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History of Minoan Palace
Minoan Palace
About Crete - The Minoans - History of Minoan Palace

The Old Palace Period
The first Minoan palaces were created about 2000 B.C. They show some concentration of power into the hands of a central authority. This concentration led to a sudden political, cultural, economic and religious reorganization of life. Knossos, Festos, Malia, Zakros, Agia Triada and other smaller palaces and villas were created in the same time period. It seems that there was co-operation among the palaces since no signs of competition have been found.

The palaces forced a hierarchical organization of the society with the king at the top of the pyramid. An important role in the maintenance of this hierarchy was played by religion. From the myths that have reached us, we may conclude that the king was presented to the people as a representative of and communicator with the deities. Minos had the reputation of a just king who imposed fair laws given to him by these deities.

The palaces were not only the homes of the king and his family. They have sections devoted to the deities, rooms for ceremonies, for ceramic and seal production and large storage sections for merchandise and agricultural products. The palaces had an organized administration. Many inscriptions which have been found list the offerings of the people. Commerce with Egypt and the East was under the control of the palaces.

The technical innovations that were developed to support the basic needs of the first palaces are simply amazing. The sewage system was very complex and it remained the best in the western world until the Roman era (almost 2,000 years later!). Stone pipes led the water into a central sewage system, with pipes decreasing in size in order to increase water pressure and drive out obstructions. In Knossos, the Minoans channelled drinking water from Mount Youktas, a distance of about 10km, to a water tank in the palace. They used pipes that fitted one within another, perfectly engineered to carry the water through an uneven terrain of hills and valleys. Similar systems existed in the other palaces. The palaces as well as the houses outside the palaces are multilevel; the lower level often did not have windows because it was used as a storage area.

The old palaces were destroyed three times between 1900 and 1700 B. C. The last time they were almost completely levelled by an earthquake and the Minoans found it pointless to try to repair them. All the palaces were rebuilt from the beginning after levelling the remains of the old palaces.

The New Palace Period
The Minoans built new palaces in Knossos, Festos and Malia immediately after the catastrophe of 1700 B.C. Many other smaller palaces appeared at the same time. The most important one was found in Zakros in the east side of Crete. The smaller palaces include the ones in Agia Triada, Arhanes, Amnisos, and the small palaces near Knossos and Malia.

The new palaces were simply glorious and mark the golden age of the Minoan civilization. The palace of Knossos is reputed to have 1,500 rooms. The most prominent features of the palaces include large central courts, large staircases connecting multiple storeys (up to five), numerous coloured wooden columns with capitals (forerunners of to the marble Greek columns with capitals of more than one thousand years later). The wooden columns were made of inverted tree trunks so that the wooden capital was placed on top of the wider portion of the tree. Cretan alabaster was extensively used for construction of benches, facades of buildings, and the throne. Many colourful, beautiful paintings on the walls gave a bright ambience. The light entering from the inner court, windows, and doors, combined with the bright colours of the paintings, made the palace a very attractive and lively centre.

All over the palace there were decorations of double axes (labrys) and bull horns. It is evident that the mystical labyrinth was the palace of Knossos itself where many double axes (labrys) existed, and where the large number of turns in the corridors of the palace confused the visitor, and caused him to lose his sense of direction.

The palaces of the New Period remained production centres of goods and of trade with the outside world. Workshops for stone carving, ceramics and seal-making were near the storage areas where large earthen jars (pithos) were filled with agricultural products. The road from the harbour to Knossos led to the north side of the palace which had an impressive entrance with double doors, temporary storage areas and grand rooms.

A systematic check of products was done there, much as in a modern customs office.

A large part of the palaces was devoted to the royal apartments and to the worship of the gods or goddesses. The people gave offerings to them, which were listed and stored in various places within the palace. Special ceremonies and blood sacrifices (usually of a bull) took place in the presence of a few priests and the king as a high-priest. Other sacred ceremonies took place in the central courts, which were filled with people.

The new palaces were destroyed about 1450 B.C. Many associate the disaster with the explosion of the volcano of Thira. The palaces, with the exception of Knossos, were abandoned and were not reconstructed.

After 1450 B.C., Knossos shows signs of external influence which is manifested in a new writing script (Linear B) and a new pottery style found nowhere else (palatial style). Nevertheless, the final disaster for Knossos happened around 1400 B.C. Some smaller palaces in Agia Triada and Tilisos were built in the Postpalatial Period.

The Minoan Settlements
During the Prepalatial Period (2700 to 2000 B.C.) important settlements appeared for the first time in Crete. The settlement in Vasiliki, Ierapetra, is such an example. Vasiliki dominates the shortest distance axis of Crete (between Ierapetra and Mirabelo Bay), and the sailors preferred to unload their merchandise and carry it overland from the north to the south sea of Crete or vice versa instead of sailing around the dangerous Cape Sidero. A large building with laboratories and storage rooms giving the impression of an organized settlement was found in Vasiliki. In the south of Crete, near the shortest axis, excavations near Mirtos have uncovered a settlement on a hill with architecture similar to the villages of modern Crete. Other settlements of this era have been found in Mochlos, Festos, and Knossos. There is evidence of trade with the Aegean Islands, Egypt and Cyprus (for copper imports) in this time period.

Settlements in the Old and the New Palace Periods
Large cities around the big palaces have been discovered in Knossos, Festos, Malia and Zakros. Around the palace of Knossos there was a city where the population reached 100,000 together with the population of its harbours--a very significant number for that era.

In terms of studying the life of Minoans the excavations of the settlements in Gournia, Psira and Palaikastro are very important. The size of the city of Palaikastro (a Minoan harbour in east Crete) was second only to the city of Knossos, considerably larger than the cities around the other palaces. In some settlements, the houses were decorated as ornately as those in Knossos, and their frescoes were as good as those of Knossos. Many other Minoan settlements have been discovered dating from the New Palace Period.

During the New Palace Period there were also many villas in the countryside of Crete. Their function is not clear, but it is possible that they had certain obligations towards the kings. Their houses are big, often exceeding 30 to 50 rooms. Often, workshops for ceramic production were part of the houses. Examples of such villas are in Zou, Zakros, Sklavokambos and Nirou-Hani.

Settlements in the Postpalatial Period
In the Postpalatial Period (after 1450 B.C.) the Cretan population was Minoan, Ahaean and Kydonian. New cities were created at the time, several of which were on the west side of the island. The myths say that Agamemnon, the King of Mycenae, created Pergamos, Lapa, and Tegla. The Ahaeans also participated in the building of Polirinia. The Minoan civilization continued in that era, but the decline had started. The Cretans however, were not completely dominated by the new-comers. The architecture of the cities remained unchanged, and it was not affected by the Mycenean way of building.

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