Living TRAVEL - GREECE - 1975

Crete - the ancient Minoan site of Knossos (2000 to 1250 BC)

From the East

From the South West

From the South Porch

Northern rooms

An impressive symbolic representation of the Cretan sacred bull's horns

The Cup Bearers Fresco

The Hall of Double Axes

Entry to the Throne Room

The Throne Rooms with Gryphons on the wall

The Priest King fresco

Entrance to the Queen's bathroom - with dolphins

In the Queen's bathroom

Detail of the amazing ancient drainage system at Knossos

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Ancient Phoenicians founded the island of Crete and built the capital town of Knossos over 4000 years ago. The island offered fertile lands well suited for the growth of grape and olive crops and Crete developed into a land of wine and olive oil, essential commodities to the ancient people of the Aegean and Mediterranean. Its culture grew and became the wealthy cultural headquarters for the earliest literate civilization which would come to be called the Minoans. The Minoan citizens of Knossos enjoyed opulent lifestyles while Crete became a commercial center and obtained a level of an economic golden age.

Greek mythology immortalized Crete and Knossos with its legends. According to the Greeks, Mount Ida which is on Crete was the location where Rhea, the Earth Mother, gave birth to Zeus. He was fed by nature a diet of honey and goatís milk, was tended by a group of nymphs, and was guarded by an army of youths against his father, Cronis, whose reign was threatened by Zeusí existence. Zeus fathered a son, Minos, who became the King of Knossos, Crete, and the rest of Aegean.

King Minos built his palace in the city of Knossos, and had a son, Androgeus. Androgeus, according to the myth, was a strong, athletic youth. He was sent to represent Crete in the Athenian games and was successful in winning many events. The King of Athens murdered Androgeus out of jealousy. When Minos heard about the death of his son, he was enraged and he deployed the mighty Cretan fleet.

The fleet took Athens and instead of destroying the city, Minos decreed that every nine years Athens was obligated to send seven young men and seven virgin women. King Minos threw them into a labyrinth where they were sacrificed to his fierce, bovine monster, the Minotaur. Theseus, the Athenian Kingís son, volunteered to be one of the seven sacrificial young men with the intention of killing the Minotaur and end the suffering of Athens. If he succeeded in his mission, he told his father that he would raise white sails instead of the black sails.

Theseus arrived at the palace of the Cretan King, and with the help of Minosí daughter, Ariadne, who fell in love with Theseus, he was able to kill the Minotaur. In returning home, Theseus, in his excitement, forgot to change the sails on the ship from black to white. The King of Athens saw the black sails. Thinking that his sonís plan failed and that Theseus was dead, the king flung himself into the sea and died.

Archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, who discovered Troy, was fully intending to excavate Knossos until his death. Arthur Evans, a well educated Englishman, succeeded in revealing the Minoan culture on Crete with the assistance of Duncan McKenzie, an experienced excavator. When Evans began digging in 1900, the remains of the walls lay close to the surface. After a few weeks, Evans discovered the remains of buildings spanning over an area of 8,480 square feet.

The remains of the palace itself covered five and a half acres. The palace was originally built in 2000 BC. It was rebuilt and enlarged in 1700 BC after a massive earthquake and again rebuilt and modified in 1500 BC after a devastating fire. At its most modern, the palace provided drainage sumps, luxurious bathrooms, ventilation systems, ground-water conduits and waste chutes.

Evans unearthed other wonders of Knossos as well. Thousands of artifacts found helped identify the various rooms and their functions. Kitchens, residences, storerooms, bathrooms, workshops, and ceremonial rooms were discovered. The artifacts included pottery, stone and metal work and other lovely, colorful works of art, revealing the level of artistry the Minoan people possessed.

In one of the old storerooms that Evans discovered in the palace at Knossos, stood rows of huge, vase-like jars that once contained oil. The oil vessels were ornamented in rich, elegant detail. Evans measured the volume of each of the containers and calculated that the inventory of the storeroom contained around 19,000 gallons of oil. Some pottery had a foreign origin, particularly Egyptian. The Egyptian pottery were from particular periods in Egyptian history and helped date three periods of Minoan history, an Early Minoan Period from 3000 to 2000 BC, a Middle Minoan Period, proceeding until 1600 BC and a Late Minoan Period lasting until around 1250 BC.

Evans also found stone and metal artifacts. Some of his findings predated the earliest period of Minoan history, dating back to Neolithic times. Originally Evans believed the artifacts were ten thousand years old, but later experts dated these stone artifacts to be five thousand years old. Many bronze objects that were used daily in ancient Knossos were also found. Some bronze statues and figurines were discovered in conjunction with ceremonial rooms.

Other works of art recovered from Knossos included terra cotta figurines of goddesses. Faience, though the technique was probably imported from Egypt, was among the art forms mastered by ancient Cretans. Evans uncovered two large faience figurines. Both statues were wearing the typical Minoan court costume consisting of a wide skirt with a tight, stiff bodice collar and exposed breasts. Evans identified the larger statue as a snake goddess or a mother goddess. The smaller one is generally accepted as her daughter or a priestess.

The findings at Crete parallel the Greek myth surrounding the palace at Knossos. The layout of a courtyard in the palace hinted at a labyrinth type plan, the rooms, corridors and halls of various storage areas built in a confusing pattern. Its walls were made of stone fragments and columns were erected to hold up the flat roofs. The large courtyard branched out with the wings of various buildings surrounding it on all sides. Many wall murals and other forms of art depicted bulls and youths "dancing" with the bulls.

Many mysteries surround Knossos. How much of the ancient myths are true? Evidence indicated that the legends have a thread of truth. The palace had a courtyard designed like a labyrinth. The bull dancing indicated by the art works could possibly be youths sacrificed to a bull. Experts suggest that Theseus represented an army that conquered Crete.

Knossos harbored another mystery. How was the civilization destroyed? The destruction is apparent but its cause is not. Evans believed that Knossos was destroyed by a powerful seismic event. However, most experts have since decided that Crete was invaded and destroyed. The debate continued as to which group of people was responsible for the massive destruction. Many experts believe that is was either the Dorians, the Achaens, or the Mycenaeans.

The site of Knossos offered valuable information in understanding Europeís earliest literate civilization. Evansí work enlightened the history of not only Knossos, but also the surrounding cultures. However, the information had brought even more questions. The answers must be found by a closer examination of the site of Knossos. Otherwise, they are doomed to remain a mystery.