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Knossos

Knossos is situated just 5 km. southeast of Herakleion on the hill of Kephala beside the Kairatos river (present day Katsambas) amidst olive trees, vines and cypresses. It was the most important town in Crete in prehistoric times. Homer speaks of the existence of one hundred cities in Crete at the time of the Trojan War and mentions Knossos first, then Gortyn, Miletos, Phaistos and others. He describes Knossos as "vast" and "a great city" and informs us that Minos was its king. The Athenian historian Thucydides speaks of Minos as the first known person to acquire a strong navy and control the greater part of the Greek sea.

The major excavations conducted in Crete since the end of the 19th century have brought to light the remains of a great civilization, the first advanced civilization in Europe. It spanned the interval between approximately 2800 and 1100 BCE and was named the Minoan Civilization after the legendary Minos. The center of the Minoan civilization was Knossos where excavations have revealed the palace of King Minos. The Palace at Knossos is the largest and most spectacular of all the Minoan palatial centers. It has all the typical features of the architectural type established in c. 1700 BCE: four wings arranged around a rectangular, central court, oriented N-S, which is actually the nucleus of the whole complex. The east wing contains the residential quarters, the workshops and a shrine. The west wing is occupied by the storerooms with the large pithoi (storage jars), the shrines, the repositories, the throne room and, on the upper floors, the banquet halls.

Minoan Knossos covered an area of approximately one square kilometer and had a population of about 80,000. The settlement of Knossos, however, was in existence before the palace was built, the site being continuously inhabited from the Neolithic period (7000-3000 BCE) until Roman times. The palace visible today is actually the second palace of Knossos, more elaborate than the previous palace, built after the disaster of 1700 BCE right on top of the ruins of the old palace. It has been restored in certain places by Arthur Evans.

