The palace of Knossos

The most significant part of Crete is Knossos, the biggest, the most forceful and impressive of all the Minoan Palaces. Knossos is the favourite stop of every visitor in the Great Island of Crete. According to Kazantzkis «your heart beats differently in Knossos and your mind is fraught with questions». Here are the ruins of one of the biggest Palaces of the Minoan Civilization. In this Palace lived Minos, a descendant of the mythical Minos dynasty, who was born after the intercourse of Europe and Zeus. Minos was the founder of the great naval force, the pirates’ fear, the wise lawmaker and the leader of the Minoan religion.

The myth of Minotaur shows the omnipotence of Minos and the homage of Athens to Crete. Additionally, it indicates the size and the complicated order of the palace, where a visitor could get lost without a guide. Round the palace, one of the ancient and glorious cities in Crete was founded, and the Minoan civilization flourished. The city had been inhabited since the Neolithic Era, at about 6000-5000 BC, and constituted the center of the creation of the first Greek State, the first religion and the first technique (art) with Greek features.

The Palace was constructed on the hill Kefala, next to the river Keratos, in the middle of a fruitful valley and occupies an area of 22.000 square meters. Around the palace, the city extended, inhabited by 80.000-100.000 people. Its seaports were Amnisos and Herakleion. Its possessions extended from the eastern regions of Psiloritis up to Littos, at the west sides of Dicty. During the historical years (8th-6th century), Gortyna and Littos were its rival cities. In the 3rd century, it allied with the other Cretan cities and went to war against Littos in order to take it over; however, this was an unsuccessful expedition. Later on, when the army of Littos was away in a campaign, it occupied it and destroyed it completely. In 166 BC, it allied with Gortyna and together they destroyed Rafkos, which is called Agios Mironas today. In the first Christian Years, it became a bishop’s seat, which later was moved to Rafkos. It was devastated by the Arabs and the area was desolated. In the Venetian Occupation, there was a small settlement created under the name Makritihos (=long wall).

Knossos minted several coins. Most of them depicted the Minotaur holding a stone. Moreover, the Labyrinth (maze) is depicted sometimes quadrangular or round. There is the head of Athena, who was the ancestral goddess of the Minoans, and Demetra, since the people in Knossos were proud of being the first who used wheat as a food substance. However, the Labyrinth was always represented on one side of the coins of Knossos in all periods, even during the Roman Period when on the other side were the busts of Roman Resident Commissioners.

Besides, Labyrinth means the resident of Labrys, namely the palace of the double axe. It derives from the Lydian word «ëÜâñõò» (lavris) that means double axe. The axe constitutes the sacred symbol of the Minoan religion and in the palace there were sundry of them.

The first one who started excavations in this area was Minos Kalokairinos in 1878. however, the most significant ones were made by Arthur Evans in 1900. The palace we see today is not the primary, which was destroyed by the earthquake (like all the cities in Crete) in 1700. It is the second one that was rebuilt in 1700 BC, a majestic one that marks the Neo-Palatial Period that lasted until 1400 BC.

A look at the archaeological site.

Entering the archaeological site of the palace from the West yard 1, where the uphill processional corridors as well as the bases of the altars indicate that the processions started. On the right side, we see the bust of Evans, the one who erected Knossos. On the left side, there are three circle sinks called Kouloures 2, whose depth is 5 m. There are the ruins of the «residences » that were built there before the first palaces, and they were used as storehouses of wheat or a place where the relics of the immolation were kept, as it is indicated by the tools of worship ceremonies and the bones of animals found here. We go into the main palace from the West Entrance. 3. Over the stone base we see now, a wooden column rose. Next, there is the guardhouse and the reception room 4, where the throne was. We continue and we follow the narrow, ceremonial corridor headed southward, the Corridor of the Procession. 5. It was named after the frescos that decorated the wall and represented a procession of hundreds of young boys and girls, in almost natural size, that moved parallel to the west facade of the palace, turned eastward and ended in the main yard. Nowadays, it is not passable and as a result we turn earlier going through the gate situated on the left side, we are directed to the South Propylaea (entrance).

Southwestward of the Corridor of the Procession, at the end of the Palace, there are the ruins of the South House. 6. It was built in 1600 BC, after the catastrophic earthquake, at the site of the Terraced Stoa 7, which is located on the west side and it is estimated that it belonged to a nobleman.

A little lower, at the stream, there are the foundations of a bridge built in the Early-Palatial Period and connected the Terraced Stoa with Caravan Serai. This building was used as a place of expiation, as it offered running waters and tubs in order the visitors coming from this side of the palace to be cleaned before presenting themselves to the king-high priest.

