Experiencing the Ancient Minoan Palaces of Crete is a highlight for many visitors to the island, and a matter of pride for Cretans returning from the diaspora.
The four palaces show us the Minoan civilization which has been recorded as the first in Europe. Certainly it was an interesting artistic culture. The frescoes in Knossos (left) give us an impression of the people as sophisticated and nature-loving.
See below for a brief taste of each palace.
5 km from Iraklion in central Crete
62 km from Iraklion in central Crete
40 km from Iraklion in central Crete
50 km from Sitia in eastern Crete
is one of the most intriguing ancient Minoan palaces of Crete. This is a
very popular destination and in summer is extremely busy. If you don't
want crowds, visit in spring or autumn or, at the very least, start as
early as possible in the morning. This was the legendary home to King
Minos, and we see the motif of the bull, bull horns and bull frescoes,
throughout the Palace.
Sir Arthur Evans bought the land where the site lay from the departing Turks at the beginning of the 20th century. He had discovered Knossos almost by chance, whilst seeking seal stones, he then proceeded to excavate and recreate the palace as he saw it. This is almost unheard of in archaeology, especially in modern times. The result is quite astonishing. Some like it, some don't. You really have to see it to appreciate the enormity of the undertaking, let alone the aesthetics of the restoration of Minoan civilization.
The palace dates from 2000 BC and is now managed by Hellenic Ministry of Culture. Highlights include the frescoes, the throne room and the inner sanctum. For us, simply the location is magic. We can understand why a Goddess worshipping culture would choose to place a palace here; it is a naturally nurturing environment.
All about Knossos...
Malia Palace is close to the sea, dating from 1900 BC. This palace was built at the same time as Knossos and Phaistos. Tablets with Linear A script were found here, also famous is the Room of the Panther, where a stone axe shaped like a panther, dating from 1700 BC, was discovered. Many artefacts have been gathered from this site and displayed at the Archaeological Museum of Iraklion, such as large ceramic pitharia or storage jars. This museum displays most of the artefacts and frescoes of the ancient Minoan palaces of Crete.
The Palace of Phaistos, located in the naturally fertile Messara valley, was built on a slight rise giving an impressive strategic setting and domination over the whole area. Behind the palace and up from the plains of the Messara rise the foothills of Psiloritis mountain range.
Phaistos Palace was built around 2000 BC, there is no doubt it was the same civilisation as the palace at Knossos. Excavations of this site revealed the now famous Phaistos Disk (also spelt Festos). This ceramic disk has an unknown script, ancient, but distinct from Linear A and B scripts so far identified by archaeologists. Debate and research still continues about the disk.
The last of the major palaces to be discovered, Zákros Palace is located near the sea at the very eastern tip of Crete, close to the fishing village of Kato Zakros.
In a beautiful location, it is well worth a visit to this more remote
part of Crete to see the excavations in relative quiet compared to the
crazy crowds at Knossos. Extraordinary artifacts such as the beautiful rock crystal vase and stone bull's head were discovered at this palace.
The ancient Minoan palaces of Crete are covered in good guide books and there is extensive information available at the museum of Heraklion and at each site entrance. The historical sites are well managed and thoroughly enjoyable to visit.
See below the locations of the palaces on the map of Crete...