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Knossos Palace Crete

Knossos Palace

It is impossible for someone to come to Crete on vacation and not visit its landmark, Knossos. For the island of Crete, Knossos has the same significance as the Acropolis for Athens. The most famous and the most impressive palace of the Minoan era, the biggest and the greatest of the decision-making centers of the Minoan Crete. Our tour in the majestic site travels us back to the past, getting us to know the Neolithic settlement, the new imposing palace, the four wings of the building with the ceremony chambers, the public warehouses, the Throne Room, the Corridor of Procession with the amazing murals, the Propylaea with the famous Double Horns of Consecration, the Royal Chambers, the servants’ dormitories, the storehouses of the palace, the various workshops, the Reservoir Basin, even a stone-built theatre. We are about to hear great myths, relating to the Palace of Knossos, such as the myth of the Labyrinth and the story of Daedalus and Icarus. We are going to walk on Sir Arthur Evans’ steps and we may feel a bit of the excitement and pride he felt when he discovered this exceptional symbol of the Minoan architecture, which even nowadays transfixes everybody with its grandeur.

Leaving the marvelous Palace of Knossos, we continue our tour towards the centre of the island, where we visit the lovely Monastery of Kera Kardiotissa, which was named after a miraculous icon of Virgin Mary. In an idyllic landscape, the monastery, run currently by nuns, is known for its artistic and its historical importance, as well as its remarkable murals.
Moving on inland and driving up to the Lassithi Plateau, we have the chance to admire the remaining famous windmills, the ditches, the “linies” as they are known, the Venetian drainage system of the plateau that turned the arid area into the most important grain-growing region of Crete and of course the small traditional villages that still keep the scent of another era. The most famous of all is the village of Psychro, where we can admire the primeval traditional art of pottery-making by the remaining craftsmen and of course we have the opportunity to visit a very significant place for religious worship of the Minoan era, the cave of Psychro, mostly known as Dictean Cave. A cave of exceptional beauty, it is considered as the place where Zeus, the father of the Olympians Gods, was born.

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I have to stress that in the case of the Phaistos Disc, there is not a single word to be officially deciphered.

 

FIRST PERSUASIVE TRANSLATION OF THE PHAISTOS DISC

Jiri Matejka

Phaistos Disc, made of burnt clay, comes from the Minoan palace in Phaistos, Crete. It is dated to the Minoan middle or late Bronze Age (2nd millennium BC). Disc has diameter of 15 cm and both sides are covered by signs arranged in a spiral. Its purpose, meaning and place of production were unknown till now. It is an unique archaeological finding. It is exhibited in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum on Crete.

DISCOVERY OF THE DISC

In 1900 Sir Arthur Evans discovered Minoan capital Knossos during the excavations near Heraklion. This proved that Minoans were not just a myth. Eight years later, Italian archaeologist Luigi Pernier was leading the excavations in the ruins of Phaistos city. He found a round clay table in the ground, and this was the moment, when disc came to the daylight after the 3600 years. Pernier started to work on translation with zeal, but got stuck soon after. Evans was unsuccessful with translation too. Both renowned researchers and amateurs “read” the text as a prayer, agreement, religious calendar, initiation ceremony of girls, legacy of Atlantis, message from the aliens, or even a list of ships of the Minoan fleet in the Aegean Sea. The translations were presented with a great deal of fantasy.

PHAISTOS PALACE

Situated on the Crete island, on a place with a wonderful view of the wide and fertile Messara plain, the second biggest and most important Minoan Palace of Phaistos (sometimes spelled Festos). It is not reconstructed as well as the more known Knossos Palace, but possesses other advantages.  Phaistos Palace, serving as the winter site of the ruler, built on the Kastri hill, used to be a dominant in the countryside. Psiloreitis mountain, known under the name Ida, rises northerly direction from the palace. It is the highest mountain of Crete reaching 2 456 meters of altitude.

History of Phaistos extends to 1900 BC

History of Phaistos extends to 1900 BC. That times the first palace was built there.  It was destructed by the great earthquake, that devastated the whole island and many cities. On the groundwork of the old palace another building was erected, but was destroyed in 1450 BC, during the catastrophe, that ended the whole Minoan civilization. A big tsunami hit the whole island. Some remnants of the first palace are still apparent. Italian archaeologist Frederico Halbherr discovered it when doing excavations in 1900.

However most of the ruins belong to the second palace. It was quite large and possesses many similarities to the Knossos palace. However nobody ventured to reconstruct the large building. Entrance to kings apartments is located to the north of the main courtyard. There are apparent remnants of the sewerage system in the floor. Kings chambers were surrounded by ramparts, due to its importance. Chambers for the king were divided from the chambers for the queen.  Remnants of the pool and even the toilets are visible. Ruins of archive, where the Phaistos Disc was found in 1903, are located behind the chambers. The disc is made from originally unfired clay, the diameter of 16 cm, dated to 1700 – 1600 BC. A picture script, similar to Egyptian hieroglyphs, is imprinted on the disc. Stylized human figures and animals, objects and flowers.

