Knossos palace featured Canva and SH

Into the Palace of Knossos: Visit Knossos and Unravel Minoan Mysteries

    Once upon in the Minoan time, Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos, handed Theseus a thread, which assisted him in finding his way out of a labyrinth. Since that era, Ariadne’s thread symbolizes the pathway of knowledge which comes up with the clues we need to harmonically co-exist in life toward unraveling our own mental maps…

    The History of Knossos

    Knossos, possibly Europe’s oldest organized city, is a Bronze Age archaeological site on the island of Crete. It is nearby the capital of Crete, Heraklion. Visitors come across traces of the Minotaur, its horns, in particular, and the Labyrinth, the so-called “Greek-key”, at several of its ruins and artifacts. 

    The most systematic excavations at Knossos began in 1900 by the English archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans (1851–1941) and his team. The palace was excavated and partly restored. From the layering of the palace, the idea that it was the center of the Minoan civilization and the labyrinth sprang out. 

    Palace of Knossos Crete DP

    Greek Myth Time: King Minos, Daedalus, and the Minotaur

    According to Greek mythology, the architect behind this a-MAZE-ing palace was Daedalus, the first known engineer of antiquity.

    Daedalus was a skillful architect and craftsman, a symbol of wisdom, knowledge and power. His design consisted of four and five floor buildings and a total of approximately one thousand and five hundred rooms (to realize this, check out the wooden model of Knossos at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum). Apart from the king and his family, another five hundred people were staying at the Knossos palace, such as priests, servants, storekeepers, artists and artisans. 

    According to mythology, King Minos asked Daedalus to create the Labyrinth for the Minotaur to be kept in. One version of the myth says that Poseidon had given a white bull to King Minos to use it as a sacrifice. Instead, the king kept the bull for himself and sacrificed another.

    To take a revenge on hi, Poseidon, with the help of Aphrodite, made King Minos’s wife, Pasiphae, lust for the bull. As a result, Pasiphae gave birth to the Minotaur, a creature with the body of a man, but the face of a bull. 

    Minotaur Bull Knossos Crete DP

    Greek Myth Time: Labyrinth

    The word labyrinth describes any maze-like structure with a single path through it which differentiates it from an actual maze which may have multiple paths intricately linked. Etymologically the word is linked to the Minoan labrys or “double axe”, a Minoan symbol.

    Greek Myth Time: Double-Bitted Ax

    That symmetrical double-bitted ax is one of the oldest symbols of Greek civilization, specifically associated with female divinities. Some of the most beautiful double axes are even taller than a person. Researchers believe that those enormous axes could have been used during religious ceremonies and sacrifices.

    Minoan Stories

    The Minoan civilization emerged around 2,000 BCE on the island of Crete and flourished for around 600 years (until 1400 BCE). It is the first civilization to appear on European soil. Its unique art and architecture have significantly contributed to the development of the Western European civilization.   

    The story of King Minos and his parents, Zeus and Europa

    A myth says that King Minos, the fair ruler of Crete and founder of the town of Knossos, gave his name to the entire civilization.

    King Minos was a child of Princess Europa (upon which the continent of Europe is named) and Olympian god Zeus. Europa was a Phoenician princess. Zeus was captivated by her beauty when he saw her on the seashore of Phoenicia, playing with her friends. He took the form of a white bull and approached her.

    Europa, allured by the white animal, climbed on its back and was then carried to the south of the island of Crete, a town called Gortys. There, Zeus, unraveled the mystery, slept with her under an evergreen plane tree (yes, plane trees are deciduous but this one!), and King Minos, an offspring of the land of the European civilization, was conceived. Minos was a fair king; he consulted with Zeus every nine years and got his laws straight from him.

    The statue of Europa Agios Nikolaos Statue DP
    The statue of Europa, Agios Nikolaos Crete

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    That love story does not stop here. Zeus was much in love with Europa. One of the gifts he offered to her was a… robot, the first one in history. Its name was Talos, a mythical bronze giant who protected Minoan Crete from invaders. He was sleeping inside a cave, the Melidoni one, which is located at the Talean Cretan mountain range. 

