Categories
Greece (Crete)

Knossos Palace: A Minoan Culture Club

IMG_0827
Classic photo of the Palace of Knossos. Behind the red columns, you can see the famous Bull Relief Fresco that is shown in the last photo of this article.

Treat yourself to Heraklion, Crete in Greece

“The Minoans. Very smart people,” the guard told me, tapping her index finger on her temple. She had just explained to me (without my asking, by the way… she was that enthusiastic and had walked over on her own to explain) the purpose of a raised ridge near the lip of a large pithoi storage jar at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. The ridge was wide enough to hold a small bit of liquid. Why? To keep ants and other insects from reaching the grain, wine, olives, olive oil, or whatever else was stored inside. Yes, that’s innovative. But that’s the Minoans.

So even though we’ve been amazed at the age of the monuments and temples at Mycenae, Delphi, Athens, and Olympia, none of these are as ancient as Knossos and the greater Minoan culture.

If you’re unfamiliar with Minoan history or culture, here’s a short blurb from the foreword of a book we purchased in the museum’s gift shop. The book is called Knossos: A New Guide to the Palace of Knossos.

“Knossos, the capital city of the Minoan world, is the most important site in Crete and second only to the Acropolis at Athens in all of Greece. It stands as the symbol of the Minoan Civilization, the earliest to evolve in Greece and Europe. “– Dr. Antonis Vasilakis

The introduction continues:

“Knossos is five kilometers southeast of Heraklion, on the hill of Kephala, and west of the river Kairatos. This advantageous location, which controlled one of the most fertile regions in Crete, was to become the heart of the Minoan civilization, considered to be the first in Europe. The hill of Kephala, inhabited continuously since 7000 BC, was the site of the first Neolithic settlement in Crete and over the millennia it grew into the powerful city and palace of Minoan Knossos.” — George Tzorakis, archaeologist

If you’re like me, the Minoan culture has always been a familiar term, but I’ve never really understood it or been able to recognize its art. Sure, my husband has always admired the Minoans, and has even used Minoan art and pottery to inspire his work, but I’ve never been able on my own to intelligently discuss the Minoans.

But after touring Knossos, I know a little more.  Spending two and-a-half hours at the site and another two hours in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum yesterday has given me a better understanding about not only this culture, but others that either occurred later or were influenced by it.

IMG_0799
A photo taken across one area of the grounds.
IMG_0842
An area adjacent to the grand staircase with the distinctive red columns and frescoes in the back.
IMG_0790
But Knossos has its controversy. The site’s reconstruction is largely the work of Sir Arthur Evans, who began a radical reconstruction program in 1925. Many of the excavations are based on Evans’ research for how Knossos would have appeared. The sign in the photo above explains the controversy very well and in an unbiased way; while some people think Evans’ team went too far in recreating the site, other people believe that without Evans’ reconstructive work, there would be little to show at the site.

 

IMG_0823
The Grand Staircase
IMG_0839
Large pithoi storage jars for holding wine, olive oil, olives, grains.
IMG_0932
Large pithoi jars made by my husband and inspired by the Minoan pithoi. These were made during his three-week art residency at Skopelos Foundation for the Arts on Skopelos Island. The residency ended June 25.
IMG_2800
We arrived at the archaeological site at about 8:30 a.m. Tour bus groups (above) arrived between 10-10:30. We walked right into this particular site (The Throne Room, below) at the grounds; these people will have to wait thirty minutes or more under a cloudless sky. 
IMG_2713
Panoramic shot of The Throne Room, a room used by the king.
IMG_0820
Mitch and I standing in front of a fresco reproduction on the grounds. The original is on display at the Heraklion  Archaeological Museum near the harbor in downtown Heraklion.
IMG_0805
This Bull-Leaping Fresco (1449 BC) is the most intact fresco from the palace. It’s also one of the most recognizable. It depicts a popular sport in Minoan culture, bull leaping. Contestants (male and female, according to the placard at the site) would leap and flip over bulls to compete. 
IMG_0882
The original of the Bull-Leaping Fresco hangs in the museum. Notice that only some of the original excavated pieces have been found. Archaeologists must research to make assumptions to recreate the larger artwork based on the found pieces. 
IMG_0854
Mitch photographing large blocks of gypsum, a popular building material used at Knossos. It was popular due to its ease of use and beautiful appearance when polished. These pieces are rough and have sharp edges due to being exposed to weather.
IMG_0846
A closer look.
IMG_0848
And still closer.
IMG_0855
In addition to using gypsum, the Minoans also used wood. The off-white trim work you see alongside the red is wood, probably cypress. Minoans understood wood’s plasticity that would support and complement stone and stucco.
IMG_0856
More gypsum walls and foundations.
IMG_0919
The Palace at Knossos was complex in that it included many layers of floors.
IMG_0923
The theater and River Road that visitors to the site use to exit the palace grounds.
IMG_1143
The Heraklion Archaeological Museum near the harbor in downtown Heraklion. Don’t let the museum’s plain exterior conceals the fact that inside is an incredible collection of Minoan art from not only Knossos Palace but other Minoan centers. 
IMG_0872
I was captivated by these Cycladic figures, small sculptures made by artists of the islands known as the Cyclades. These were made from 2300-1700 BC.

 

IMG_0874
These cups look so similar to ones we use today, but they were made between 1800-1700 BC.
IMG_0876
An incredible collection of jars. Seriously beautiful.
IMG_0877
This is my husband’s version of Disney World.
IMG_0894
And more jars around every corner. Truly incredible.
IMG_0879
Can’t get over this octopus motif, an example of the “Marine Style” common to Minoan art. 
IMG_0881
Knossos Palace. By the way, banish our modern notion of what a “palace” is. Back in the Minoan era, a palace was more of a center of a community or kingdom. The Knossos Palace included administrative buildings and other functional structures, in addition to royal quarters and the like.
IMG_0884
Double axes of monumental size. The Minoan culture spanned the Stone Age and into the Bronze. 
IMG_0890
Can you believe this carved stone bull was made from 1600-1450 BC? It was actually used to hold liquids. There was a hole in the back for filling and then the liquid would pour out from the bull’s snout.
IMG_0896
A collection of figurative pieces. So expressive!
IMG_0899
A collection of burial coffins known as larnakes. One actually still had a skeleton inside.
IMG_0929
A fresco known as “Ladies in Blue.”  This is the original. A reproduction is found at the archaeological site. 1525-1400 BC

 

IMG_0904
Famous Bull Relief Fresco. Its reproduction at the palace is shown behind the columns in the first photo in the article.
IMG_0933 (1)
The book we purchased in the museum gift shot.

Like other Greek archaeological sites, tickets for Knossos were 16€ and included both the site and the museum. The tickets were valid for two days. That means you have all the time you need to tour.


Thanks for reading!  This is the fifth archaeological site we’ve visited during our Greek travels this summer.  Follow my blog for more stories from our trip. 

By marilynyung

Writes | Teaches | Not sure where one ends and the other begins.

7 replies on “Knossos Palace: A Minoan Culture Club”

[…] Last June, my husband and I spent three weeks on Skopelos Island in Greece, as part of our five-plus week journey across Greece. At the time, I posted daily on this blog about our itinerary as we traversed the country from Skopelos Island, to Athens on the Pelion Peninsula, to the Peloponnese (Mycenae, Delphi and Olympia), and then a final five days in Heraklion, Crete, Knossos Palace,  and Phaistos. […]

Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s