Knossos Palace

The tour of Knossos starts at the West Entrance to the Palace and circles back to the starting-point.

map of Knossos Palace
  • Knossos: West Entrance and West Court (panoramic image): 01
  • Knossos: Corridor of the Procession: 02
  • Knossos: South Propylaeum: 03
  • Knossos: Piano Nobile (panoramic image): 04
  • Knossos: West Magazines of the Palace: 04
  • Knossos: the room with the Minoan Frescos (panoramic image): 05
  • Knossos: the Central Court (panoramic image): 06
  • Knossos: the Throne Room: 07
  • Knossos: the Tripartite Shrine: 08
  • Knossos: the Grand Staircase: 09
  • Knossos: the Southeast Section of the Palace: 10
  • Knossos: King Minos Apartments: 11
  • Knossos: Queen's Apartments
  • Knossos: East Wing of the Palace, the Minoan Workshops: 12
  • Knossos: The Magazine of the Giant Minoan Pithoi and the Drainage System of the Palace of Knossos: 12
  • Knossos: North Entrance: 13
  • Knossos: North Section of the Palace (panoramic image)
  • Knossos: The Theatre, the Customs House and the Royal Road: 14
  • Knossos: Caravan Serai and the The Royal Tomb of King Mino  15


Knossos, South Propylaeum

Knossos South PropylaeumThe splendid South Propylaeum was the South Entrance to the minoan palace of Knossos. What we see today is Evans’ reconstruction. The palace was built with particular care of stone with mud mortar. The inside of the walls was covered with worked white gypsum. The gypsum crystals sparkled in the light, giving an impression of luxury and beauty. The outer surfaces of the walls were covered with six or seven layers of plaster.
The ground-floor walls were thicker and the rooms smaller, with pillars supporting the superstructure. According to Evans, the palace was three to five storeys high. On the upper floors, the pillars were replaced by columns. Wood was also used extensively.

Knossos Minoan fresco of the ProcessionThe Minoan Fresco of the Procession

We stand still for a while to admire the copy of the Fresco of the Procession. It is impressive that the original Minoan frescoes still retain their vivid colours 4,000 years after they were painted.
The Minoans painted with plant dyes on the damp plaster. This ensured that the dye soaked into the plaster, producing permanent, indelible colours. This technique is called fresco painting and was used in byzantine churches thousands of years later. 


Knossos, the West Magazines

Knossos west storeroomsOn our left as we come up the staircase, to the west, we see below us the West Magazines of Knossos. These are 19 oblong storerooms. In their floors we can see depressions, floor vats for holding liquids, which were lined with alabaster to make them watertight.
In each storeroom can be seen two rows of large pithoi, used for storing dry materials such as grain. The capacity of the storerooms was about 80,000 litres and it is believed that they held about 400 pithoi, of which 150 remain today.
Knossos map : West Magazines = No 04
Mason Marks
Knossos Minoan Mason Marks on walls of the Palace blackened by fire
On the walls of the West Magazines were carved the so-called “mason’s marks”. These are symbols including stars, crosses and the labrys, the famous Minoan double axe. The blackened walls are evidence of the great fire that destroyed the last palace in 1350 BC.
Minoan Pithoi
Minoan Pithoi
This is one of the 150 Minoan pithoi found in the West Magazines of Knossos. The grey sections are not original, but were added during restoration. Quite a large piece is missing, demonstrating the extensive destruction of the palace.

Knossos, the Minoan Frescoes

Minoan Frescos in Knossos PalaceTo the north, above the Throne Room, is a room restored by Evans which contains copies of the Minoan frescoes: the “Spectators by a Shrine”, the “Blue Ladies”,  the “Taureador”, the “Argonaut”, the “Blue Monkey” and the “Blue Bird”. The originals are on display at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum.
If you look at the copies carefully, you can see how Evans restored them from the very few pieces of plaster found during the excavation.

Bull Leaping Fresco

Bull Leaping Fresco in Knossos A copy of the “Taureador” or “Bull Leaping” Fresco. This is the famous Minoan ritual sport, during which the athlete did dangerous acrobatic leaps over the back of a bull. The white figures are female and the reddish one male.
In Minoan Crete the bull-leaping was a noble sport in which the bull was not killed, unlike modern bull-fighting.


