This is a guest post by Ben Davies from Iconic Guides. Check out his site which provides audio guide to Egypt, Japan and Greece with more to come in the future.
The main Minoan palace sites on the magical island of Crete now feature in a range of audio guides to ancient destinations by newly-launched “Iconic Guides”. Their fascinating MP3 commentaries of the archaeological sites of both Knossos and Phaistos aim to bring into the digital age an ancient civilisation that helped shape political, economic and cultural events in the Eastern Mediterranean some 4,000 years ago.
It is no secret that the labyrinthine-like ruins of these Minoan palaces have continued to inspire, yet also confuse and bewilder, visitors for the past century and more. Packed with an abundance of information, these guides go a long way to unlocking many of the mysteries of these once beautifully-appointed palaces and the great nation that built them.
It is not difficult to see just why the palace of Knossos has become the island’s main archaeological draw for tourists today. Located just 5 kms south of the island’s modern capital of Heraklion, the city’s ancient ruins stand atop the hill of Kefala amidst a delightful, and abundantly fertile, landscape.
These fabled remains are cloaked with mythological tales – stories eulogizing the noble feats of derring-do of imaginary heroes such as the Greek warrior Theseus who came here to unlock the secrets of its Labyrinth and to slay the tyrannical Minotaur – the fictional half-man, half-bull figure that feasted on the seven youths and seven maidens that were sent periodically as tribute from Athens to Crete.
It was from Knossos that the legendary king Minos was said to have held sway over the mighty empire of Crete. Knossos was by far the largest of the four main Minoan palace centres. The extent of its grandeur and ostentation are clearly evident from the surviving ruins, in parts heavily reconstructed by its excavator Sir Arthur Evans. Yet, this hypothetical re-building has courted much controversy over the years, with many critics describing them as being imaginary and garish flights of Evans’ fantasy.
Unsurprisingly, some visitors still leave Knossos with the belief that the reconstructions are, in fact, genuinely ancient buildings.
For a more unadulterated experience of a Minoan palace, without all the bells and whistles of modern reconstructions, head south to the charming ruins of Phaistos. Of the four palaces so far excavated on Crete, the location of Phaistos is, without doubt, the most spectacular.
Occupying a prominent hillside position, the site commands panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. To the north are the colossal twin peaks of Mount Ida, whilst to the south the landscape drops away into the plain of Mesara, before receding towards the island’s southern coastline.
With fewer crowds than Knossos, Phaistos is a more relaxing site to visit, though no less captivating. Architecturally both palaces share many common features, and Iconic Guides certainly helps one to make better sense of the historical and ritual importance of these incredible sites.