Another day means another exciting place to visit. Today it is the Palace of Knossos in Heraklion, Crete.

The harbour of Heraklion

We docked in Heraklion at 09:30 this morning. It should have been a half hour earlier, but the Pilot arrived late. As we came into port, we passed the airport where we saw one plane land and 2 depart. We were later told that at the height of the tourist season, up to 120 international flights arrive.

Heraklion, also known as Iràklion, is capital of Crete appears very modern but has a history going back thousands of years. Crete became the foremost site of Bronze Age culture in the Aegean Sea, and it was the first centre of high civilization in that area, beginning at the end of the 3rd millennium BC, the time of the Minoans. During their reign in the area, it flourished, and the Palace of Knossos was built. Unfortunately, the Minoan period began to decline in about 2000 which left the whole of Crete much poorer. This was until the Romans arrived in 67BC and began developing the area around where Heraklion is today into a port. Nearly 800 years later, the Arabs who had been expelled from an Emirate and were able to take over Crete from the Romans. It was they who built the city of Heraklion calling it the Emirate of Crete. It became a safe haven for pirates and bandits. The city then changed hands between the Saracens, the Romans (again), Venetians and then the Ottomans. Eventually, in 1913 it was incorporated into the Kingdom of Greece and reincorporated into Crete. Heraklion was once again made the capital of Crete in 1971. It certainly enjoyed a very checkered history.

Our excursion was to the Palace of Knossos built by King Minos, a Minoan, about 5miles (8km) from Heraklion so, for a change, we had a short bus ride. It was not the easiest place to walk around but truly worth the visit.

Roads to the excavations

Knossos was a city in ancient Crete and the principal city in the Minoan period. Knossos itself, stands on a knoll between 2 small about 5 miles (8kms) inland. When excavations began in 1900, a palace and other buildings were found which were clearly from the Bronze Age which was dominant around 1600-1400Bc. It is believed that the first settlements were established about 7000BC and were agricultural but, when the Minoans arrived, they progressed to working with bronze, pottery and gold. Knossos was linked to other towns and settlements by a sophisticated system of paved roads.

The Palace of Knossos, which had 7 entrances, a throne room, frescoes and plenty more was built around 2000BC with mainly isolated structures around a centre court. Like so many other buildings in this area, it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1720BC. It was rebuilt with lots of columns and plenty of stairs linking the separate structures. The Palace had over 1000 rooms and served as a Royal residence, a Religious Sanctuary and an administrative hub. It is the largest excavation in Crete.

One of the 7 entrances

A great hall

There were lots of stairs, old and new

The west side of the Palace housed the administrative and ceremonial areas which included the Throne Room. The original throne, made of gypsum, is still in this. There was a basin in the centre of the Throne Room in which those who came to see the King could wash their hands. The basements of this area were used as storage rooms for wheat, oil and treasure. On the northeastern side of the Palace were the workshops while the residences were on the southeastern side. The Palace had a well-developed water and sanitation system of pipes, drains and conduits showing how advanced the Minoans were in their engineering skills.

The Throne Room
Marble floor tiles, doorways and original steps

The Minoans were well-known for their fresco painting, which was at its best at this time of their power. We were fortunate to see some which had been discovered during the excavations and, some were explained to us by our guide. The one which I remember best depicted female slaves carrying water jars. Each had a bracelet around her ankle which detailed her personal information.

Frescoes of water carriers
Fresco of a bull

We were reminded of the myth of the Minotaur, the half-man half-bull creature which lived in the labyrinth beneath the Palace and of the Athenian hero, Theseus, who killed it.

Having enjoyed a wonderful history lesson and seen such amazing buildings which have lasted for over 2000 years, we left the site going through a double row to sellers with a variety of mementoes and handmade crafts. Only a few of our group made any purchases as we had not expected these offerings. They were not at any of the previous historical sites we had visited. We boarded the bus and returned to the ship for lunch.

The eastern side of the palace