Who were the Minoans? We know that they were a civilisation that inhabited Crete over 4000 years ago. Do we understand exactly who they were when so much of their history is entwined in Mythology?
The Minoans never developed an army since they had no enemies, maybe that is why mythology became such an important and integral part of their lives. Many questions regarding the Minoan civilisation remained unanswered until the dawning of the 20th century.
Enter Arthur Evans - born into a wealthy British family, a bright boy who attended Harrow School, then Oxford University, and who later became keeper of the prestigious Ashmolean collection.
He travelled to Crete, and whilst there became convinced that a typical olive tree covered hillside close to Irakleio was the site of the ancient Palace of Knossos.
Crete's liberation from the Ottoman rule in 1898, four years after his visit, then made it possible for him to buy the land and he began work excavating it in 1900. He endeavoured to find sponsors and help, but no one had any interest in sponsoring or working on what was considered at the time to be simply "fairy tales". Evans decided to fund all of the work himself, paying colleagues and friends to assist him - his belief in his own conviction was deep and profoundly held. Unbelievably within the first few months of excavating he hit the jack pot by discovering the palace's 4000 year old 'throne room' much to everyone's surprise, that is, apart from Evans himself.
The two storeys in the eastern wing are connected to one another by means of a system of stairways know as the Grand Staircase. There are a total of four flights of stairs, two for each storey.
There is some controversy connected with the restoration work carried out at Knossos which involved the re-creation of several Minoan frescoes by Piet de Jong and Emile Gilliéron. They worked with Evans to make sense of the wall painting fragments that were found - the original fragments and reconstruction of which can be seen today at the museum in Irakleio. I personally liked them, they gave me a sense of just how colourful and attractive the Palace must have been.
A bull fresco adorns the Northern Propylaea. Images of sacred bulls outlasted the Minoan civilisation which in turn helped to foster the legend of the Labyrinth and the Minotaur.
This Northern Propylaea was the main gateway to the palace complex.
An entrance ramp is located just below the propylaea seen to the left. Large robust square columns lined the entrance, which along with the floors were all made out of polished white alabaster. It would have all looked absolutely incredible - pure white, translucent and highly polished.
The entrance then leads on down to The Royal Road which is the last vestige of a Minoan road. This connected the port and harbour to the palace complex, thus providing travellers with easy access to the palace. This area also acted as a reception courtyard - the Royal family would entertain guests here along with the members of court who would stand on the tiered platforms, parts of which can just be seen on the left.
The Throne Room was the first area that Evans discovered. This chamber was built for ceremonial purposes, and the squat alabaster type dishes were actually found on the floor during excavation. They indicate that a ceremony to propitiate the deity was actually in progress at the time of the palaces destruction.
There is much more to see than I have shown, but this print gives some indication of how the palace looked and also the large area that it covered. It is now known that it wasn't just a palace, but also a ceremonial and political centre for the Minoan civilisation and culture.
The indications are that the most likely cause of the devastating destruction of the palace was due to fire and a large earthquake in 1700BC.