Site Plan & Synopsis: Ancient Faistos/Phaistos in Crete

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Phaistos synopsis

The site of Phaistos, open daily 8 am-6 pm, with 3.55 euros admission, is located 62 km south of Iraklio in the Messara valley in the municipality of Kamilari.

From the hill on which the palace was built, there are wonderful views of the Messara plain and Mt. Ida (Psiloritis). The second largest palace city of Minoan Crete, and, second most important after Knossos, it was a fief of King Minos' brother Rhadamanthys, and birthplace of the sage Epimenides.

It was excavated in the early 1900s (the same period when Evans was excavating Knossos), by the Italian Federico Halbherr, who was also involved in early work at Gortys).. In sharp contrast to Knossos, almost no reconstruction was done in Phaistos.

The two sites have, however, many elements in common: enormous clay pots for storage of oil, a large courtyard with a huge stairway ascending from it, a theatral area, though at Phaistos, the remains of a furnace used for metalworking was also found. Potters and carpenters seemed to have used the same area of the palace as well.

The layout is the same as at Knossos, in the form of a central court with wings around it. Unlike Knossos, few frescoes were found here, the walls covered instead with white gypsum; marble and alabaster are also present. A large dining hall overlooked the court. Parts of the older palace, destroyed at the end of the Middle Minoan period, have been successfully excavated. A collapsed section of the central court suggests missing buildings in the palace complex.

another planA Tourist Pavilion, below ground level, leads into the palace from the northwest corner, from which one enters the West Court and Theatral Area. The former may have been part of the older palace, along with a low wall in front of the Grand Stairway, which may have been the old palace fascade. The Grand Stairway consists of twelve stone steps, some of which are carved from the hill itself and are higher in the middle than on the ends, an innovation used 1200 years later in the Parthenon (Athens Acropolis). Small rooms lead into larger rooms and out onto descending stairs to the Central Court. Down below are storerooms with the usual clay pithoi (huge pots). The floor slopes downward towards a drainage hole.

The Central Court, with its view of the Psiloritis mountains, is certainly the most interesting sight in the palace, though these views were, most likely blocked during Minoan times by second storeys that existed on either side and are no longer standing. Still, the court is appealing, with its great doorway on the north end , its half-columns, niches, and painted plaster. A covered portico runs along the longer sides of the courtyard. On the edge of the site are the ruins of a classical Greek temple. One cannot see much of the Royal Apartments (reached through the north door) which have been closed off for their own protection. The Peristyle Hall, a colonnaded courtyard open in the middle, was open on one side to a view of Psiloritis. Other buildings include the Archive where the Phaistos Disc was found, and the Peristyle House , likely a private home.