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West CourtPart of the west facade of the palace (background) and the West Court (foreground) as seen from the Processional Way. The wall is faced with huge gypsum orthostates (vertical slabs) standing on a projecting plinth of poros limestone. South PropylaeaThe west side of the great portico known as the South Propylaea, the most imposing building in the south wing. The restored South Propylaea is adorned with copies of frescoes, arranged in two continuous bands, portraying figures advancing to meet those depicted in the Corridor of Procession or carrying sacred vessels for the ceremonies in the West Court. Processions would have turned through this portico in order to proceed to the state apartments on the first floor. Cup-Bearer frescoThe young Minoan at bottom right of the replica of the fresco that adorns the walls of the South Propylaea is called the Cup-Bearer after the large conical rhyton (a ritual vessel for libations) that he is holding. The fresco is thought to have contained about 350 figures in a continuous frieze and decorated the entire length of the corridor leading from the West Court to the South Propylaea.
Cup-Bearer frescoA copy of the upper portion of the Cup-Bearer fresco from the South Propylaea. The male figures wear brightly embroidered loin-cloths with gold and silver belts, silver anklets and bracelets and carry precious vessels (conical rhyta and jugs). Horn of ConsecrationEast of the South Propylaea is one of the Horns of Consecration.  Made of poros limestone and restored, they denote the sanctity of the area for the horns of consecration are a Minoan religious symbol perhaps derived from the horns of the sacred bull. Corridor of ProcessionEast of the Horns is a section of the Corridor of Procession, so named after the wall-painting which covered the walls of the corridor along its entire length and depicted a procession of almost life-size men and women bearing gifts and sacred vessels or musical instruments. This corridor led to the South Propylaea or the Central Court of the palace.
Corridor of ProcessionThe restored sector of the Corridor of Procession with the column and the famous relief fresco of the Prince of the Lilies. This was the final stretch of the Corridor of Procession leading into the Central Court. Prince of the LiliesThe replica of the relief fresco of the Prince of the Lilies depicts a regal figure, probably the Priest-King, wearing a crown of lilies and peacock plumes and with his outstretched left hand apparently leading something or someone towards the Central Court.  He may have been at the head of the figures in the wall-painting of the procession leading a sphinx (as shown in a comparable Mycenaean relief) or a griffin. West facade of the Central CourtThe middle of the west facade of the Central Court. The Central Court was the nucleus of the whole complex and the heart of everyday life in the palace. It provided the palace apartments with light and air. Its dimensions were approximately 50 x 25 meters. To the left is the Tripartite Shrine. To the far right is the Stepped Porch leading up to the first floor of the palace.  A portion of the Throne Room complex is visible to the extreme right.
Piano NobileThe restored Piano Nobile (first floor of the palace) as seen from the west. The large reception hall in the foreground with six columns is called the Sanctuary Hall. To the right is a smaller reception hall, the Great Hall, with only two columns. Straight ahead, located above the Throne Room, is a restored room in which replicas of Minoan wall-paintings are exhibited.  West Wing Light-wellThe restored light-well in the south part of the fresco replica room on the Piano Nobile. The light-wells were, after the Courts, the principle means of illuminating and ventilating the rooms of each wing. On the walls of the room which look on to the light-well are copies of frescoes which were found in the palace and the House of the Frescoes. Bull-Leaping FrescoThe copy of the Bull-Leaping Fresco. The original was found in the East Wing of the palace. It depicts the three successive stages of the sport and thus gives us a clear picture of how it was performed. As the bull charges, the acrobat first grabs the bull's horns, then somersaults on to the bull's back and finally jumps off. Both men and women took part in this hazardous sport.
Tripartite Shrine frescoAfter 1600 BCE, a trend set in at Knossos for the painting of miniature frescoes with human figures and buildings all depicted on a very small scale. The subjects are often connected with religious sites, as is the case with this replica of the miniature fresco of the Tripartite Shrine. Blue Bird FrescoThe replica of the Blue Bird Fresco. The original was found in the House of the Frescoes, northwest of the palace of Knossos. The bird is shown in a setting of veined rocks surrounded by irises and wild roses. Blue Monkey frescoThe copy of the Blue Monkey Fresco. The original was found in the House of the Frescoes, northwest of the palace of Knossos.
Ladies in Blue FrescoThe replica of the Ladies in Blue Fresco. The original adorned the large ante-chamber of the Throne Room in the East Wing of the palace. The ladies of the court, dressed with great elegance according to the fashion of the day, engage in conversation. West MagazinesThe famous West Magazines of the ground floor are visible below the Piano Nobile. These were 18 long, narrow storerooms. In each magazine, along the walls, there were rows of enormous pithoi full of oil or wine. Under the floor there was a row of stone cists - some lined with lead - known as kaselles. There were 98 sunken cists in all used for the safe keeping of precious objects or, if coated with plaster inside, for liquids. It has been estimated that the storerooms could hold more than 400 pithoi with a total capacity of 78,000 liters. There were several building phases in the magazines as is indicated by the addition of smaller kaselles inside earlier ones (foreground). Kouloures in the West CourtThe three circular walled pits called kouloures located in the West Court as seen from the west facade of the palace. The kouloures belong to the period of the first palace and were most probably sacred depositories for the refuse (used ritual vessels and remains of offerings) from the palace shrines. When the second palace was built, the kouloures fell into disuse and were covered.
