Are you fascinated by the Minoan civilization? Don't miss the Malia Palace in Crete, some of the best ruins on the island. Established between mountains and sea, the orange soil and many jars make the visit fascinating. Below is my guide to help you plan your visit to the Malia archaeological site.
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Why visit the Malia Palace archaeological site? - video
The Malia Palace is one of the best archaeological sites in Crete. It offers:
- A great location between mountains and sea
- Easy access
- The 3rd largest Minoan palace in Crete (After Knossos and Phaistos)
- The most interesting ruins of a town surrounding a palace
- Beautiful reconstituted pithoi (giant jars)
- A small building with reconstructions in miniature and photos from the research
- Some of the highest walls of all the ruins in Crete which allow you to better imagine what it looked like
Below is a short video giving you a snapshot of the archeological site of Malia:
Planning tips - Malia Palace Crete
Malia Palace Location
- On the North East shore of Crete
- Next to the beach town of Malia
- Midway between Heraklion and Agios Nikolaos
- You can see it at #3 on the map below:
How to get to Malia
- The site is easily accessed by car, just off the main road E75
- Heraklion to Malia Palace = 35min
- Agios Nikolas to Malia Palace = 25min
- You can find the palace of Malia (with its GPS coordinates) in my eBook to help you plan your road trip:
- 5 easy-to-plan Maps
- 60+ Scenic locations for your itinerary
- 16+ extra photo stops and places to see
- Planning info to make the most of your time
- GPS coordinates for peace of mind
- 150+ original photos to help you select where to go
Visiting the Malia Archaeological site
- Large carpark by the entrance
- Opening Hours - 8am to 6pm (to 3:30pm in Winter)
- Entrance fee - 6 euros
- Facilities - Toilets by the entrance / Tavern further down the road by the sea
- Walking around the site is easy without any stairs (They are the easiest of all the Minoan ruins)
- It is not as touristic as Knossos but still often visited by groups. The site being quite large, it does not feel crowded
- My main tip: start by the small information building to better understand what you will see and then explore the ruins
Where to stay in Malia
- Malia is just a 5min drive from the ruins. You will find a lot of accommodations close to the beaches
Check out the best rated accommodations in Malia
- However Heraklion, Agios Nikolas, Elounda and others are not far away - Check out my guide about where to stay in Crete.
Museum of Malia Archaeological site
As you walk through the ruins there are not many information signs.
Therefore I recommend for you to start at the small museum as you enter.
The building has 3 rooms explaining the palace and the excavation.
The best parts are the model reconstructions of the palace, which give you a really good idea of what it may have looked like.
This is much better than the other Minoan ruins in Crete where you only get drawings.
You can realise the complexity of the constructions on multiple levels (the Minoan palaces are often compared to labyrinths, which may be the explanation behind some legends...).
The other interest of this small museum are all the pictures from the excavations and the artefacts found. You won't see the objects though, only the pictures. If you want to see many Minoan artefacts, you must visit the Heraklion museum: it is fascinating!
History of the Malia Minoan Palace
Palace of Malia - Facts
- The Minoan name of the Palace is not known - it has been suggested that it could be Tarmaros or Milatos.
- The currency was coins minted on site with the goddess Athena on them
- It is the 3rd largest of the Minoan palaces (7500 m2)
- A large settlement had developed around the palace, thanks to the proximity to the sea
- The most famous artefacts found in Malia is the Golden bee pendant and the handle of a sceptre
- According to mythology, Sarpedon (son of Zeus and Europa, and brother to Minos) was the first king of Malia
- Until 1880 the site had not been discovered. The land owner discovered gold and excavation was started by gold diggers
- Since 1921, the Malia site is researched by the French School of archeology.
Palace of Malia - History
The area has been inhabited since the Neolithic times (6000BC). However there are hardly any traces from that period.
The city developed with the Minoan civilization and it peaked during the Palatial periods (around 1900 BC to 1675 BC).
