- Departure from the port of Heraklion or a predetermined point
- Stop at the Minoan Palace of Knossos
- Stop at Square Vincenzo Kornarou (Fountain Vembo)
- Stop at the Archaeological Museum
- Return to Heraklion
Notes: The predetermined positions may change according to your wishes. The tour can be combined with a visit to the Heraklion to while shopping.
Minoan Palace of Knossos
Knossos, also known as Labyrinth, or Knossos Palace, is the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete and probably the ceremonial and political centre of the Minoan civilization and culture. The palace appears as a maze of workrooms, living spaces, and store rooms close to a central square. Detailed images of Cretan life in the late Bronze Age are provided by images on the walls of this palace. It is also a tourist destination today, as it is near the main city of Heraklion and has been substantially restored by archaeologist Arthur Evans.
The city of Knossos remained important through the Classical and Roman periods, but its population shifted to the new town of Handaq (modern Heraklion) during the 9th century AD. By the 13th century, it was called Makryteikhos ‘Long Wall’; the bishops of Gortyn continued to call themselves Bishops of Knossos until the 19th century. Today, the name is used only for the archaeological site situated in the suburbs of Heraklion.
Discovery and excavation
The ruins at Knossos were discovered in 1878 by Minos Kalokairinos, a Cretan merchant and antiquarian. He conducted the first excavations at Kephala Hill, which brought to light part of the storage magazines in the west wing and a section of the west facade. After Kalokairinos, several people attempted to continue the work (and Heinrich Schliemann had previously showed an interest), but it was not until March 16, 1900 that archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans, an English gentleman of independent means, was able to purchase the entire site and conduct massive excavations. The excavation and restoration of Knossos, and the discovery of the culture he labeled Minoan, is inseparable from the individual Evans. Nowadays archaeology is a field of academic teamwork and scientific prestige, but a century ago a project could be driven by one wealthy and self-taught person. Assisted by Dr. Duncan Mackenzie, who had already distinguished himself by his excavations on the island of Melos, and Mr. Fyfe, the British School at Athens architect, Evans employed a large staff of local labourers as excavators and within a few months had uncovered a substantial portion of what he named the Palace of Minos. The term ‘palace’ may be misleading: in modern English, it usually refers to an elegant building used to house a head of state or similar. Knossos was an intricate collection of over 1000 interlocking rooms, some of which served as artisans’ workrooms and food processing centres (e.g. wine presses). It served as a central storage point, and a religious and administrative centre. The throne room was repainted by a father-and-son team of artists, both named Emile Gilleron, at Arthur Evans’ command. While Evans claimed to be basing the recreations on archaeological evidence, many of the most best-known frescoes from the throne room are almost complete inventions of the Gillerons.
The site has had a very long history of human habitation, beginning with the founding of the first Neolithic settlement circa 7000 BC. Over time and during several different phases that had their own social dynamic, Knossos grew until, by the 19th to 16th centuries BC (during the ‘Old Palace’ and the succeeding ‘Neo-palatial’ periods), the settlement possessed not only a monumental administrative and religious center (i.e., the Palace), but also a surrounding population of 5000-8000 people.
Description of Palace
The great palace was built gradually between 1700 and 1400 BC, with periodic rebuildings after destruction. Structures preceded it on Kephala hill. The features currently most visible date mainly to the last period of habitation, which Evans termed Late Minoan. The palace has an interesting layout – the original plan can no longer be seen because of the subsequent modifications. The 1300 rooms are connected with corridors of varying sizes and direction, which is different than other palaces of the time period which connected the rooms via several main hallways. The 6 acres (24,000 m2) of the palace included a theatre, a main entrance on each of its four cardinal faces, and extensive storerooms (also called magazines). The storerooms contained pithoi (large clay vases) that held oil, grains, dried fish, beans, and olives. Many of the items were created at the palace itself, which had grain mills, oil presses, and wine presses. Beneath the pithoi were stone holes used to store more valuable objects, such as gold. The palace used advanced architectural techniques: for example, part of it was built up to five storeys high.
The Heraklion Archaeological Museum is one of the largest and most important museums in Greece, and among the most important museums in Europe. It houses representative artefacts from all the periods of Cretan prehistory and history, covering a chronological span of over 5,500 years from the Neolithic period to Roman times. The singularly important Minoan collection contains unique examples of Minoan art, many of them true masterpieces. The Herakleion Museum is rightly considered as the museum of Minoan culture par excellence worldwide.
The museum, located in the town centre, was built between 1937 and 1940 by architect Patroklos Karantinos on a site previously occupied by the Roman Catholic monastery of Saint-Francis which was destroyed by earthquake in 1856. The museum’s antiseismic building is an important example of modernist architecture and was awarded a Bauhaus commendation. Karantinos applied the principles of modern architecture to the specific needs of a museum by providing good lighting from the skylights above and along the top of the walls, and facilitating the easy flow of large groups of people. He also anticipated future extensions to the museum. The colours and construction materials, such as the veined polychrome marbles, recall certain Minoan wall-paintings which imitate marble revetment. The two-storeyed building has large exhibition spaces, laboratories, a drawing room, a library, offices and a special department, the so-called Scientific Collection, where numerous finds are stored and studied. The museum shop, run by the Archaeological Receipts Fund, sells museum copies, books, postcards and slides. There is also a cafe.
The Herakleion Archaeological Museum is a Special Regional Service of the Ministry of Culture and its purpose is to acquire, safeguard, conserve, record, study, publish, display and promote Cretan artefacts from the Prehistoric to the Late Roman periods. The museum organizes temporary exhibitions in Greece and abroad, collaborates with scientific and scholarly institutions, and houses a variety of cultural events.
Since November 2006 the museum has been closed for interior renovation. A small temporary exhibition housing the museum’s most important exhibits is on view in a specially designed room on the north side, off I. Chatzidaki St. Exhibits include the Snake Goddesses, the Phaistos Disk, the La Parisienne and Bull Leaping frescoes and the “Ring of Minos”.