The Labyrinth of Knossos


The archeological site of Knossos, near Heraklion on the island of Crete, was discovered in 1878 and excavated by Sir Arthur Evans from 1900 to 1935. The palace of Knossos was the centre of the Minoan Civilisation and was abandoned towards the end of the Bronze Age. There’s a theory that the Minoan Civilisation collapsed as a consequence of the explosion of the volcano at Santorini, with the ensuing tidal wave destroying the low-lying coastal areas of Crete and volcanic ash falling over the island; there’s another theory that the Minoans’ downfall was brought about by large scale Mycenaean invasion (who destroyed Troy too). Or you can take the two in combination – how the Minoans, weakened by the consequences of the volcanic eruption, were unable to resist the invading Mycenaeans.

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The throne room at Knossos Palace

Today Knossos is a maze of low lying walls and some buildings more or less around a central courtyard. It’s a complex site; a ‘labyrinth’. There are frescoes, a throne room, storage rooms full of large storage jars, columns, worn stone steps. Evans’s reconstruction of buildings and wall paintings results in some vivid colours – and plenty of controversy. (Archeologists nowadays prefer preserving a site as excavated rather than repaint it in vivid colours for the tourists.)

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Sir Arthur Evans’s reconstruction of buildings and paintings are now considered controversial…

Knossos is the centre of several Greek myths – regarding the Minotaur, Daedalus and Icarus, Theseus and Ariadne. According to the myths the wife of King Minos of Knossos had a monstrous son, half bull and half human, the Minotaur. The Labyrinth of Knossos which ‘housed’ him was built on the king’s orders by Daedalus (who afterwards had to escape by flying away from the island with his son, Icarus). The Minotaur was fed by human sacrifices from Athens, until the Athenian hero, Theseus killed it and found his way out of the labyrinth with the help of Ariadne’s ball of thread.

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