The Palace of Knossos has origins that begin in legend and Greek mythology, and is a must-see place when visiting Crete. Situated just 5km outside of the city of Heraklion, this background information can help you prepare for your Greek Mythology Tour.
Whilst many people think of Knossos as just the Palace, the archaeological site also consists of a surrounding city. In fact, this bronze age complex is thought to be Europe’s oldest city, and is the biggest archaeological site on Crete.
Today, we refer to the proto-Greek civilisation that created Knossos and other cities on Crete as the Minoans, although how they referred to themselves is currently unknown. Just one of many mysteries associated with Knossos and the Minoan civilisation!
The Destruction of Knossos
The reason that we are uncertain as to how the Minoan civilisation was originally named, or much of the internal workings of the culture, is that Knossos and many of the other bronze age sites on Crete were destroyed and rebuilt a number of times. In Knossos, this happened at least twice, with the Palace being rebuilt. This has resulted in different layers of archaeology being discovered, which further complicated the history of the site.
After the final destruction of Knossos by fire, the city was abandoned and left to be covered by the sands of time. Eventually, its very location and existence was forgotten, and it was thought to be just another part of Greek Mythology until it was rediscovered by Sir Arthur Evans in 1878.
The Arthur Evans Controversy
When excavations began in 1900, archaeology as a science was still in its infancy. As a result, some techniques in both excavation and reconstruction of areas is a source of controversy today.
As part of the 7 day Greek Mythology Tour package, your visit to Knossos will include explanation and discussion of the controversy. Regardless of your conclusions at the end of the tour, Evans took the first steps to research into an until then forgotten civilisation.
Knossos and Greek Mythology
Knossos has several connections with Greek mythology, including Theseus and the Minotaur, the Labyrinth, Icarus and Daedalus, and of course King Minos himself.
Greek Mythology recounts King Minos as being the first King of Crete. He was also supposed to be a son of Zeus and Europa. King Minos first appears in Greek literature in the Odyssey and Iliad of Homer, although his character would have been well known centuries if not thousands of years before. It is from King Minos that Sir Arthur Evans named the civilisation of Knossos Minoan.
King Minos and the Myths of Knossos
Many overlapping Greek myths focus on King Minos and the creation of the Labyrinth and Knossos. Some versions say that the Palace itself was the Labyrinth, which is certainly the conclusion that Arthur Evans reached as he excavated. It is easy to see how the maze of rooms that surround the Palace could be considered as such! Others say that the Labyrinth was constructed underneath the Palace. Interestingly, although no evidence has been found of this at Knossos, there can be a case made at another former Minoan settlement called Gortyn.
The construction of the Labyrinth according to mythology
One of the most popular versions of the construction of the Labyrinth at Knossos, says that King Minos employed the famous architect and inventor Daedalus. He was instructed to so cleverly design the palace that no one who entered it would be able to find their way back out without being guided.
Realising that Daedalus might reveal the secrets of the maze after the construction was complete, King Minos imprisoned him along with his son Icarus inside a high tower with no hope for escape. The King had not accounted for the inventor’s ingenuity though! Designing wings made of bird’s feathers and held together by wax, Daedalus and his son escaped the tower. Tragedy was soon to follow – as so often happens in Greek Mythology! Icarus flew too high to the sun, and the heat melted the wax holding the feathers in place, resulting in him plunging to the earth and dying.
Another character associated with the maze at Knossos was the Minotaur. This fearsome creature was said to be half bull and half man, and was so terrifying that King Minos kept him in the Labyrinth. The fact that bulls were clearly either worshipped or revered at Knossos shows yet more links between Greek Mythology and the culture we know today as the Minoans. You can read more about the Minotaur in the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur.
Find out more on a Greek Mythology Tour
We offer a fully guided tour to Knossos and other parts of Crete connected with Greek Mythology and the Percy Jackson stories as part of our 7 day package. As each package is fully customisable to each client, we are also happy to offer a visit to Knossos as a separate half-day package. Interested in finding out more? Contact our team today, and we’ll put together a tour of Crete and Knossos based on Greek Mythology tailored to your individual needs!