KNOSSOS...a dancing place
All full of turning, that was like the admirable maze
For fair hair’d Ariadne made, by cunning Daedalus -
Homer, The Odyssey
5km south of Heraklion on a low, largely artificial hill, was by far the largest of the Minoan palaces, thriving more than three and a half thousand years ago at the heart of a highly sophisticated island-wide civilization. Long after Minoan culture had collapsed, a town on this site remained powerful, rivaling Gortys well into the Roman era. Today is perhaps the most famous- and most visited-of all Crete’s tourist attractions. No matter when you come, you won’t get the place to yourself, but with luck you will have the opportunity to appreciate individual parts of the palace during the brief lulls between groups.
The discovery and excavation of the palace is among the most amazing tales of modern archeology. Little over a hundred years ago, Knossos was a place thought to have existed only in mythology. Heinrich Schliemann, the German excavator of Troy, suspected that a major Minoan palace lay under the various tumuli here, but was denied the permissions to dig by the local Ottoman authorities. Today’s Knossos, whose fame rivals any such site in the world, is primarily associated with Sir Arthur Evans, who excavated and literally “restored” the palace at the turn of the twentieth century. The autocratic control he exerted, his working standards and procedures, and, above all, the restorations he claimed where necessary to preserve the building have been a source of furious controversy among archeologists ever since. It has become clear that much of Evans’s upper level, the Piano Nobile, is pure conjecture. Even so, his guess as to what the palace might have looked like is certainly as good as anyone else’s, and it makes the other sites infinitely more meaningful if would be hard to visualize the ceremonial stairways, strange top-heavy pillars and brightly frescoed walls that distinguish Knossos- and almost impossible to imagine the grandeur of the multistorey palace. To get an idea of the size and complexity of the palace in its original state, take a
look at the cutaway drawings on sale outside; they may seem somewhat fantastic, but are probably not too far from reality.