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Zakros, the smallest of the four main Minoan palaces on Crete, is nestled just beneath the foothills of a fairly rugged mountain range and the fertile lowlands of a valley split by a small river that runs into the Libyan Sea. It is thought there would have been a road leading directly from the palace and surrounding town to the waterfront, which was most likely the raison d’être of this settlement. Even today this location on the far eastern coast is quite remote, requiring a relatively long trip from any of Crete’s main cities. (I mentioned in my last post, written about the neighboring small village of Kato Zakros, that my wife Oksana and I were greeted at one of the local tavernas with the words, “Welcome to the end of the world!”) In the time of the Minoans, this would truly have been an isolated place. It probably came into being around 1900 B.C. as a center for trade with Egypt, Cyprus and the Middle East, including Palestine. The original palace, like all of the Minoan palaces, was destroyed in a major earthquake around 1600 B.C., after which it was rebuilt and stood until another earthquake destroyed it for good around 1450 B.C. The ruins lay ignored, at first, and then, later, unknown until the early 1900s when British archaeologist David George Hogarth uncovered a dozen houses on the site. However, the true discovery of Zakros (pronounced ZAkros) would not come about until the 1960s when Greek scholar Nikolaos Platon began a systematic dig of the environs. Only then, for the first time in approximately 3,500 years did human eyes encounter the riches that once had graced this land. Unlike the other palaces that were looted and plundered for building materials by those who survived the great quake of ca. 1450, the palace at Zakros appears to have been abandoned immediately and permanently. No later settlements were built from its ruins, or on top of it. Thus, many great treasures – texts on tablets, vessels, figurines, etc. – were still lying here waiting to be discovered when Platon began his excavations. The vast majority of these finds are now held in archaeological museums in the cities of Sitea and Heraklion.
The survival of the thirteen tablets bearing texts in what is called Linear A Script, are of special interest and value. Nowhere had such a large number of Minoan texts ever been discovered, and the reason these survived until our time is the very reason that the palace did not. While the entire palace and surrounding town were burnt to the ground, the tablets were baked in the heat of the fire, preventing them from disintegrating over the ensuing millenia. Other surviving objects included: a rhyton made of rock crystal that was shattered into 300 pieces and reconstructed by archaeologists; six talents made from bronze originating in Cyprus; three undamaged elephant tusks that probably hailed from Syria; a cup of olives that, by some miracle, were preserved in a state so fresh they could have been picked this morning from a tree; a large number of cooking utensils; and a spectacular ritual amphora made of multicolored marble. Some of the walls still bear remnants of the elaborate decorations that once covered them.
As it is relatively small – 8,000 square meters (86,000 square feet) in all – it is possible to see most everything Zakros has to offer in 60 to 90 minutes. This leaves plenty of time to swim in the sea, lunch at a taverna, and even take a nice, long nap before it is time to watch the sun go down… If you do Zakros in the summer, make sure each member of your party has a full bottle of water. And you’re best off wearing a hat. It can get very hot beneath the summer Cretan sun.
I have drawn on several sources to retell this short version of the Zakros palace, primarily: 1) Minoan Crete: Between Myth and History by Litsa I. Hatzifoti (Editions M. Toubis, n.d.), 2) the Explore Crete website, and 3) the Minoan Crete website.
All texts and photos © copyright 2020 by John Freedman. Should you wish to copy, repost or use any of the materials in this blog, please contact me for permission.

The ruins of the ancient palace at Zakros. Photo © copyright 2020 by John Freedman.
The central court. Photo © copyright 2020 by John Freedman.
The northwest corner of the central court. Photo © copyright 2020 by John Freedman.
A wall with colored decorations still intact. Photo © copyright 2020 by John Freedman.
Photo © copyright 2020 by John Freedman.
A maze of palace rooms. Photo © copyright 2020 by John Freedman.
Some of the gorgeous stones used in the construction of walls. Photo © copyright 2020 by John Freedman.
Photo © copyright 2020 by John Freedman.
The so-called lustral basin where we still see receptacles for water, and the remnants of tiled, or mosaic wall decorations. Photo © copyright 2020 by John Freedman.
The upper part of the palace, backed into the foothills of the mountains behind it. Photo © copyright 2020 by John Freedman.
An Minoan city street. Photo © copyright 2020 by John Freedman.
This beautifully-made stone bench sits just above the central court. Photo © copyright 2020 by John Freedman.
I have seen this same basic view labled as a fragment of the town surrounding the palace. Photo © copyright 2020 by John Freedman.
Looking from a narrow Minoan street out to the sea. Photo © copyright 2020 by John Freedman.
Looking back down at the palace (large central square in the middle) from the foothills above it. Photo © copyright 2020 by John Freedman.
Looking over a wall to the sea, which is about 1/2 of a kilometer away. Photo © copyright 2020 by John Freedman.
Ancient city stairs. Photo © copyright 2020 by John Freedman.
One of three water basins on the Zakros palace site, and the biggest. It is not known if these were baths or places for rituals, or both. But somewhat miraculously, a cup of fresh, ancient olives was discovered at the bottom of this pool. Today a family of miniature turtles occupies the watery space. Photo © copyright 2020 by John Freedman.