At our port stop from the MSC Lirica in Heraklion, Greece on the island of Crete, we took a tour on the hop on hop off bus, which had a stop and a ticket booth at the port. One of the stops on the tour is the ruins of the Minoan palace of Knossos.
The ancient ruins of the palace of Knossos are the main tourist attraction near Heraklion. There are several layers of ruins there, each more ancient than the last. This site is considered to be the home of the labyrinth of the minotaur of Greek legend.
Knossos was a grand palace, and the capitol of the Minoan civilization. According to legend, the three sons of Europa and Zeus were raised by Europa and her husband Asterion, the king of Crete. When Asterion died the three sons vied for rule. Minos gained the throne with the help of the sea god Poseidon, who sent Minos a majestic bull from the sea in return for Minos’ promise to sacrifice that bull to Poseidon. Minos however did not keep that promise, keeping the majestic bull for himself and sacrificing a lesser one in its place. It is also said that Zeus was in the form of a bull when with Europa, so bulls play a major part in these myths. Some artwork of the area portrays Europa riding a bull.
Angered by his arrogance and disrespect, the gods punished Minos by causing his wife Pasiphae to fall in love with the majestic bull. Her son of that union had the head of a bull and the body of a man. As he grew, the bull-child or minotaur whom she had named Asterion after his step-grandfather became ferocious and monstrous. Unable to find a suitable source of food as he was neither man nor beast he turned to eating people. Which seems a bit odd since people are not the normal food for cattle or humans, but that’s how the legend goes. Minos ordered the labyrinth constructed as a place to keep the minotaur.
Meanwhile his only human son was killed by people from Athens, so King Minos demanded repeated tributes of 7 youths and 7 maidens from Athens, all of whom were put into the unescapable labyrinth for the minotaur to eat. Eventually Theseus, son of the Athenian King Aegeus, volunteered to go as tribute, boasting he would kill the minotaur. Both of King Minos’ daughters fell in love with him. One of the daughters gave him a ball of string which he tied to the door on his way in and unraveled as he went, giving him a way out by following the string back to the door. He found the minotaur in the furthest reaches of the labyrinth and was able to kill him either with his fists or with a sword smuggled in depending on who is telling the tale. Even in a myth a sword certainly seems more plausible than bare hands to kill a monster who had no problem devouring all the prior people to enter his lair. However the deed was done, afterword the story says Theseus headed back toward Athens with both love-smitten sisters. He ungratefully left the one who had given him the life-saving string on an island along the way and married the other.
Exactly how old the ruins at Knossos are varies from source to source, but it is likely that the oldest layer was a city dating back to 6700 BC. The old palace was built on top of that around 3000 or so years later, and the new palace on top of that. These palaces had a tendency to get destroyed, possibly due to earthquakes or enemies, though the final destruction was at the ending of the Minoan civilization with the immense volcanic eruption of Thera (now called Santorini.)
The ruins at the site of Knossos were discovered in 1878 by Minos Kalokairinos. Excavation began in 1900 by English archeologist Sir Arthur Evans and his team and continued for 35 years. They named areas of the palace by what he thought they had been used for. Further study has changed thoughts on some things.
He also restored portions of the palace as he thought they would have looked and those restorations have become part of the history of the ruins, and the reason why there are intact and painted areas on something otherwise so ancient. Whether or not they are entirely accurate, these restorations add interest to the site and add more of an insight to what it may have once looked like than the ruins would otherwise have.
There are paths and trails through areas where people are allowed to walk, and occasionally there is even a room visitors are allowed to enter, though most areas don’t actually have enough walls or any roof to make a room, and most that do are for looking in only, not actually going there.
Some later efforts to preserve the ruins have led to some areas being roofed as the weather is hard on these ancient ruins now that they have been excavated and exposed to the elements.
We saw several stray dogs wandering about the ruins when we were there. None were aggressive and they all looked in reasonably good condition so either they find enough to eat or someone feeds them.
The hillside above the ruins is lined with what looks like ancient stone walls so the original city may have extended well beyond the area occupied by the later palaces.
It cost 8 euros per person to enter the gate into the ruins at the time of our visit. Pathways through the ruins include uneven ground and stairways in various states of repair or erosion. Recent rains also had left some areas in puddles.
Some areas are just portions of old rock walls, but many places have interpretive signs which have English as well as another language, presumably Greek, to explain what you are looking at or something about the history of the ruins in general.
A few spots among the ruins have large pottery urns. There is a cafe and free restrooms near the entrance, outside of the gates you have to pay to pass through.
Across the street from the ruins a row of souvenir shops lines the roadway. Minotaurs are a popular theme in the shops, but there were also quite a few items with owls and other creatures as well as things like pornographic coasters or playing cards depicting ancient Greeks in compromising positions. Besides a lot of knick knacks and other souvenir type items, some shops had clothing or jewelry and there was a bar/cafe at the end of the row.
We saw signs along the road near Knossos on the way back advertising a labyrinth which looked to be a place where people could go and walk through a modern day rendition of one. The bus did not stop by the sign that appeared to be the entrance to it so the existence of roadside signs is all the information I have on that. Google came up with a labyrinth theme park half an hour away in Hersonissos, but nothing near Knossos.