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Knossos (Knossos, Greece)

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      25.09.2010 22:40
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      The labyrinth seems to be a real as the stories!

      Getting There:

      Knossos is on the island of Crete not too far from Heraklion.We visited Knossos the same day as we drove to Eloundra to visit Spinalonga. We had a day away from the grandchildren as we thought neither of these places were that child friendly.


      Knossos was well signed from just near Heraklion and as we approached the site we were waved into a car park on the way - luckily we missed the first one as the second carpark had plenty of trees for shade and was free provided you called in to buy a drink in the cafe. This was no punishment as we needed a cool drink and snack after the walk around Knossos so we popped in after our visit to the Palace of Knossos which was a few minutes' walk down the road.

      Nearly in there:

      The entrance fee was 6 Euros each - 3 Euros concession - you entered the site though a shaded vine covered tunnel. It is quite a large site and a lot has been restored according to the interpretation of Arthur Evans which some people are critical of but as I am unable to look at a pile of stones and imagine what the place looked like before - I was quite pleased to have his help.


      As you enter the area there are a number of people who offer their services as guide but neither of us wanted to spend hours having everything explained so we declined their kind, rather persistent offers. There were plenty of labels around the place explaining what things were and what they might have looked like so with those and a guide book we were fine.


      What a load of bull:

      Before we go in I want to remind you of the legends around this palace from the Greek myths most of us learn about (the more censored versions) in Primary school.

      King Minos was asked to sacrifice a bull but couldn't kill it because it was so beautiful. The God Poseidon who had given him the bull was very angry and as a punishment made Minos' wife fall in love with a bull. The queen asked Daedalus to construct a wooden cow covered in cow skin and into this she climbed to entice the bull to mate with her!! She then gave birth to the Minotaur with the body of a man and the head of a bull. A very strange story and this part is glossed over in primary schools.
      Unsurprisingly King Minos was not thrilled and banished the minotaur into the layrinth of the palace. In order to keep the minotaur appeased and to punish Daedalus he insisted that seven young men and seven virgin women from Athens were fed to the minotaur every nine years. This went on for many years until finally Theseus, the Athenian King's son, decided he had had enough and he wanted to kill the Minotaur and end the suffering of the Atheneans. He volunteered to be one of the seven sacrificial young men.

      Ariadne the daughter of King Minos fell in love with Theseus and she gave him a ball of thread to unroll as he went into the labyrinth so that he could find his way out should he succeed in killing the beast. He was triumphant and did manage to get out of the maze but it was not a 'happy ever after' story.

      Theseus promised to marry Ariadne he set sail on the return journey with Ariadne and the young people he had saved.

      On the returned trip the ship stopped at Naxos, where Ariadne fell asleep on the shore, and when she awaked the next day Theseus' ship had already sailed. Some legends say that Theseus loved another woman while others say he was ordered by Dionysus to abandon Ariadne as he wanted to marry her himself. After the ship sailed the god, Dionysus arrived in his chariot and took Ariadne to Olympus. I'm not sure that Ariadne had any say in the matter at all.


      Theseus now upset at abandoning Ariadne, forgot to change the ship's sail from black to white as was arranged with his father to signal a successful mission. Aegeus, his father saw the black sail and thinking that Theseus had been killed threw himself into the sea; and this is what we now called the Aegean Sea.

      Daedalus who had annoyed the King by building the fake cow was imprisoned in the palace. He escaped with his son Icarus by making wings to fly using wax to fix them to their arms. Icarus flew too near the sun and so the wax melted and he fell into the sea and drowned. Daedalus, however, succeeded in flying as far as Sicily which is backed up by the fact that Minoan artefacts have been found there.


      Okay story time overand on to discovering the site

      This site was part of the Minoan empire and was occupied between 7,000BC and 3,000BC.Its most famous claim to fame is that this was the palace of the legendary King Minos. The Palace is mentioned in ancient Greek legends including the Labyrinth with the Minotaur, and the story of Daedalus and Icarus. This is the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete and was probably the ceremonial and political centre of the Minoan civilization and culture.


      Stories about a great palace existed for years but it was not until 1878 that the remains of this place were discovered by a local Archaeologist called Minos Kalokairinos. Between 1900 and 1931 a British Archaeologist called Arthur Evans set about excavating the area and planned on restoring the Palace to its former glory.

      He dedicated his life to the excavation and restoration of the Palace of Knossos and his discoveries amazed even the most sceptical Archaeologists of the day. By the time the excavation was complete four separate wings had been exposed arranged around a Central Courtyard which contained the Royal Quarters, Workshops, Shrines, Storerooms, Repositories, the Throne Room and Banquet Halls.

