in a north-south direction and are not fortified. Although minor fortifications have been discovered in various parts of Crete, no high walls have been found to protect the royal palaces. As an explanation, experts bring the fact that Crete was a maritime power at this time and thus had no need to protect its settlements from enemies.
  • These are entire building complexes. The palaces thus consist of several wings, which then consist of many rooms and rooms serving different purposes. Traditionally, there was a rectangular central courtyard in the centre of the complex, but several other courtyards and courtyards were built throughout the complex. The palaces are multi-storeyed with large staircases, skylights, water pipes and drainage systems.
  • Great attention was also paid to the interior of the palace. Important rooms were decorated with wall frescoes, wood or alabaster was also used to make the rooms more comfortable.

Minoan palaces of Knossos, Malia, Faistos, Agia Triada and Kato Zakros

The Minoan palaces were autonomous and independent units, but their development and the surviving information show that they largely followed the common policy set by the largest and most important palace of Knossos. The oldest Minoan palaces include Knossos, Festos and Malia, while the palaces of Agia Triada and Kato Zakros grew up as follows. Today, all of these areas form important archaeological sites on the island of Crete:

  • Knossos - The largest and best preserved archaeological site on the island of Crete reveals the remains of the Minoan palace of Knossos, which was probably the administrative and political centre of the entire Minoan civilisation in its time. A visit to the excavation site will reveal a huge complex of buildings and individual rooms as well as some very unique finds such as the royal throne room with its original alabaster throne, elaborate wall frescoes, vessels called "pithas" and plates with linear writing A and B. The Palace of Knossos is also associated with the mythological story of the Minotaur, who was trapped in a mythical labyrinth.
  • Festos - Festos (or Faistos) is the second largest Minoan palace in Crete and is also the site of the discovery of the so-called Faistos Disk. For example, beautiful wall frescoes, royal rooms decorated with alabaster, beautiful ceramics and coins with the name of the city have also been preserved here.
  • Malia - The vast archaeological site of Malia reveals the remains of the third largest palace in Crete. The most famous find from Malia is a rare piece of jewellery depicting two bees carrying a drop of honey, found in one of the excavated tombs.
  • Agia Triada - The most important discoveries from this site include the remains of a royal villa, a necropolis with two large tombs, a beautifully decorated funerary sarcophagus, clay tablets with linear letter A or decorated vases and jewellery. The Royal Palace stands near the Palace of Festos.
  • Kato Zakros - At the archaeological site here, the extensive and well-preserved foundations of the entire palace complex were uncovered, and a number of valuable objects and artefacts were found (today they are stored in the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion and also in the Museum of Sitia).

The palaces served as royal residences, but also housed many servants, officials and craftsmen. Agricultural and livestock products were transported to the palace from the surrounding area. However, the palaces were also open to the general public, for example, people could freely enter the local shrines and participate in various religious and social ceremonies.

Traveller tips

Individual archaeological sites are very different and you will probably take away different experiences from each one. Anyway, the archaeological site of Knossos is the most famous and also the most popular tourist site, thus the most crowded and organized. But by visiting the excavations here, you will get a clear idea of what such a Minoan palace looked like. You will be amazed by its grandeur as well as its sophistication, including all sorts of functional gadgets and aesthetic features. On the other hand, the pursuit of perfection and as much visuality as possible entails rather insensitive interventions in the excavations, such as repairing missing parts of buildings with concrete, arranging the discovered elements into new situations, etc.

Other archaeological sites are already much quieter, but also more modest and require more imagination. The remains of buildings are left in their natural state, including single stones and fragments scattered in open areas. The palaces of Festos and Agia Triada, on the other hand, have perhaps the most beautiful views of all the Minoan palaces, allowing you to admire the fertile plain of Messara and the high mountain massif of Psiloritis in the background.

The archaeological sites of Knossos, Malia, Festos, Agia Triada and Kato Zakros are located in the eastern part of the Greek island of Crete. Near the capital Heraklion lies the site of Knossos, eastwards from there, in the popular tourist resort of Hersonissos - Stalida - Malia you can then visit the remains of the Minoan palace of Malia. The other excavations of Agia Triada and Festos are located in the more touristy area of Messara Bay (south of Crete) and the site of Kato Zakros is then the furthest up the east coast of the island.

In the western part of Crete, the existence of the Minoan palace of Kidonia, located in the present-day city of Chania, is well known. However, the remains of the palace have not yet been uncovered because it lies in the centre of the city, in a densely populated area.

More touristic destinations of Crete

Tips for trips on Crete: Cretaquarium (sea aquarium), Zeus Caves, Kournas Lake, Minoan Palaces, Zeus Island, Gramvousa Island, Samaria Gorge, Waterpark Water City

Resorts, beaches, sights or trips - clearly listed on the map of Crete.

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