Minoan Palatial Centres (Knossos, Phaistos, Malia, Zakros, Kydonia)
Minoan Palatial Centres (Knossos, Phaistos, Malia, Zakros, Kydonia) is part of the Tentative list of Greece in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List.
Click here for a short description of the site, as delivered by the state party.
- ●● Tentative
The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.
Knossos was placed 5th in our list of “Top 50 Missing” and was among my personal selected 20 so, when we visited it in Oct 2015, it was with particular interest to try to establish why it still languishes on the T List, whether this is likely to change and whether we agreed with the “failure” (so far) to inscribe!
In preparation, I investigated the history of the site’s attempts to gain inscription. Knossos was placed on Greece’s T List in 2000 and I can, so far, find no evidence of any “formal” nomination ever having been made. However local newspapers on the Web indicate that unsuccessful attempts were made around 2003 and again in 2009 – I can only assume that these were “informal” via discussions with ICOMOS etc rather than full nominations. These articles indicate problems with illegal construction and general management and preservation issues.
In 2014 a new stage was reached with the extension of the T List description to include other Minoan sites on Crete under the title of “Minoan Palatial Centres” - presumably to strengthen a future nomination case. The following link to a report of Mar 2013 states rather hopefully that “The construction problems identified around the area of the Minoan palace that impede the monument’s inclusion might be minor matters since the file will not focus only on the palace, but also on all the monuments of the Minoan civilization.”!!!
There are also articles on the Web which indicate that there could be/have been problems with the “Authenticity” of the site because of the (in)famous “reconstructions” carried out by the archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans who led excavations there from 1900-31. However, such comments as I have found have not been “official” and I am not sure that they should be given any credence. I was particularly interested to read a notice board at the entrance to the site describing the restoration work which had been carried out since 2001 which included this - “Extensive conservation and consolidation work was carried out on the ancient masonry and the masonry of Evan's reconstruction, as this has become part of the history of the restoration and is considered a monument in its own right”
So, it would appear that the stance being taken by Greece regarding the Evans reconstructions, is that they are an “authentic” part of the history of the site in the same way as are e.g Viollet-le-Duc’s “reconstructions” at Carcassonne etc. The Operational Guidelines, however, state that “In relation to authenticity, the reconstruction of archaeological remains or historic buildings or districts is justifiable only in exceptional circumstances. Reconstruction is acceptable only on the basis of complete and detailed documentation and to no extent on conjecture” - those by Evans certainly don’t meet these high standards but, as per Carcassonne (and other sites), there are plenty of examples of this guideline being “stretched”! This article - “The Reconstruction of Ruins – Principle and Practice” cites Knossos on a number of occasions. It addresses the continuum of “Reconstruction” from minor anastylosis through to complete “Re-creation” and considers the pros and cons towards the latter end, together with the variations across various charters specifiying good practice (Including the WHS Operational guidelines!!). It also identifies a number of WHS which you might not have known had been significantly reconstructed!!
Leaving aside the “Authenticity” issue, it would appear that Greece has been engaged in a significant effort since at least 2000 to improve the preservation and management of Knossos. The notice board I cited above identified 2 different projects - “The "Palace and Archaeological Site of Knossos" project, intended both to deal with the various problems faced by the monument and to promote it, was included in the 3rd Community Support Fund (CSF) in 2000 …. (This) project was completed during the first half of 2009. At the end of 2010, the "Restoration - Promotion of the Palace and Archaeological Site" project was included in the "Competitiveness" Operational Programme of the National Strategic Reference Framework”. Thus, it may well be that the stage is coming close when Greece might feel confident in putting forward Knossos with the other sites for nomination!
And what of our visit? We visited the site for around 2.5 hours (enough) in the morning and, initially, it was very busy with cruise ship groups but quietened down significantly later on. We had driven over from Agios Nikolaos and had intended also to visit another of the “Palatial” sites at Malea on the way back but decided during our tour that a visit to the Heraklion Mueum was ESSENTIAL in preference to another ruined site. This was undoubtedly the correct decision – you will NOT fully appreciate/understand Knossos without seeing the artifacts from it (and other Minoan sites) in the museum - and many are “World Class” in any case. You can buy a combined ticket at either which saves 2 Euros pp – I personally would take in the site before the museum.
