On the island of Crete lies the ruins of an ancient palace. Now part of modern Greece, Crete was once the center of the Aegean civilization known as the Minoans. Known for elaborate palaces and beautiful frescos, the Minoans were powerful players in the eastern Mediterranean during the Bronze Age, with trading connections to Old Kingdom Egypt and the civilizations of Mesopotamia. The Minoans are commonly described as the first complex civilization of Europe. Nowhere is the glory of Minoan culture so on display as at Knossos—a royal palace nearby the port of Heraklion, Crete.
The Minoan civilization flourished from about 3000 BCE to around 1500 BCE, eventually falling under the rule of late Bronze Age Mycenaean Greece. The first palace of Knossos was constructed around 2000 BCE. It was later destroyed in an earthquake around 1720 BCE. The rebuilt palace is what remains today—a complex of frescoed rooms, magnificent columns, and zig-zagging stairs. The palace served as the administrative and ceremonial headquarters of the Minoan realms.