Minoan Palaces – Knossos

Discuss the design and function of the Minoan palaces with emphasis on the palace of Knossos. The design and function of the Minoan palaces found throughout Crete enable modern day archaeologists to help determine possibilities of what life was like and how the civilization was portrayed as a group and society. What is known about Minoan palaces is based purely on what we know as archaeological findings and here say from various archaeologists throughout more recent years.

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From what little information that had been gathered about Minoan Crete, it was said that the society itself was unlike many of the Bronze Age society. It was a well-governed, prosperous and peaceful society. When researching this society it relies mainly on archaeological evidence because of limited written sources found and deciphered. When looking at the palaces found within Crete there are visibly similar and differentiating features that separate the palace of Knossos to other palaces found in Crete.

Sir Arthur Evans was a British archaeologist who was responsible for unearthing the palace of Knossos on the Greek island of Crete and also developing the initial concepts of the Minoan civilisation which has now been re-evaluated and challenged in light of newer ideas and evidence found within recent years. The palace of Knossos is located on a hill beside a river, 5km’s from the northern coastline. Knossos is the largest of palaces found in Crete covering 13000 square meters before being rebuilt.

Its main features include the main large rectangular central court, a complex maze of corridors and chambers also known as (labyrinth), decorative frescos, flushing toilets, shrine rooms, grand staircases and also royal and domestic quarters. The architectural structure and design of the palace in particular is designed to assert power and authority. Around 1700 BC there was a volcanic upheaval in Crete, which virtually destroyed all the palaces; evidence to support this is the rebuilding of the palace.

In the second palatial period the palace was enormous and intricate, having multi levels, irregular rooms, movable doorways, storeys lit with “light wells” as well as running water and a sewerage system. ”The grand staircase as thus re compacted stands alone among ancient architectural remains. With its charred columns solidly restored in their pristine hues, surrounding in tiers its entral well, its balustrades rising practically intact, one above the other, with its imposing fresco of the great Minoan shields on the back walls of its middle gallery, now replaced with a replica, and its still well-preserved gypsum steps ascending to four landings, it revives as no other part of the building, the remote past”- Sir Arthur Evans. After Evans discovered the palace of Knossos, he reconstructed the site to what he believed the palace of Knossos would have been like in the Bronze Age.

Modern day archaeologists have now questioned Arthur Evans’ creativity and his initiative after seeing the reconstruction that he had placed on the palace itself. Using what Evans believed to be correct, bright colours, including bright reds, yellow, blues and purples also virtually enhancing the frescos that were found within the palace itself made other archaeologists question whether what Evans believed to be correct was not in fact accurate. Ventris later questioned the theories of Evans after finding tablets that were in a complex Greek form of writing.

The thorough layout of the palace of Knossos shows that the palace itself has been designed for a superior or royalhhhhbbhhn level and the central court was believed to be a stage for religious rituals. The architectural structure of the palace shows that not only were the homes for the wealthy, ruling families but they housed workshops and warehouses, and were administrative, cultural, and religious cult centres. The palace was also home to ceremonial purposes having a room dedicated to a throne meaning there would have been religious ceremonial practices within the palaces.

The function of having the palace of Knossos was to cater for those throughout Crete; the structure shows that it is one of the main palaces in Knossos and for the royal family, the palace would be home to many as well as being like a “religious head quarters”. The throne room excavated led archaeologists to believe that the throne found was fit for a women, given the size of the seat on the throne. Having this evidence gave archaeologists somewhat proof that women could have been more prestigious then men – further proof of that being frescos of goddesses’ and women showing that they were in fact worshipped.

The palace served as a central storage point, and an administrative and religious centre. Both the design and the function of the palace of Knossos provided today’s society with an understanding and knowledge of the people from the Minoan culture and the everyday life style for both those of the higher and the lower classes of Crete. Found in Crete also; include palaces such as Phaistos, Mallia, and Zakros. Despite these other palaces not being as large and extravagant as the palace of Knossos these palaces share a number of common features.

