The largest and brightest centre of Minoan civilisation, Knossos, is located 5 km south of the historic centre of the city of Heraklion. Close to the area, on the east side outside the hill, where the brilliant ruins of Minoan Knossos are located, traces of a Neolithic settlement dating back to 6000 BC have also been found.
In the complex system of corridors and labyrinthine apartments present in Knossos, many researchers have identified the ancient “Labyrinth”.
The concept of the labyrinth may be a mythological remnant of a great civilisation, but this does not mean that it does not correspond to the architectural structure that the modern visitor sees during his visit to Knossos today. The complex corridors and stairwells at times connected up to five floors and form a labyrinthine complex in which the visitor can admire important architectural innovations. Some of the most noteworthy for their time are of course the water supply and sewerage networks, skylights for natural lighting, ventilation of the lower levels, and apartments with bathrooms and toilets which are every bit as impressive as modern constructions.
Around the main courtyard, we will find areas for public and religious ceremonies, warehouses, workshops, houses, smaller courtyards and communication corridors. Some of these are clearly differentiated building sets depending on the different functions, which indicate the complexity of the building.
However, the most important element of the palace of Knossos is the fact that in its structure the modern experienced scholar detects the structure of a complex city that developed from the centre of the large courtyard-square.
The first palace of Knossos must have been built in the 19th century BC and was destroyed in the 17th century. In the 16th century, it was rebuilt in the form that it can be seen today, with the ruins reflecting the brilliance and functionality of that period. In the middle of the 15th century BC, Knossos seems to have reached its highest point of development. This is when a huge natural disaster occurred, which was probably due to the eruption of the volcano of Thera (in modern Santorini). Then, when the Mycenaeans conquered Crete, another short period of prosperity followed for the palace, which after 1400 BC no longer existed. Until 1150 BC various other activities took place on the site of the palace and then it was completely abandoned.
The glorious palaces of Minoan Knossos carry the legend of King Minos and in later times this legend will give the impetus for the first excavation attempts made by amateur archaeologist Minos Kalokairinos in 1878. However, the one who brings to light the ruins of Knossos as a whole is the great English archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans, who began systematic excavations in 1900, which lasted until 1931. In the thirty years of excavations, the previous phases of the palace were revealed in total, with important findings from the various periods of habitation of the area.
During his systematic excavation, Sir Arthur Evans also attempted the partial restoration of the palace using modern materials and in some cases proceeded to complete entire sections that can be distinguished today. Some scholars consider these interventions to be excessive, however, many archaeologists have suggested that Evans‘ restorative interventions are not arbitrary and to some extent reflect the image that the palaces may have had during their heyday.
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