Knossos on Crete

Anne-Marie Bokslag

Haarlem, Netherlands

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Knossos (alternative spellings Knossus, Cnossus, Gnossus, Greek Κνωσός pronounced [kno̞ˈso̞s]), also known as the Knossos Palace is the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete and probably the ceremonial and political center of the Minoan civilization and culture. It is also a tourist destination today, as it is near the main city of Heraklion and has been substantially, if imaginatively “restored”, making the site more comprehensible to the visitor than a field of unmarked ruins.

The city of Knossos remained important through the Classical and Roman periods, but its population shifted to the new town of Handaq (modern Heraklion) during the 9th century AD. By the 13th century, it was called Makryteikhos ‘Long Wall’; the bishops of Gortyn continued to call themselves Bishops of Knossos until the 19th century. Today, the name is used only for the archaeological site situated in the suburbs of Heraklion.

The ruins at Knossos were discovered in 1878 by Minos Kalokairinos, a Cretan merchant and antiquarian.

The palace is about 130 meters on a side and since the Roman period has been suggested as the source of the myth of the Labyrinth, an elaborate mazelike structure constructed for King Minos of Crete and designed by the legendary artificer Daedalus to hold the Minotaur, a creature that was half man and half bull and was eventually killed by the Athenian hero Theseus.

Labyrinth comes from the word labrys, referring to a double, or two-bladed, axe. Its representation had a religious and probably magical significance. It was used throughout the Mycenaean world as an apotropaic symbol; that is, the presence of the symbol on an object would prevent it from being “killed.” Axe motifs were scratched on many of the stones of the palace. It appears in pottery decoration and is a theme of the Shrine of the Double Axes at the palace, as well as of many shrines throughout Crete and the Aegean. The etymology of the name is not known; it is probably not Greek. The form labyr-inthos uses a suffix generally considered to be pre-Greek.

The location of the labyrinth of legend has long been a question for Minoan studies. It might have been the name of the palace or of some portion of the palace. Throughout most of the 20th century the intimations of human sacrifice in the myth puzzled Bronze Age scholars, because evidence for human sacrifice on Crete had never been discovered and so it was vigorously denied. The practice was finally verified archaeologically (see under Minoan civilization). It is possible that the palace was a great sacrificial center and could have been named the Labyrinth. Its layout certainly is labyrinthine, in the sense of intricate and confusing.

Many other possibilities have been suggested. The modern meaning of labyrinth as a twisting maze is based on the myth.

Several out-of-epoch advances in the construction of the palace is thought to have originated the myth of Atlantis.

Canon EOS Digital Rebel
Canon Zoom lens EF-S 18-55mm 1:3.5-5.6 II USM
Exposure time 1/320s
Aperture value f/14
ISO 400
Focal lenght 49mm

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