The palace of Knossos was the most important of the palaces of Crete, and the seat of the first king among equals of the island, Minos, whose name has been given to the whole of the 3rd and 2nd c. BC Minoan civilization. Excavation were started on the Palace in 1878 by the Cretan antiquarian Minos Kalokairinos, and Arthur Evans excavated virtually the whole of the palace between 1900 and 1903, continuing on a smaller scale until 1931. The settlement of Knossos must have been very extensive since Homer called the city "wide".

Before the building of the palaces, the site had been inhabited in the Neolithic period (7th – 4th millennium), and the 3rd millennium Prepalatial building remains, chiefly of separate houses, formed blocks in the later complex. The palace of Knossos, like the others in Crete, was built soon after 2000 BC and destroyed in about 1700 BC. It was rebuilt immediately and again destroyed in 1650 BC. Its final destruction occurred in 1450 BC, with only a few signs of "reoccupation" in 1400-1300 BC. It was then abandoned until its reuse in the Greek and Roman periods.

It incorporates all the basic elements of a Minoan palace: a central and a west court, theatric area, shrines and magazines orientated north-south. It covers an area of 20.000 m2 and was undoubtedly the economic, political and religious center of Crete. The site now open to visitors is a mixture of different phases. The official rooms and the habitation and recreation areas are laid out around the four sides of the central court.

The main entrance to the palace was exactly where it is today, on the west side via a ramp leading into the west court. There was a wall on the west and south sides encircling the palace, perhaps to mark its limits, but not for fortification. The west court is paved and has causeways for processions. The three stone built pits "kouloures", are thought to have been used as rubbish pits for discarded sacred objects or as depositories in some phase. The two altars were built in the last phase of the palaces. A causeway leads from the court to the west porch, which may have been where the king himself received foreigners. A double door opened intro the corridor of the procession, so called because of the long procession, of men and women gift bearers painted on the walls. The Corridor, interrupted today on the south, originally led to the southwest entrance, at which an imposing stepped portico ended. Further south is the south house, which belonged to the high priest. The corridor of the procession ends. Another approach to the palace is by the south porch, which leads into the north – south corridors and from them into the central court. Near corridor were found the remains of the prince of the Liles. The central court into which corridors lead, was the heart of the political, religious and economic life of the palace.

West Wing

From the corridor of the procession a polythyron opens into the south propyleaum. Here, in the neopalatial period, as we have said, the procession of approximately 500 gift bearers, including the cup-bearer, ended. An imposing staircase flanked by porticoes ascended from the south propyleaum.

A rectangular building to the right of the staircase is thought to have been a Greek temple of Rhea, wich we know from Diodorus to have existed ad Knossos. The same staircase leads to the tricolumnar shrine, which is just as it is depicted in the frescoes. It was decorated with a fresco of a sacred ceremony. Behind the shrine and exactly aver the west magazines is the great hall used for large gatherings, and the north of it the sanctuary hall, where the famous fresco of the "parisienne" was found. A light well above the throne room comes out on a terrace, where copies of the frescoes are displayed. A staircase at the north end of the terrace leads to ground floor.

On the ground floor are the ante-room and the throne-room. The ante-room is entered through a set of four piers and doors. On the north side of the throne room is the gypsum throne with a bench on either side, and behind the throne a pair of griffins, its guardians. The sacred character of the room is evident from the "lustral basin" opposite the throne. The squat alabastron type of vases found on the floor show that a ceremony to propitiate the deity was in progress at the moment of the destruction.

There is a stepped porch south of the throne room with 12 steps and two columns in line on the steps to support the roof. South of and lower than the stepped porch, cist-shaped crypts lined with lead were found, which contained the faience snake goddesses. These were the temple repositories. Directly south of the stepped porch the tripartite shrine fronts onto the great court. This type of shrine is well-known from the miniature frescoes. It is shallow in depth. A fine large pithos is preserved behind its west wall. South of the tripartite shrine steps lead down to a paved area which was the ante-room of the pillar crypt, a hypostyle chamber where sacrifices took place. The pillars, with double axes carved on them, have the character of "baetyls", sacred stones that were abstract representation of the deity. Behind these compartments, on the other side of the long corridor, are the 18 west magazines.