It appeared that many areas which could have been visited in the past were now closed off to tourists – this is a common trend in sites which have large numbers of visitors but also reflects a change to put preservation of the site as the highest priority. A lot of new suspended walkways have been built. Major features such as the “Grand Staircase” have been closed for some years as being unstable (it is being worked upon) but now barrier ropes are appearing everywhere! All, no doubt, as part of the overall improvement of conservation which will have to precede any WH inscription.
I suspect that relatively few of the people touring the site realized just how much of what they were seeing was reconstructed. I also suspect that, of those who did, very few cared! In creating the superstructure of reconstructed rooms etc Evans was trying both to help preserve the remains beneath AND improve presentation to visitors. Not for nothing had he been a correspondent for the Manchester Guardian - “communicating” what he had found was important to him.
The Evans reconstructions are of 2 types – Buildings and Frescoes (Photo). In doing each he determined what the purpose of the room was and what the decorations might have meant. So all the rooms in the “Palace” (and indeed it was he who decided that it WAS a “palace”!) have been given names reflecting Evans’s view of their function. It is not the purpose of this review to assess Evans’s judgements and to what extent subsequent study has found them to be correct or not – rather, simply to point out that everything you see is, to some extent an Evans “creation”. Even the assignment of the term “Minoan” to this early Cretan civilisation was coined by him. “Before you is the “Queen’s Megaron” - beautifully reconstructed with a stunning fresco of dolphins and sea urchins. Next to it is a small room where the Queen took her bath…….” Well - possibly, but, more likely, probably not!
Any building on the site currently with walls and pillars (and there are a lot!) has actually been reconstructed from the ground up. Evans believed that the original “palace” had 2 or 3 stories (hence e.g the “Grand Staircase”) and reconstructed these with concrete pillars, roofs and floors. The rather strange shape of the pillars (wider at the top) does appear to have been historically correct – the Minoans used Cypress trunks which they placed upside down to prevent sprouting! The bright colours have been changed even since Evans created them! The above article on reconstruction notes that it is very difficult for “reconstructions” to avoid adopting the subconscious stylistic standards of the era in which the reconstruction was carried out, and there is no doubt that the Knossos reconstructions have an “art deco” feel about them which is very much of “their period” even if they were intended to be from 1900BC!!
Where buildings have been reconstructed Evans arranged for copies of the frescos thought to have been on their walls to be recreated on site. This is where a visit to the museum is required. Only a few fragments were found of each of the original frescoes. At the museum you will see how these have been “converted” into large wall paintings with just a few of the originals visible scattered across the entire “canvass”! These at least have some “original” material in them (though whether in the right place or not is another matter!) - those at Knossos itself are of course entirely re-copies of these museum “creations”.
Yet I didn’t feel “cheated” by all this. I am happy to receive newer alternative theories about the site and to accept that much of what one sees there would not have been created in 2015! But what is on show is a piece of history in itself and fascinating both as ancient and as “modern” history. It might have been better if Evans hadn’t built on top of the old ruins but he was no fool - he did help preserve them (which was more than some contemporary archaeologists did elsewhere) and he documented and preserved what he found superbly (as evidenced in the museum). His work provided a major step forward in understanding early Aegean civilization and the site exists both as an example of that civilization and of the history of archaeology. I see no reason why it should be precluded from inscription because of the early 20th C “additions”!
Amazing place - the ancient ruins of Knossos are alive with the vibrant colours which are used in the restoration. It is just mind-blowing to think that the palace was first constructed around 1900BC
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- Full name: Minoan Palatial Centres (Knossos, Phaistos, Malia, Zakros, Kydonia)
- Country: Greece
2014 - Submitted
2014 - Revision
Renomination on new Tentative List. Name change and extension, from originally "The Palace of Knossos" / "Archeological site of Knossos" (2000)