ATTEMPTS TO DECIPHER THE TEXT

Numerous attempts to decipher the disc failed so far, because a bilingual inscription is missing. That means inscription, where we can read and translate one of the texts. 15 linguists dealt with the Phaistos Disc according to English Wikipedia (George Hempl, George Hempl, Florence Stawell, Albert Cuny, Benjamin Schwarz, Jean Faucounau, Vladimir Georgiev, Steven R. Fischer, Kjell Aartun, Derk Ohlenroth, Sergei V. Rjabchikov, Adam Martin, Kevin & Keith Massey, Achterberg et al., Torsten Timm, Marco Corsini) and 10 researchers of other specializations (Paolo Ballotta, Leon Pomerance,

Peter Aleff, Ole Hagen, Harald Haarmann, Bernd Schomburg, Hermann Wenzel, Friedhelm Will, Axel Hausmann, Rosario Vieni, Helene Whittaker). An opinion claiming the disc to be a forgery occurred. It uses to be so in the cases of incompetence. Jerome Eisenberg, USA, stated the disc to be a recent forgery. It is no surprise, then, that the attempts to read it failed – it has no solution. Eisenberg claims, that Italian archaeologist Luigi Pernier didn’t discover the disc in 1908, but simply created it. Any proofs?  Allegedly too much regular margins of the disc and too much perfectly burnt clay. Tablets on the Crete were burnt just unwillingly by fire that times. Dating the disc and answer to this question could be achieved by thermoluminiscence (determining the time span between the two burnts), but Greek officials allegedly refused to provide a sample of the disc to the test.

Czech teacher Jiri Vymetal from Horice, passed away in 1988, was one of the people trying to decipher the disc. He thought the script to be syllabic and published his solution. According to him, there are names of Cretan localities, noticed by some ancient traveler. For example FA-ES-TOS = Phaistos. Such solutions cannot be proven or disproven.

In the November 2000 Steven Roger Fischer, American doctor of philology, handling almost 80 live and extinct languages, came to conclusion, that he is able to read the text of the mysterious disc. He reads the text from the reverse side, from the outer margin to the middle. The whole text sounds like this: “Hear you, Cretans and Greeks. Hear you, waters, you earth. Hellas faces battle with Carians. Hear you all!. Hear you the gods of the sea, hear you all, to Naxos! Get with Greeks on your way, punish the Carians, my enemies, and save suffering brothers. Protect me Idayans, my heart is clenched by anxiety. Sail to the sea everyone! And relieve me from this great torment.”

Doctor Fischer concluded, that a messenger was wearing the disc around the island, reading this “mobilization decree” in every village. Is it possible, that one messenger would be waiting, in a moment of considerable threat, for the clay to be produced, instead of more messengers going out to mobilize the island at once? Or the disc was an official form of mobilization decree and no one would trust the messenger without it? Couldn’t there be more such discs to speed up the mobilization? Fischers’s translation seems unconvincing from the above mentioned reasons. Some historians do claim, that the disc wasn’t made on Crete, but comes somewhere from Asia Minor. It is just an assumption, nothing more.

FIRST PERSUASIVE TRANSLATION

There are two conditions to be fulfilled, to give a linguist some chance to decipher ancient writing. First, he has to have enough material to examine. Second, he has to have at least elementary idea about the form of the subject language. WM Magazin focuses on the theme of Proto-Slavs and evolution of first writings. Based on the work of Antonin Horak, O Slovanech Uplne Jinak, we assume, that the inscriptions on the Phaistos Disc can be Proto-Slavic.  If we accept this fact, there is no obstacle in fluent reading of the text.

Ing. Petr KOvar

Ing. Petr Kovar

WM Magazin  is in contact with Ing. Petr Kovar for several years. He was a co-worker of Antonin Horak once.  Mr. Kovar dedicates himself to reading ancient inscriptions, not only on the Phaistos Disc, from 2003 on.  He claims he succeeded to translate the Phaistos Disc in 10 days. How is it possible? How could be translation of the disc so simple, when other specialist spent their lives by unsuccessful decipherment? We can confirm today, that it is possible!

INDICATING SIDES OF THE DISC AND THE DIRECTION OF THE TEXT

It is needed to accept the fact, that we are dealing with Proto-Slavic text, in the aim of successful translation of the picture script. You have no chance for success, if you are unwilling to accept it. This is what happened to all previous decipherers. Renowned linguists translated the signs, using different complicated methods and statistical choices, mostly with no success.  European linguists were unwilling to accept the second basic assumption, which is the form of the given language. Phaistos Disc bears a Proto-Slavic language. The inscription, thousand years old, can be understood by the “Slavs” only.

Disc is stored in the archaeological museum in Heraklion on Crete. Its sides are marked A and B. Side, considered to be A, is marked by the sign of daisy flower, side B by the sign resembling water bellows. Considering the fact, that the text wasn’t translated till now, the indication of the sides is just random convention.  It is not decisive point in choosing the side, which will be read first. I guess, that the symbol of the flower had psychological effect on decipherers, therefore it was marked side A.

(Picture: Signs of flower and water bellows)

There are disputes about the direction of reading the text from the beginning.  First decipherers preferred reading the spiral from the center to the margin. Later the opinion shifted  to reading on the spiral from the margin to the center.

DIRECTION OF READING

Signs are read as unwinding spiral from the center of the disc to the margin. This way is natural and the most simple. It is hard to imagine, that somebody starts to write on the verge and then he finds out that he is missing a space to write in the middle.

I will pose a simple example. On the round postcard from 2004 is a message from holidays in mountain range, written in the spiral.  Text starts in the middle of the postcard and ends on the verge.  That’s what I consider to be a natural writing style.  Why should we expect the direction of writing being complicated? Imagine that archaeologists will discover this postcard in 2000 years. Scholars will start to think about the correct reading. Why are the letters in bold in the middle and what represents thy systems of triangles over the line. Hundreds of pages in scholarly journals will be written by linguists and historians, stormy panel discussions will occur. One day a machinery engineer will come and say “it is simple and understandable, text is to be read naturally from the middle to the margin and language of the inscriptions is Slavic”. That’s how Ing. Petr Kovar comments recent discussions about the explanation of the signs on the disc. Furthermore, he is able to meaningfully interpret the content of the inscription.