East Wing

This had four floors, which are not entirely visible from the central court. The grand staircase, which had a protective parapet of panels and was illuminated by a light well, was the principle entrance to the east apartments. The staircase and a corridor lead to the room of the double axes, named after the symbol incised on its walls, which formed part of the king’s megaron.

Remains of an imposing throne made of gypsum were found in the room. Two sets of doors and piers were closed with wood or fabric. A small door and a dog’s leg corridor lead to the queen’s megaron. The room has a double window and a door leading into a covered area with two doors and two light wells. Fine frescoes were found in the megaron, restoration of which are on the walls. The dolphin fresco is in the north wall, and the "Dancer" fresco was found on a pilaster of the east set of doors and piers. West of the megaron is the queen’s bathroom, with a sit bath, and the toilet room with a low bench and a lavatory. A door in the north wall of the toilet room leads into the court of the distaff, called after the distaffs incised of the walls. In this courtyard and the lavatory one can see the wonderful plumbing system with cisterns and built drains. The small room behind the lavatory was the treasury, in which many precious objects of gold, ivory, faience an jasper were found; The famous ivory bull leaper was found here under a small stone staircase. Other rooms in the area south of the king’s and the queen’s megarons, that are worth visiting are the shrine of the double axes, in which cult figurines of the Mycenaean period with their hands raised were found on the ledge.

Further south are private dwellings, like the southeast house, where a metal furnace was found, the house of the sacred chancel, the house of the sacrificed oxen, the house of the fallen blocks, all named after the finds in them. Outeside the area of the site is the Minoan guest house, the caravanserai, and further south again on the Knossos archanes road, the two storey south royal tomb. From the corridor that runs south of the king’s megaron another corridor leads to the lapidary’s workshop, where many half finished works were found. A room with benches to the north of this was called the school room, but it is more likely to have been a potter’s workshop. Further north again, a door opens into the court of the stone spout, which got its name from the long stone drain. The toreador fresco was found here. A little higher up is the magazine of the giant pithoi, which contains the largest pithoi found to date, south of it is the southeast bastion. Here you can see the drainage system beside the staircase. To the east on the upper floor is the large hall known as the east hall. From this hall came the remains of a colossal wooden statue, whose bronze locks of hair have survived.

After the magazine of the giant pithoi you come to the corridor of the draught board, whose names comes from the royal game, a kind of chessboard made from ivory and other precious materials. Further to the saouthwest is the magazine of medallion pithoi.

North Wing Of The Palace

From about the middle of the central court a corridor sloping northwards leads to the north entrance, below which runs the central drainage conduit. On either side are covered hypostyle areas, the bastions, which have masons marks cut on their walls. A replica of the fresco of th bull in an olive grove has been placed in the west one. A large pillared hall begins at the north end of the corridor, whose roof is supported by eight pillars and two columns, the so called customs house. On the left is the north entrance and bastion that formed the main entrance. Besides this entrance, there was another, that must have been religious in character, since it was next to a lustral basin. In the northwest corner a lid was found with the name of the pharaoh khyan.

Northwest of the central court there is a building complex with rounded corners that belongs to the prepalatial period, and below it Neolithic remains were found. Evans called this the dungeons. In the last period of the palaces a shrine was built on this spot, from the upper floor of which the miniature frescoes with the tripartite shrine, sacred grove and blue monkey saffron gatherer had fallen. In the northwest part of the palace is the theatrical area. The tiers of seats form a single. A stone platform at the south corner is thought to have been the royal box. The two wings of seats are estimated to have seated 500 spectators. The area for the performances was low and stone paved, and there was a processional way with branches off it. The processional way met the royal road. There were houses on both sides of the road. Further to the west is the NW treasure house, named after the bronze objects found in it, and the road ends at the little palace which is on the right of the road from Herakleion to Knossos.