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“A Minoan disappointment”

Knossos Archaeological Site
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Ancient Palace of Knossos Tour
Ranked #6 of 80 things to do in Heraklion
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Owner description: Knosos Archaeological site 12km south of Heraklion
south west england
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17 reviews
4 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 30 helpful votes
“A Minoan disappointment”
Reviewed October 31, 2012

This has to be one of the most over-hyped, and yet in practice really rather mediocre ancient monuments I've ever visited.

Happily, you're safe from ever having to visit Knossos, which is the palace / capital city of the Minoan King Minos, unless you happen to be visiting North Crete. It's very near the Cretean capital, Heraklion (or Iraklio, if you're Greek), about a 10 to 15 minute bus ride out from the city's main bus station. One of the cheif reasons why we chose this particular destination, as opposed to one of the myriad other Mediterreanean options open to us as package holiday makers, was that Crete was the seat of the Minoan civilization, which flourished about 1000 - 2000 years BC. We were initially were very interested in seeing artifacts from this area and so it seemed that a visit to Knossos - allegedly the best Minoan site of the lot - would be a highlight of our trip.

When I say I was 'underwhelmed' by my visit to Knossos, you'll probably want to know what it's like. Well, Knossos looks mostly like a big pile of rubble strewn over the surface of the ground, and under it, apart from the parts that have been - some say, 'unsympathetically' - "restored" by the British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans. This 'restoration work' took place in the 1900s and was reportedly carried out by people who have no real idea of what Minoan palaces actually looked like, because nobody does, the Mionan civilization having been completely destroyed by an earthquake (/tidal wave?) predating the time of the Ancient Greeks. Hence the archaeologists involved apparently felt free to let their imaginations run riot. What the resultant reconstructions look like turns out to be a lot like something from the long lamented BBC TV series 'Changing Rooms' - in which people in possession of quite ordinary looking suburban houses would go out for a few days and come back to find their living room, bedroom etc. transformed by a team of mostly colour-blind designers working extensively in the twin media of MDF and cheap polyester fabric into the interior of a 16th century Sultan's palace, a Georgian ale-house, the Captain's deck of the 'Titanic,' the bottom of the sea etc.

The Sir Arthur Evans changing-rooms style handiwork at Knossos is mostly made of concrete coloured a dull ochre-red, with details picked out in black, white and gold. Sounds highly tasteful, no? A lot of people apparently find these restorations garish and highly objectionable, but to my mind, there is not nearly enough of this sort of stuff. They bring a welcome dash of colour to a whole pile what of is - otherwise, well, actually it's difficult to tell what you're looking at exactly. There are information boards dotted throughout the site - this being Crete, not many of them - but the information they tell you is largely descriptive and therefore not much cop. 'This part was a road with a three storey building on one side', one of the boards might say, or, 'here are what we think are some storage areas' (say what you like about the Minoans, but according to the informational boards at the Royal Palace of Knossos, they seem to have had a heck of a heck of a lot of storage areas - devoting a suspisciously large amount of space to storing stuff, in fact - and even if at Knossos 'storage areas,' stands for guide-board shorthand indicating 'actually, we haven't the faintest idea what this area was really for' it does at least in some minor way continue the 'Changing Rooms' theme established earlier. In which the main deck of the 'Titanic' might turn out to have a useful shoe-storage area built from MDF under the Captain's wheel. That sort of thing.)

I have a problem with 'visitor attractions' like Knossos. If you want people to pay to visit an ancient monument (6 Euros per person, at the time of writing, which was in June 2009 - so, a few years ago, and though this option doesn't appear on Tripadvisor's timeline, as you see, the irritation and disappointment engendered by my visit to Knossos have still yet to dissapate) it either has to be pretty spectaclar - like, say, for example, the hotly-contested reconstruction of the New Grange earthworks in Ireland, which Knossos absolutely isn't - or if it is, like Knossos, an ancient monument that is basically stonework reduced to a pile of rubble you need to have some pretty top-notch information available on site on it, that'll provide visitors with a real sense of life and the goings-on that took place there in bygone times. This, at Knossos, is sorely lacking. The place is hooching with tourists, many of whom are on guided tours. I listened in on a couple of these, but wasn't greatly enlightened:

"This is an area we think they used for storage, as in this alcove were found a number of storage jars."

"This area is a road that led to the main palace, to one side of which may once have stood a three-storey building of some sort...."

...and so on. The tourists, unanimously, look bored out of their minds; on such a tour a good guide would be able to extract at least some level of interest from far less promising source material.

All this said, it isn't specifically Knossos itself that I'm objecting to; in better hands this could be a far more impressive attraction, but to my mind the authorities who run this site have become complacent and rely upon the city's (I would say, in its current condition undeserved) reputation to bring in visitors. It was, for me, an utter disappointment.

Incidentally, it's also over-staffed with many, I would say overly officious superintendants, who blow whistles at surpised visitors who they see transgressing any of the site's many (unwritten, unpublicized) rules - the two most commonly broken of which I can deduce are (1) climbing on the ancient monuments (as if Sir Arthur Evan's restorations in concrete hadn't already knocked seven bells out of them) and (2) smoking on the site. The latter is only a rule applying to tourists; from what I saw Greek or otherwise local smokers at Knossos evidently, are openly tolerated.

Summary: In its current state of management, Knossos is not much cop.

(This review may have appeared at other review sites under some of my other pseudonyms)

Visited June 2012
1 Thank draylon
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Level Contributor
161 reviews
50 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 100 helpful votes
“You have to see it, of course, but Evans has muddied the waters”
Reviewed October 30, 2012

Obviously you can't miss this site, it's world famous.
Even in October it was packed with tour groups.

It's a bit confusing if you're not an archaeologist, though.

Quite unclear to the layman's eye how much is original and how much has been Disney-fied by Evans.
I think the (polite) consensus among current professional archaeologists is that Evans got a lot of it wrong, and filtered his reconstructions through his own preconceptions...?

Might have been better if he'd done a minimal excavation and left it at that.

Visited October 2012
Thank xtenkfarpl
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Marlow, United Kingdom
Level Contributor
45 reviews
27 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 26 helpful votes
“Knossos Palace”
Reviewed October 22, 2012

Not as large as I expected and certainly not as visual as a visit to Ercolano near Naples but more to actually see than Pompeii. If you have interests in the ancient world then this is definitely worth a look. It is compact so an hour is sufficient. Not too expensive and not too long a queue. Quite exposed though if it is a very hot day. Plenty of mocked up areas rebuilt as it would have been. As you would expect lots of uneven ground so care is needed.

Visited May 2012
Thank cliff b
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Savannah, Georgia
Level Contributor
48 reviews
5 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 20 helpful votes
“Extensive site”
Reviewed October 22, 2012

You need a guide to fully understand what you are seeing, as tis site is quite extensive. Unfortunately, some parts of the site had been "touched up" and were not the original structure. None the less, there is plenty to see that is very much the original archaeological finding.

Visited October 2012
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Northampton, United Kingdom
Level Contributor
5 reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 12 helpful votes
Reviewed October 15, 2012

Don't get me wrong I wouldn't have missed it for the world. The lay out is not numbered. The maps that do have numbers don't correspond with the maps on site.

Visited October 2012
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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