FIRST PERSUASIVE TRANSLATION

WM Magazin readers do have the opportunity to be foremost readers of the FIRST PERSUASIVE TRANSLATION OF THE PHAISTOS DISC, made by Ing. Petr Kovar.

Ing. Petr Kovar, who devoted last 20 years to the issue of the oldest script, was fellow worker of A. Horak.  He documented ancient inscriptions on the territory of Moravia during last years.

I have to stress that in the case of the Phaistos Disc, there is not a single word to be officially deciphered. There is not an alternative standing against the translation of Mr. Kovar – we can discuss several points, places where signs are hard to read, but most of the text still remains to be clearly readable.

Language of the inscription, being 3600 years old, is so close to ours that we would be soon able, on an elementary level, using simple words, to speak with the author.  Any Slav is able to read the disc himself, after a short period of training.

PRINCIPLE OF READING THE SIGNS

Mr. Kovar used a simple method for successful translation of the disc. If we accept the fact, that the inscription is of Proto-Slavic origin, than it is needed to use dictionaries that keep the oldest words. Czech-SerbianCroatian dictionary from 1910, Russian and partly Polish dictionaries were used by Mr. Kovar. His procedure for individual signs was the following:

1. Determining the meaning of individual sign
2. Writing down Czech term for the given thing represented by the sign
3. Searching for Proto-Slavic term for the sign
4. Removing first syllable from the word
5. Merging syllables into words
6. Accomplishing Czech translation of the Proto-Slavic text

An example: There are signs on the disc, resembling a fish, snout of an animal and an angle (elbow).
Sign Nr. 33   Sign Nr. 29  Sign Nr. 18

1. Sign does represent a fish/ snout/ elbow
2. Czech term for the sign is ryba/ rypak/ loket
3. Proto-Slavic term for the sign is RIBA/ SURLA/ LAKAT
4. RI/ SU/ LA – first syllables removed from the Proto-Slavic terms for the signs
5. RISULA  – Proto-Slavic word composed by merger of the syllables
6. Translated into Czech means – NAPSALA

Mr. Kovar translated all the signs of the disc by this procedure. Most important premise of the success is understanding the Proto-Slavic words. On the southern part of Dolomites mountains, you can still meet original settlers of the mountain huts, who understand the old Proto-Slavic language and they can speak it. Definitely, you remember many words from your parents. I come from the city of Zlin and I remember the dialect of my grandmother. Sometimes it was impossible to tell whether she says p or b, se or sye, la or lo, and also o or ou at the end of the word. Proto-Slavic language roots in the speech of some people can be observed even now in certain regions of Poland, Russia,  Serbia, Croatia and others.

TRANSLATION OF SIGNS, SIDES AND THE DIRECTION OF READING

I was comparing graphic form of the signs with the official sources accessible via internet. The resulting statement is that the explanation of Mr. Kovar is correct from any point of view.  On the opposite some pictures on official pages are too much idealized and incorrect. For example sign Nr. 13. is officially being explained as “club”. Real meaning of the sign is vine, in Proto-Slavic LOZA (LO). Vineyard of these days may look a bit different, with a wire stretched in between stems. In Mediterranean the vine is grows differently, due to the warmer climate. According to Czech –SerboCroatian dictionary from 1910, the Proto-Slavic term for vine is loza. You can find a village on Moravia with a name Sucha Loz, located in a vine-growing region. Name of the village is derived from the dry vine.

Another example is sign Nr. 18, officially explained as boomerang. Real meaning is different. Sign represents an elbow or an angle. Proto-Slavic  term for elbow is LAKAT (LA), for angle is RAVEN (RA). Conclusion from the translation is, that reading starts on the side with a picture of water bellows. This is in contradiction to the official marking of sides, but as we have argued before, there is no acceptable argument for this order of sides.

Correct marking is:

Side A with the sign of water bellows

Side B with the sign of daisy flower

The reading sign by sign is the following, according to the table of signs.

Side A signs: spiral developing from the middle

7,45,25,23,34,29,7,23,35,6,2,7,18,39,30,8,7,36,29,22,24,18,23,7,5,45,7,35,18,7,25,23,34,27 8,7,36,7,36,22,5,45,29,13,8,29,8,7,36,29,1,27,9,2,33,39,32,35,6,1,33,29,18,14,16,35,20,24 24,29,18,1,38,25,27,40,36,26,2,35,40,24,7,25,42,37,22,18,1,37,7,15,33,39,1,37,43,18,23,16 12,20,24,33,27,25,22,37,23,13,2,35,7,45,27,7,40,22,12,2

Total of 119 signs on the side A.

Side B signs: spiral developing from the middle

38,3,10,1,13,21,13,35,27,27,12,2,38,3,10,35,19,23,1,13,12,2,12,26,31,19,17,18,6,27,18,32,1 4,27,12,2,26,31,12,2,1,28,18,23,10,25,27,2,26,31,12,23,33,21,13,35,27,27,12,2,26,31,12,2,1 28,18,23,10,25,27,2,11,39,38,23,32,12,2,7,40,41,1,35,19,41,12,2,35,26,31,47,18,6,12,2,8,4 4,27,12,7,45,27,33,40,4,12,2,34,29,29,5,45,29,12,40,24,18,1,13,12,2

Total of 123 signs on the side B of which 1 sign unreadable (sign Nr. 46)

SIDE B TRANSLATION

Direct translation of the Proto-Slavic words, with no modification, is the following:

Pop farted so as he got poopooed as he was
Full of the hen. Pop has well being, understandably.
So I, full of woes, to you want go I.
I wouldn’t take any carriage,
By walk, full of bones, to you want go I.
They know how to pay back here – by burial.
To you I want to go. Here said, that you are
full of bull bones. To you want go I.
They know how to pay back here – by burial.
Loved one, come here, run for me.
I conceal, not to fear,
to you and I could all desire
kisses in arms supply. Me awaits
humiliation enslavement full. Sacrificed
I am. I depict enslavement bogged down I
piteous entirely.

