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Knossos Palace Guide to History & Mythology

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The Capital of Minoans

On a hypothetical perfect day trip to Crete, it has to start with a trip from Heraklion to the legendary Capital of Minoans –  Knossos Palace, After a good dose of history intermingled with mythology, the journey should continue towards the south, where the concentration of beautiful beaches is the highest. You can find more about my hypothetical-not-so-hypothetical perfect day in Crete in the other article, where I describe my trip from Heraklion to Matala and Red Beaches.

Now back to Knossos Palace. The city, and as a matter of a fact, the whole island was inhabited by an ancient mysterious culture – Minoans. Knossos is considered to be the oldest ruins of a known city not only in Crete but in whole Europe. No surprise, the city was built during the mythical times. Knossos is the place from which many famous Greek legends like Minotaur’s labyrinth, and Icarus and Daedalus have originated.

A lot of Greek legends & mythology have originated from Knossos and Minoan Civilization. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

Personally, I’ve seen many Roman ruins, but never a Greek one and it definitely has its own flavor. Parts of Knossos were restored back in the Victorian era by Sir Arthur Evans and his crew. Walking around Knossos I couldn’t help myself, but wonder how the whole place felt and looked back in the times of Mythos. 

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Knossos Palace Details

Map of Heraklion – Knossos

Visiting Knossos Palace

The adventure started with visiting a legendary the oldest town in Europe – Knossos. If you ever decide to do the same, here is some basic information for you:
Working hours: 08h00 – 20h00 from Apr 1 to Oct 31 / 08h00 – 17h00 from Nov 1 to Mar 31;

Prices: 15 € per pax or 16 € per pax combined ticket with the Heraklion Archeological Museum, valid for three days. You can get it if half a price if you are a senior or student. It is free if you visit on Sunday, Nov 1 – Mar 31.

By Bus

It is possible to reach Knossos Palace by bus #2 from harbour, one-way ticket costs 1.5€ per person.


By Car

Head towards the south from Heraklion and look for Leof. Knosou street, which will lead you from Heraklion straight to Knossos Palace. Depending on your hotel location, the journey should take about 20min.

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By Taxi

From the port of Heraklion, a taxi to Knossos Palace should not exceed 10-12€. 


By Tour

Knossos Palace is amazing but without a decent history knowledge, it could be a bit underwhelming. The information plaques don’t do justice to such great archeological ruins. Though parts of it were colored by the Victorian archeologists, Knossos comes into its true colors only with a decent guide. These are some of the best guides you can find working today, book them now with 100% refund up to 24 hours in advance:

Knossos Palace was built under the rule of legendary King Minos. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

History of Knossos Palace & Minoans

Knossos is an ancient capital of people of unknown origins and ethnicity – Minoans. To this day their disappearance remains a mystery but their legacy stands. Crete is the home of many myths and legends including the birth of Zeus, the Minotaur’s labyrinth, Daedalus & Icarus. Even the name of civilization comes from the mythical King of Crete, Minos. Yes, the same one, who built the labyrinth for Minotaur. Despite its rich contribution to Greek myths, Minoans remain nothing but an unresolved puzzle.

After teh tsunamies, nothing but Knossos left standing. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

Disappearance of Minoans

It is widely believed that in the Late Bronze Age Mycenaean Greeks violently removed Minoans from the power by destroying all of their palaces, including Knossos. Greeks are famous for the upsetting fights against Goliaths, but even they alone couldn’t do it. The modern geological research shows clear evidence of Crete being devastated by the aftermath of the massive volcanic eruption in the Santorini Islands.

Radiocarbon dating shows that massive tsunamis hit Crete at the same time as the volcano erupted. Minoan building material mixed with fossilized seashells from the deep levels could be found across the island. This was followed by years of wet and cold summers. The Minoan population plunged. Even Herodotus the Historian mentions that Cretans were ravaged by pestilence and famine. None have survived these events but Knossos, which then was an easy target for anybody. After years and years of abuse, the Greeks for sure took this opportunity and how bloody it was remained under interpretation.

For a brief period in the Late Bronze Age, Knossos was ruled by Mycenaean Greeks. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

The Bronze Age Collapse

This would settle everything, but I cannot help myself but wonder if that settles the big picture. Multiple civilizations in the region disappeared during the same time, not all of them were as close to the Santorini Islands as Crete was. This event is known as the Bronze Age Collapse and there is no clear answer behind it.

