The Fascinating History of Crete
The ancient site of the Palace of Phaistos lies 62 kms south of Heraklion, in the central south of the island of Crete in Greece.
It is also known as Phaestos, Festos or Phaestus.
This site is significant in European history as records indicate it was inhabited since the Neolithic age, that being roughly since 4000BC. The lush valley of the Messara provided plenty of sustenance to early communities and succeeding societies.
In prehistoric times, types of dwarf elephant and dwarf hippopotamus lived here, although these species are now extinct, and the area is now known for its market gardens producing vegetables and thousands of acres of olive groves.
The site now contains Minoan ruins from the Palace of Phaistós, considered the second-most important Minoan palace on the island. The ruins are extensive and worthy of a day’s visit. The views across the valley and over to the Psiloritis mountains are an added pleasure whilst exploring the site.
The most intriguing artifact found here was the Phaistos Disc. This circular flat clay tablet is dated around 1500BC and shows a number of imprints of symbols, leading to many different interpretations of its use and meaning, still not resolved to this day. The symbology found on the disc resembles the symbology found on clay seals found in many archeological sites throughout the Mediterranean and thought to be some early trading record.
The Phaistós Disk is now displayed at the Archeological Museum of Heraklion.
Other structures were built on this same site during the Hellenistic period, including the Temple of Rhea. During Roman occupation the nearby city of Gortys prevailed, leaving these settlements in ruin.
The site lies just off the national road 9 kms south of the town of Mires.
There is a comprehensive bookstore, café and souvenir store at the site, and plenty of parking.
Be careful to check opening hours during the off-season as the hours may vary.
A day trip to Phaistós can easily be combined with a visit to the beach at Matala, where there are also ruins of roman caves and a very interesting history.
Another nearby beachside village is Kokkinos Pirgos, a sleepy fishing village on the south coast where visitors combine sea, sand and history.