Do you enjoy ruins and ancient civilizations? In this article is my practical guide you to help you plan your visit to the famous Palace of Knossos in Crete, one of the major archeological sites from Minoan Crete: how to get there, opening hours, visit difficult, available information, things to see... A fascinating site!
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Why visit the Palace of Knossos Crete?
The palace of Knossos, near Heraklion is one of the most visited sites in Crete.
Before you read further this article, know that the prononciation is Kuh-nuh-SOS. This should help.
What is the palace of Knossos famous for?
So why are those ruins more visited than the other?
- For its history - this Palace is the symbol of the Minoan Civilization which flourished during the Bronze age between 2700 BC and 1400 BC (date varies depending on sources. And this civilization played a significant role in the development of Western Europe. It is often described as the first civilization of its kind in Europe.
- For its location - This is the easiest archaeological site to access, as it is located just 15min drive from the capital Heraklion
- For its legends - This is supposed to be the home of legendary King Minos and of the Minotaur Labyrinth
- For the imagination of Sir Arthur Evans - The ruins at all the Minoan sites are mostly the basis of walls and some staircases. However at Knossos, the archaeologist Evans, played a little bit with his imagination and rebuilt a few columns and set up which help us imagine better what it looked like.
- For its technology - for the engineers and architects inside us, Knossos is evidence of the first underground clay pipes for sanitation and water supply.
Visit of Knossos - video
Below is a short video, to show you what the visit of the ruins look like:
Planning Tips - Knossos archaeological site
Where is the palace of Knossos in Crete - Location
- Knossos is located on the North shore of Crete, just South of Heraklion
- Heraklion center to Knossos = 15min drive
- Rethymno to Knossos = 1h15 drive
- Chania to Knossos = 2h drive
- Agios Nikolaos to Knossos = 1h15 drive
- On the Map below with some of the most famous archaeological sites in Crete, you can see where Knossos is located at #1
You can check out my article about the best archaeological sites in Crete.
How to get to Knossos
Knossos is very easy to access from Heraklion and from the main towns.
- Taxi or bus from Heraklion - if you are staying in the city, you can easily take a taxi or the bus (Line #2 Port to Knossos)
- Organized tour - you can find day trips from the main towns on the North Coast, you get a guided tour (skipping the lines) and it is sometimes combined with other activities such as the Lassithi Plateau or the town of Heraklion - Check out options & Book
- Self-drive - 2 Carpark one right at the entrance (small), the other one just a little before (larger)
The palace of Knossos (with its GPS coordinates) is included in my eBook:
- 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
Tips to visit Knossos archaeological site
- Knossos palace opening hours - Summer: daily 8am to 8pm in Summer / Winter: 8am to 5pm in Winter (and probably just 3pm on the weekend)
- Entrance fee - 15 euros, but you can purchase a combined ticket with the Archaeological museum in Heraklion
- Tour guide - At the entrance there is a booth where you can find tour guides for private tours and group tours
- Toilets - The toilets are right by the entrance (I did not see any around the ruins) - you have to pay a small fee
- Café near the entrance and tavernas around
- IMPORTANT - this is a very touristy site. Big coaches come everyday. If you want a quieter visit, I recommend coming at 8am (big groups start around 9am) or late in the afternoon (5 or 6pm in Summer).
Where to stay near Knossos
Close to Knossos, you will mostly find rentals.
The larger choices of accommodations are:
- in the old town of Heraklion - Check out the best rated accommodations in Heraklion and book
- or at the nearby Ammoudara beach - Check out accommodations near the beach & book
Visit Knossos - Map & Getting around
Visiting Knossos - orientation
There is no clear flow of visit or map to clearly understand where you are.
You can find many boards providing explanation of the different sections and what you can see.
As you can see below, they have little maps on them, but is it very difficult to get oriented and understand where in the palace you are standing...
However, compared to the other sites, Knossos is one of the best in terms of explanations.
Just read one board and look for the next one.
Difficulty of visiting the archaeological site of Knossos
Regarding the difficulty of walking around the ruins, it is generally easy.
You will find some slopes and stairs. In some areas the floor is uneven and you should be careful.
But it is accessible to many.
However, like many ruins, it not really accessible to wheelchairs... I think you may be able to see one fourth of it, if your wheelchair can handle rocky floor.
About the Knossos Minoan Palace - FAQ
What is Knossos in Greece?
Knossos is the largest archaeological site in Crete from the Bronze age and the Minoan civilization.
It used to be a palace surrounded by a town. It was most probably the largest one making it a political, cultural and ceremonial center.
The ruins are those of 2 palaces, one built over the other. The original one seemed to have been destroyed in 1700 BC.
Who discovered Knossos in Crete?
For a very long time, Knossos was considered a legend because of the myths surrounded it.
But it was discovered in 1900 by the British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans.
Excavation lasted for 35 years with the British School fo Archaeology.
What was the palace of Knossos used for?
Knossos was a large settlement established around a palace.
It was most probably the center of the Minoan civilization.
Excavations have revealed a central square, royal quarters, living quarters, important storage areas, ceremonial lustral,...
It was inhabited for several thousand years.
What does Knossos mean?
I did not find any information that the term Knossos had a signification in Greek.
It is just the name given to the city. Homer in the Odyssey mentions " the great city of Cnosus".
