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Knossos

Allegedly home to the legendary king Minos, built by Daidalos and the place where the Minotaur was hidden away, Knossos is undeniably the capital of Minoan Crete. Grander, more complex and more flamboyant than any of the other palaces we know of, it is Crete’s main archeological attraction.

Even though visitors today must stay on a walkway, it reveals an intimate glimpse of life at the palace, made even more comprehensible by the often fantastic reconstructions of its excavator Arthur Evans. Whatever your opinion though, he did manage to bring Minoan legacy one step closer to our reality.

With traces of settlement going back as far as Neolithic times (± 6000 BC), the first palace was built around 2000 BC, only to be destroyed by an earthquake 300 years later. The ruins we see today belong to the new palace that was built immediately afterwards over the old one. With a surface area of 22,000sq.m, the palace of Knossos was a multi-level building made of ashlars blocks and had walls decorated with glorious frescoes, mostly representing religious ceremonies. It had all the typical features of the architectural type established in that time and it was a centre of religious and administrative power, along with a production and storage center. With its countless rooms, more than 100,000 people are believed to have lived here when Minoan civilization was at its peak.

Again destroyed around 1450 BC, by a fire this time, it ceased to function as a palatial center, although habitation continued up to the early Byzantine period (± 300 AD). With the passing of time, Knossos slowly fell into oblivion. Little is known of the intervening years until the nineteenth century. In 1878, Cretan merchant and antiquarian Minos Kalokairinos was the first to unearth by coincidence part of the magazines in the west wing of the palace and a section of the west façade. However, due to complications with the then ruling Turks, efforts were stopped. After failed attempts by several other candidates, including Heinrich Schliemann, the German hobby-archeologist who had discovered Troy, it was Arthur Evans who finally made a deal with the Turks. He started excavation at Knossos in 1900, to which he devoted the next 30 years of his life.