The Colossal Ruins Of Cnossos
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
The ruins [of the Cnossos palace] lie at the east of the high road, in a deep valley. Their excavation has been very complete and satisfactory, and while some restorations have been attempted here and there, chiefly because of absolute necessity to preserve portions of the structure, they are not such restorations as to jar on one, but exhibit a fidelity to tradition that saves them from the common fate of such efforts. Little or no retouching was necessary in the case of the stupendous flights of steps that were found leading up to the door of this prehistoric royal residence, and which are the first of the many sights the visitor of today may see.
It is in the so-called "throne room of Minos" that the restoring hand is first met. Here it has been found necessary to provide a roof, that damage by weather be avoided; and to-day the throne room is a dusky spot, rather below the general level of the place. Its chief treasure is the throne itself, a stone chair, carved in rather rudimentary ornamentation, and about the size of an ordinary chair. The roof is sup-ported by the curious, top-heavy-looking stone pillars, that are known to have prevailed not only in the Minoan but in Mycenaean period; monoliths noticeably larger at the top than at the bottom, reversing the usual form of stone pillar with which later ages have made us more familiar. This quite illogical inversion of what we now regard as the proper form has been accounted for in theory, by assuming that it was the natural successor of the sharpened wooden stake. When the ancients adopted stone supports for their roofs, they simply took over the forms they had been familiar with in the former use of wood, and the result was a stone pillar that copied the earlier wooden one in shape. Time, of course, served to show that the natural way of building demanded the reversal of this custom; but in the Mycenaean age it had not been discovered, for there are evidences that similar pillars existed in buildings of that period, and the representation of a pillar that stands between the two lions on Mycenae's famous gate has this inverted form.
Many hours may be spent in detailed examination of this colossal ruin, testifying to what must have been in its day an enormous and impressive palace. One can not go far in traversing it without noticing the traces still evident enough of the fire that obviously destroyed it many hundred, if not several thousand, years before Christ. Along the western side have been discovered long corridors, from which scores of long and narrow rooms were to be entered. These, in the published plans, serve to give to the ruin a large share of its labyrinthine character. It seems to be agreed now that these were the storerooms of the palace, and in them may still be seen the huge earthen jars which once served to contain the palace supplies. Long rows of them stand in the ancient hallways and in the narrow cells that lead off them, each jar large enough to hold a fair-sized man, and in number sufficient to have accommodated All Baba and the immortal forty thieves. In the center of the palace little remains; but in the southeastern corner, where the land begins to slope abruptly to the valley below, there are to be seen several stories of the ancient building. Here one comes upon the rooms marked with the so-called "distaff" pattern, supposed to indicate that they were the women's quarters.
The restorer has been busy here, but not offensively so. Much of the ancient wall is intact, and in one place is a bathroom with a very diminutive bathtub still in place. Along the eastern side is also shown the oil press, where olives were once made to yield their coveted juices, and from the press proper a stone gutter conducted the fluid down to the point where jars were placed to receive it. This discovery of oil presses in ancient buildings, by the way, has served in more than one case to arouse speculation as to the antiquity of oil lamps such as were once supposed to belong only to a much later epoch. Whether in the Minoan days they had such lamps or not, it is known that they had at least an oil press and a good one. In the side of the hill below the main palace of Minos has been unearthed a smaller structure, which they now call the "villa," and in which several terraces have been uncovered rather similar to the larger building above. Here is another throne room, cunningly contrived to be lighted by a long shaft of light from above falling on the seat of justice itself, while the rest of the room is in obscurity.
It may be that it requires a stretch of the imagination to compare the palace of Cnossos with Troy, but nevertheless there are one or two features that seem not unlike the discoveries made by Dr. Schliemann on that famous site. Notably so, it seems to me, are the traces of the final fire, which are to be seen at Cnossos as at Troy, and the huge jars, which may be compared with the receptacles the Trojan excavators unearthed, and found still to contain dried peas and other things that the Trojans left behind when they fled from their sacked and burning city. Few are privileged to visit the site of Prism's city, which is hard, indeed, to reach; but it is easy enough to make the excursion to Candia and visit the palace of old King Minos, which is amply worth the trouble, besides giving a glimpse of a civilization that is possibly vastly older than even that of Troy and Mycenae. For those who reverence the great antiquities, Candia and its pre-classic suburb are distinctly worth visiting, and are unique among the sights of the ancient Hellenic and pre-Hellenic world.