The archaeological site of the Palace of Knossos is considered one of the must-see destinations of Crete. The Bronze Age archaeological site was initially discovered in 1878 by Minos Kalokairinos, while the extensive period of excavation and partial restoration began in 1900 with Sir Arthur Evans, an English archaeologist. As Europe’s oldest city and the centre of Minoan civilization until its destruction by natural disasters, Knossos boasts a rich history. It is purported to have been occupied by the mythical Cretan king, Minos. It is also associated with the myth of the Labyrinth commissioned by Minos and constructed by the architect Daedalus to entrap the Minotaur. Looking at its map, the association doesn’t seem to be a stretch.
Knossos is approximately a half-hour bus ride from Amoudara on the No. 2 bus. The fare was five euros, and actually buys you a one-day ticket for all of the buses in and around Heraklion. I end up going with Kimberly, Chet, and Sonny, and we go on a tour of Knossos together with several other tourists. The public tour is 10 euros per person. Private tours are also an option, though notably more expensive (the tour guide offered us 70 euros, though it is usually 80).
The tour was about 90 minutes in length. Our tour guide, Ariadni, does a phenomenal job of weaving a tale of fact and myth. I find that much of the information she gives us complements that which I learned in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, so I would highly recommend a visit there first.
Knossos was the centre of one of the most brilliant civilizations in history, and marks of innovation pervade the premises to this date, including the aged pipes that were part of a complex water collection-management system, architectural design that ensured maximum ventilation, and the ancient scripts, Linear A and Linear B. There are recreated indoor and outdoor murals, and other marks of reconstruction to help the layman visualize the function of each part of the palace.
All of the original wall paintings can be found on the second floor of the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. Many of the original artifacts have also been taken from the grounds of Knossos, and a good deal of the archaeological remains that are left standing today are concrete-reinforced. The juxtaposition of ancient, rugged limestone with smooth concrete and the brightly coloured, glossy murals creates a strange effect. Knossos isn’t frozen in time, as most archaeological sites that I have toured.
“What do you think about all of the work Evans has done here?” I ask Ariadni, falling into step beside her. She pauses, then sighs.
“You know, I don’t want to overly criticize Evans. The field of archaeology was very, very different back then. He had a vision of Knossos and of what it meant to Minoan civilization, and he did his best to reconstruct it for all to see. Of course, whether or not his interpretation is entirely correct is another point of contention,” She says, “If you want to know what I think, well, I believe that he overdid it.”
She went on to explain to me that the restorations have made preserving Knossos more difficult. Not only do preservation procedures entail treating the original material, but also the reinforced concrete as it sustains damage. I listen quietly, feeling a bit subdued.
Afterward, we speak no more of it. We work our way through the maze of workrooms, storage rooms, and living spaces, Ariadni painting a picture of a splendorous, advanced, and peaceful people. In Minoan society, which was not warrior-driven, women held positions of greater stature in society. Feminine power is reflected in the fact that the Minoans worshipped an earth goddess as their deity.
“I didn’t know that the Minoans were a peaceful culture. You’d think the opposite, based on all those myths…” One of the tour group members comments.
“Virtually all of those terrifying myths were created by the Mycenaeans, or the Greeks from the mainland,” Ariadni explains. “Propaganda, if you will.”
She leads us past the theatre area, wherein ceremonies of both secular and religious natures took place, and to a shaded area with a bench and some stones to sit on. From our vantage point, we can see the path to the palace.
“I will now finish our tour with my favourite myth, which involves Minos’ daughter Ariadne,” She says with a gleam in her eye. And she launches into an in-depth telling of the arrival of Theseus to Knossos to slay the Minotaur and save Athens, which was forced to sacrifice seven sons and seven daughters to it each year at the command of King Minos. “Ariadne gave him a sword and a golden thread that he could unwind so that when Theseus killed the Minotaur, he could escape the Labyrinth. Theseus and Ariadne escaped together after he killed the Minotaur. Her father was enraged.”
“Doesn’t Theseus abandon Ariadne?” One of our group members chimes in.
“Yes,” says Ariadni, “As she is sleeping. But she is discovered by Dionysus, the god of fertility and wine, and he marries her. There are other versions, with more tragic endings. But I prefer the happy one.”
We smile and clap, thanking her profusely for the tour. The sun is starting to set, casting a golden gleam over Knossos. Kimberly, Sonny, and Chet head off to peruse the souvenir shops for a bit, while I stay back and walk around the grounds. My eyes glaze over the renovations. They’re still there, and they always will be. And, thankfully, so will the rich history and culture that define this World Heritage site.