      The work of Sir Arthur Evans spent the rest of his life studying and excavating the site until his death in 1941. It was this man who gave the civilisation the name 'Minoans'. As I mentioned before many purists would have preferred the site to be excavated and not restored but from the point of view of a non- expert I was quite glad of the restorations which gave me an idea of what the piles of stones might have looked like.


      My visit and where is this labyrinth?

      I have to confess that I was very ignorant prior to my visit as I thought that there was going to be some sort of remains of a labyrinth so I was very disappointed to find that the labyrinth never existed - it was only a myth. I thought that the myth was based on the fact that there was a labyrinth but that appears not to be.

      The location of the labyrinth of this legend has been argued for years in Minoan studies. It has been suggested that it might have been the name of the palace or of some portion of the palace. It is possible that the palace was a great sacrificial centre and could have been named the Labyrinth. The layout is certainly rather like a labyrinth in that it is somewhat maze like, intricate and confusing.

      The modern meaning of labyrinth is, of course, that of a twisting maze and is based on the Greek myth which mentions King Minos, Crete and the Minotaur.


      Girls are white and boys are brownish

      Like other reconstructions many of the frescoes found were only fragments when discovered and the fresco reconstruction and placement by the artist Piet de Jong is also very controversial and historical circles. Something that I found fascinating was the fact that in their art is the men are given brownish skin and the women have milky white skin. I wonder if that was a sign of beauty of the fact that the men worked outside and the women stayed in doing domestic things.

      Some of the frescoes are in the museum in Heraklion but there are a number of interesting fresco paintings around the palace including the 'ladies in blue' on the east wing of the palace and 'La Parisienne 'which is a representation of a priestess or goddess from about 1400BC.


      So what do I think?

      The site covers a huge area and it is quite possible to spend three or four hours walking around the site. Many of the areas that have been excavated have been roped off to protect them I quite liked the recreations where you could see how that particular room would have actually looked.

      It is very hot in the summer months and there is not a lot of shade around so it is vital to remember water to drink, cover up to avoid sunburn and wear sunscreen. This is not a place I would bring children to as there really isn't much of interest for them unless they are very interested in Greek history. Even if they enjoy the Greek myths this place doesn't really add anything to the stories.

      It was an interesting historical site but I was disappointed by the fact that there was no labyrinth. I thought that the story was built up around some sort of fact after all Minoan artefacts have been found on Sicily which backs up the Daedalus and Icarus story.

      So be prepared - there is no labyrinth but it is worth a visit as it is Crete's best known tourist attraction apart from the weather.

      Thanks for reading, hope this has been of some interest. This review may be posted in other sites under my same user name.

      © catsholiday

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        24.06.2009 10:56
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        In its current state of management, not much cop.

        This has to be one of the most over-hyped, and yet in practice really rather mediocre ancient monuments I've ever visited.

        Happily, you're safe from ever having to visit Knossos, which is the palace / capital city of the Minoan King Minos, unless you happen to be visiting North Crete. It's very near the Cretean capital, Heraklion (or Iraklio, if you're Greek), about a 10 to 15 minute bus ride out from the city's main bus station. One of the cheif reasons why we chose this particular destination, as opposed to one of the myriad other Mediterreanean options open to us as package holiday makers, was that Crete was the seat of the Minoan civilization, which flourished about 1000 - 2000 years BC. We were initially were very interested in seeing artifacts from this area and so it seemed that a visit to Knossos - allegedly the best Minoan site of the lot - would be a highlight of our trip.

        That picture of the many-columned Parthenon, which I believe is in Athens, that at the time of writing accompanies this review heading, is nothing like what Knossos is like. Knossos looks mostly like a big pile of rubble, strewn over the surface of the ground, and under it, apart from the parts that have been - some say, 'unsympathetically' - "restored" by the British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans. This 'restoration work' took place in the 1900s and was reportedly carried out by people who have no real idea of what Minoan palaces actually looked like, because nobody does, the Mionan civilization having been completely destroyed by an earthquake (/tidal wave?) predating the time of the Ancient Greeks. Hence the archaeologists involved apparently felt free to let their imaginations run riot. What the resultant reconstructions look like turns out to be a lot like something out of the long lamented BBC TV series 'Changing Rooms' - in which people in possession of quite ordinary looking suburban houses would go out for a few days and come back to find their living room, bedroom etc. transformed by a team of mostly colour-blind designers into the interior of a 16th century middle eastern brothel, or a Georgian ale-house, the Captain's deck of the 'Titanic' or the bottom of the sea etc.

