Phaistos is located in the western part of the Mesara, the most fertile plain in Crete, and south of the famous river Yeropotamos, the ancient Lethaios. The palace of Phaistos was built on the easternmost of the three hills that stretch between the mountains of Ida (Psiloritis) and Asterousia, leaving passes between them to the sea and the harbours of Komos and Matala.

In the Minoan period the city extended around the palace of Phaistos, which covered an area of 8400 m2. The Mycenaean remains in the district bear out the references by Homer to its participation in the Trojan War as a "well populated" city. Together with Knossos and Cydonia it was regarded as one of the most important cities founded by Minos. Rhadamanthys was said to have reigned as king at Phaistos.

According to Pliny, the name was due to Heracles son, Phaestus, who came to Crete from Sicyon. In the historical period it was among the largest and most important autonomous cities in Crete, with a fortified acropolis, the remains of whose wall were discovered on the hill of Afentis Christos and on the palace hill itself.

Greek and Roman structures have also been found on the palace hill, the most important being the temple of the Great Mother, or Rhea and a Hellenistic building. Once of the foremost figures in antiquity, Epimenides, who was one of the seven sages, is supposed to have come from Phaistos, and early on the city issued silver coins depicting Europa on the Bull and the mythical hero Talos. Civil wars finally led to the destruction of the city in 200 BC by neighboring Gortyn.

The Excavation

The site was identified in the last century by the English captain, Spratt, based on historical information. The Italian archaeologists F. Halbherr and A. Taramelli visited 1884. Excavation were subsequently carried out by Halbherr and L. Pernier between the years 1900 and 1914, and later resumed between 1950 and 1971 by Doro Levi.

The hill of Phaistos was first inhabited in the Neolithic Period. A round structure was found with animal votive figurines, pottery and obsidian blades, etc.

The next settlement phase was during the Early Bronze Age in the 3rd millennium BC, the period known as Early Minoan, before the first palaces were built. Building remains of this phase have been found under the west wing of the palace, in the north peristyle court and elsewhere. The dearth of important building remains attributable to this period is made up for by the presence of the tholos tombs of the Mesara and Asterousia, whose rich grave goods show that powerful clans having commercial links with the Cyclades, Egypt and the East inhabited the region before the first palaces were built.

All the great palaces in Crete, the seats of brother kings, were built shortly before 2000 BC, and among them was the Palace of Phaistos, which commanded the Mesara plain. Today’s visitor can see the remains of the two basic periods of the Palace, the protopalatial and neopalatial.

The remains of the first palaces here have survived in a much better condition that at Knossos. The palace itself was built on the summit of the hill, which was leveled for the purpose, but other apartments were built at lower levels on the sides of the hill which had been suitably remodeled. Remains of the first palace have been found chiefly on the west side, in the upper court, west court, and south of the southwest propylon, which was the principal entrance, with recesses and salient, a bastion, and a ramp leading to a higher level and a paved court.

In this period the central court already possessed colonnades and was the centre around which were created shrines and private rooms. There was also a king of theatral Area in the west court, in the south part of which four deep circular pits, the kouloures, which resemble those at Knossos and Malia, have been interpreted as cisterns or storage places.

To this period also belong the enclosure around the west court and the theatral area. A tripartite shrine was built in the same court in its rooms were found all the sacrificial equipment for both and bloodless sacrifices, like the sacrificial hearth cut in the rock, a rectangular offering table and other features.

North of the west court and 6 m higher up are the upper court and the flight of steps joining the two courts.

The west wing of the palace was filled in with "astraki". The floors were raised, four of the steps in the Theatre area disappeared and the north wall, which retained the upper court, was moved further north. The old entrance went out of use, and a new monumental one, the great Propylon, was built in the northeast corner of the west court, directly east of the tripartite shrine. Access was via a broad paved staircase leading to the main outer portico with a central column between two pilasters, east of which was an inner portico with three smaller columns. East of the propylon was an open light well. A small door in the northwest corner of the light well leads into the ante room of the magazines north of the outer portico a stairway leads to the upper floor and eastwards a corridor leads to the north peristyle court. The lustral basin beneath the light well belongs to the first palace from it a door opens onto a staircase leading to the west portico of the central court and the anteroom of the magazines with two columns, which faces onto the central court.