Throne RoomThe Throne Room, located on the ground floor of the West Wing of the palace. Stone benches run around three of its walls with a space in the center of the north wall to accommodate the throne. The famous gypsum throne, probably the oldest known throne in Europe, was found in situ. To the right and left of the throne are copies of wall-paintings with griffins, mythical creatures with a lion's body and an eagle's head, sitting among stylized flowers guarding the royal throne. The door in the west wall led into the Inner Sanctuary. Throne Room & Lustral BasinIn the south part of the Throne room, separated by a bench and a balustrade with wooden columns, is a rectangular space with a sunken floor laid with gypsum flags. A flight of six steps leads down into it. The walls all around it are faced with a dado of gypsum slabs with red plaster above. Areas with this architectural form have been named Lustral Basins. It is believed that they were used for some type of ritual to cleanse the body and soul. Medallion PithoiMagazine of the Medallion Pithoi. All of the Cretan palaces had large store rooms containing pithoi holding grains, wine, oil, and other commodities.
Grand StaircaseThe Grand Staircase is situated near the middle of the East Wing and is generally regarded as the crowning achievement of Minoan architecture. Almost five flights are preserved. The columns on the side nearest the staircase stood on a stepped parapet. The sockets into which the columns' bases fitted are still visible. The columns have been restored. Minoan columns were generally made of wood, as were their capitals, which is why they have not survived. Hall of the Royal GuardThis balcony of the Grand Staircase is called the Hall of the Royal Guard. There would certainly have been guards permanently posted on each landing of the Grand Staircase to check on persons going in and out of the royal apartments, workshops and storerooms. The landing is decorated with a copy of the fresco of figure-of-eight shields. On the right is the door leading into the Upper Hall of the Queen.  Hall of the Double AxesThe restored Hall of the Double Axes with a replica of the King's wooden throne set against the wall. Gypsum slabs were used for the floor paving and as a facing for the walls up to a certain height, above which was a continuous spiral painted on the wall plaster. Large figure-of-eight shields, similar to those depicted in the wall-painting at left, may have been hung above the gypsum dado on the wall behind the throne. The shields were made of ox hide and their shape was intended to ward off enemy blows.
East WingThe Queen's Hall in the East Wing of the palace.  Queen's HallThe walls of the restored Queen's Hall are adorned with copies of the Dolphin fresco (north wall) and the Dancing Girl Fresco (in the embrasure of the east window). A later fresco of continuous spirals was painted over an earlier one with a design of rosettes. To the right of the entrance door is a door (now closed by a grille) leading to a private staircase to the upper floor.  House of the Chancel ScreenThe House of the Chancel Screen is located outside the southeast sector of the palace, almost touching the corner of the palace. It has been partially roofed.  Only the ground floor has survived. Beyond the balustrade, with its central gateway flanked by two columns, two steps lead up to a raised dais on which stands a base for a throne or an altar.
Giant PithoiThe Magazines of the Giant Pithoi, now roofed over, comprise part of the storerooms of the Old Palace. Giant PithoiThe huge Protopalatial storage jars of the Magazines of the Giant Pithoi recall the Cretan myth of Glaukos, son of Minos, who was drowned in a pithos full of honey.
North Entrance PassageThe North Entrance Passage, a steep open-air ramp with a paved floor, located in the North Wing of the palace. It was originally wider but in the Neopalatial period its width was reduced by the construction of bastions on both sides, each with a colonnaded verandah above. Visible in the background is the restored West Bastion. West BastionThe restored West Bastion of the North Entrance Passage. The North Lustral Area is also visible in the background. Bull in an Olive GroveThe West Bastion features a copy of the relief fresco of the Bull in an Olive Grove. It shows the capture of a wild bull in a landscape with olive trees. The strength and terror of the bull are vividly captured in the rendering of the head.
North Lustral AreaThe North Lustral Area contained the largest and deepest of all the lustral basins in the palace of Knossos. North Lustral AreaThe restored North Lustral Area was built of ashlared limestone blocks with a dado of gypsum slabs on the walls and gypsum floor paving. North Lustral Area stepsThe North Lustral Area has steps on three sides, columns on a parapet on two sides and similar columns on the balustrade of the staircase leading down into it.
Theatrical AreaThe Theatrical Area lies outside the palace not far from the northwest corner.  It is a paved court traversed by a raised Processional Way and bordered by steps on its east and south sides. At the southeast corner of the Theater, in the angle between the two banks of steps, there is a bastion-like structure which is believed to have been a sort of royal box for the king and his family. The North Lustral Area is visible in the background (left) as well as the northern part of the West Wing of the palace (right).  Processional Way from the eastThe Processional Way continues westwards from the Theater through part of the town. A number of houses, including the Arsenal and the House of the Frescoes, have been found on both sides of the road which linked the palace of Knossos with the Little Palace. Royal Road from the westThe Processional Way was called the Royal Road. It is possible to imagine that on feast days a procession would set off from the Little Palace to the Theatrical Area following this route which has been described as "the oldest road in Europe".

 
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