        The Sir Arthur Evans changing-rooms style handiwork is mostly made of concrete coloured dull ochre-red, with details picked out in black, white and gold. Sounds highly tasteful, no? A lot of people apparently find these restorations garish and quite objectionable, but to my mind, there is not nearly enough of this sort of stuff. They bring a welcome dash of colour to a whole pile what of it otherwise, well, difficult to tell what you're looking at exactly. There are information boards dotted throughout the site - this being Crete, not many of them - but the information they tell you is largely descriptive and therefore not much cop. 'This part was a road with a three storey building on one side', 'here are what we think are some storage areas' (say what you like about the Minoans, but they had a heck of a lot of areas - a suspisciously large amount of space, in fact - set aside for storage, according to those boards....which I supose would at least continue the 'Changing Rooms' theme then).

        I have a problem with this. If you want people to pay to visit an ancient monument (6 Euros per person, at the time of writing) it either has to be pretty spectaclar - like, say, the Parthenon, which Knossos absolutely isn't - or if it is, like Knossos, an ancient monument that is basically stonework reduced to a pile of rubble you need to have some pretty kick-ass information available on site on it, that'll provide visitors with a real sense of life and the goings-on that took place there in bygone times. This, at Knossos, is sorely lacking. The place is hooching with tourists, many of whom are on guided tours. I listened in on a couple of these, but wasn't greatly enlightened:

        "This is an area we think they used for storage, as in this alcove were found a number of storage jars"

        "This area is a road that led to the main palace"

        ...and so on. The tourists, unanimously, look bored out of their minds; on such a tour a good guide would be able to extract at least some level of interest from far less promising source material.

        All this said, it isn't specifically Knossos itself that I'm objecting to; in better hands this could be a far more impressive attraction, but to my mind the authorities who run this site have become complacent and rely upon the city's (I would say, in its current condition undeserved) reputation to bring in visitors. It was, for me, an utter disappointment.

        Incidentally, it's also over-staffed with many, I would say overly officious superintendants, who blow whistles at surpised visitors who they see transgressing any of the site's many (unwritten, unpublicized) rules - the two most commonly broken of which I can deduce are (1) climbing on the ancient monuments (as if Sir Arthur Evan's restorations in concrete hadn't already knocked seven bells out of them) and (2) smoking on the site. The latter is only a rule applying to tourists; from what I saw Greek or otherwise local smokers at Knossos evidently, are openly tolerated.

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          26.05.2009 18:15
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          Great family trip.

          On a trip to Crete in 2008 we visited Knossos. My son had just finished KS2 at primary school and they had done a lot of work on Greek Myths and he was particularly keen to visit the site. Having a child keen to visit ancient remains is an opportunity not to be missed so I booked our visit!

          The Palace of Knossos is on a huge site showing a very complicated building plan. It is easy to see how the legend of the Labyrinth and the Minotaur came about. Bulls did used to run inside the palace on festival days and it seems that the Greek word for Labyrinth is very close to a word for the two-headed axe symbol which appears a lot around the Palace.

          Some of the palace was reconstructed by Sir Arthur Evans in the early 1900s. There are parts of stairways, painted dolphin rooms and the enormous canopic jars are not to be missed. We queued for ages to view a very small room which contained a small throne and some wall paintings, to be honest they were not terribly impressive and I wouldn't queue again. The scope of the palace was the most impressive part and we had one of the local guides who was very knowledgable but didn't realise that us brits wilt in the heat and we kept having to try and find shade (there isn't a lot!)

          There were lovely views from the back of the palace over the surrounding area.

          It is an excursion I would certainly recommend if you are in Crete and certainly appeals to all the family which is always a bonus.

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            16.10.2008 19:13
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            The Palace of Knossos at Crete

            As a Classics graduate, I love going on holiday to Greece and when I ended up in Crete this year, a trip to Knossos was high up on my to-do list.

            Knossos was a Minoan palace and centre of the Minoan world, but was excavated fairly recently (1900) by the British archaeologist Arthur Evans. In Greek mythology, Knossos was home of King Minos and is also home to the myth of the half-human, half-bull figure, the Minotaur.

            Knossos is situated near the northern coast of Crete, near the major Cretan town of Heraklion. If you're staying in a touristy area of Crete, there is a good chance that you'll be able to book a trip to Knossos through a local tour company. This is how I got to Knossos and cost me 30 euros. The cost of the trip did not cover entrance to Knossos itself, however. Entrance fees to archaeological sites in Greece are generally fairly reasonable but are free to senior citizens and students at universities and colleges within the European Economic Community.