Knossos, the Throne Room

The Anteroom
In the Anteroom to the Throne Room in Knossos Palace you can see a wooden throne on a low podium against the north wall, with alabaster benches along the opposite wall. A row of loaf-shaped alabaster vessels were found in this room.
The Throne Room
A double door leads from the Anteroom to the Throne Room, which dates from the Creto-mycenaean period and is closed to the public. Against the north wall is the alabaster throne, with benches on each side and a porphyrite basin on the floor in front of it, in the centre of the room. On the south wall is a Creto-mycenaean fresco depicting griffins, mythical beasts with an eagle’s head and lion’s body, which symbolised royal and divine power.
Knossos Throne RoomThe Throne Room was a sacred area. In the south part, forming the inner sanctum and light-well, is a lustral basin used for ritual cleansing. The door behind this area leads to windowless secondary rooms housing figures of divinities and ritual vessels.
It is believed that the main Throne Room was used as a council hall and law-court for King Minos and the priesthood. The President’s seat at the International Court of The Hague is a wooden copy of the Knossos alabaster throne.


Knossos, the Tripartite Shrine

Knossos Tripartite ShrineThe Tripartite Shrine is the main sanctuary in Knossos. It lies south of the Throne Room, along with its secondary rooms. In the Treasury of the shrine were found the faience “Snake Goddesses”. To the west are two rooms with a central pillar on which carved “mason’s marks” were found.
In the floor are depressions for liquid offerings, leading archaeologists to believe that this was a form of pillar-worship, where the goddess was believed to reside in the pillar.

Knossos, the Grand Staircase

The monumental Grand Staircase of Knossos is leading to the Royal Apartments, and it is considered a miracle of architecture. Here we must note the importance of light-wells, an integral feature of Minoan palatial architecture. This part of the palace is now closed to visitors, due to conservation and protection concerns.
Knossos Grand StaircaseThe Royal Apartments were built into the hillside and are therefore preserved to a reasonable height. The east side of the Palace was five storeys high, while the west side, from which we enter Knossos, was three storeys high (according to Evans).
The Grand Staircase has two wings and is framed by a colonnade supporting the superstructure. The two lower levels are original, while the two upper have been restored. The width, height and slight inclination of the steps make the staircase particularly easy to use.

Knossos, the Southeast Section of the Palace

Knossos southeast side of the Palace
Here we see the southeast section of the Palace of Knossos, dating to the earliest phase of the palace (2000-1700 BC).
This is the Southeast House, with characteristic thick ground-floor walls, small rooms and a central pillar to support the ceiling and upper floor.

Knossos, King Minos Apartments

Knossos King Minos Megaron

The Upper Floor of the King's Megaron

We continue to the reconstructed upper floor of King Minos' Megaron in the East Wing of the Knossos Palace.

Knossos Knig Minos Apartments

Knossos, King Minos Apartments

(View of the King’s Megaron from the south). King Minos’ apartments are also known as the Hall of the Double Axes, from the characteristic symbols on the walls. The room is particularly well-built, of stones without mortar.
The Megaron is comprised of the main room with “polythyra” (multiple doorways) and surrounding corridors providing light and air.
In the west corridor are the remains of an impressive throne, now protected by a glass partition. There were once frescoes on the walls, and some parts remain of the “Figure-of-Eight Shields”, the “Argonaut” and the “Bull”

Knossos, the Apartments of the Queen

Knossos Queen's Apartments
Interior view of the Queen’s Apartments in Knossos, which are smaller than the King’s but equally luxurious.
The Queen's Apartments contained windows, benches, a corridor and secondary rooms in which were found a bathroom with running water, and sarcophagi.
On the back wall is a copy of the “Dolphin Fresco”.
On the upper floor, in a small shrine, was found the ivory treasure.

Knossos, the East Wing of the Palace

Knossos east wing of the minoan palace

Aerial view of the East Wing of the Palace of Knossos. The building complex in the foreground is the workshop area.
In the background is part of the Propylaeum, only partly reconstructed, and the stepped East Entrance.
Some experts hold that to the east was the bull-leaping arena.

