Knossos Picture

Knossos – Crete, Greece.
Photo: West Bastion of Knossos Palace. Relief wall painting of the sacred Bull.

The Minoan civilization was a Bronze Age civilization which arose on the island of Crete. It was the first European civilization and claims to be the “cradle of Western civilization”. The Minoan culture flourished from approximately 2700 to 1450 BC; afterwards, Mycenaean Greek culture became dominant. Knossos was the capital of Minoan Crete. It is located south of the modern port town of Heraklion (Iraklio). Knossos was inhabited for several thousand years, beginning with a Neolithic settlement sometime in the seventh millennium BC, and was abandoned after its destruction in 1375 BC which marked the end of Minoan civilization. The first palace was built around 1900 BC on the ruins of previous settlements. It was destroyed for the first time at 1700 BC, probably by a large earthquake or foreign invaders. It was immediately rebuilt to an even more elaborate complex and until its abandonment was damaged several times during earthquakes, invasions, and in 1450 BC by the colossal volcanic eruption of Thera (Santorini), and the invasion of Mycenaeans who used it as their capital as they ruled the island of Crete until 1375 BC. Arthur Evans, the British Archaeologist who excavated the site in 1900 AD restored large parts of the palace in a way that it is possible today to appreciate the glory and complexity of a structure that evolved over several millennia and grew to occupy about 20,000 square meters. Walking through its complex multi-storied buildings one can comprehend why the palace of Knossos was associated with the mythological Labyrinth. According to Greek mythology, the palace was designed by famed architect Daedalus (Dedalos) with such complexity that no one placed in it could ever find its exit. King Minos who commissioned the palace then kept the architect prisoner to ensure that he would not reveal the palace plan to anyone. Daedalus, who was a great inventor, built two sets of wings so he and his son Icarus (Ikaros) could fly off the island, and so they did. On their way out, Daedalus warned his son not to fly too close to the sun because the wax that held the wings together would melt. In a tragic turn of events, during their escape Icarus, young and impulsive as he was, flew higher and higher until the sun rays dismantled his wings and the young boy fell to his death in the Aegean Sea. The Labyrinth was the dwelling of the Minotaur in Greek mythology, and many associate the palace of Knossos with the legend of Theseus killing the Minotaur. Representation of the Bull at the palace of Knossos is a widespread symbol in the art and decoration of this archaeological site. The bull-leaping (taurokathapsia) was a ritual sport or performance in which human athletes literally vaulted over bulls as part of a ceremonial rite. A version of the sacred “bull games” is still extant in Iberian (Spain - Portugal) culture, the Bullfighting.

© 2009 Jordan Kevrekidis

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