The Palace of Knossos in Crete

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The Palace of Knossos in Crete

The archaeological site of Knossos is probably one of the most famous monuments in the world. Its reputation is due to the ancient history and legend around the palace of Knossos, but also to its “modern” history and its restoration.

The Legend

The Cretan culture is one of the oldest of ancient Greece. According to the legend, the king Minos lived in Knossos and had two children: Ariadne and the Minotaur. The latter was a monster half man and half bull, who was born by his wife who, following a curse, had fallen in love with a bull. The king Minos, to hide and to protect himself from the son, commissioned Daedalus to build an intricate labyrinth.

Daedalus and his son Icarus were subsequently locked up in the same maze and were able to escape building wings with wax and feathers. Following a war with Athens, seven boys and seven girls arrived in Knossos as a tribute to provide a meal for the Minotaur. Theseus, son of the Aegean King of Athens, replaced one of the boys with the intention to kill the monster and liberate their city.

To achieve this he needed the aid of Ariadne who, with cunning, advised Theseus to use a ball of yarn, with the string attached to the entrance of the maze, to assist them to find their way and freedom after having killed the Minotaur.

The Story

There are two palaces of Knossos, built in 2000 BC and between 1700 and 1500 BC. There were so many rooms in the palace (built on two floors), that they covered an area of about 22,000 m² and their intricate layout has probably contributed to the legend of the labyrinth.

Crete was to enjoy a strong economic and political domination in the Aegean, to the point that the palace did not require defensive walls. Things changed around 1450 BC when the palace was attacked by the Mycenaean people; the oldest building was probably destroyed by a natural disaster, most likely the volcanic eruption of Santorin.

This also links Crete with another legend: the disappearance of Atlantis.

A city so full of legendary elements also has a modern history worthy of note.
At the beginning of 900, an English archaeologist, Sir Arthur Evans, after many unsuccessful experiences of others, rediscovered Knossos. He not only brought back to light the palace and lifted up the fallen columns, but undertook a genuine reconstruction of certain parts. To achieve this, he rebuilt columns using modern materials like reinforced concrete, and he repainted areas of the palace in red. The original objects including paintings are today preserved in the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion.

The work of Evans has sparked many controversies and has included Crete in the middle of an archaeological dispute which lasted for almost a century and someone also proposed to demolish the work of Sir Arthur but it was defended by those who consider it now an archaeological find in itself.

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