You travel to the very depths of European history and mythology when you visit Knossos Palace, just outside Heraklion, the capital of Crete. This was not only the site of Minoan Crete’s grandest palace but also where the legendary King Minos is said to have built the labyrinth to contain the deadly Minotaur. That is until it was killed by the heroic Theseus who escaped back to Athens with King Minos’ daughter, Ariadne.
Walking around, you will be struck by the sophistication of a civilisation that reached its peak 4,000 years ago. The drainage system is intricate and some houses were so grand that they rose up to five storeys in height. Public and private spaces were adorned with ornate frescoes, pottery and wall paintings. In fact, some of the Minoan artwork is so iconic that it continues to inspire artists today.
From the excavations of British archaeologist Arthur Evans at the turn of the 19th century, you will learn that this was actually the second Minoan palace on the site, replacing an earlier palace destroyed in an earthquake on the island of Crete in around 1700 BC. Another earthquake eventually led to this palace being abandoned, though not before becoming established as Europe’s oldest city.
Knossos Palace is big and sprawling (43,000m2), once containing 1,300 rooms connected with corridors around a main courtyard. So the best way of exploring it and understanding its secrets is with a licensed guide.