All these palaces tend to have a west or east court, light wells, pier-and-door partitions and also ceremonial entrances and halls. Limestone was used to create the palace of Knossos and Phaistos. Whereas, at Mallia what they called “a local brown sandstone” was used. This suggests that Phaistos and Knossos were more superior to Mallia. Mallia was a smaller palace in comparison to Knossos and Phaistos, but is still known to be the third largest palace found in Crete. Mallia’s first palace, built close to the seaside, lasted for 200 years before being destroyed.

A second palace was built on the same site as the first was later destroyed. The central court of Mallia, smaller then Phaistos and Knossos was 48 metres by 22 metres square. The court can be most easily entered from the south, to which in a room near this entry there was an offering table found. A number of religious installations have been found in the west of the building. In the middle of the central court and in alignment with the hall and the pillar crypt was found a “Bothros” (a pit for religious offerings). The palace itself covers 8000 square metres.

The south of the building would have had workshops on the ground floor and widespread storerooms throughout the east end of the building, storing pithoi are filled with oil and wine. Phaistos shares many similarities with the palace in Mallia. Phaistos being 8400 square metres is built on the most spectacular settings of all Crete on a large hill over looking the entire Messara Plain. 2 Italian men excavated the palace, Federico Halbherr and Luigi Pernier. Phaistos was one of the other major Cretan centres, which had control over its own district.

The palace, just like other palaces of Minoan Crete was destroyed three times before it was finally rebuilt on top of the old ruins of the previous buildings. The attention of historian’s was directed at the striking features of the ceremonial staircase that arose from the west court and believed to have acted as the main entrance into the palace. There are a number of open court areas found in the front part of the building, which would include an opening to residential areas and reception. There were also workrooms hidden in the northeast.

The west building contained multiple storerooms for pithoi and more rooms for religious instalments. The full architecture of Phaistos is a simple design compared with Knossos and is built in an orderly arrangement. The palace fit into well-defined areas, that being guest’s rooms and cult rooms, main residential quarters, central courtyard, main public rooms and storerooms, workshops and domestic areas. Unlike Knossos, there have been no efforts at restoration but only conservation. The palace Zakros is less then half the size of Knossos.

Nikolaos Platos excavated the palace in the 1960’s, on the east coast of Crete. The palace is 8400 square metres. Its structured out on flat land and has no theatrical area or no west court. It is quite different to other palaces found in Crete. This smaller palace has four structures that surround the central court. The palace however has differences that separate itself from other palaces like the circular pool, which is fed by an underground spring (believed to be a source of spring water), though there is no clear indication of what its purpose was, and storerooms with bronze ingots.

The west building had a pillared ceremonial hall fronting the central court and adjacent religious installations that were aligned with an outside alter. In the southwest corner of the palace there was a shrine, a treasury, an archive room and storerooms as well as workrooms for artisans. Historians believe that Zakros acted as the Minoan gateway to the east and this view is supported by various movable finds on the site, which had come from the Middle East. Like other palaces, Zakros was rebuilt.

The south of the building was found to have housed several craftsmen’s rooms where traces of faience, ivory and crystal items were found being worked on. The palace was surrounded by the town, which only a small part has been excavated. The houses were often quite large containing up to 30 rooms, with small storage rooms. The houses were arranged in blocks and both olive oil and win presses were found within the town. It is almost certain that some of the buildings were not houses, but the buildings did belong to the palace.

The palaces found throughout Crete enable historians of today’s time to come to a possible understanding of what the Minoan life was like. By excavating such sites like Knossos, Mallia, Phaistos and Zakros, we are able to compare and understand both the similarities and differences that the palaces have with one another. The function of all the palaces seems to be very much the same, serving as a religious ideal as well as storage, housing and a workplace. The palace of Knossos was the administrative Centre for the Minoans and the most extravagant of the palaces.

The complex design and architecture of the palaces show how well developed the Minoans were as a society. William Durant described the Minoans palaces to be “the first link in the European chain”, showing the substantial progress the Minoans made throughout history. Based on what evidence we have it is difficult to know the full purpose is of the Minoan palaces, we can only make assumptions based on the evidence we are given. The palace of Knossos, Mallia, Phaistos and Zakros give evidence to what we believe the full purpose was of having palaces and help archaeologists support their theories.