            Knossos, however, is one of the most manic of the Greek archaeological sites. Like Delphi or the Acropolis at Athens it is a complete tourist trap and if your are using your own transport, or indeed, travelling using public transport and/or taxis to get here, you should plan your trip early in the morning, if possible. By about 11am the bus tours are arriving for the tourist resorts and you'll find yourself lost amidst a sea of bodies if you don't manage to avoid them.

            Don't expect a professional approach to presenting the site like you would get here from a site owned by Historic Scotland, the National Trust or a similar body. Greek sites in general don't tend to be particularly well-presented. If you are able to, buy a guide book or pay for the services of a tour guide to take you round the remains as there isn't sign posts and information boards like you would expect here. Knossos has been partially reconstructed with some areas painted etc. to make the site more easily understood by the public, but certainly a guide or guidebook would help you get the most out of the site.

            Another thing to be wary of is the amount of time that you might spend queueing. As part of a tour group, I found myself queueing to look in rooms quite frequently as lots of the room are quite small and there is such a large number of tour groups prowling around. This is especially inconvenient if you visit during the heat of the day in the summer months. I visited in August and one woman fainted from standing out in the sun so long, so come prepared with sun screen, a hat and some water.

            Also, if you have limited mobility, its probably best to give Knossos a miss. Greek archaeological sites are not as accessible as British ones and the ground is very uneven in parts.

            There are further archaeological artefacts available for viewing in the museum at Heraklion, many of them from Knossos, but this will involve paying another entrance fee and travelling into the town.

            All in all, Knossos is an interesting place to visit, but is often too busy to be fully enjoyed and can be confusing due to the lack of information provided around the site. It is, however, standard of Greek tourist attractions in general and is no better or worse than most of them. Entrance fees are relatively inexpensive, however, so its worth giving it a visit if you're in Crete as long as you don't expect it to be presented as well as heritage sites in Britain.

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              11.01.2006 21:55
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              The European civilisation was born here.

              Today I want to tell you why Europe is called Europe, come with me to Crete, to the Palace of Knossòs (stress on the second syllable) to be precise, and I’ll tell you the myth and also some others which you may already have heard or read about but maybe don’t associate with this Greek island.

              We’re in the Bronze Age, in the third millenium BC , one day Zeus, the leader of the gods, who was born on Crete, fell in love with the Phoenician princess Europa (aha!), he transmogrified into a snow-white bull and appeared in front of the maiden who was struck by its beauty and climbed on its back. The bull ran into the water and once safe at sea revealed its true identity, then swam west to the island of Crete [the Cretans were supposed to have come from Phoenician settlements in Asia Minor].

              After reaching the coast Zeus changed back into his original shape, copulated with Europa and bigat triplets one of which was called Minos (later this name came to mean ’king’, the period from 2600 BC – 1420 BC is known as the Minoan one), making her the founding mother of the first literate civilisation in this part of the world. Zeus soon abandoned Europa for new amorous adventurers, she married the king of Crete who raised her children, Minos succeeded his step-father on the throne.

              Once Minos wanted to sacrifice a bull but couldn’t kill it because it was so beautiful, Poseidon who had given him the animal was miffed and as a revenge made Minos’ wife fall in love with a bull [They had it with bulls in those days, the bull cult was an import from Egypt with which Crete had close relations, the Cretans got bulls from Egypt in exchange for honey, grain and olive oil]. The queen turned to Daedalus for help, an architect and craftsman from Athens, who constructed a wooden cow covered in real hide into which the queen climbed to mate with the bull (don’t ask!), the result of this union was Minotaur with the body of a man and the head of a bull.

              Not surprisingly King Minos was outraged and banned the freak into the maze like cellar of the palace Daedalus had built, he ordered that Minotaur was to be fed seven young men and seven virgin women who had to be sent from Athens every nine years [the Atheneans had been conquered and subjugated by the Cretans], when this had been going on for some time, Theseus, the Athenian King’s son, volunteered to be one of the seven sacrificial young men, he wanted to kill the Minotaur and end the suffering of the Atheneans.

              Ariadne, King Minos’ daughter, fell in love with Theseus and gave him a ball of thread which he unwrapped entering the maze like cellar, he killed the Minotaur and found his way out again by following the thread back to the entrance.

              Daedalus who had aroused the King’s wrath by building the fake cow was also imprisoned in the palace, he escaped with his son Icarus adjusting wax wings to their arms; Icarus overwhelmed by the height and the speed they reached went too near the sun, the wax melted, he fell into the sea and drowned, his father Daedalus, however, succeeded in flying as far as Sicily [Minoan artefacts have been found there].

