In a beautiful setting, just 5km south-east of Heraklion, Knossos Palace is the most magnificent and evocative of Crete’s Minoan sites. A tour can be combined with the Heraklion Archaeological Museum to give an excellent insight into the history of the island and the Minoan civilisation.
There is an entrance fee and, if you are going under your own steam, buses run to the site from Heraklion. It’s advisable to buy tickets in advance and perhaps time your visit earlier or later in the day to avoid the busiest tour periods.
The palace, on Kephala Hill, is said to have been the court of ‘wise’ King Minos, who had a labyrinth built by his architect Daedalus to imprison the ferocious half-man, half-bull Minotaur.
The legend continued with the slaying of the Minotaur by Greek hero Theseus, and an ill-fated attempt by Daedalus to flee the palace on specially made wings, when his son, Icarus, flew too close to the sun and melted the wax which his father had used to hold the feathers in place.
The Minoan civilisation flourished for about 2,000 years and Knossos was a leading base for trade with Mediterranean cities.
The palace, now explored on raised walkways, was a complex of magnificent buildings covering about 20,000sq m, but was destroyed three times over the centuries, with an earthquake and a fire blamed for two of the disasters.
Local explorer Minos Kalokerinos began to uncover the site in the 1870s, and English archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans conducted more detailed excavations early in the 20th century, revealing the large central court.
Some of the superb frescoes on view are reproductions or restorations, with originals on display at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum and there are impressive artefacts and structures in place, including the sophisticated water and drainage system.