Knossos is probably one of the most impressive archaeological sites that
anyone can visit in today's Greece. It was once the
centre of one of the
most powerful civilizations of the ancient world and through excavations,
mythology and history it tells us the story of its people, the Masters of
the Sea: the Minoans.
The most famous king of
Crete, was also the one who gave the
whole civilization its name. Minos might actually have been
several kings, but tradition holds that he was a son of Zeus and
a great ruler - in life as in death.
Minos was the child of the Phoenician princess
Europa, who had been abducted by Zeus in the shape of a bull. He
had been given the right as a king and all his laws by his
divine father, with whom he consulted every nine years.
strongly connected to Crete, since he had been brought up here,
and was sometimes believed to have been the island's first
ruler. The Cretans even had his tomb here.
Minos was married to Pasiphae. When the people of Crete had defied him and
said that the right to the throne was not his, Minos had replied that it was
the gods' will that he be ruler. As a sign for this,
Poseidon sent a bull to
be sacrificed by the king, but it was so beautiful that Minos kept it,
sacrificing one of his own bulls.
angered the sea god, and made Pasiphae fall in love with the divine bull,
and she bore the animal a child - the
The famous architect and inventor
Daedalus worked for Minos, and the king
now asked him to construct a labyrinth, in which the half man half bull
Minotaur would be kept.
Minos son Androgeos had gone off to Athens to compete in the games there. He
won, but the king of Athens sent the young man to fight a bull in Marathon.
The bull killed Androgeos, and when Minos learnt of it he declared war
against Athens. Zeus tormented the city, and the king was told to do
anything Minos asked for to up heave the curse.
Minos then asked that seven young girls and seven young boys were to be sent
to Crete to be sacrificed to the Minotaur every nine years. This continued
until the hero Theseus came as one of the youngsters to be sacrificed.
Ariadne fell in love with him, and she and Daedalus helped
him defeat the Minotaur. After this, they fled, and Minos punished Daedalus
by locking him and his son Icarus into the labyrinth.
Daedalus escape is one of the most famous stories in Greek mythology. He
made wings for himself and his son by using wax and feathers, and off they
flew. Despite Daedalus' warnings, Icarus flew too close to the sun. The wax
of his wings melted, and he drowned in the sea, that from then on was called
the Icarean sea.
Daedalus made it to Sicily, and found refuge at the court of king Cocalus.
Minos had set out to hunt him down, but when he reached Sicily, he was
killed by king Cocalus daughters. After death he became one of the rulers in
History : Although we do not know exactly what Knossos was, it is
traditionally called "the Palace". Excavations have showed that there was a
settlement here in the 8th Millennium BC, perhaps even before that, and that
a palace stood here as early as in the 4th Millennium BC.
The foundations of several palaces have been found here, and most of what we
see today belongs to the time period 16th-14th century BC. It has later
constructions as well, since the end of the Minoan civilization did not mean
the end of inhabitants here. It was to become an important settlement during
the Mycenaean period, as well as during Roman and Hellenistic times, and was
not abandoned until the Middle Ages.
In 1878 the Greek merchant Minos Kalokairinos discovered the site of
Knossos, and it was to be excavated by Sir Arthur Evans in 1900.
The excavations went on for some thirty years and restoration work has been
made many times since then. The site is huge: it covers more than 20 000 sq.
Originally a female deity was worshipped here. Figurines of a bare breasted
woman holding snakes in her hands is believed to have been the goddess of
the early Cretans. Another holy symbol was the double axe, and the bull was
also worshipped. There were games where young men and women jumped on top of
bulls, and several artworks of horns and heads of bulls have been found in
It is not certain what people lived here at first, but there are many
likenesses with Eastern cultures both in art and religion.
The Achaeans invaded in the 15th century BC and it was their culture that
brought the Minoan civilization to its height. They spoke Greek, had Greek
gods and used Knossos as their canter It was also they who used the so
called Linear B script, which has been found on clay tablets.
The end of the Minoan civilization was probably caused by natural disasters.
The earthquake that sunk half of Santorini in 1450BC seems to have destroyed
most of the buildings on Crete as well.
The Museum:Many of the findings from the Knossos excavations
are on display in the Iraklion Archaeological museum, but all
over Greece there are Minoan objects in the various museums.
Getting there:Most travel agencies offer daytrips to Knossos,
but of course, you can also go there on your own. From Iraklion
there is a bus that will take you straight there.