    Talos Robot Knossos CV

    Do you want to know why Zeus had such a good relationship with King Minos? According to Greek mythology, his father, Kronos, was afraid that he would be overthrown by his own children, so he was eating them as soon as they were born (isn’t this a smart way to comprehend chronos, namely, time in Greek?). However, his wife Rea got fed up, and deceived Kronos when she gave birth to their last child, Zeus.

    She gave a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes to Kronos to eat and hid Zeus in a cave on Crete. She also asked the ancient inhabitants of the island, namely the Kourites, to perform a vivacious dance around the cave, shouting and striking their shields, so that Kronos would not hear baby Zeus crying.

    We can picture that performance scene on a bronze shield from the Cave of Zeus at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum

    Who were those Minoans?

    The Minoan civilization has been famous for its strong navy and extended sea trade throughout the Mediterranean Sea, as well as its use of writing (in fact, the Minoans had their own written language which archaeologists call “Linear A”). Mosaics and inscriptions reveal Cretan prosperity and reflect daily life.

    The coinage found at the palaces and exhibited at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum bears witness to the flourishing of the cities and the employment of Cretans as mercenaries in the eastern Mediterranean.

    Powerful Women

    Part of what makes the Minoan civilization so fascinating is the important role of women in the local society. Minoan women actively participated in all aspects of everyday life including sports, hunting, festivities and parenting. Their important role is also evident in the fact that the Minoans worshipped female goddesses, such as the ones holding snakes on their hands.

    Knossos Frescoes Ladies in Blue DP


    Snakes are normally associated with the renewal of life. In addition, different studies suggest that in Minoan society, snakes were the protectors of the household. 

    Big Mother

    Inside small sanctuaries, in caves or on mountain peaks, Minoans adored the “Big Goddess” which they also called “Big Mother”, in other words, “Nature”. To them, she was the one giving life to plants, animals and humans; she was responsible for rain, wind, light and darkness. To her honor, they would host feasts every spring, during which they would perform sports and dances.

    Bull Leaping Acrobatics

    Those were the famous “bull-leaping” ceremonies, when the Minoans were using a bull to perform gymnastics. The bull for them symbolized the rush and power of life. That is why its horns along with the double axes were major religious symbols. 

    But is there a relevance of Minoan bull-leaping today? Let us recall the vaulting apparatus from the sport of artistic gymnastics to visualize how the physical act of bull-leaping is perpetuated in sports today. For example, picture the most basic skill on the vault apparatus, a front handspring. This act almost perfectly mirrors that of the famous bull-leaping fresco found at Knossos.

    Other works of art from Knossos demonstrate how additional acrobatics can be performed on the basis of this initial movement such as somersaulting over the bull, where more complex skills are built off of the front-handspring leading into varying combinations of summersaults and twists.

    Bull leaping fresco taurokathapsia Knossos family guided tour kids love greece Crete

    The Four Minoan Palaces

    The Minoan Palaces are elaborate constructions, namely architectural complexes that were used as administrative, economic and religious centers. They were the residences of powerful elites. But how did the emerging Minoan elite established and maintained its authority? Not with military forces; perhaps by manipulating religious ideology. 

    Here are some common features of the four Minoan Palaces (namely Knossos, Phaistos, Malia and Zakros). They have no fortification walls. Their plans are irregular; their elevation too. They are elaborate constructions with multiple stories and entrances. Their plumbing system is very sophisticated while they carry architectural devices for light and air circulation. They are highly decorated. 

    Common elements of their architectural plans include:

    • a central court,
    • a West court,
    • a theatral area,
    • workshops (pottery, jewelry, clothing, tools), domestic quarters, circular underground structures, and several religious and
    • storage rooms
    knossos palace SH

    Let us mention here that several different techniques allowed Minoans to transform gold, silver, bronze and semi-precious stones into a fantastic array of designs.

    In fact, the Minoan storage facilities, the so-called “magazines”, could hold approximately 400 huge storage vessels, a total capacity of 60,000 gallons! In them, hundreds of stone cists for storage of precious objects were found as well. 

    pottery found in Knossos palace

    Minoan Fashion

    Men were dressed from the waist down, with a piece of cloth around their hips. Women, on the other hand, were wearing elaborate long skirts, short aprons, thin shirts, coats and shawls. They had make up on and elaborate hairstyles, similar to contemporary women.

