Europe’s Oldest City: Knossos

Considered Europe’s oldest city, Knossos served as the center of the great Bronze Age Minoan civilization that inhabited the island of Crete since 7000 B.C. Among striking ancient findings in the area is the palace of King Minos, which with its 1,300 rooms and living spaces, resembles the legendary Minoan Labyrinth.

In mythology, it is said that the king had the skillful craftsman Daedalus construct a labyrinth in which he could keep away Queen Pasiphae’s half beast half man son, the Minotaur. After a skirmish with the Athenians, King Minos requested that in order to keep peace, every seven years they must send over seven young men and seven young women to be fed to the Minotaur. Hero and prince of Athens Theseus, embarked on a journey to Crete to end this horror and met Ariadne, princess of Knossos, who helped him navigate his way through the maze. Theseus slayed the Minotaur, Ariadne’s brother, and found his way back out of the maze successfully using the spool of thread the princess had given him.

Archeologists and historians connect the myth to Knossos because the Palace of Knossos was of complex design, with many rooms, corridors, and hallways varying both in size and direction. These small rooms surrounded an open roof rectangular central court, which provided them with light and fresh air. A sophisticated water management system made of terracotta pipes brought fresh water into the palace and drained out waste. Bathtubs and flushing toilets were another great feature of the palace.

The Palace of Knossos, which originally dates back to 1700 B.C., was embellished with the red Minoan column. Unlike classic stone Greek columns, the Minoan column was inverted, meaning bigger at the top than at the bottom, and made of cypress tree trunks. Its rooms were decorated with colorful frescos, murals, and motifs. Notable sections of the palace include the throne room, which features frescos depicting griffons, and the stone seat of a king or queen.

Minos Kalokairinos is credited as the first man to excavate the Knossos area in 1878, followed by Sir Arthur Evans in 1900. Though the one at Knossos is the greatest excavated thus far, other smaller palace-like structures have been found in nearby areas. Some remain unexcavated. Archeologist Spyridon Marinatos is credited with the 1930s theory of the demise of the Minoan civilization. Theories following suggest that the eruption of the volcanic island of Thera, better known as Santorini, devastated the shore side settlements by tsunami and ash, practically wiping out the Minoan people. The romantic island of Santorini remains a dormant, yet active volcanic area, as its lava island Nea Kameni has erupted in 1925, 1939, and 1950 in recent history.

Admission to the archeological site of Knossos is 5 Euros. A special package including admission to the Archeological Museum of Herakleion is 10 Euros.