Bronze Age Knossos Crete

knssLegend has it that the Minotaur, a creature that had the body of a man but the head of a bull, lurked through the elaborate Cretan labyrinth. Stories of the Minotaur may well be legends, but the palace under which the labyrinth was said to exist was indeed real, and you can visit the ruins today.

That palace is Knossos on the Greek island of Crete. Back in the Bronze Age it was indeed at the centre of the Minoan Civilisation, which flourished for about 1200 years.

Today, the remnants of the once-grand palace are located about five kilometres southeast from the modern city of Heraklion. Although people have populated Crete for about 9,000 years, work on the first palace didn’t begin until about 1900BC. This building was partly destroyed in about 1700BC, possibly by a large earthquake, although the true cause is not really known, and destroyed again by fire in about 1350BC after which it was abandoned.

According to Greek mythology, the palace was designed by famed architect Daedalos with such complexity that no one placed in it could ever find its exit. King Minos who commissioned the palace then kept the architect prisoner to ensure that he would not reveal the palace plan to anyone.

The Palace at Knossos was a very impressive building, particularly given its age. It occupies an area exceeding 20,000 square metres and had its own complex water management systems which controlled supply, drainage and waste. It was an incredibly sophisticated building for its time.

The centrepiece of the building was the Throne Room, which was decorated with frescoes featuring the mythological creatures called `griffins’, which had the body, tail and back legs of a lion and head and wings of an eagle, on either side of the throne.

Much of the excavation of the site was undertaken by the British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans during the first third of the 20th century. Many of the techniques he used in an attempt to restore the building are now shunned, but his use of concrete to fix walls does actually give the visitor a good sense of the vastness of the original building complex, and of the methods used to build it.

Although the legend of the Minotaur may be fiction, it is a fact that Knossos and the Minoan civilisation were both very impressive during the ancient times during which they thrived, and the legacy of that civilisation is certainly worth visiting even today.

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