WHO IS AUTHOR OF THE TEXT?

Following theses are pure speculations. But after all, why not? Who is the author of the text? Who imprinted the signs into the clay of the disc found in the alleged archive of the Phaistos Palace? Even the rough translation implies that it was a woman. Emotional content of the message testifies humiliation, violence and will to get back to her loved one.  Young slave, as a toy serving delight to mighty ones. Her fate was to please “tomcats and passionate cocks”, with no possibility to escape. She was forbidden to write and they were punishing every attempt to not to obey the commands. The girl was clearly aware of her horrible fate, “when the bull gets tired, my remuneration will be my burial”…. when the ruler is fed up with me, he will let me be killed.

It is obvious that the author of the text was literate and socially educated. It could had been a “princess” captured from a “Slavic” tribe. Was the peculiar disc meaning to be delivered to somebody by an envoy sent for ransom payment? Maybe it was just a “letter” written in despair, exploiting a moment when the master fell asleep…  or her message from the capture failed to get out of the palace and she was killed because of that. Did the disc stay in the archive as a corpus delicti?

We can speculate a long time about it and definitely the time will come, when somebody writes a great novel about it.

POSSIBLE MEANING OF THE TEXT IN CURRENT LANGUAGE

Craving for love and dignified life didn’t change for millennia. Girls of these days would understand the Cretan girl with braided hair. Ancient text may be interpreted something like:

They watch over every step of mine.  Everything is forbidden to me. They take me as a cattle as a whore of the palace.  Me! I mourn, ask for mercy, but it doesn’t pay off. Finally I feel like a whore. For all  these horny men. I was writing secretly when being with the sheep. They pulled my hair to make me obey commands from the palace. They tortured me and let me lay in prison then.  Enslavement, as sheep in the fence did baa when I was maltreated by bastards. I was crying over myself. I do suffer a lot.

Master got overeaten with hen and has a rest. He is well. I want to leave, to go to you. Despaired, I will walk, with no carriage, until exhausted. To you. They say that a bull stomped you. They can even kill you. I am full of sadness and desire. I want to go to you. Loved one come, hurry to me. I am afraid of them recognizing how much I long for kisses in your arms. Only the yoke of enslavement is waiting for me here. I am forsaken. Lost and pitiful, totally drowned in the slavery.

Jiri Matejka, Ing. Petr Kovar © 2010

(překlad do angličtiny : Ing. Dušan Polanský)


The Curious Phaistos Disc – Ancient Mystery or Clever Hoax?

Phaistos Disc

In 1908 an Italian archaeologist ventured into the ruins of Phaistos, an ancient Minoan palace on the south coast of Crete. In an underground temple depository, among burnt bones, dust, and ashes, he found a remarkably intact golden-hued disc. The discovery is known as one of the most famous mysteries in archaeology: The Phaistos Disc.

The Phaistos (or Phaestos) Disc is a large, umber-coloured, fired clay plate, about 15 cm in diameter and 1 cm thick. Both sides of the disc are covered with a spiral of strange stamped symbols, circling clockwise towards the disc’s centre. It’s presumed the 45 unique symbols were made by pressing hieroglyphic seals into the damp, soft clay disc.

The Phaistos Disc, detail

The Phaistos Disc, detail (Wikimedia Commons)

Archaeologist Luigi Pernier found the disc in a basement room under the palace complex during excavation. The site is to have suffered collapse due to earthquake or volcanic eruption. Other artifacts, such as the Arkalochori Axe, have been discovered elsewhere in Crete which sport similar symbols, thought to be Linear A, an undeciphered writing system used in ancient Greece.

Luigi Pernier

Luigi Pernier (23 November 1874 –18 August 1937) Italian archaeologist and academic best known for his discovery of the Disc of Phaistos. (Heraklion-Crete.org)Bottom of Form

Interkriti writes of the ancient city, “Phaistos was one of the most important centres of Minoan civilization, and the most wealthy and powerful city in southern Crete. It was inhabited from the Neolithic period until the foundation and development of the Minoan palaces in the 15th century B.C. […] According to mythology, Phaistos was the seat of king Radamanthis, brother of king Minos. It was also the city that gave birth to the great wise man and soothsayer Epimenidis, one of the seven wise men of the ancient world.”

To this day, researchers debate the purpose of the mysterious disc, what the coded symbols mean, and even where it was created.

Palace complex, Ruins of Phaistos

Palace complex, Ruins of Phaistos (Φαιστός), Crete, Greece (Wikimedia Commons, Olaf Tausch)

Enigmatic Symbols

The most curious aspect of the discs is the hieroglyphics spiralled on both sides. The symbols are pictograms, portraying images including a man walking, a tattooed head, a helmet, an arrow, manacles, cats, eagles, and more.

Both Sir Arthur Evans, discoverer of the Minoan capital Knossos in 1900, and Luigi Pernier attempted to translate the discs but were unsuccessful. Since that time no fewer than 26 notable attempts have been made to decipher the code.  It is presumed that the writing is Linear A, a script unconnected to any known language, but some scholars suggest it is syllabic writing related to various languages, such as Hittite, Homeric Greek, Indo-European or a Semitic language. WMMagazin writes in an article that a “persuasive” translation of the Phaistos Disc by Petr Kovar has revealed the writing to be Proto-Slavic. There has never been an official agreement to a final translation.