    They would put hats, ribbons and jewelry on the head. Looms were found in almost every house which tells us women would also spend their time weaving using wool and linen, thin and transparent cloths with nice shapes. 

    Knossos Frescoes Little Prince DP

    Kids’ Games

    Children would exercise from a very young age. They played by running and chasing each other, also with pawns and knucklebones. A game board, called zatrikion, similar to a chess game, inlaid with ivory, blue glass paste, and rock crystal, was found at Knossos and one can see at the Heraklion museum. 

    Overall, particularly complex and luxurious artifacts, which bear witness to the high standards of living in the palace, one can admire at the Heraklion museum. Last, but not least, the burial finds reveal beliefs and practices connected to the afterlife.

    It’s all… Minoan to me!

    Hieroglyphs (–which stands for “sacred carvings” in Greek) were used in Ancient Egypt. During the Minoan era, Cretan hieroglyphs (–different than the Egyptian ones) were the writing system for the early Bronze Age Crete. They predate a writing system called Linear A by about a century.

    Linear A was the primary script used in palace and religious writings of the Minoan civilization. It was succeeded by Linear B (–which was also used by the Mycenaeans). No texts in Linear A have been deciphered.

    The term linear refers to the fact that the script was written by using a stylus to cut lines into a tablet of clay. The only part of that script that can be read is the signs for numerical values (–though the words for the actual numbers remain unknown). Writing during that time was mostly used for record keeping as literacy was not widespread. 

    Several are the Linear B tablets from Knossos. Significant remains the enigmatic Phaistos Disc (–which was found in the Minoan palace of Phaistos, a few kilometers south of Heraklion), one of the best known mysteries of archaeology. This clay disc, about 15cm in diameter has on both sides a spiral of stamped symbols of unclear meaning. It was discovered in 1908 by an Italian archaeologist.

    Its 45 symbols are repeated in a spiral shape and are divided by vertical lines. They are stamped on the disc while clay was still fresh. That is why, though yet obscure, this writing is considered as the oldest sample of printing. Many researchers have tried to decipher the disc of Phaistos but its puzzle remains unsolved…


    Minoan Cooking

    The Minoans cooked their food over an open fire in both indoor and outdoor spaces. Many of their kitchens had circular stone hearths that could be modified and moved from one location to another. The Minoans used tripod cooking pots, cooking jars, large oval-shaped cooking dishes with a broad spout, and small grills.

    Among the foods they were preparing were watery soups or thick stews, sauté or grilled meat or sea food, flat breads or fried pancakes. They used grains, legumes and pulses to make flour, and lots of spices. 

    Minoans even made… souvlaki! Portable stone cooking supports used to grill skewers by Minoans. The line of holes in the base supplied coals with oxygen. 

    Your kids will love cooking classes in Crete! Contact us and let us plan the perfect family getaway for you.

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    Inside the Minoan storage facilities, the so-called “magazines”, traces of honey, olive oil, wine, cereals, legumes and other agricultural products were found. During the Minoan era, olive oil was the main ingredient used for cooking along with dry seeds, figs, pomegranates, legumes, mean, fish, milk and wine, resin in particular. According to a myth, Glaucus, the son of king Minos, as a young boy, during play, fell into a cask full of honey, and died in it.

    Listen to your Parents: The Aegean & the Icarian Seas

    Story #1: Theseus, the Minotaur and King Aegeus

    Athens was annually sending fourteen young people (seven young men and seven maidens) to be offered as sacrificial victims to the Minotaur in retribution for the death of Minos’ son Androgeos. The victims were drawn by lots, they were required to go unarmed and would end up either being consumed by the Minotaur or get lost and perish in the Labyrinth. The offerings were to take place every one, seven or nine years, and lasted until Theseus, the son of the Athenian King Aegeus, vowed to put an end to his people’s suffering. Theseus left Athens in a ship with black sails, the color mourning for the victims.

