Phaistos, or more correctly the Minoan Palace of Phaistos, is located in the Messara Plain in south-central Crete, 55 kilometres south of Heraklion and a short distance from the archaeological site of Agia Triada, the archaeological site of Gortys and Matala.
Phaistos is one of the most important archaeological sites in Crete, with many thousands of visitors annually. Phaistos is “Φαιστός” in Greek and you may find it also written as Phaestos, Faistos or Festos.
The Minoan palace of Phaistos corresponds to a flourishing city which arose in the fertile plain of the Messara in prehistoric times, from circa 6000 BC to the 1st century BC, as archaeological finds confirm.
The history of the Minoan palace of Phaistos, like that of the other Minoan palaces of Crete, is a turbulent one:
The first palace of Phaistos was built in circa 2000 BC. Its mythical founder was Minos himself and its first king was his brother Radamanthys.
In 1700 BC a strong earthquake destroyed the palace, which was rebuilt almost immediately. However, Phaistos was no longer the administrative centre of the area, an honour which passed to neighbouring Agia Triada. Phaistos continued to be the religious and cult centre of south Crete.
In 1450 BC there was another great catastrophe, not only in Phaistos but across the whole of Crete. The city of Phaistos recovered from the destruction, minted its own coins and continued to flourish for the next few centuries until the first century BC, when it was destroyed by neighbouring Gortys.
The first excavations in the wider area of Phaistos were undertaken in 1900 by the Italian Archaeological School under Federico Halbherr and Luigi Pernier, continuing after the Second World War under Doro Levi. Most of the buildings visible today belong to the Neopalatial period (1700 – 1450 BC). Unlike Knossos, there have been no efforts at restoration but only conservation.
Knossos, the famous Minoan Palace lies 5 kilometres southeast of Heraklion, in the valley of the river Kairatos. The river rises in Archanes, runs through Knossos and reaches the sea at Katsabas, the Minoan harbour of Knossos.
In Minoan times the river flowed all year round and the surrounding hills were covered in oak and cypress trees, where today we see vines and olives. The pine trees inside the archaeological site were planted by Evans.
Constant habitation for 9,000 years has brought about great changes to the natural environment, so it is hard to imagine what the Minoan landscape was like.
Knossos, the 1st and 2nd Palace
The first settlement in the Knossos area was established circa 7000 BC, during the Neolithic Period. The economic, social and political development of the settlement led to the construction of the majestic Palace of Knossos towards the end of the second millennium BC.
Knossos was the seat of the legendary King Minos and the main centre of power in Crete.
This first Palace was destroyed circa 1700 BC. It was rebuilt and destroyed again by fire, this time definitively, in 1350 BC. The environs of the Palace were transformed into a sacred grove of the goddess Rhea, but never inhabited again.
The Palace of Knossos is the monumental symbol of Minoan civilisation, due to its construction, use of luxury materials, architectural plan, advanced building techniques and impressive size.
Knossos, the first excavation by Minos Kalokairinos
The first large-scale excavation was undertaken in 1878 by the wealthy art-lover Minos Kalokairinos, while Crete was still under Turkish occupation. Kalokairinos excavated part of the West Magazines and brought many large pithoi (storage pots) to light.
Knossos, the excavations by Sir Arthur Evans
In March 1900 to 1931, Sir Arthur Evans excavated not only the Palace but the whole surrounding area of Knossos. The Palace complex was excavated in only five years, an extremely short time by today?s standards.
Evans restored the Palace with concrete, a technique condemned by modern archaeologists as arbitrary and damaging to the Minoan structure. Excavations continue and a conservation programme is underway to halt the deterioration of the Palace.