Linear A Script

Linear A Script. Ink-written inscriptions round the inner surface of a cup. Third Middle Minoan (Public Domain)

Interpretations as to the significance of the symbols include the disc being an ancient prayer, a game board, an astronomical document, a document from Atlantis, an adventure story, a description of the mythical labyrinth, initiation rites for young women, or a solar calendar.

Researchers debate whether the symbols should be read from the centre of the disc spiralling outwards, or vice versa. They also are not decided as to whether, once the symbols are transcribed into text, that it should be read right-to-left, or left-to-right.

Unfortunately, attempts at deciphering will likely remain unsuccessful as it is thought by experts that there is not enough context available to make a valid analysis until more examples of the symbols are found.

Chart detailing a rendering of some of the symbols found on the Phaistos Disc

Chart detailing a rendering of some of the symbols found on the Phaistos Disc (Partial Screenshot, Public Domain)

Authentic or Hoax?

Experts generally accept the disc as authentic, but some scholars have suggested the artifact may be a complex hoax or forgery. Excavation records made by Pernier at the time were thorough, but no definite manufacturing timeline has been established through forensic geochronology tests. As such, theories on dating range from 1700 B.C. to 1400 B.C., and more specifically in Middle or Late Minoan times.

Some wonder if Luigi Pernier simply created the disc himself, but discovery of other artifacts with the Linear A symbols suggest otherwise. In addition, creating a forgery this enduring would be an audacious and difficult fraud to pull off, fooling experts and archaeologists for more than a century.

In the end, until the Phaistos code can be cracked and the truth revealed, the golden disc will continue to draw curious linguists, analytical cryptographers, and lovers of a good ancient mystery.


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The evidence for a Palace

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Storage magazines

The Minoan site of Petras is situated a couple of kilometres east of the modern town of Siteia and it overlooks the sea from the top of a small plateau. The site has been excavated by Metaxia Tsipopoulou since 1985 and she has also been responsible for extensive work in the bay of Siteia whose aim has been to establish the Minoan settlement patterns in the area.

The Minoan township of Petras, with a central building of a palatial character, was almost certainly the main town in this part of northern Crete. The Minoan town was already large in the Early Minoan IIB period. The houses were built together in small groups, with plastered walls and red clay floors. The processing and weaving of wool seems to have taken place in the settlement as well as the production of obsidian blades.

By the Early Minoan III/Middle Minoan IA period, at the end of the prepalatial period in Crete, larger buildings were being constructed on the hill where the later palace was to be built. The first evidence also began to emerge of elites forming and possibly competing with each other. Unfortunately the levelling of the site for the palace was so extensive that no evidence remains of buildings from the Middle Minoan I period, which saw the end of the prepalatial and the beginning of the protopalatial period on Crete so there is no way of knowing whether some large building with monumental architecture predated the first palace, which was constructed in MM IIA.

The main complex is 2800 square metres in area. The designation “palatial building” is based on finds there which resemble the architectural features of the main Minoan palaces.

Storage

First of all there is evidence that storage of produce was an important aspect of the main complex. The areas devoted to storage grew towards the end of the Neopalatial period and by the end pithoi were even being stored in the courtyard. The magazines were located to the north of the central court on a north-south axis. They were constructed in LM IA during the first phase of the construction of the second palace.

During LM IB two more storage areas were added, giving a total of 214 square metres of storage space. It seems likely that storage capacity exceeded the needs of the complex which suggests an administrative and redistributive role for the complex. The existence of 44 pithoi in the magazine area demonstrates that agricultural produce from the bay of Siteia must have been centralised at Petras rather than at any of the other sites excavated in the area.

The Central Court

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The central court

Secondly, there was a small central court running north-south, with a plaster floor and a drainage system using stone and plaster drains. The Central Court has now been covered with gravel to protect it so it is no longer possible to see or photograph the detail that was uncovered in the original excavation.

A central court is possibly the one essential element in identifying a building as a palace, although not all buildings which have a central court are necessarily palaces. The villa at Makriyialos, for example, has a very small central court but it is not a palace.

The palace at Petras was first erected in MM IIA and was finally destroyed in LM IB. It underwent a number of changes and the neopalatial palace was certainly less important than the protopalatial palace had been. All this was reflected in the history of the Central Court where two different phases have been identified.

The first starts in MM IIA and continues to LM IA. During this period the central court bears a similar resemblance to the central courts of other palaces. It was orientated more or less north to south and measured 17.6 metres by 7.6 metres. A monumental staircase, the remains of which are also covered in gravel today, led up to the north west corner of the Central Court from below. In the north west corner of the court there was a a square room with an entrance to the west which was no doubt used to monitor people entering up the monumental staircase.

The court was covered in a thick layer of fine white plaster and there was a double drainage system. It began at a point on the west wall of the Central Court. One branch passed north along the facade of the west wall, under the central court towards the monumental staircase where there was an outlet. The other branch ran eastwards from the same starting point beneath the central court and out below the east wall.

After the LM IA destruction alterations were made to the central court during the rebuilding of the palace. The monumental staircase was no longer used and the square room used to monitor access also went out of use and was not rebuilt. Although the total area of the court was only slightly reduced, the open part of the central court was greatly reduced in size because the eastern part of the court was covered by a stoa 4.8 metres deep and running the whole length of the court so that it effectively formed the East Wing of the palace.

It seems that the LM IB stoa was most likely an L-shaped building that ran along both the north and east sides of the central court. The east wing stoa had alternating columns and pillars. The stoa was very deep and because it only had one row of columns and pillars it could only have been a single-storey structure. Both the floor covering of the court in this period and the new drainage system were inferior to those that existed before the LM IA destruction.

