The Greek island of Crete, located in the Mediterranean Sea, is a popular holiday destination, with thousands of visitors flying in to relax on the beaches of Malia, the island’s largest resort, annually. Crete is not just an ideal tourist destination, however. Historians, archaeologists and history-lovers alike head to Crete every year on holidays to Malia to view first-hand its ancient Minoan remains, regarded as evidence of the oldest recorded European civilization. While there are a number of important historical sites on the island, the most famous is the palace of Knossos.
Knossos was discovered in 1900 when archaeologist Arthur Evans unearthed a few smaller items nearby. What was eventually uncovered, however, was far bigger than anyone could have anticipated. The site is a maze of storage and work rooms, water management systems and state rooms, leading some to believe the legend of the Minotaur is actually based on the Knossos complex. Several important frescos and paintings were discovered here, which can also be seen, along with many other historical artifacts, at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum.
Whilst Knossos is the best known and biggest of the Minoan palaces, there are several others on the island, including Phaistos, which, while not as grand, is equally well designed. The palace at Malia, though smaller, is surrounded by an extensive complex of buildings and also overlooks the sea, as does Zakros, which was probably used to receive trading ships arriving from the East. Zakros was also the site to yield some of the most important relics of the Minoan civilization, not least because it was the last of the four major palaces to be uncovered. By the time of the site’s discovery, major advances in the field of archaeology had been made, which aided significantly in the excavation process. In addition, Zakros had not been ransacked by robbers, meaning a large number of artifacts were found still intact. These items have been put on display at the Archaeological Museum of Sitia.
Though most of the island’s larger attractions charge an entry fee, many of the smaller Minoan sites are free to visit, including a few small palaces, settlement remains and also tombs and cemeteries. These tombs are a mixture of overground and underground chambers, some of which yielded important treasures when first discovered, whilst others had already been plundered by robbers before they were rediscovered.
Crete is a geographically small island, meaning it is possible to experience the fascinating ancient Minoan archaeological sites and enjoy a classic sunshine holiday on a single trip– ideal for history lovers and tourists alike.