Malia is 37 km east of Herakleion on the edge of a fertile plain and close to the sea, very necessary for the development of agriculture and of nautical and commercial activities. The ancient name has not survived, but it was connected with the pre Hellenic name Tarmaros or Termissos, and also with the name of neighboring Milatos, because according to mythology the hero Milatos together with his friend Sarpedon were driven out of Crete and went to the East, where they founded the city of Miletus. The name might also have come from the world omalia, meaning a flat place, a term that is highly appropriate for the landscape.

The first mention of the antiquities in the area was made by the Englishman, Captain Spratt, in the middle of the 19th c., and the first excavation of the site was carried out by Joseph Hadzidakis. Later on the French Archaeological School uncovered the place, part of the city, the cemetery in the locality of Chrysolakkos, and the peak sanctuary of Profitis Ilias, 500 m north of the palace.

The cemetery took its name, Chrysolakkos (Goldpit) from the important finds, including gold objects, made there by the locals in the course of their labours. A stone built rectangular enclosure, 38.880 x 39.80 m, with compartments for the burials served both as a burial place and as a cult place for the worship of the dead. The most famous find from Chrysolakkos is the gold pendant with two bees flanking a honeycomb, a masterpiece of Minoan art that may be admired in the Herakleion Museum.

The town was built around the palace and was unfortified, thus confirming the reality of the famous "Pax Minoica", or Minoan peace. Of interest to the visitor is the Agora, a rectangular area outside the palace by its northern entrance, with which it was connected by a Processional Way. North of the west court it is worth looking at the pillar crypt with a bench running around it was thought by the excavators to be a Prytaneum where meetings were held, rather like the prytanea of later Greek times, and an example of the "first Greek democracy", they maintained.

The palace was built in about 1900 BC and destroyed in about 1700 BC. It was rebuilt in 1650, and met its final end in 1450 BC. It was reoccupied in the Mycenaean period. To this period belongs the Oblique Building in the North Wing. There was also sporadic occupation after 1000 BC, in the time of the Roman conquest and during the Venetian occupation, when it went under the name of Maglia. The construction of the palace was certainly less meticulous than that of Knossos, Phaistos and Archanes, and local materials were used. Today it is entered by the west court with its characteristic processional ways through a small entrance. The west front of the palace, which had two storeys at this point, is the most monumental, as is the whole west wing, which contained the shrines and official apartments. To the right of the entrance was the north bastion, consisting of an ante room and behind this lustral basin also with an ante room. In the north entrance two small swords were found dating to 1600 – 1500 BC with gold sheathed hilts, true masterpieces, on one of which is depicted a male figure performing a backward somersault. A wooden staircase ascended from this room to the upper floor. The room has masons marks on the stone slab and opens northwards onto a portico with columns, beyond which there may have been gardens on different levels. Tablets with hieroglyphic writing and sealings were found in the ante room of this room. Crossing the western part from the entrance the visitor arrives at the central court, with measures 48 x 32 m. There was a portico on the north and east sides. The wooden columns of the east portico, whose bases have survived, alternated with pillars, and there was a row of columns in the north portico.

The east wing has so far not produced any other apartments besides a row of magazines which have benches of which the pithoi stood and a system of drains to collect any spilt wine or oil.

The north wing of the palace contains some of the most important rooms. Directly behind the Corridor of the Colonnades is the Hypostyle Hall with six columns in a double row. Access to it was throufg an ante room with pillar west of and behind the colonnade, while to the east a double stairway led to the upper floor, where there would have been a hall with columns, one of the largest rooms in the palace, probably for Banquets or assemblies. In the northwest corner of the central court a paved corridor, which widened towards the north, forming an "L", led to the north court. The entrance to the corridor from the north was closed in the Mycenaean period by an obliquely orientated building, which may have been a shrine. East of the north court there was another group of magazines and workshops and northwest of the north court an oil press and stairs to an upper floor were found. The upper floor to judge from the contents was evidently a shrine. Further north again was the north entrance this was the principal entrance to the palace and the road to the sea, and a processional Way ran from here to Agora. The importance of the north wing of the palace is apparent from the finding outside its northeast corner of a unique carved stone triton shell depicting lion headed deamons in a marine setting. The triton shell was used to summon the divinity. Evidently important ceremonies took place here, perhaps in honour of the marine aspect of the Minoan goddess. In the southernmost part of the north court another spacious court is separated from the central court by square tower, from which it takes its name, court of the tower. A two columns light well connects the court with the apartments.

When crossing the central court the south wing, which was occupied by small workshops is worth a visit. Access to it is through a broad paved entrance with a gutter for the rain water in the middle.

Lastly, the visitor should pause in the central court and the west wing, which formed the centre of palace life. This was where the citizens gathered and where religious activities, sports, ceremonies and receptions of foreign embassies were held. In the middle of the central court here is a rectangular depression with four brick supports, the Eschara which was a kind of altar for animal sacrifices.

There were apartments in the west wing connected with the religious and political functions of the palace. The so called "Loggia" is the first important room from the north. It was a hall a pillar, approached from the central court by four steps that each had a column in the middle. A rectangular block at the back of this raised hall is through to have been the base of a throne. Behind, a narrow stairway between two columns descended into the Treasure room, where two important ritual weapons were found: an axe in the form of a bounding panther and a gold sheathed sword 0.98 m long with a crystal pommel. The rooms on either side seem to have been bronze and ivory workshops. In front of the Loggia, a spherical stone found buried in the central court has been interpreted as a baetyl. A lustral basin was found behind the area of the workshops, abutting on the tower.

Just beside the Loggia to the south is a grand staircase with, today, eleven remaining steps and a wide landing that led from the central court to a pillar room on the first floor. This staircase was closed by a double door, a unique feature in Minoan Crete. Behind the Loggia and grain staircase were important rooms and the priests assembly room.

South of the grand staircase and the corridor next to it the great hall opens out, exactly apposite the grid in the central court. It was a general meeting place, and had two symmetrically placed columns on its east and west sides, with a bench on the south. A door in the middle of the west wall led to a paved pillar crypt, a narrow chamber used for various cult ceremonies, particularly blood sacrifices "in secret". One of the rooms west of the crypt has been called a Kitchen.

The southern section of the west wing facing the central court was occupied by a well build flight of four steps, eight meters wide, and is thought to have been a small theatral area. Next to it, but higher up, the Kernos was found a round stone 0.90 m in diameter with a hollow in the centre and 34 small cups around the edge. It is suggestive of the "kernoi", of classical times, which had compartments in which each year either seeds were placed as an offering to the deity, so that she would bless the seed, or the first fruits of the annual harvest, as a thanksgiving.

West of this complex, at the southeast side of the west court there are two rows of four large well like constructions, three of them with a central pillar to support a roof. They were for storing food, like the granaries in Egypt. South of the theatral area and the Kernosm, another complex of rooms was found with its own entrance on the south. This complex contained a small shrine with a bench on which cult objects were found.