The hieroglyphic archive

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The area of the archive

Inscriptions are usually associated with an administrative function. In the central building two archive tablets have so far been found. One was inscribed with Linear A while another consisted of hieroglyphic signs. The first was found in the magazine area and the second in the corridor outside the magazine area. There are also other examples of Linear A at Petras but the total number found to date is small.

The hieroglyphic archive itself was found in the west wing. The documents had fallen from the room above onto the floor below by the MM II doorway, which went out of use after the MM II destruction. Pottery found with the archive attests to its MM IIB date and the area was subsequently covered with a deposit from the LM IA period.

The excavator, Metaxia Tsipopoulou, believes that some of the finds indicate that the archive was still in use at the time of its destruction. These finds include a piece of clay the same size as some of the documents but only partly prepared; unfinished noduli of various types with their surface prepared for the impression of a seal; an unfinished medallion and a clay bar which had an uninscribed side.

picture
West wing from the south

The finds included various kinds of document. Firstly there were two completed four-sided clay bars. They had sign groups and numerals inscribed on them. None of the sign groups have been recognised from previous signs in hieroglyphic script from other sites in Crete.

Eight medallions were also found. All of them were inscribed with a single sign group on one side and dots which seem to represent numbers appear on the reverse side of six of them. Again the sign groups are unknown elsewhere.

Cresents are documents which usually contain inscriptions and a seal impression. One complete example was found, along with fragments of five others. Of these fragments, four had inscriptions and three had seal impressions.

The various nodules and sealings did not have any inscriptions, just seal impressions, although one seal impression might be part of a hieroglyphic inscription. It is thought that as many as 35 different seal impressions may be recorded in the archive. No evidence of Linear A was found at the site of the archive.

Monumental architecture

The architecture of the complex has similarities with palace architecture. These include ashlar masonry, pier-and-door partitions, columns and pillar combinations, particularly in the east wing stoa already described. Other important architectural features that link the complex with palace architecture include double staircases, cut slab pavements, dadoes and frescoes.

Masons’ marks have also been found in great quantities in the central building. Among the marks identified are double axes, stars, branches, Linear A signs and double triangles as well as some lesser signs.


The Palace of Phaistos lies on the East end of Kastri hill at the end of the Mesara plain in Central Southern Crete. To the north lies Psiloritis, the highest mountain in Crete.

Phaistos

To the north lies Psiloritis, the highest mountain in Crete. On the slopes of Psiloritis is the Kamares cave, probably a religious or cult centre for Phaistos and the Mesara plain. In this cave a very fine pottery style was discovered from the Middle Minoan period, which has been named Kamares Ware after the cave in which it was found. Kamares ware has only been found at Palace sites like Phaistos and Knossos, suggesting that it was specially produced for whatever elite was based in the Palaces.

A couple of kilometres to the west of Phaistos is the important Minoan site of Ayia Triadha. To the south of Phaistos are the Asterousia mountains beyond which lies the Libyan Sea. To the south west is Kommos, the ancient port of Phaistos and to the east, the vast Mesara plain, the single largest fertile area in Crete, which in Minoan times was populated with small settlements with their distinctive tholos tombs.

The Old Palace

Phaistos: The theatral area, with the West Court and raised walkway
The theatral area, with the West Court and raised walkway

The Palace was excavated by the Italian archaeologist Halbherr at the beginning of the 20th century. The earliest settlements on the site, which lies close to the Yeropotamos, one of the few rivers in Crete to flow all year round, date from the Neolothic Period (c.4000 BCE) . It is likely that in the Early Minoan period small settlements were scattered over the hill on which the Palace later stood. Dark on light pottery (Agios Onouphrios ware) has been found in the prepalatial levels on the hill, but no Vasiliki ware from the Early Minoan II period has been found on the site.

The Old Palace was built on the site at the beginning of the Second Millenium, known as the Protopalatial Period (c.1900-1700 BCE). It required an enormous amount of work to build the palace. First of all three huge terraces were levelled. The palace was then constructed on two of these terraces, the Theatral Terrace and the Lower Terrace.

Very thick ground floor walls were built running east-west along the contour of hill, while less important walls and the walls of the upper floor rooms were orientated north-south. The walls were plastered and painted and in some rooms gypsum dados lined the lower part of the walls. In many rooms benches were built along some of the walls and niches were included in the walls themselves for storing small objects.

Phaistos: Part of the old palace east of the New Palace
Part of the old palace east
of the New Palace

Each of the three terraces would have had its own courtyard crossed by raised walkways to the west of the palace. The palace was built on two levels with the third floor of the wing on the lower terrace rising to the same height as the ground floor on the upper terrace.

The main entrance to the Palace, Room II, which to the modern eye looking at the remains of the neopalatial palace seems strangely located at the south end of the building, was in fact placed in a central position between the two wings of the Old Palace. Now blocked by structures from the New Palace, it would originally have led straight to the Central Court. Various other symmetrical architectural features were built into the West Facade, which would, to the Minoan visitor, have been one of the most impressive parts of the whole building.

There was a total of six entrances into the palace from the west court. Apart from the direct access through room II, the others would have gone through a maze of small rooms, some really very small, and made to seem smaller still by the benches lining some of the walls. The benches were covered with plaster similar to that used for buildings from the same period at Malia. The plaster covered the entire room.

Getting from room to room was not easy. Sharp turns would suddenly appear or one would be forced to change floor level. The orientation changed from east-west to north-south on the upper floor. Rooms in the West Wing were used among other things for storing pottery or agricultural produce, while others were used to prepare food and one group has been identified as a shrine, although the evidence cited may not be sufficient for a definite identification.

