Crete was the center of the once-mighty Minoan civilization, a major power for over a millennium. The Great Palace of Knossos is the largest and most spectacular of all the Minoan palaces, dating from 1700 BC, with over 1,000 rooms. Knossos was the court of the legendary King Minos, whose wife Pasiphae gave birth to the Minotaur, the mythical creature with the head of a bull and the body of a man. The Great Palace of Knossos is also the site of the mythical labyrinth. Around 1700 BC, the Palace and the area around it had a population of around 100,000 people!
“The Minoan civilization was an Aegean Bronze Age civilization that arose on the island of Crete and other Aegean islands and flourished from approximately 3650 to 1400 BCE. It belongs to a period of Greek history preceding both the Mycean civilization [see our earlier blog on Mycenae, Greece] and Ancient Greece. It was rediscovered at the beginning of the 20th century through the work of British [amateur] archaeologist Arthur Evans. Historian Will Durant dubbed the Minoans ‘the first link in the European chain,’ and their civilization has been referred to as the earliest of its kind in Europe. The term ‘Minoan’ refers to the mythic King Minos, and was originally given as a description to the pottery of this period. Minos was associated in Greek myth with the labyrinth and the Minotaur, which Evans identified with the site at Knossos, the largest Minoan site.” — Wikipedia
Our guide pointed out an interesting fact: Around 1,700 BC there were three great western civilizations in the world: the Egyptians, the Minoans (the first European civilization) and the Mesopotamians. The Minoan civilization declined within a few centuries and the emerging Greek civilization was the Myceans, who were followed by the classical Greeks (around 500 BC, with their heyday around 350 BC) and then the Romans.
“The great palace [of Knossos] was gradually built between 1700 and 1400 BC, with periodic re-buildings 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.” — Wikipedia
Additionally, the palace had at least three separate liquid management systems, one for supply, one for drainage of runoff, and one for drainage of waste water.
“Since the Roman period [the Great Palace of Knossos] has been suggested as the source of the myth of the Labyrinth, an elaborate maze-like structure constructed for King Minos of Crete and designed by the legendary artificer Daedalus [whose son, Icarus, wore wings of wax and flew too close to the sun, resulting in his wings melting and his plunging to his death] to hold the Minotaur, a creature that was half man and half bull and was eventually killed by the Athenian hero Theseus. Labyrinth comes from the word labyrs, referring to a double, or two-bladed axe. Its representation had a religious and probably magical significance. It was used throughout the Mycenaen world as an apotropaic symbol; that is, the presence of the symbol on an object would prevent it from being “killed.” Axe motifs were scratched on many of the stones of the palace. It appears in pottery decoration and is a theme of the Shrine of the Double Axes at the palace, as well as of many shrines throughout Crete and the Aegean.” – www.crete-kreta.com/knossos
“The palace also includes the Minoan column, a structure notably different from other Greek columns. The Minoan column was constructed of wood, and then painted red, unlike the stone Greek column. They were also ‘inverted’ – most Greek columns are smaller at the top and wider at the bottom to create the illusion of greater height, but the Minoan columns are smaller at the bottom and wider at the top. The columns at the Palace of Minos were mounted on stone bases and had round, pillow-like capitals (i.e. tops).” – www.crete-kreta.com/knossos
It is believed that The Great Palace of Knossos was destroyed in 1450 BC by the nearby Santorini (Thera) volcanic eruption that was among the largest volcanic explosions in the history of civilization – it also destroyed Santorini (leading to the legend of “the lost city of Atlantis”). Following the earthquake and tremendous amount of flying ash that filled the palace, it is thought that the Palace caught fire and was virtually destroyed. Note that some sources date the Thera eruption at about 1645 BC that would imply that other forces were behind the demise of the Palace and the Minoan civilization circa the 14th century BC.