It was from here that the big paved street started and ended in the south coasts of the island, where the commercial «communication» with Egypt and the East was taking place. In Caravan Serai, the renowned «fresco with the hoopoes and partridges» was found; a reproduction is preserved today. The south facade of the palace is garlanded with two sacred horns. We go into the imposing Propylaea 8 whose frescos depicted a procession of young boys who were holding vessels. Here, the eminent «Rhytoforos» (king-priest) was found; however, only the reproduction do we see today, as the prototype in at the Archaeological Museum of Herakleion. We move on to the Great Scale 9, which once was encircled by colonnades, and leads to the upper floor, to Piano Nobile, where the official quarters are located. The Great Scale had been destroyed completely and was restored by the archaeologists. We move to its top by a gate in a antechamber and after the Main Chamber with the three columns 10, where the procession of the young boys possibly ended. Southward, there was the treasure-house that its valuable items and the gifts of the Sanctum were found on the lower floor. Piano Nobile is crossed by the open air Long Corridor 11, which lightened the round chambers. After that, to the left, there is the Large Chamber 12 with two columns and a smaller one with six columns. From here, we can see the storehouses of the ground floor where a large number of voluminous earthenware jars in which wine, oil, grain and honey were stored. About 400 of those jars with 78.000 kilos in capacity were placed in the 21 storehouses of the palace, three of which at the south side were useless. The most significant findings of the excavations are the earthen signs written in Linear B, catalogues with the items and products of the palace as well as names of men and women that lived in there.

It seems that the Large Chamber was the Counting House of Knossos from where the signs fell on the lower floor. Once, there was a staircase that led to the Long Corridor 13 of the storehouses, which, contrary to the Long Corridor of Piano Nobile, was dark. This staircase was burnt and never restored. Next, it is the Chamber of the Frescos 14 that is above the Chamber of the Throne, with which is connected by a winding staircase where some reproductions of frescos have been placed, found not only in the palace but also in a neighboring house. We admire the group of the Blue Ladies and the scene of Bullfighting that come from the east side of the Palace; also the Crocus-collector and the Miniature Frescos found over the cells. From the House of Frescos, we see the mural called the Leader of the Blacks and a series of three other scenes from flora and fauna. At the south side of the Chamber of Frescos, vertically to the Long Corridor, a wide staircase 15 leads down to the Main Yard. Signs of the steps on the left indicate the existence of a third floor there.

The Main Yard 16, size 50×20 m, paved, separates the official royal quarters of the west side from the private ones of the east side. It is the center of this block, as in the other Minoan palaces. It is here that religious and political ceremonies took place. It was also used for the illumination and ventilation of the main areas. At the west side of the Main Yard, below the Chamber of the Frescos, there is the Chamber of the Throne 17 with a complex of rooms, dated back to the Late Minoan Period. It consists of an antechamber with stone smoky benches by the fire that destroyed Knossos, and wooden Throne, a copy of the neighboring one. A large vessel has been placed here by the archaeologists made of porphyry. Next is the Chamber of the Throne 17 protected by a wooden grille. At the northern wall, there is the alabaster throne of Minos, and left and right there were griffins painted on the walls, as a token of potency.

Opposite the throne, there is a small Expiation Site. After the Chamber of the Throne, the small Sanctum with a tall stone bench is located. Next is a place with some kind of trivet that is estimated to be the Kitchen. Southward of this complex, the Sanctum was situated 18 of the Palace. In one of the miniature frescos, the order of the place is depicted. A few steps lower, there is an open gate, called Prodromos with a stone bench. Next is the chamber of the Tall Earthenware Jar 19 and after the treasure-houses of the sanctum, where the marvelous faience idols of the Goddess of the Snakes. Westward of the Prodromos are two chambers with quadrangular columns in the middle, where the double axe was engraved. They are Pillar Crypts 20 that are estimated to be of religious type. Northward of the first Crypt, the Chamber of the Ponds is located, in which the blood of the immolated animals ran. From the Prodromos a double door to the south leads to the dark corridor of the storehouses. The last three directed southward, belong to the old palace. From here, a narrow staircase goes uphill to an open air site, the only one in the entire palace used afterwards, as it is indicated by a Hellenic church found here.

In the southwest corner of the Main Yard where the processional corridor ended, is a reproduction of the renowned fresco The Prince of the Lilies 21 placed in its primary position. It represents the ideal Minoan figure of a prince.

From the South Entrance, below which there was an underground chamber carved on a rock from the Early Minoan Period to protect it, a corridor led eastward to the small sanctum of the Double Axes. 22. It is a small and austere building of the Late Minoan Period. Southward, there is the Chamber of Expiation and the ruins of a staircase and a skylight. It was connected from the north side with the Quarters of the Queen, with the Corridor of the Signs with the Swords, which was named after from the earthenware signs excavated here. Below the southeast corner of the Palace, there are ruins of houses from the Middle Minoan Period. At the House with the Sacred Tribune, which borders with the other two, there is a podium for an honorable seat. A narrow corridor possibly led to staircase and ended in the main Yard. From here, you can go down hill to the Southeast House 23 where an prop crypt is located and an altar.

The east wing of the Palace was built on a hill and it was 5 storeys high at some spots. In this wing, the Large Well singles out 24, one of the most significant pieces in the antiquity with wide low steps. It starts from the middle of the east side of the Main Yard and it separates the east wing in two parts, the north part, where the workshops and storehouses were, and the southeast one, where the quarters of the royal couple were located.