What destroyed Knossos?
The first hit was in the 16th century BC when the volcano of Santorini had a major eruption provoking earthquake and tsunami. It provoked major destructions of all the Minoan settlements on the island of Crete.
Recent discoveries, though, show that the site was taken over by the Mycenaens post-eruption and keep being used until it was destroyed by a fire around 1375 BC.
What did Knossos look like?
It is really not easy to imagine the grand palace it must have beens from the basis of walls you can see in the ruins.
The columns added by Sir Arthur Evans help, but you sill can't see how grandiose it was.
I recommend a visit to the fantastic museum of Archaeology in Heraklion. Along with many artefacts, you can see a reproduction of what the palace may have looked like:
If you are wondering how to pronounce Knossos, you can check here someone saying it in English and another in ancient Greek.
Things to see at Knossos - palace of Knossos architecture
Wondering what to see at Knossos?
Below are some of the main architectural features to admire when visiting the famous ruins.
I do not describe everything, because I still want you to have something to discover when visiting Knossos. LOL.
When you approach the site, you first notice those giant circular pits. They are known as "Kouloures".
They were built during the Old Palace period of Knossos (1900 to 1700 BC).
According to the explanatory board, Kouloures was the name given to them by the excavation workmen. It is not mean something specific.
We are not sure what they were used for: theories range from rubbish dumps to grain storage.
They seemed to have been covered and not used during the New Palace period.
The Great staircase and its upper floors were recreated by Evans. He thought that the important reception rooms were on the top floor.
He based his reconstruction on the columns, pillar bases and ritual stone vase found in the area.
The South propylaeum you can see above, is just a restoration imagined by Evans. He placed there a reproduction of the Cup-bearer fresco on the wall.
On the East side you can see large storage jars (see below), so it is believed that this area was later used for storage.
There was a lot of storage rooms around the palace. The West magazines cover around 1300sqm.
Cists of various sizes have been found, probably to store equipment pieces in the small ones and liquid in the largest.
The remains of around 150 pithoi (large storage jars) have been found. But it has been calculated that the area could probably store 400 of them.
Clay tablets have been found. They were probably used to manage quantities and economics. Some where written in Linear B other in Hieroglyph style.
This is the antechamber of a complex of rooms.
Evans chose to call it the 'Throne room' because of the stone seat found. All the frescoes displayed around these rooms are replicates. The originals are in the Heraklion museum.
North Lustral Basin
For this rooms, the floor was lower than the surroundings and it looks like a cistern.
It has been completely reconstructed by Evans based on the luxurious slabs of Gyspsum and columns found there.
Evans thought that it was used for purification ceremonies, but there is no evidence that it could have been filled with water, and there were no drainage system.
The famous North Pillar Hall and Bastion
This is the most famous architectural feature of Knossos. You can see it on many many pictures.
It is an open air passage linking the Central court to the North Entrance.
On each side, it seem there were colonnades called bastions.
What we see is the West side reconstructed by Sir Arthur Evans.
The Hall of Double axes
The name 'Hall of double axes' was given by Evans because of a Double-axe sign engraved on a wall. He believed it to be the residential area for the King.
Walls were decorated with frescoes and well as wooden constructions.
Next to it is a smaller room called the 'Queens' Megaron".
As you head towards the exit, you will find the theatral area. Evans called it so, because the shape reminded him of theaters (later developed) with the rows of steps.
And last, you can see the beginning of the Royal Road. Along this road were town houses with workshops on the ground floors.
One of the highlights of the architecture of Knossos is the piping system.
I am very sorry, I seem to have forgotten to take a picture.
Knossos had indeed a advanced water and sewer system as well as heating systems.
Apparently, the Minoans used the slope of the land to establish the drainage. And they also installed canals for overflow water after heavy rain. You can see some pictures here.
The Myths - The Palace of Knossos Labyrinth
The Knossos Minoan Palace is surrounded by Myths and Legends.
Stories say that King Minos had the inventor Daedalus built a Labyrinth inside the palace (or as the palace), where he could imprisoned the Minotaur (a half-man half-bull creature) so that he could not find the exit and escape.
So as to keep Daedelus from telling the secrets of the palace, Minos imprisoned him and his son Icarus in a tower at Knossos. So he fashioned wings with wax and feathers for himself and his son. But when they escaped, Icarus flew too close to the sun, melted his wings and died.
Minos sacrificed young people from noble families to the Minotaur. So Theaseus killed the Minotaur and freed them.
Based on the frescoes found at Knossos about the sport of bull jumping, it is believed that the Minotaur arose from the athletes that looked like half-man half bull when they were jumping.
And considering the complex structure of the palace of Knossos, it is easy to understand how it can have been associated with a labyrinth.
Knossos murals frescoes & artefacts (Minotaur...)
Except from a few jars and the reproductions of frescoes, you can see the artefacts found during the excavation of this site.
But you can find many of those pieces gathered at the Heraklion archeological museum.
I must admit that I am not a museum person, but I really enjoyed this one (even more than the famous Athen archaeological museum!).
They have some fantastic pieces including lots of potteries.
For example you can see this impressive Minotaur head:
Or some of the famous frescoes found inside the Knossos palace such as the one with dolphins:
Want to see more of CRETE?
Fascinating ruins, aren't they ?
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