Zakro – sometimes called Kato Zakro, or Lower Zakro – is the fourth and last Palace to be discovered. Buildings had been known here for some time – indeed several townhouses were excavated in 1911, but he was only in 1961 that Nicholas Platon, the then Ephor of Crete carried out more extensive excavations and discovered that there was a palace there.
Zakro lies at the extreme eastern end of the island, rather remote from the rest of Crete and today only accessible by a single rather winding road. But it was right by the sea, facing east, towards copper rich Cyprus and the cities of Syria and Palestine, and its position suggests that it would have been in the ideal position for a trading town.
The Palace is situated on flat ground at the foot of a hill, but the original occupation was on the hill which remained a town throughout the life of the Palace. This meant that the architecture was rather odd, for the space at on the northern side, which should be occupied by the royal apartments, was in fact backing on to the hillside and the town. Indeed this meant that the approach was rather odd too. The main approach to the other palaces was from the south or from the west, but in this case the approach was from the north east where a road led from the Palace down to the harbour. At the north east corner was a large courtyard where the goods could arrive from the harbour, and the space where the royal apartments should be, was taken up by a single large dining hall with adjacent to it a set of kitchens. The excavator found good evidence that cooking was in fact taking place in the kitchens, which makes it almost unique among Minoan palaces in that food was actually prepared there. In the other palaces, kitchens are not known or at least not recognised by the early excavators.
On the western side however there was a full set of what might be called the ritual/ official/ governmental offices.
At the front, facing the central court, is the ‘Hall of Ceremonies’, one and a half large rooms which appear to have been ‘Minoan halls’, that is fitted with movable partitions. Presumably this is where the major ceremonies took place.
Behind them to the north east there was the usual set of magazines or store-rooms. In the centre was a Pillared crypt, and to the south were the offices.
Particularly interesting was an archive room where a cache of tablets inscribed with Minoan Linear A was discovered – six of them are apparently legible and no doubt will be read if and when Minoan Linear A is deciphered. A large number of rich finds were made in this area including an elephant’s tusk and six copper ingots in the form of an ox-hide. These were presumably raw material for ivory workers and copper-smiths, and show once again the importance of workshops in the palace set-up.
The Palace appears to have been abandoned fairly rapidly, and since it had not been looted before it was discovered, there were rather more finds than usual – including a number of fine stone jars, some of them carved. This mixture of governmental offices/ritual storage and dining and entertainment appears to be the core of the Minoan palace.
The other side of the central court is dominated by a large cistern, still partly water-filled, with adjacent to it to the South a well with natural springs. In front were several rooms which the excavator wanted to see it as being the King’s hall and the Queen’s hall , on the analogy with the apartments that Evans named at Knossos. But one does wonder whether there was not some sort of factory in this area, working in conjunction with the water facilities, perhaps in the processing of textiles. Or is this some sort of water-based ritual?
To the South there was a secondary entrance, and also another block of rooms: could these be the main residential apartments in the Palace?
To the north however was the town, with the usual jumble of houses and workshops with a main road leading off to the harbour. The town appears to have preceded the building of a Palace, and one wonders why the Palace was built. Did some powerful leader decide to make himself supreme and built for himself a proper Palace on the lower ground? Or was this an act of the central government at Knossos, who decided that this rich trading port needed to be brought under control, and so a governor was sent out from Knossos and a Palace built for him on what had become the standardised pattern?
The Palace and indeed the town came to an end around 1450 BC when both Phaistos and Malia are destroyed, and only Knossos continues on for another couple of centuries. At Knossos, the Linear A script gives way to the Linear B and it is generally assumed that the island-wide destruction coincided with and was perhaps even caused by the invasion of the Mycenaeans. Did the Mycenaeans destroy Zakro?
7th August 2016