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Ancient Minoan Culture
Palaces of Crete

Blue Birds Fresco - Knossos

Experiencing the Ancient Minoan Culture & 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.

Minoan Ancient Sites

See below for a brief taste of each palace.

Knossos Palace
5 km from Heraklion in central Crete

Phaistos Palace
62 km from Heraklion in central Crete

Malia Palace
40 km from Heraklion in central Crete

Zakros Palace
50 km from Sitia in eastern Crete

Knossós Palace

Knossos in a lush valley

Knossós is one of the most intriguing ancient Minoan culture and 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.

Knossos - large jars or pithoi (image by alljengi)Large jars or pithoi on the site of Knossos Palace

Sir Arthur Evans
purchased 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. 

It is not often recorded that a local Cretan man, Minos Kalokairinos, discovered the site in 1878. The subsequent diggings and discoveries were undertaken later by Evans.

The Throne Room of Knossos with Griffin Fresco Iimage by János Korom Dr.)The Throne Room of Knossos with Griffin Fresco

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. 

We would suggest visiting in the morning to get ahead of the crowds, and if you are serious about your history, visit in the quieter seasons of spring or autumn, to avoid crowds. See more tips for visiting Knossos below.

All about Knossos

Tips for visiting Knossos

Knossos Maps

Malia Palace

Malia site - ancient stones

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 Heraklion, such as large ceramic pitharia or storage jars. This museum displays most of the artefacts and frescoes of the ancient Minoan palaces of Crete.

Minoan Culture & Palaces
Phaistos Palace

Phaistos or Festos site

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.

Zákros Palace

Zakros site near beach of Kato Zakros

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 culture and 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.

On the Map

See below the locations of the Minoan culture and palaces on the map of Crete.

Knossos propylaeon or entrance gate with frescoKnossos propylaeon or entrance gate with fresco


Allow a knowledgable history guide to show you the Minoan culture and its intricacies with these experiences all over Crete. The stories from those passionate about the layered history of this island will fascinate.

See the extensive collection of Minoan cultural artefacts in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. This 90 minute guided tour allows history of Minoan culture to unfold.

Half-Day Knossos Palace Tour - 5.5 hour tour includes Koules Fortress and Agios Titos church in Heraklion as well as a guided tour of the archaeological site. See the controversial reconstructions completed by the archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans, and hear the stories of the labyrinth from your experienced history guide.

Take a Knossos Palace Tour - there are a variety of guided experiences available, from a Skip The Line entry ticket with a guide for 90 minutes, to a 12 hour day tour which includes Knossos and Lasithi Plateau.

Getting Here

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We trust you have enjoyed these tips from the We Love Crete team. Evíva!

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