Minoan Workshops in Knossos

the Minoan Workshops

This was the Lapidary’s Minoan Workshop, where fragments of andesite (lapis lacedaemonius, see photo ) were found, which the craftsmen were working on when the palace was destroyed.
Next door was the Potter’s Minoan Workshop, with a low bench and a gypsum basin. In a room above the Potter’s Workshop was found the “Taureador Fresco”. 

 The Magazine of the Giant Minoan Pithoi

The Magazine of the Giant Minoan Pithoi is dated to the Protopalatial Period (2000-1700 BC).
Giant Minoan Pithoi in KnossosThe pots are impressively large, and many visitors notice the many handles on the body of the heavy pithoi, through which ropes were passed for transportation.
It must be stressed that the Minoans were famous for their highly-developed seamanship and trade links, extending from the Middle East to Egypt and the Aegean Islands. Much ink has been spilt on the subject of the Minoan thalassocracy.
To the north was the potters’ quarter. At the north-east corner of the palace were the Protopalatial Magazines.

Minoan Drainage System in Knossos

The Drainage System of the Palace of Knossos

In the East Wing of the Palace of Knossos, the drainage system of stone ducts can be seen clearly. Similar impressively advanced water and sewage drainage systems are found in the other Minoan palaces.
This pottery duct is made of a male and a female part that slot into one another, creating a watertight seal. Clay ducts were used in Crete until the mid-20th century. Water was transferred to Knossos along a ten-kilometre-long aqueduct from the Archanes springs. 

Knossos, the North Entrance

Knossos North Entrance
The North Propylaeum is the North Entrance to the Palace of Knossos and it is located at the end of the road from the harbour. The Propylaeum framed the entrance ramp.
Knossos Bull fresco
Evans reconstructed the North Entrance and decorated it with the “Bull" fresco.
Knossos North Entrance to the Palace

Thousands of years ago, visitors arriving by sea entered Knossos by the North Propylaeum. We can see two staircases, one wider than the other. When the last palace was built, it was decided to build a smaller entrance corridor for security reasons. That was when the ramp we see today was constructed

Knossos, the Theatre, the Customs House and the Royal Road

Knossos north view of the Palace

The Theatre and the Customs House

The palace and the “Customs House” viewed from the north (photo). The Customs House contained a lustral basin surrounded by columns. Evans believed that, since the building was at the end of the road leading from the harbour to the palace, it was used as a customs house.
Knossos - North View (panoramic photo)

The Theatre and the Royal Road

The square Theatre lies north of the Palace of Knossos, in front of the north magazines. Various enactments, probably religious in nature, may have been held here. The theatre steps seated 400 people.
Knossos Theatre and Royal Road The Royal Road leads to the Little Palace, now closed to the public. This lay in the aristocratic neighbourhood of the town of Knossos and may have housed members of the royal family. The Little Palace was as luxurious as the large palace and served the same purpose, but was constructed on a smaller scale. Along the Royal Road were the luxury homes of the Knossos elite.
Knossos map : Theatre and Royal Road = No 14

Here we come to the end of our tour of the Minoan Palace of Knossos. However, no tour is complete without a visit to the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion, where all the finds from Evans’ and subsequent excavations are held.

Knossos, Caravan Serai - Tomb of King Minos

Caravan Serai

Caravan SeraiOf course, Knossos was a whole town and what we are visiting today, was simply its most splendid building. In the wider Knossos area, near the palace, are other important archaeological sites, which are unfortunately closed to the public.
One of these is known by the unusual name of the Caravan Serai: this was a two-storey guesthouse with apartments and bathrooms like small swimming pools with hot and cold water. A lustral basin and important frescoes were also found here.
Photo: The ' Partridges' Minoan Fresco

Royal Tomb of King Minos

The Royal Tomb of King Minos

Another important monument in the Knossos area is the Royal Tomb, the site of Evans’ last excavation in 1931, where he believed that the last King Minos was buried.
This is a Creto-Mycenaean building dated to 1400-1350 BC, where funerary feasts in honour of the dead king are believed to have been held.