Knossos

By the Editors of the Madain Project

Knossos is an ancient Minoan Bronze Age archaeological site on the island of Crete. Ancient Knossosplayed a significant role as a central hub within the Minoan civilization and is famous for its connection to the Greek legend of Theseus and the Minotaur. Situated on the outskirts of Heraklion, the site was first excavated by Minos Kalokairinos in 1877.

Overview

Renowned as one of the most significant and iconic archaeological discoveries of the early 20th century, Knossos offers a compelling glimpse into the sophisticated world of the Minoan civilization. This site, dominated by the monumental Palace of Minos, not only unveils the architectural prowess of its ancient builders but also reveals the intricate interplay between religion, administration, and daily life in a society that thrived over four millennia ago. As a hub of historical intrigue and mythological association, Knossos beckons modern-day explorers and scholars alike to unravel its secrets and explore the cultural heritage that has left an indelible mark on the annals of archaeology and ancient history.

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The archaeological site of Knossos is dominated by the so-called imposing "Palace of Minos", which, akin to other Minoan palatial structures, functioned as a multifaceted institution encompassing both religious and administrative roles rather than exclusively serving as a royal abode. Its origins can be traced back to star of the nineteenth century BCE (circa 1900 BCE), situated in a region previously used for ceremonial gatherings since the Neolithic era. Over the subsequent five centuries until 1450 BCE, the palace underwent a series of renovations and expansions, ultimately meeting its demise around 1350 BCE.

Notable Structures

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Throne Room
The so-called "throne room", also called the "little throne room" was the focal point of the Minoan Palace at Knossos. It has been dated back to the "LM II" (Minoan chronology). The small decorated chamber contains a small alabaster seat, because of which Evans identified this chamber as the "throne-room".

Stone benches are preserved in the chamber which is the central room in the entire complex. The alabaster-stone seat is also flanked by stone benches. Pieces of fresco depicting plants and griffins, mythical beasts with a lion's body and the head of a bird, were found in the same room. The restored fresco is in Herableion Museum. Evans had a copy of the original painted on the throne room walls. Stone vases for oil, often connected with rituals, were found on the floor. The stone basin (today placed in the middle of the room) was origianlly found in the neighbouring corridor and placed here. To the left, a low partition wall with a column creats a small area like a cistern since it has a sunken floor. Evans thought that areas with a similar form were used for purification before or during ceremonies and therefore called them "lustral basins" (inspect).

The central room connects at the back with a series of small, dark rooms which were most probably lit by small oil lamps, as the finds illustrate. The function of the complex, let alone the throne room, is difficult to determine. Arthur Evans believed that the rooms were used for ceremonies or ritual activities with the main figure being the king of Knossos in his religious capacity. However, it seems unlikely to have been a "throne-room" in the modern sense of the words, since a number of other similar structures have also been found in other parts of the archaeological site.

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Piano Nobile and the Great Staircase
The great staircase and the upper floor to which it leads are largely Evans' creations. He thought that it had a function rather like the first floor of Italian Palazi of the Renaissance, which was called the "Piano Nobile". In this instance, he considered that the important reception rooms of the palace whould lie on the upper floor.

Evans also thought that there existed a shrine, the "tri-columnar shrine", and its treasury. The basis for his restoration lies in the column and pillar bases and the ritual stone vases found collapsed on to the ground floor, like the alabaster one in the shape of a lioness head.

The rectangular building next to the stairs was built a long time after the destruction of the Palace. Evans interpreted it as a "Greek temple" based on finds from the ancient period.

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The Hall of the Double Axes
The so-called "hall of the double axes" was named by Evans due to the double-axe relief engraved on the walls of the light well at its rear. He also thought that it was the place of residence of the king of Knossos.

The central area has openings on three sides and is therefore called a 'polythyron' and the light-well was used as a reception hall. Traces of a wooden construction were found here. Evans reconstructed a wooden throne at this spot. According to the archaeological finds, the arrangement of the apartments on the upper floor was comparable with those on the ground floor.

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The Queen's Megaron
Near the "hall of the double axes" is a smaller hall, comparably arranged and richly decorated. Evans thought that it must belong to the Queen. Fragments of the frescoes with dolphins and dancing ladies were found. The room is largely restored and copies of the wall paintings have been put up on the walls. At the end of the room, a low partition wall with one column created a small space. It was thought that it was the "Queen's Bathroom" since pieces of a clay 'bath' were found here.

A corridor joins the so-called Queen's Megaron with rooms that have been interpreted as places of preparation and washing.

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South House
The southern part of the palace comples was destroyed for most part and the reconstruction by Evans is not only uncertain its mostly unlikely. Evans interpreted this far south-western area had an entrance that was approached by a splendid stepped ascent with colonnades to it right and left. Down to the left is the restored so-called "south house". It has been reconstructed, in part, with its three storeys. Many architectural and decorative features (for example luxtral basin, pillar room and extensive use of gypsum etc.) of the palace are reproduced in the house. It is therefore considered to have been a special house of the "New Palace" period (circa 1700-1450 BCE).

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North Pillared Hall
An open air passage linked the central court with the north entrance. It was paved and sharply inclined towards the north. The passage is narrow, right and left were two raised colonnades known as "bastions". Arthur Evans reconstructed the bastion on the west side. He also placed a copy of a restored relief fresco of a bull here. The wall painting may have formed part of a hunting scene. The passage ends in a large hall with ten square pillars and two columns. The pillars and columns probably supported a large hall on the upper floor.

Evans suggested that, due to its position on the seaward side, it was here that the produce of seaborne trade would have been checked when it reached the palace. It was therefore named the "customs house".

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Kouloures
The three large pits (literally meaning rings), located in the western part of the archaeological site of Knossos, lined with stone walls were most likely built during the Old Palace period (circa 1900-1700 BCE). The excavation workmen gave them the name "kouloures" and Arthur Evans never changed it.

The function of the circular pits in not known, but they have been interpreted as rubbish dumps either for all the refuse from the palace or just the left overs from the sacred offerings. Though, the idea of these being used for the storage of precious grain has also been suggested.

In two of these, it is possible to see the remains of houses of the pre-palatial period (circa 3200-1900 BCE). In the new palace period (circa 1700-1450 BCE), these circular pits were not only abandoned for use but were filled and covered over with earth.

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South Entrance, Corridor with the "Prince of the Lilies" Fresco
THe southern part and the southern facade of the palace is extensively eroded. Today one can only see foundations on tiered levels. At the bottom, a tower like projection is all that remains of the south entrance to the palace. An ascending corridor led to the central court.

The section of the corridor closest to the central court was reconstructed. Evans put a copy of a relief wall painting here, of which only a few fragments were discovered. On these it was possible to make out a figure wearing jewellery in the shape of lilies. The reconstruction seen here is uncertain. In Evans' opinion, it represented the "priest-king". Some scholars thing that it is a prince, whilst others believe that it depitcs a female figure.

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References

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