Excavation has revealed very few remains of old palaces of Crete, which were centres of influence and prestige, for the new palaces were erected on the same sites after the first palaces were destroyed about 1.700 BC. The evidence assembled from the large old palaces at Phaistos, Knossos and Malia and from the palace buildings at Monastiraki, Zakros and Archanes enables us to form a picture of these first palaces and to state briefly the principles followed in their construction. In the case of palaces built on hills, like those at Knossos and Phaistos, large-scale technical works had to be carried out to level the summit (Knossos) and sides (Knossos and Phaistos) of the hill. This created large artificial terraces on which sectors of the palace devoted to special functions were erected.
The facades of the palaces were built of large, dressed blocks of poros and revetted with marble, as is clear from their surviving sections (mainly at Phaistos). The courtyards at the west were formal open areas of the palaces and communicated with the central courts by way of monumental porches (Phaistos, Knossos). The different areas were connected by wide corridors and passageways, and communication between the ground floor and the upper storeys was secured by internal staircases.
The exteriors of the palaces were decorated with painted plaster and revetted with gypsum slabs. The first wall-paintings, with floral decoration, made their appearance towards the end of the period. The floors were paved with multi-coloured stone slabs or frequently with painted plaster imitating gypsum sand other coloured stones. The surviving remains make it clear that the old palaces were slightly larger in area than the new. They were also organized by sector, though these may have been only loosely associated (Evans’s theory of insulae at Knossos).
Notable technical works were carried out on and around the old palaces. There was a comprehensive drainage system: small stone drainage conduits led water off into a central built sewer. Both the drainage conduits and the sewer were given the required slope. Other, smaller pipes channelled water from uncovered areas, while vertical pipes led rainwater of the roofs. The aqueduct at Knossos bringing water from Mount Juktas was built at this period. The Minoans were obviously familiar with the principles of hydraulics. In the palaces of Phaistos and Malia, the water-supply was secured by means of cisterns that collected rainwater, which was used for drinking purposes. Circular built pits (kouloures) were constructed in the west courts of the palaces. These were intended for the vases and utensils used during ritual ceremonies, or as refuse pits (Knossos, Phaistos). Others have been interpreted as cisterns or granaries (Malia).
The palaces probably underwent two destructions, after which the sections that collapsed were rebuilt. These disasters are reckoned to have occurred about 1820 BC and 1750 BC. The third destruction, in 1650 BC., was comprehensive and final. The remains were buried and the sites used for the construction of new palaces, built to a new plan though occasionally with the same outline. In the Old Palace period, towns grew up around the palaces, with neighbourhoods separated by public squares and paved streets. The excavation of an entire Old Palace quarter at Malia (Quartier M) has yielded valuable information.
Dr Andonis Vasilakis