The Minoan Palace of Knossos is a large archaeological site situated along the road to Archanes, about 5 kilometres from the town centre of Heraklion, and is easily accessible by bus or taxi. The imposing Palace was built on the hill of Kefala next to the river Kairatos. he site was first discovered in 1878 by Minos Kalokairinos, but major work did not start until 1900 when the British archaeologist, Arthur Evans, started his own excavations, these continued for the next 35 years. During this time some parts of the palace were "restored" in such a way as that it is possible to appreciate the grandeur and complexity of this structure which occupies approximately 20,000 square meters.
It was Evans who designated the buildings at Knossos to be a palace, he also named the civilisation that had built it as the Minoans, after the mythological Greek King Minos. Since then the actual function of the buildings at Knossos, and of the three other large palaces on Crete have been questioned and new interpretations advanced. Some now believe that this, and the three other large palaces of Minoan Crete are temples or administrative centres or even necropolises.
Whatever the buildings true function, there is no doubt that it was enormous. It contained hundreds of rooms at many levels grouped around a central courtyard. The palace had storerooms, bathrooms, private apartments, public rooms, and workshops. Some of the storerooms contained dozens of huge jars, called pithoi, which were used to store olive oil. According to some estimates 60,000 gallons of olive oil could be stored in these, which in itself acts as a testament to the Minoan's wealth.
Over the centuries, a number of palaces have been built and destroyed on the site where Knossos now stands, and there is also some evidence that the location was inhabited during Neolithic times. On the ruins of the Neolithic settlement was built the first Minoan palace in about 1900 B.C. This was destroyed around 1700 B.C. and a new palace was built in its place. This palace survived the conquest of the island by Mycenaean Greeks, sometime around the middle of the fifteenth century B.C. All of the other palaces on Crete were destroyed at this time, but Knossos was preserved to supply the needs of the newly arrived conquerors. The Minoan civilisation reached its peak and Knossos was its most important city-state between 1.700 to 1.450 B.C. During these years the city was destroyed twice by earthquakes, and had to be rebuilt. It is estimated that the city of Knossos had 100.000 citizens and it continued to be an important city-state until the early Byzantine period. The site was later abandoned and gradually fell into ruin.
One of the more remarkable discoveries at Knossos was the extensive murals that decorated the plastered walls. All were found badly damaged and were reconstructed and placed into rooms by the artist Piet de Jong but this reconstruction like other reconstructions on the site has been condemned by some. The centrepiece of the palace is the so called Throne Room. This chamber has a seat built into the wall, facing a number of benches, also in this room is a tank which is thought to have been used as an aquarium.