Phaistos: storage jar
Storage Jar

Twice it was severely damaged by earthquakes and rebuilt so three distinct phases are visible to archaeologists. Levi, who excavated here from 1950 to 1971 believed that the first two phases of the Old Palace of Phaistos constitute the oldest Palatial buildings in Crete. Finds at the site, apart from the Phaistos Disc, include thousands of seal impressions and some tablets containing the Linear A script from Middle Minoan II.

When the Old Palace was finally destroyed, almost certainly by an earthquake, a new palace was built on the site. Fortunately for us, the builders of the new palace did not destroy almost all traces of the old as they did at other sites. In fact much of the old palace was covered over at the time of the building of the new palace in order to level the ground. Some of the old palace can still be seen by visitors, especially the original West Facade and in the north-east corner, where the Phaistos disc was discovered. However, the remains of the West Wing of the Old Palace on the lower terrace are closed to the public. (But see link to photos of this area at the bottom of the page). In recent years Italian archaeologists have been taking a closer look at the Old Palace which should provide us with more information about this period of Minoan Crete at Phaistos.

The New Palace

It is very easy to get the impression that at the beginning of the Protopalatial period the Minoans built a number of palaces which continued unchanged for two hundred years and were then suddenly destroyed and immediately replaced by the New Palaces. But the history of the palaces is far more complex than that. We have already seen that the Old Palace at Phaistos suffered so much from earthquake damage that distinct rebuilding phases during its 200-year history are visible to archaeologists.

The New Palace is no more straightforward than the Old Palace. One of the excavators, F. Carinci, believes that although an attempt was made to rebuild the Palace at the beginning of the Neopalatial period in MM III, these efforts ground to a halt and that during the period MM IIIB-LM IA, the Palace was effectively abandoned. According to Carinci, construction of the New Palace did not finally begin until well into LM IA, possibly after the Thera eruption and that the New Palace was not completed until LM IB, right at the end of the Neopalatial period.

The New Palace covers a smaller area than the old. However, excavators were surprised by the lack of finds that one would expect at a Minoan Palace. No frescoes have been found in the New Palace and there is a complete absence of sealings and tablets. One view suggests that in the New Palace period the importance of Phaistos decreased while that of Agia Triada nearby continued to grow and that the two settlements complemented each other in some way.

A tour of the site

The site is entered at the level of the Upper West Court, which was used by both the old and the new palace. The Upper West Court is joined to the Lower West Court by a staircase which was built at the time of the upper court and was in use at the time of the Old Palace.

At the north end of the Lower West Court is a very high wall and in front of this wall is the theatral area (see photo above). There are nine steps where spectators either sat or stood to watch religious rites, ceremonies or whatever else took place there. Unlike the theatral area at Knossos which looks towards the Royal Road, the theatral area at Phaistos looks down onto the West Court. The West Court itself has raised walkways leading across it, one of which leads from the theatral area to the main entrance to the Old Palace.

Phaistos: The Magnificent Staircase
The Magnificent Staircase

The West Court and the theatral area date from the Old Palace period and after the destruction of the Old Palace at the end of MM IIB the west court was covered over to a depth of 1.3 metres as part of the reconstruction. Consequently the raised walkways disappeared and they were not replaced at the new, raised level. Moreover, only four steps remained of the nine rows of steps that were created in the Old Palace period. The west facade of the New Palace was located seven metres further east than the facade of the old palace. By covering the remains of the old West Facade, the size of the West Court was greatly increased. It has been suggested by Preziosi that the Grand Staircase from the Second Palace period was not an entrance to the palace at all, but a new theatral area. Palyvou rejects this interpretation on the grounds that the wings of the Palace on either side of the staircase would have obstructed the view of anyone seated on the staircase. Just how much the spectators’ view would have been restricted is contested, but even if the steps were used as a theatral area, this does not necessarily exclude their use as an entrance to the palace as well. The theatral steps at Knossos were almost certainly used for access to the area north of the Palace behind them.

Phaistos: The Monumental Propylaia
The Monumental Propylaia

The Palace of Phaistos, like all the other palaces except for Zakros, is oriented north-south. It is commonly accepted that the main entrance to the New Palace was from the West Court, up the dozen steps of the 14 metre wide Magnificent Staircase, at the top of which is an equally wide landing, behind which stood the Monumental Propylaia. This structure is the forerunner of the Propylaia of Classical Greek times.

Between the landing and the actual entrance itself, were two porticos. Hutchinson points out that if the West entrance to palaces was direct, then it was small, but if it was indirect then it was grand. Here, the main entrance does not lead directly into the Central Court and is very grand. It is, nonetheless, unusual for the main entrance to a palace to be in the west. Although there is a west entrance into the palace of Knossos, the main entrance was thought to be from the south.

Phaistos: The storage magazines
The Magazines where olive oil, wine
and wheat were stored

To the south of the Propylaia are to be found the Palace magazines or storage area. As at other Minoan palaces, including Knossos, the ground floor of the west wing was the main storage area. At Phaistos, the magazine consisted of ten rooms, five on each side, opening onto an east-west corridor, which at its east end opened out into a two-columned hall with a portico facing the Central Court. One storage room remains intact with a number of pithoi inside (see photo above).

South of the storage magazines was another, direct entrance into the Central Court (corridor 7). This corridor was originally sealed by two sets of double doors, one at the east end of the corridor and one at the west. Corridor 12 turned south from corridor seven into the heart of the south west wing of the Palace. Room 31 of the storage magazine block, on the north side of corridor 7 had a window, through which goods could presumably have been passed.

Hitchcock suggests that there may have been a south entrance to Phaistos like the Corridor of the Processions at Knossos. Unfortunately in this part of the south wing, only foundations survive. But there is a corridor shaped area (97) which leads towards the south end of the Central Court.

