5 kilometres south of Heraklion is Knossos (3500 B.C. - 900B.C.), the capital of the Minoan Crete, the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete. Ancient Greek sources refer to Knossos as the palace of the mighty king Minos. Heraklion was the seaport of Knossos.
Knossos was the commercial, ceremonial and political centre of the Minoan civilisation ( 2700 B.C. – 1450B.C.). The Minoans are said to have established the first literate European civilization, which marked the beginning of European recorded history.
Three Bronze Age Scripts, syllabic in nature, discovered in the excavations of 1900 by Arthur Evans, made clear that the writing systems of Minoan "Cretan Hieroglyphic", Linear A and Mycenaean Linear B were used in Knossos for daily activities as well as for state affairs.
The Minoans developed unexampled technological and artistic abilities, constructing enormous palaces. The first palaces on Crete were built between 2000 and 1600 B.C., on the ruins of previous settlements. The first palace of Knossos was built around 1900 B.C. . A large earthquake or foreign invaders possibly destroyed it for the first time around 1700 B.C. It was immediately rebuilt to a magnificent complex remains of which can still be admired when you visit it, in spite of the several times it was damaged by earthquakes or invasions, and in 1450 BC by the tremendous volcanic eruption of Thera. When the Mycenaeans invaded the island they used it as their capital as until 1375 B.C.
The palace of Knossos, the grandest of the four Minoan palaces that have been excavated in Crete,gave birth to numerous fascinating myths in ancient Greece. Due to its complex architecture, it has been identified as the source of the myth of the “Labyrinth”, a mazelike structure, designed and constructed for King Minos of Crete by Daedalus, to hold the Minotaur, a creature that was half man and half bull who was eventually killed by the Athenian hero Theseus.
Each side of the palace of Knossos is about 130 meters and around a central courtyard there were two to five storey buildings which included altars, apartments, baths, workshops, storehouses, industrial areas and courtyards, decorated with works of art and ornate colourful frescoes.
Pottery and vase painting are particularly interesting and the arts of intricate jewellery and seal making were also very developed, as we can still see in museum exhibitions. The Minoans had a flourishing economy based on crop and livestock farming and traded items produced in their workshops, such as pottery and metalwork. However, their main export products seemed to be olive oil and wine.
Greek islands such as Thera (Santorini), Rhodes, Kythira and Milos, cities in the Greek mainland such as Sparta, Thebes and Messinia, as well as more distant places like Miletos in Asia Minor, Cyprus, Syria, Palestine and Egypt had commercial and cultural connections with Knossos and were the main export destinations. The Minoans seemed to import raw material, such as silver, ivory, copper and tin.
Women had a prominent place in the Minoan society, especially in acts of worship and were free to take part in all social events, including sports, bull leaping and hunting. Women had a prominent place in the Minoan religion as well. The Great Mother Goddess symbolised nature. The bare breasted Great Mother Goddess appears in a long skirt, holding snakes and wearing a headdress with an animal on the top, all of which were sacred symbols.