Palace of Festos overlooking the Mesara plain.
After about 4 1/4 miles (7 km) in western direction from the destroyed, former Roman provincial capital Gortys and the small town of Mires, one reaches the ruins of the Palace of Festos.
The palace is particularly impressive and, unlike Knossos, have not been restored. Also the magnificent location of the palace on a hill above the Mesara plain and overlooking the often snow-capped peaks of the Psiloritis mountains makes the visit worthwhile.
Festos was one of the oldest and most important cities on Crete. At the time of the peak of its power, the city dominated the entire Mesara plain to the Cape Lithinos with its two ports in Matala and Kommos.
The discovery of the old city, which in ancient times was called Phaistos, was based on information from Strabo. It was also mentioned by Homer and the historian Diodorus who named Festos as one of the three cities founded by King Minos. The palace was said to have been inhabited by his brother Rhadamanthys.
It has been confirmed that the place had existed since the end of the Neolithic period, but it reached its greatest importance during the time of the Neopalatial period, and existed still after the catastrophe of 1,450 BC, which is confirmed by buildings from the Geometrical Period and ruins of the Archaic period and a temple of Rhea.
The town was destroyed only by the neighboring rival Gortys at the end of the 3rd century BC.
Festos, as an autonomous city, coined many of its own coins and brought forth important personalities such as the theologians and shamans Theosophistis Epimenides, one of the Seven Wise Men of antiquity.
The first palace was built between 1,900 and 1,850 BC, but was destroyed by an earthquake in 1,700 BC. However, the construction of a majestic, new palace complex was immediately begun on the ruins of the old one. Most of the ruins one can visit today belong to the new palace.
The new palace was destroyed also in the catastrophe of 1,450 BC. and there remained only a settlement on its slope, which, however, increasingly lost its importance in comparison to the up-and-coming Gortys.
The excavations of Festos were begun in 1900 by Italian archaeologists and the entire palace area was completely cleared until 1909. The excavations are still ongoing and focus on the ancient Minoan and Hellenistic city.
One starts with the visit of the palace over the elevated and stone-paved courtyard of the old palace on the west side. In the south-western corner of the courtyard, go down the stairs to the courtyard which is paved with stones and also belongs to the old palace.
At the northern end are eight, each 72ft long steps, which were used as seats for the theater area. This is considered the oldest theater in history.
From here a processional road leads to the Propylaeum, where you can reach the many, small apartments.
The entrance to the new palace is at the north-east end of the west court with a great staircase. This is a monumental Propylaeum, a miracle of the Minoan architecture.
Further ahead is an outer space, a light well with three pillars, a staircase with a narrow staircase leading down to an entrance hall and storage rooms.
South of the corridor there are sacred and religious rooms. From the entrance hall one goes to the stone-paved central courtyard, which is interspersed with irregular patterns of ‘porous’ stones.
In the north-eastern part of the court is a polythyra (‘many doors’) typical for the Minoans, an outdoor light fountain, an antechamber and a pleasure pool and it is certainly a religious section of the palace. The east wing is almost completely broken off from the slope.
Through a corridor on the north side of the central courtyard one reaches the entrance to the royal chambers, which are located in the northern part of the palace. Through an exterior corridor and to a small courtyard one enter the luxurious chamber of the queen. A narrow staircase leads to rooms which must have been the king’s dwelling.
There was probably another floor over the royal chambers which must have been of representation rooms.
An independent complex of buildings from the pre-Palaeolithic period, which was also used during the time of the new palace, lies further north-east. The Disc of Festos, the most important piece of the palace, was found in one of the long, narrow storage rooms, which must have served as a treasury.
More photos of the Palace of Festos:
From April to October: Monday to Saturday from 8 am to 6 pm, Sundays from 8 am to 3 pm.
From November to March: daily from 8 am to 3 pm.
Admission: 4 Euros.