As with the other Minoan sites:
- The first palace was built around 1900 BC and destroyed around 1700 BC
- The second palace (neopalatial period) was rebuilt right after and destroyed in 1450BC.
- Almost all the visible ruins are from the second palace.
Points of Interest of the archaeological site of Malia
One of the main reasons my mum preferred this archeological site to the others, was the size of the walls. It is a lot easier to imagine the rooms and places as you walk around the site.
Typical of all the Minoan palaces are the Kouloures, the giant round holes.
Malia has 6 of them, but filled in.
There are various interpretations of what they ere used for. One says that they were granaries (storage for cereals).
Inside one of the covered areas, you can find the 6 East magazines. They are very-well preserved.
In those areas the Pithoi (large jars) were stored with grains or liquids.
As you can see in the picture below there were channels dig inside. It is supposed that they were for collecting liquids that may have spilled.
The Central court
The Central Court is the nervous central system of the Palace. It exists in all palaces. This one existed at the time of the Old Palace.
It is oriented north-south, 48 m long and 23m wide.
The grand staircase
From the central court, you can see the beginning of the grand staircase next to the loggia. It led to the 1st floor of the palace.
Throughout the ruins, the only artefacts that remain are the Pithoi, giant jars that were used to store grains and liquid.
Take the time to admire their size, handles and carvings.
South of the central court, don't miss the Kernos. It is believed that offerings to the Gods (seeds and small objects) were placed in the 34 shallow holes around the table.
I am sorry I seem to have forgotten to take a picture.
The Crypt area of the Malia Ruins (and polythyron)
In another covered section of the ruins, you can see the Crypt.
Since it is under your walking level, it is a lot easier to imagine what it looked like.
However the fact that they are basement rooms makes the dig and the understanding a lot harder.
It was an important place as there were columns and plastered walls.
It has been suggested that it was used as a meeting place for representatives of the town.
But part of this section is also magazines. So another hypothesis, was that it was a commercial area.
There is nothing similar in the other Minoan palaces.
District M of the ruins of Malia (or Quartier Mu)
Just a little further away from the center of the palace, you can walk to another excavation site - it is referred to as District M (Quartier M in French on the signs).
It is a 3000m2 area from the Propalatial period. It is the largest and best preserved complex in Crete.
It was built around 1800BC and destroyed around 1700BC.
The archeologists identified houses larger than commons in other areas. Inside they found: residential rooms, religious spaces, storerooms...
The tablets found in the area indicate that it was not only residential. It might has been another administrative complex with a political role.
The large buildings were surrounded by smaller ones; they have been identified as craftmen houses : a potter, a metalworker and a stone engraver.
Malia is also famous for its beaches at the foot of the Lassithi mountains and its parties.
You can find a wide range of accommodations including resorts.
Other attractions and things to do in Malia Crete (and around)
Not far from Malia you can drive up the Lassithi mountains.
There you will find:
- Charming little monasteries
- The large plateau of Lassithi, farming land surrounded by mountains
- The famous windmills
- And the legendary Pyschro cave (Zeus cave) cave above the Lassithi plateau. See article
A drive through the whole area makes for a great day trip from Malia.
Or you can head East to visit the famous Spinalonga island which was a leper colony and a venetian fort.
Its tumultuous history has fascinated many.
40min drive to the short boat ride from Plaka
Read the article
Malia vs Phaistos vs Knossos
Which one to visit?
- Knossos - closest to Heraklion, most famous palace, legendary home of the Minotaur, with reconstructed sections - but crowded - learn more
- Phaistos - the one the east coast, best scenery as it is located on a hill, less crowded on the 3, where the Phaistos disc was found - but harder to imagine the palace - learn more
- Malia - easy access and exploration, easiest to imagine how it was, orange soil, large pithois - our favorite!
Discover more about Crete
Fascinating ruins, aren't they?
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