Phaistos: The Central Court
The Central Court

The Central Court lies to the east of the magazines. It measured 55 metres by 25 metres. The South East part of the Central Court is now missing. Given the large number of corridors which lead to the Central Court, it must have been central to the life of the Palace itself. It was lined on two sides by porticos with alternating columns and pillars.

The north-east wing of the palace is considered to have consisted of artisans’ workshops and the remains of a furnace for smelting metal can still be seen in the courtyard. The south-east wing collapsed some time in the past and the hill has eroded to beyond the point where it would have stood.

Phaistos: room with benches on west side of central court
First room (23) with benches on west
side of Central Court

Much of the West wing of the central court, south of the magazines, was used for religious purposes. It contained a number of rooms which opened directly onto the Central Court. Just south of the corridor of the magazines, in the West Wing, there are two pairs of rooms (8 and 9, 10 and 11) which Gessell calls the West Bench Sanctuary complex. In her view rooms 8 and 9 are respectively a preparation room and storeroom, while room 10 is a bench sanctuary and room 11 is a storeroom. Finds in rooms 8 and 9 include vases, conical cups and possible mortars or offering tables. In rooms 10 and 11, in addition to vases, storage jars and conical cups, there were also found a libation table, a female figurine and fragments of other figurines.

To the south of this group of rooms in the West Stoa facing directly onto the west court there are two rooms with benches lining the north and west walls (rooms 23 and 24) In room 24 the bench also lines the north east wall of the room. These benches were covered with gypsum, a material used extensively at Phaistos. Both these rooms open directly onto the west court. In room 23 there is a central pillar while in room 24 a low table is located in the centre of the room. While at first glance both rooms appear similar there are some differences. The entrance to room 23 is wider than entrance 24 which means anyone sitting there would have had a better view of the central court. Room 23 was without doors so access to the room could not be barred, while room 24 could be closed by a door. The differences between the two rooms suggest that they had different uses. Although it is hard to say what those uses may have been, clearly a room with no door would have been a much more public area than a room that could be closed off. Hitchcock suggests that the people sitting in room 23 were not only there to watch what was going on in the central court but were also there to be seen. She feels that members of some sort of council may have used the room.

Phaistos: second room with benches
Second room (24) with benches on West
side of the Central Court

Gesell suggests that room 24 may have been a bench sanctuary since she interprets the object in the centre of the room as an offering table. Certainly the benches lining the north and west walls imply some sort of ceremony taking place in the room. Hitchcock suggests that the benches may have been occupied by high status people before whom others entered the room and placed offerings or poured libations on the small table.

Further south there is a pillar crypt (room 22) similar to those found at other Palaces and also in the remains of the old palace at Phaistos, but this one is on a rather more modest scale than, for example, the one at Malia.

Trees and pillars seem to have been worshipped by the Minoans and more than 25 pillar crypts have been located at Minoan sites. Questions have been raised as to whether the pillars really were objects of devotion for the Minoans, but it is certain that in many of the small pillar crypts the pillars would not have been necessary to support the roof. An alternative explanation therefore has to be sought and there is evidence of pillar worship from other sources.

Phaistos: Pillar Crypt
Pillar Crypt (room 22)

The area also contained two lustral basins. Cult vases and figurines were found in this part of the West Wing, and the shapes of double axes were incised on the stone, all adding to evidence of a religious use for the building. The conventional view is that whereas the West Wing of the palaces was used for religious and administrative purposes, the East Wing contained the domestic apartments of the royal family.

However, a lustral basin was originally situated in the East Wing and if the purpose of the lustral basin was religious rather than hygenic, that would tell against the theory that the East Wing comprised domestic quarters.

At Phaistos, the so-called Royal Apartments are in fact in the north part of the Palace, to the East of the Monumental Propylaia. The smaller “Queen’s Megaron” lies to the south of the larger “King’s Megaron”. These rooms would have had light wells, porticos and pier-and-door partitions which would have enabled sections of the room to be closed off. The lower walls and floors were lined with slabs of alabaster (gypsum). To the west of the King’s room is possibly the best-preserved Lustral Basin in Crete.

A more intimate experience than Knossos

Phaistos: The Queen's Megaron
The “Queen’s Megaron”

On the slopes of the hill to the south of Phaistos and on level ground below the hill stood the Minoan town. This is still being excavated though part of it can be seen below from the perimeter of the Palace site.

There are many reasons why a visitor to Crete should make the effort to visit Phaistos. With the Messara plain to the east and the Ida mountain to the north, Phaistos has the most beautiful setting of any of the Minoan Palaces.

Another major advantage is the fact that it does not get quite so crowded as Knossos and even in the summer it is possible to have the site almost to oneself provided one arrives at opening time or alternatively an hour or two before closing time. Finally, it is a much more intimate site than Knossos where walkways of scaffolding scar the Palace and so much of Knossos has been roped off, preventing access to visitors, who must look from a distance. At Phaistos, everything can be seen easily and close up.

No doubt these measures were necessary to protect the Palace of Knossos from the hundreds of thousands of tourists who swarm all over the site from April to October each year. Similar measures may one day be necessary at Phaistos. Until then, an early morning or early evening visit will allow you to wander round the site in a way that simply isn’t possible at Knossos and to break off from looking at the ruins to view some of the most spectacular scenery that Crete has to offer.

Phaistos: The King's Megaron from the east
The “King’s Megaron” from the East

Phaistos: The King's Megaron
The “King’s Megaron”

Phaistos: The King's Megaron
The “king’s Megaron”

Phaistos: Lustral Basin
Lustral basin behind the “King’s Megaron”