              Of course, it’s not necessary to know all this, but it certainly helps to get a feeling for the place. We visited at the end of October shortly before the end of the tourist season, we had bought an elaborate guidebook and intended to walk through the site on our own after paying 6€ (concession 4€) for the ticket, but then a woman addressed us in German and invited us/talked us into a guided tour for 8 € each, quite expensive in addition to the entrance ticket, but tell you what, I’m glad she did. She said that following our guide book we’d need about three hours until we would have figured out what was what whereas the guided tour would only last one hour and we’d understand everything at once. Right she was, our guide was a young teacher of German (Why wasn’t he at school? There are no autumn hols in Greece!) who led us through the site, stressed what was important and repeated the most important facts, pedagogue that he was.

              Right behind the entrance is a small column with the bust of Sir Arthur Evans (1851 – 1941), the British archaeologist who bought the site at the end of the 19th century convinced he’d find the Palace of Knossos there, he was not mistaken, together with his team he excavated the site for more than thirty years, he partly restored the palace according to his ideas pleasing the visitors, enraging many archaeologists, his enemies claim he consciously manipulated facts to arrive at his version of Minoan civilisation, some even speak of Disneyfication.

              Well, the Palace of Knossos is the largest archaeological site on Crete, there are some other sites of former Minoan palaces in other parts of the island where the visitors find only ruins, heaps of stones scattered everywhere which mean nothing to the untrained eye; I’m grateful for Evans’ work, I’ve got difficulties enough as it is to complete the whole palace in my imagination. I know that hardcore archaeologists disagree, but I’m a layperson, I simply can’t construct a complete building in my mind when I see only the base of a column.

              When we came to the first wall, the guide pointed to a double axe chiselled into the stone, the symbol stood for power, ‘double axe’ is ‘labrys’ in Greek, the term ‘labyrinth’ means only the palace of the double axe, nothing more, it does not mean maze. As the structure was like a maze with around 1000 rooms the two terms have got mixed and now the guides are nearly driven crazy when at the end of the tour the tourists who haven’t listened attentively come and ask, “And where is the labyrinth, please?” The palace
              * is * the labyrinth!

              It had four wings with several storeys arranged around a rectangular central court, tourists can see the throne room with the oldest throne of humankind, a simple stone chair (a replica is standing in the European Court of Justice in Den Haag), some restored frescoes adorn the walls. One can see many storerooms with huge vase-like jars that contained oil, Evans calculated that all in all around 19 000 gallons of oil were stored in the palace, the many kitchens, residences and workshops prove that the palace was an enormous site, unfortunately these rooms can’t be visited at the moment. The inhabitants are believed to have lived in luxurious conditions, the palace had a drainage system, luxurious bathrooms, ventilation, water conduits and waste chutes, things that after the destruction of the palace were forgotten and had to be reinvented thousands of years later.

              The guide made us look at the surrounding barren landscape and told us to imagine it in lush green, the mountainsides covered by forests, when the palace was built, the climate on Crete was subtropical, it was so warm that people didn’t wear much, we know from frescoes that women didn’t cove their breasts. The palace is situated on a hill, a river was flowing at its foot which could take boats to and from the sea (now there is not a drop of water), the palace was not surrounded by walls, the Minoan period was a peaceful one according to historians and archaeologists, troops were only kept for decoration. I don’t know if that is true, but I certainly like the idea!

              Our group consisted of eight people, we walked slowly across the site, looked at whatever there was to look at for as long as we liked, it was very relaxing and just the way it should be. Besides us there were approximately 50 other tourists, we shuddered when the guide told us that in summer every day around 10 000 (!) tourists visit the site, waiting for up to one hour to peep at the throne with temperatures of 35°C and no shade, I think I’d rather do without this cultural experience than undergo such torture!

              Ropes mark the way the masses take/have to take through the site in order to avoid total chaos, we could walk wherever we wanted, walking is difficult, though, handicapped people can forget Knossos, even healthy people should have the fitness of a mountain goat if they don’t want to sprain their ankles, thousands of years and the feet of millions of tourists have left their traces on the paving stones.

              The building of the palace was begun in 2000 BC, it was destroyed three times, in 1700 BC after a massive earthquake, then it was rebuilt and destroyed again following a tsunami and a devastating fire connected to the volcanic eruption of the neighbouring island of Santorini, the final destruction came when peoples from mainland Greece invaded the island.

              Filled to the brim with information we left the site not before using the (clean) loos at the exit and went to the bus-stop outside to go to the Archaeological Museum in Heraklion where the findings of Knossos are displayed, but that’s another story . . .

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