Malia is the third great palace in Crete, known not only for the palace itself, but also for the extensive part of the town that has been excavated nearly.
Malia lies on the coast, 25 miles to the east of Knossos. Today Malia is the site of one of the biggest and most raucous seaside resorts in Crete, but the Palace lies outside the town, some 2 miles to the east. In many ways it is the best preserved of the palaces, as it is on flat ground and therefore it does not have the erosion to the south that is seen both at Knossos and more extensively at Phaistos.
In size, Malia is almost identical to Phaistos, with the courtyard similarly oriented north-south. However though it is better preserved, being on flat ground and never having been built on, it was the poorer relative with no signs of any wall painting, though a number of rich objects have been found there. However nearly a third of the built space was devoted to storage.
There is a large courtyard, with the residential palace buildings at the north end, though they were not as grand as at Phaistos. However both sides of the courtyard are interesting. The western side was given over to ritual. At the back were the magazines for storage, arranged along a central corridor as at Knossos, but they were in a way a crucial part of the ritual functions of the palace.
The more obvious ritual function were at the front, facing onto the courtyard. To the south there was a ‘pillared crypt’, a semi-sunken room with a single pillar at the centre decorated with double axe symbols.
These pillared crypts are almost always found adjacent to the magazines and must have been designed to add something of a mystical process to the ritual involved in taking goods in or moving goods out.
In the north-west corner of the courtyard, separated by a grand staircase leading up to grander rooms on the first floor, was another example of what I believe to be a ‘Display area’ up a couple of steps . In a small room leading off was a ‘treasure’, a bronze sword and a bronze dagger, — perhaps used for ritual sacrifices? This room was in the most prominent position in the courtyard: it was surely rather more than a ‘lobby’ or ‘vestibule’.
Even more interesting however is what was happening on the opposite eastern side of the courtyard where there appears to have been a factory. Here there is a large mysterious building today protected by a large cover building.
At first sight this appears to be another set of magazines, long narrow rooms opening off a corridor at the back. However both floors and walls were plastered — which is why it is protected by the cover building. There are runnels or furrows in the floor where any spillage from the storage jars could be collected. Was this perhaps a factory, where the olive oil was mixed with herbs and spices to form the valuable fragrances, cosmetics, medicines, soaps and ointments for which the Minoans were famous? In the corner there appears to have been a large trough where processing was presumably carried out. There is also a similar room with plastered floors in the adjacent outside building known as the agora.
However the most remarkable aspect for the visitor at Malia is the extensive area of the town that has been excavated by the French excavators. This is several hundred yards away from the Palace and is called Quartier Mu, mu being the Greek letter M. There is a chaotic jumble of town buildings all covered by a large modernistic concrete cover building. This reminds us that the palaces were all surrounded by extensive towns. Knossos in particular was at the centre of a very extensive town, but at Malia a substantial area of this town has been excavated and is on display. What is of particular interest is that most of the buildings date to the period of the ‘Old Palaces’, that is MMII.
8th August 2016