Controversy About the Palace of Knossos

1 January 2017

Palace of Knossos The Palace of Knossos is the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete and possibly the political and cultural centre of Minoan civilisation, possibly the oldest in Europe. The ruins of Knossos were first discovered by a Cretan merchant called Minos Kalokairinos in 1878. After Kalokairinos, Heinrich Schliemann had shown an interest but it wasn’t until March 16, 1900 that archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans purchased the site and started the excavations.

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Arthur Evans is famous for restoring the ruins and bringing it to light, though whilst doing so, creating controversy. The archaeological site of Knossos has added to our knowledge about the Minoans, as Evans named them, after King Minos of Crete. By examining the palace, we can learn about the Minoan culture. Knossos was the largest city on Crete and also the largest palace, built after an earthquake destroyed the first palace around 1700 BC. The use of the palace has been widely debated; it had large storehouses for grain, olive oil, beans and other natural resources.

These were thought to be used for trading with the Near-East, Greece and Egypt or emergency supplies to feed the community when the weather became poor resulting in little agricultural produce. Their religious beliefs can also be seen through the layout of the palace, as it also served as a temple of sort, one wing in particular for the Mother Goddess as female deities were more prominent in Minoan culture. This can be seen, as the throne in the ‘throne room’ was thought to be made for a female, as the use of curved edges and the crescent moon carved on its base are symbols of femininity.

This could be reserved for the manifestation of a goddess or a priestess. [1] The Minoan people are shown to be advanced as the Bronze Age palace had liquid management systems and ventilation. The palace had at least three separate liquid systems, for supply, drainage for run-off and waste water. Gravity feed using terracotta pipes distributed fresh water from springs. There were also examples of the first water flushing toilet in the Queen’s Chamber by pouring water from a jug to flush.

The palace also had air shafts and was positioned to receive summer breezes, also having strategically positioned light wells for the west wings. [2]Though, shown to be innovative, there are no signs of having a military site at Knossos, no fortification or stores of weapons and leaving their water system prone to attack, showing they were peaceful to a sense. The controversy surrounding Knossos revolves around two main aspects. The first, is the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur which, until the archaeological discovery of Knossos, was just a popular legend.

When Arthur Evans found murals of youths jumping bulls in the palace and also how the palace was made of over 1000 interlocking rooms, he believed that Knossos was the labyrinth in the myth. The archaeologist Michailidou writes “It is amazing how long one can spend wandering in and out of these rooms, going up and down stairs and, frequently, much to one’s surprise, finding oneself back in the same room having come by a different route” [3] This theory is also supported as the term ‘labyrinth’ which is from labyrs, which was a double axe.

The symbol of the double axe was the sign of the Minoan goddess and found on stones of the palace, pottery decoration and especially the Hall of the Double Axe. The Minotaur of the story could refer to the religious culture of Bronze Age Crete and the Minoan civilisation and may contain pieces of historical truth. Bulls were a sacred animal to the Minoans and the Minotaur could be based on a form of bull worship within Knossos, thus leading to the story of a Minotaur in the Labyrinth.

The young men and women in the myth may not refer to sacrifice, but a ritual where an athlete grips the horns of the bull and then vaults over its back becoming one with the bull for a split second, another ritual is the spring dances where youths weave a maze-like pattern in the palace courtyards. The bull jumping requires strong athletic skill and courage, so the youth who attempts the jump would be seen as a hero, therefore leading to Prince Theseus’s heroism. Though, there is much evidence to show this theory, some historians do not believe it as there is no primary source to prove it.

The second aspect of controversy is the restoration and renovation of Knossos. While it is important to know that Arthur Evans was not responsible for finding Knossos, he is acknowledged as excavating the remains and reviving them after buying the entire site. He believed that they should be restored to their former splendour so that visitors could have a vision of the past. He erected wooden beams and reinforced concrete pillars, painted deep red, to support crumbling walls, though, covering up original features in the process.

The throne room (named because of a carved gypsum chair set into the wall) received special attention because it was thought to be particularly important. A scaffold was built over the room to give it protection but later Evans decided to replace this scaffold with wood-and-plaster columns for an artistic result. Evans gave permission to a father-son team, Emile Gilleron Junior and Senior, to paint the walls. They claimed that they had based their ornate images (griffins crouching in grass and a Cretan youth with long curly hair) on original designs, but in fact many of them were fabricated. 4]For the rest of the ruins, he hired Piet De Jong, though a talented artist but having no archaeological training to decorate the palace with his own design. The most famous include, the ‘dolphin fresco’ and his reconstruction of the ‘throne room’, though based on fragments of the original, still mainly from his imagination. Most historians and archaeologists have criticised Evans heavily and have called his actions ‘archaeological delinquency’ and highly inaccurate and said that he has created a ‘Concrete Crete’, and his details were at most an ‘educated guess’.

Though, the visitors to the site have a different perspective, they argue that the reconstructed details have helped them to imagine the whole palace. [5] Arthur Evans had made a large contribution in excavating a highly advanced city which has added to our knowledge of their cultural beliefs, their innovations and civilisation as a whole. Even though, most of the palace of Knossos seen by thousands of tourists every year, was reconstructed according to Evans vision, it has brought to light a forgotten civilisation referred to as ‘the first link in the European chain’ [6] by historian Will Durant.

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