We move on to the Large Well with the skylight and the pillars around it. At the east wall of the veranda on the first floor, of the Upper Stoa, a copy of the Fresco of the eight-shaped Shields 25. On the ground floor, we find the Main Entrance of the Stoa. The skylight here is used to the illumination and ventilation of the rooms.

From a gate at the northeast side of the Chamber of Stoa, we find ourselves in a corridor. We turn right and we get to the Chamber v26, which was named after the frequent use of that symbol on the walls. On the left side, there is the External Chamber of the Double Axes 26, where a wooden Throne is placed on the site of the original one. East and south of the Chamber, stoas and skylights can be found. We leave the Main Chamber from a south door (gate) and by following a crooked corridor we reach the Mansion of the Queen 27.

Mansion of the Queen

Over a gate of the entrance, the copy of the Fresco with the Dolphins singles out. At the southwest side of the Chamber, there is a small room with a tub and striped column, the Queen’s Bathroom 28. From the southwest side, the Corridor of the Painted Earthenware Jar starts, which ends in the Chamber of the Toilet 29. It is lightened by a skylight called Yard with the Cards, named after the tectonic shapes found on its slabs. On the wall, in a corner of the Chamber of the Toilet, above a stone-bench, we are to see the holes used for the plumbing installation that brought water from tanks placed above. On the east wall, there is a magnificent drainage system, whose details we can see in the next dark corridor, on the left of the Bathroom towards the Main Yard. After the corridor on the right side, there is a dark chamber called Fleapit (Trogli) that probably constituted a treasure house. It was here that the biggest earthenware sign was found with lists of names with ideograms of man or women.

We move on to this corridor and on the left, a staircase led to the upper floors. Below it, a statuette of ivory was found called Tavrokathaptis. The corridor leads back to the Chamber of the Stoa, from where if we continue we shall pass the Chamber of the Double Axes and after a left turn we shall find ourselves in the East Stoa of the Palace.

Behind it, there is the chamber with the quadrangular prop and the Workshop of the Marble-Workers 30, where pieces of Spartan basalt in process were found. Next, there is the Scholl of Ceramics with benches and sinks. Northward of this room, we see the open air Yard of the Stone Outfall 31, which was named after the outfall of the drainage that was there to impound the rainwater that fell from the roof of the Great East Chamber. Eastward, the East Rampart can be found 32 with the interesting East Entrance that has a complicated method of closing, which stops the rainwater for running. In this flat site between the East Entrance and the river Keratos, it is estimated that the Arena of Bullfighting existed.

Northern of the Yard of the Stone Outfall, the Giant Earthenware Jars are placed 33, remains of the Old Palace. We move on and reach the paved Corridor of Zatrikios 34 where an adorned gaming board was found that looked like a draughtboard. Below the grille, one can see the earthenware tubes of the aquaduct of the Old Palace. Westward of this corridor, the Northeast Chamber is located and northeastward the Storehouses of the Royal Ceramics 35, where the magnificent niggling «eggshells» pots of Middle Minoan order. Southeastward of the Corridor of Zatrikios, there is an open air yard where the upper part of the drain that ended in the Yard of the Stone Outfall. From here, the west gate leads to the Corridor of Dead-ends 36 that the voluminous props indicate the the existence of a large chamber on the upper floor. We continue and get to the Upper Stoa and on the left side to the Upper Chamber of the Double Axes. The door southeastward leads to the Upper Mansion of the Queen. The order of the rooms is the same with the one on the ground floor. A southern narrow corridor, where the pots with the lilies were found, leads to two roofed today rooms. Behind these rooms, the Corridor of the Signs with the Swords starts that ends in the corridor of the North Entrance. Eastward, there are the storehouses, while, westward, the foundations of the oldest building of the Palace, the Old Cells 37. When the New Palace was built, they were cast under its floor. At the upper site, the Frescos of the Crocus-Collector were found and the Miniature Frescos. The corridor ends in a prop chamber the Customhouse 38, eastward of which the Corridor of the Northeast Entrance is located. Originally, the North Entrance was a square; however, because of the fear of raids, the Minoans were forced to make it narrower by placing ramparts in every side of the corridor that was created. Over the ramparts, there are embossed wall-painted stoas. In the west stoa that was erected, the famous lively Fresco of the Bull has been placed 39 that dashes into an olive plantation. Westward of these Stoas, the Northwest Portico 40 is situated. Next is the antechamber and the Expiation Site 41, where the visitors were purified who came to the Palace from this side.

On the way out, northwestward the Theatre is located 42. The flat paved street has tiers on the two east and south sides, while in the southeast corner, a quadrangular podium is estimated to have been a Royal Box. West of the Theatre, a paved street starts and leads northward to the Small Palace. There was also the House of the Frescos and the Armory. From the Small Palace, we move northward and get to the Royal Mansion, situated northeastward, in the valley behind Knossos.

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