    He told his father that, should he be successful, he would change the sails to white on the trip back home. Once on Crete, Theseus fell in love with the daughter of King Minos, Ariadne, who, also fell in love with him, and thus gave him the red thread that would assist him in finding his way in and out of the labyrinth. Theseus killed the monster, saved the youths, and escaped from Crete with Ariadne. However, on his way home, he abandoned her on the island of Naxos. In a haste to reach Athens afterwards, he forgot to change the sails of the ship from black to white, and, his father, Aegeus, seeing the black sails returning, fell into the sea and died (hence the name of the Greek sea Aegean).

    Story #2: Icarus and Daedalus

    When King Minos found out that Theseus was able to find out his way of the labyrinth, he wanted to punish Daedalus for his defective construction. Daedalus, to escape the King’s wrath, took his son Icarus and hid themselves at a cave on south Crete. He kept watching the birds flying and thought of using their feathers bound together by wax to form wings with which they could fly away off Crete. However, his son Icarus, full of enthusiasm, neglected his father’s advice, and flew too close to the sun, melting the wax of his wings, falling into the sea where he drowned (–hence the Icarian Sea).


    The Archaeological Museum of Knossos | Highlights

    The Heraklion Archaeological Museum was founded in 1908 to house the first collections of Minoan antiquities. Its artifacts cover seven millennia, from the Neolithic period (7000 BC) to Roman times (3rd cent. AD). At the Museum garden, preserved are the ruins of the Venetian-Franciscan Monastery of St. Francis, attesting to the prosperity of the city of Heraklion during the Venetian period (–and which was destroyed during an earthquake back in 1865).

    The Archaeological Museum of Heraklion is one of the most important museums in Europe. Right before reaching the stairs, there is a nice entertainment area where kids can take a rest, play and discover the ancient symbols of the Minoan era.

    Throughout the museum’s collections, the celebrated Minoan art is featured via thousands of objects such as:

    • Impressive pieces of pottery (i.e. the swing clay model of a female figure swinging on a string between two columns),
    • Amazing jewelry (i.e. the famous gold bee pendant from the Minoan palace at Malia, which represents two bees depositing a drop of honey in a honeycomb.),
    • Seals (which were used to mark ownership as proof of identity, as jewelry and as charms to make tokens),
    • Sculptures (i.e. the ivory acrobat) and
    • Metal objects (i.e bronze talents of the commercial currency of this epoch)
    Archaeological Museum Heraklion Tour family (23)

    Among the most spectacular Minoan findings are:

    • the faience Snake Goddesses,
    • the stone bull’s head rhyton (out of steatite, gold, wood, rock crystal, shell; rhyton meaning a funnel-shape vessel probably used for libations),
    • the Hagia Triada Sarcophagus (made of limestone; coated in plaster and painted in fresco on all faces, the only object with a series of narrative scenes of Minoan funerary ritual),
    • the colorful Kamares Ware some of them also known as egg-shelled because of their thinness (particularly look for the marine stone vessels decorated with vibrant colors and representations of nature),
    • the Harvester Vase (another rhyton which displays a detailed and fascinating scene of men marching and singing in what appears to be a harvest celebration)

    The most spectacular frescoes are the ones depicting the

    • The “Prince of the Lilies”,
    • The “Blue Monkeys”,
    • The “Dolphins”,
    • The “Bull-Leaping” and
    • The “Griffin” (a legendary creature with the body, tail and back legs of a lion; the head and wings of an eagle; and sometimes an eagle’s talons as its front feet).

    Why Visit Knossos?

    A visit to the Minoan Palace at Knossos reflects many stories of Greek mythology and even the youngest children will be able to fantasize about King Minos and the Minotaur. Older children will learn about ancient building techniques and have a chance to be educated about the cultural history of Europe.

    Kids Love Greece offers organized visits at the Palace of Knossos, specially design for families.

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    Family friendly Tour in the Palace of Knossos with kids Crete (16)

    We have also created a special audio guide for your family “Kids Love Knossos: An Audio Guide for Kids”. Children will love the Percy Jackson related, “Kids Love Greece Unique Knossos iPad tours”.

    Finally, you can still visit the Minoan ear from home through our Minoan Mythology Classes.

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