Early archaeologist called the intricate architectural complexes of the Minoans ‘palaces’ and that name has stuck until today. We actually know little about their sociopolitical structure and are not sure if they had a royalty in the way we think of it.
The complexes contained all people needed to live. There were theaters, workshops, storage areas, houses, courtyards, temples, plumbing, all with many luxuries. The Palace complex at Knossos covered a 6 square mile area.
The walls of these complexes were made of mud and rubble and then faced with cut and finished stones. Columns and other interior elements were made of wood. There is speculation that this was used as the Minoans discovered that wood faired better during the many earthquakes than stone. Earthquakes led to the constant rebuiliding of the complexes, either by repair, or just rebuilding on top of the rubble.
The complexes were multistoried with many colorful colomns. They were designed to maximize light and to allow air to circulate. Daylight and fresh air could enter at staggered levels. The complex had storage areas, houses, meeting rooms, theatres, courtyards etc. All you needed to live right there. The palace at knossos covered a square 6 mile area.
There was a sophisticated plumbing system laid out with terra-cotta pipes under the ground. Clusters of workshops and storage areas have been discovered with jars for oil and wine. In one single storeroom enough ceramic jars were found to hold 20,000 gallons of olive oil. The complex also housed workshops that indicate large-scale manufacturing.
One type of pottery that was produced was called Kamares ware. This pottery was highly sought after all over the ancient world and it was exported as far as Egypt and Syria. It had extremely thin walls, a strong use of color, and a graceful, stylized, painted decorated style. The one pictured is a jug with a ‘beaked’ pouring spout.
Some of the most striking ceramics were done in what is called the
Marine style because they depicted sea life on their surfaces. This Octopus flask from around 1500 BC celebrates the oceans. Besides the octopus we see other sea life teaming around the tentacles. While the Kamares ware was distinctive with it’s decoration and solid surfaces, the Marine ware seems to capture the energy of natural forms. Both possess their own beauty.
The walls of the Minoans homes and community rooms were frequently covered with murals. Some of the reflected the sea life that surrounded the island. Another popular motif was bull jumping. Historians are not sure if the bull jumping was a religious ritual, a rite of passage, or a sport.
The Palace at Knossos (and most other ancient sculptures and buildings) were painted bright colors. At Knossos the columns in the building were painted red and were made of tree trunks. The many earthquakes on the island of Crete had taught the people that wood did not crack and crumble like stone or marble, so they began to make their pillars out of wood. The trees were installed upside down, so that the thicker part of the tree would provide the base for the ceilings of the buildings.