The anteroom is paved. An east west corridor begins here; with a pillar in the middle on each side of it is a row of magazines with large pithoi for storing liquids and dry goods. There was a second approach from the west wing of the palace to the central court along a corridor south of the magazines, which may have been a processional corridor the southeast room of the magazines was a guardroom. South of the corridor was a group of rooms that comprised a complex of shrines.

One of them, the pillar room, which recalls a similar room at Knossos, has a double door on the south.

The west rooms in this group appear to have had a special religious character. Two of them are of the lustral chamber type, in which libation were made for chthonic cults or ritual baths were performed, and their blocks have incised masons marks ritual vases, miniature stone altars and figurines were found in them, confirming their function as shrines.

The central court, which measured 55 x 25 in, was the heart of the palace, to which all the corridors led from every side of the palace, and where all activities took place. The entrances on the south have all fallen over the edge of the cliff together with the whole of the southern section. The court is paved and had two porticoes, on the east and west sides, with colonnades consisting of alternate columns and pillars. The inhabitants of the palace sheltered beneath the colonnades from the sun and rain, while in the spacious court most of the large gatherings were held, for sports, markets, receptions for visitors and other events. A stepped structure in the northwest corner of the court has been identified as a stepped sacrificial alter. The two small cisterns at the northeast end of the court, in the east portico, may also have been religious.

A corridor leads from the central court to the east wing. There a pier and door partition gives onto apartments that have been described as princely, since they possess luxury features such as pier and door partitions. There were covered spaces and a light well with a drainage system beneath the floors and a well. South of the light well an ante room led to a lustral basin in which cult objects were found.

The northeast part of the palace was occupied by craftsmen’s quarters. A horseshoe shaped kiln was found in the east court, probably a foundry for metal working. The kiln, together with the presence of moulds for making large bronze statues, and the discovery of a large number of bronzes in the Phaistos district, bears out the tradition that makes Phaistos the home of the mythical Talos. He is also portrayed on the coins of Phaistos in the Hellenistic period. Small rooms were found west of the court which communicated with each other an served as workshops. A potter’s wheel found here confirms the existence of a pottery workshop. In the protopalatial period there was also a complex of workshops and archive rooms in the northeast part of the palace, one of which has been described as a potters storeroom. The complex next to it has an internal portico with alternate columns and pillars and a staircase. It has been compared to the custom’s house complex by the north entrance at Knossos. The most westerly complex is thought by some to have been a sacred crypt, because of the pillar in it, and by others a kitchen. Of special interest is the palace archive room, where the Phaistos disk was found.

Returning to the industrial quarter, north of the east court is a room with a bench, perhaps a Guardroom corridors lead to the north court and a stairway led to an upper floor, below which there was once a lustral basin.

The north part of the palace was occupied by the royal apartments. The main entrance to them was from the central court and was very imposing . it had a central portal flanked by half columns which, it is calculated, reached the height of the first floor. In the façade on either side were two niches for the royal soldiers who guarded the stairway. The outside niches had ornamental frescoes with rows of rhombs. The entrance door was of wood and holes in the floor show that there was a movable balustrade. Corridor was stone paved with a drain on the west side there were rooms with cupboards and on the east, rooms of unknown use it led into the paved north court, from the north east corner of which a corridor led to the entrance of the royal apartments.

The southernmost of these was the queen’s apartment which was divided into three parts by two pairs of columns. The central part was a light well. The main apartment had benches, marble paneling on the walls and the floor was paved with alabaster slabs. Fragments of frescoes show that it was brightly decorated. A door in the northwest corner leads to a stairway connecting it with the king’s megaron. The king’s megaron consists of a hall with a pier and door partition, portico and light well. In size it recalls the similar megaron at Knossos, especially the room of the double axes. Outside the pier and door partition on the north are the bases for the colonnade of a veranda that faced north towards Mt Ida (Psiloritis) and the Kamares Cave. The room with the partition and the portico had alabaster floors. The double leaf doors of the partition, the remains of frescoes with floral decoration and the variety of building materials employed indicate the importance of the room. The door keeper’s lodge, northeast of the royal apartments, controlled the entrance.

To the west, separated by a corridor from the reception rooms of the king’s megaron, was a lustral basin with steps descending into it and paneling of alabaster slabs. The room west of the lustral basin is thought to have been a toilet, there was also an important room north of the lustral basin with frescoes.

There was a peristyle southwest of the queen’s megaron built over a structure of the prepalatial period. Its south side led to a light well and the stepped corridor east of the west magazines. The palace of Phaistos thus seems to have been one of the most important in.