One of the best known tourist sites on Crete is the Palace of Knossos. Famed for its “Throne Room” and “Dolphin Frescoes” it has become the symbol of the Minoan Civilisation. Few realise and are rarely told by their guides that Knossos is the fantasy world of Arthur Evans, the Englishman who bought & excavated the site in the 1900 and paid for the reconstruction at Knossos.
Very little is known about the Minoans, as the people of Knossos were named by Evans. A civilisation called the Minoans never existed under that name and may never have existed as a separated organised civilisation outside the archaic Greek peoples at all. Evans named the Minoans after the Mythical King Minos of Crete. Evans also proclaimed Knossos to be a Palace which has clouded its real function ever since. Knossos was certainly a central storage and administration point for the surrounding area and therefore was almost certainly a centre of trade. There is no evidence though of it being part of a Minoan “Kingdom” and therefore there is no basis for Knossos being a Kings Palace.
The fragments of frescoes Evans found became the basis of the extraordinary reconstructed art pieces of Knossos that can only be approximations of the originals. Evans reconstructed buildings on the site of Knossos and designed them using scant evidence from buildings found on Pottery. Today concrete reconstructions sit on top of archaeological evidence that can never be examined as it is incased in reinforced concrete. A Throne room has been built around a humble excavated stone seat. Evans then had the room painted by a father-and-son team of Swiss artists, the Émile Gilliérons Junior and Senior. It seems very unlikely that a King would have inhabited such a small insignificant room.
Stone tablets with 2 types of syllabic script named “Linear A” & “Linear B” were excavated at Knossos. Linear A has not been deciphered yet but Linear B was deciphered by Michael Ventris in 1952, 11 years after Evans died, and showed that Knossos was some sort of administrative centre but Evans could not have known this when he turned the site into a Minoan theme park.
The Minoans of Crete were probably wiped out by a massive volcanic explosion on the neighbouring island of Santorini in the 1400′s BC. The tidal wave from this eruption deposited 40 meters of mud in the Sinai desert so the destruction on nearby Crete would have been catastrophic. The whole of the crescent shaped Santorini island of Thira was covered with meters of volcanic ash, under which was discovered the Minoan town of Akrotiri. The excavations in the 1960′s revealed in tact Frescoes that showed the towns & ships of the Minoans none of which look like Knossos in style. The style of the Frescoes does support the style of the reconstruction paintings at Knossos but there is some evidence that maybe some of the frescoes were originally on the floor.
Knossos is a conundrum. Knossos is one mans conceit and one of the best examples in the world of how to destroy an archaeological site. I am sure that Evans intentions were to educate, but the site also shows his ambition to be viewed by posterity as the great archaeologist who discovered an ancient civilisation. Evan certainly succeeded in this as the Minoans are now part of ancient history but who they really were and how they lived remains a mystery now clouded by Evans imaginings. Knossos is though a popular tourist site and attracts far more visitors that the other Minoan sites on Crete. What a shame Evans did not think to build his reconstruction next to the Archaeological site of Knossos as they have done with the Viking village at the Jorvik Museum in York.
It is very hard now to determine fact and fiction about the Minoans but the other Minoan sites on Crete and Santorini will no doubt reveal more in the future as archaeology advances using new technology. It is doubtful though that Knossos will play any future role in revealing the Minoans as it is so completely encased in concrete.
SEE PICTURES OF KNOSSOS, CRETE. (available as stock photos & prints)
SEE PICTURES OF MINOAN ART. (available as stock photos & prints)
SEE OTHER PICTURES GALLERIES OF GREECE