The Egyptians talk of the ferocious Sea People, attacking their lands with everything they got including women and children. I assume, they probably were a mixture of the survivors from the islands devastated by some unknown event, maybe, the same volcanic eruption. Further on, evidence of famine and bad climate could be found across the region.

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Something happened, which destroyed the high culture of the Bronze Age, then the Dark Greek Ages followed. Maybe the eruption on the Santorini Islands was powerful enough to vanish countless civilizations around the Mediterranean, maybe, it was something even more catastrophic, which triggered all the other events including the volcanoes.

Throne room, there is no evidence that the island was ruled from this chamber but that is how Arthur Evans imagined it. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

Legend of Zeus Birth

Crete is the birthplace of the main God in Greek mythology – Zeus. Despite that, different from the monotheistic mythos, Gods in polytheistic mythology are not absolute. Based on current day standards, this resulted in a rather rough childhood for Zeus. If it was not for his mother Rhea and Kourites, he would have been eaten by his abusive father Kronos.

Kourites were giant half-gods and were the first inhabitants of the island, no better place for folks like this to live than the tallest mountain of the Crete – Mount Psiloritis (Mount Ida). Kourites invented agriculture and were taught the art of dance by Rhea herself.

It is believed that Juktas Mountain is the resting face of Zeus. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

Kronos and Zeus Battle for Control of the Universe

Her husband Kronos was not only a bad father but a bit greedy and paranoid dude as well. The reason for his strange diet was that he was afraid that one day his child will dethrone him just as he did to his father Uranus. So he ate all of his children as soon as they were born, but Rhea being more reasonable and a loving parent hid their last child Zeus in a cave, which you can visit even today on the slopes of Mount Psiloritis, strangely, called the Cave of Zeus.

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This is where Kourites truly came into the story as Rhea asked them to do some dancing and singing around the cave so Kronos wouldn’t hear Zeus crying inside of it. You know, back in the days, a few partying giant half-gods around a random cave doesn’t raise any suspicion.

Anyway, when Zeus dethroned his father (the cycle repeats), Kourites were rewarded and they became the priests in the new world. Sadly, his was wife Hera was an envious one and asked Kourites to kill Zeus child Epaphos, which he had with a mortal woman. The wrath of Zeus was REAL when he learned that and he killed Kourites with his thunderbolts, forgetting everything they did for him. 

Could Minoans and Kourites be the same people? Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

Legends & Myths of Knossos Palace

This part of the mythos might be even more abstractly historically-true than the Kourites and Zeus one. The protagonist of this story is the son of nymph Europa and Zeus (the naughty God), the king of Knossos and Crete, Minos. Things were quite good for Minos until he got into trouble with Poseidon by not sacrificing him a white bull. Poseidon was truly creative and to revenge Minos, he made his wife Pasiphae to fall in love with the same bull.

Things got really naughty when Pasiphae told about her love to the master craftsman Daedalus, who made her a wooden cow costume covered with real cowhide. Oh, that technological advancement of Minoans. One way or another, the tricked worked as Pasiphae hidden in the wooden cow had sex with the white bull, which resulted in the birth half-man half-bull creature – Minotaur.

The Minotaur’s Labyrinth could be found in Crete. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

The Minotaur Labyrinth

Minos did not kill the monster but instead asked Daedalus to build a labyrinth, where he imprisoned the Minotaur and gave him seven young men and women from Athens every year, which were sent in exchange as a ‘sorry’ for Minos’ son Androgeus death in the city.

In this mythos, the same Daedalus reveals himself as a tool rather than a real person when he helps Theseus, the son of Poseidon to penetrate the labyrinth and kill the Minotaur. Daedalus, being everywhere for everyone, really shows the neutrality of the technology and at the same time the tragedy of Minos when you try to fix your own mistakes by repeating them over and over again.

Like many great civilizations, Minoans, probably, collapsed because of their own arrogance. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

Daedalus & Icarus

Daedalus’ story doesn’t end happily as well. After all this clusterfcuk, when he tried to escape Crete with his son Icarus with wings he built. The latter wanted to fly closer to the Sun which resulted in breaking down of his pair of wings and falling into the sea. Now that sea is known as the Icarian sea.

This myth might be even an abstract representation of technologically advanced Minoans getting too arrogant and ambitious, which led to their own downfall. Despite all the speculations, the mystery of this great civilization – remains.

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