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Minoan Palace of Mystery


Column at Knossos

Cretans employed vivid colors. The shape may have softened the effect of earthquakes.

Copyright Alex Delos, used by permission

The Road to Knossos

From the narrow, busy road heading from Heraklion to Archanes, the ruins of the heart of Minoan culture are scarcely visible. Visitors pull off into parking lots and walk a few yards to the gate, past a minimalist giftshop and then to a bronze bust of Arthur Evans, the controversial "discoverer" of the palace.

Tip:Private paid parking lots line the road to Knossos, but the official ones nearest the palace are free. The paid lots may still be a good deal during peak tourist periods, but it may save you a walk and save some Euros to check and see if space is available in the lots right by Knossos.

Welcome to the Labyrinth

Knossos, still filled with an ancient, undefinable atmosphere, easily leads visitors astray. The maze of its passageways, now often interrupted and in ruins, seem to shift and twist even as you walk within them, and it's common to become parted from your companions, certain that they turned down that corridor just up ahead, only to find it empty. Paid guides will offer their services at the entrance.

But that's much better than finding the legendary denizen of these corridors, the half-man, half-bull Minotaur said to once be confined within the heart of the palace, the illicit offspring of a mating between Queen Pasiphae and a royal bull she was cursed into loving. Here the hero Theseus was protected by the brave Minoan maiden Ariadne, daughter of King Minos, who gave him a piece of string to find his way back through the tangle of hallways. Alas for Ariadne, Theseus later abandoned her to the embrace of Dionysus on the island of Naxos, or, much less coldly, put her ashore to recover from seasickness and then was swept away from her by a strong wind. With family stories like these, no wonder the atmosphere of Knossos is disturbing.

Even up close, what remains of the buildings are uninspiring, broken now and then by a crimson pillar stretching up unexpectedly between unpainted walls or a restored reproduction of one of the original frescoes showing the slim, beautiful Minoans of both sexes. To the south, the giant "Horns of Consecration" announce the presence of a palace to be reckoned with, powerful long before the "Golden Age of Greece" shifted influence to mainland Greece.

At the time that Knossos was most powerful, Greek cities looked up to Crete. Tribute was sent, in the form of produce and gifts, and, if the legend is correct, young men and women. Additional excavations suggest that Knossos presided over a city of 100,000 people - huge by ancient standards, though Crete itself was known to be densely populated by comparison to the rest of the Grecian world.

Don't Miss:

Knossos can eat time endlessly, but most visitors are impressed by the rows of huge decorated storage jars called pithoi, and the so-called "Throne Room" with a carved chair of stone. Who sat there - king or priest or judge, queen or priestess? Or all? No one knows. All around the site the Cretan countryside in this lush, fertile area competes for attention.

Aside from the "Horns of Consecration" -a name given them by Evans - the other symbol of the Minoans is the labrys. The mystery of the Minoans remains in this symbol, sometimes depicted as a double-edged tool of war, sometimes as a butterfly. There is a debate of opinion between whether the Minoans were immensely peaceful -their palaces have very poor defenses- or if they were such efficient warriors on forays outside their island that no one dared to attack them on their own territory. Wielders of the axe or admirers of the butterfly - visit Knossos and wonder for yourself.

How to Get to Knossos There: Drive about two miles south from the center of Heraklion (Iraklio), on the road to Archanes. Knossos is on the east side of the road; watch for signs and, more reliably, increased congestion and tour buses. Many cruise ships also offer day trips to Knossos when they are in port; try to combine your visit with a visit to the Archaeological Museum of Iraklion, which is second only to the National Archaeological Museum in Athens and well worth seeing.

The Number 2 bus from the main station at the port and from Plateia Eleftherios and other locations also goes to Knossos; if time permits, this may be a much cheaper option than taking the tour from the ship, though you may risk ending up on your own without a guide.

You can also book your own professional tour of Knossos ahead of your trip.

Knossos Admission

7.5 Euro; a special package allows you to visit the Iraklion Archaeological Museum and Knossos for just 10 Euro.

Hungry? There are several surprisingly decent little snack shops, with attendant souvenir racks, directly across the road from Knossos. Keep an eye out for the gift shop offering an extensive collection of inexpensively-priced reproductions of Minoan finds. The ceramic reproductions of the faience snake goddess found at Knossos are much too new looking, despite the welded lead seal asserting that they are official, authentic reproductions, but they're the best you'll see anywhere.

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