Knossos (alternative spellings Knossus, Cnossus,
pronounced, also known as the Knossos Palace is the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete and probably the ceremonial and political center of the Minoan civilization and culture. It is also a tourist destination today, as it is near the main city of Heraklion and has been substantially, if imaginatively - restored, making thesite more comprehensible to the visitor than a field of unmarked ruins.
Thecity 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 them selves Bishops of Knossos until the 19th century. Today, the name is used only for the archaeological site situated in the suburbs of Heraklion.
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 westwing and a section of the west facade. After Kalokairinos, several people attempted to continue the excavations, but it was not until March 16, 1900 that archeologist 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 labelled Minoan, is inseparable from the individual Evans. Nowadays archeology is a field of academic team work and scientific rigour, but a century ago a project could be driven byone 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 asexcavators and within a few months had uncovered a substantial portionof 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 acomplex 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 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 (the Palace), but also a population of 5000 - 8000 people.
Prince of Lilies - Knossos - Crete
The palace is about 130 meters on a side and since the Roman period has been suggested as the source of the myth of the Labyrinth, an elaborate mazelike structure constructed for King Minos of Crete ( Kreta ) and designed by the legendary artificer Daedalus to hold the Minotaur, a creature that was half man and half bull and was eventually killed by the Athenian hero Theseus.
Labyrinth comes from the word labrys,referring to a double, or two-bladed, axe. Its representation had areligious and probably magical significance. It was used throughout the Mycenaean world as an apotropaic symbol; that is, the presence of the symbol onan object would prevent it from being - killed. Axe motifs were scratched on many of the stones of the palace. It appears in pottery decoration and is a theme of the Shrine of the Double Axes at the palace, as well as of many shrines throughout Crete and the Aegean. The etymology of the name is not known; it is probably not Greek. The form labyr-inthos uses a suffix generally considered to be pre-Greek.
Minos stands in judgement in Dante's Inferno Canto by Gustave Dore
The location of the labyrinth of legend has long been a question for Minoan studies. It might have been the name of the palace or of some portion of the palace. Throughout most of the 20th century the intimations of human sacrifice in the myth puzzled Bronze Age scholars, because evidence for human sacrifice on Crete had never been discovered and so it was vigorously denied. The practice was finally verified archaeologically (see under Minoan civilization).It is possible that the palace was a great sacrificial center and could have been named the Labyrinth. Its layout certainly is labyrinthine, in the sense of intricate and confusing.
Many other possibilities have been suggested. The modern meaning of labyrinth as a twisting maze is based on the myth.
Several out-of-epoch advances in the construction of the palace is thought to have originated the myth of Atlantis.
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