Knossos is a symbol. Part of the appeal of Knossos, the principal city of bronze age Crete, lies in that symbolic nature. Like the Acropolis, Stonehenge, or the Pyramids, it stands powerfully for an entire ancient culture. Older by far than Athens, the KNOSSOS LABYRINTH was first built in the reign of Sesostris II, a Middle Kingdom Egyptian pharaoh. It is sobering to reflect that the sarsen monument at Stonehenge was little more than a century old when the first Labyrinth was raised at Knossos in 1930 BC.
Homer speaks of Knossos as "vast" and a "great city" and informs us that Minos was its king. The centre of Minoan civilization was Knossos, and archeological excavations carried on by Arthur Evans have revealed the actual palace of King Minos with its court and the throne room, in which the throne of Minos was discovered, the oldest throne in Europe.
The reconstruction above reveals the floor plan of Minos' palace which confirms that behind the myth of the Labyrinth there was a basis of historical fact where the mythical figures of Ariadne, Theseus, Daidalus, and the Minotaur come to life.
What then are the facts behind the myth? Behind the pre-Hellenic word LABYRINTHOS...which is etymologically allied to the word LABRYS (double axe)...is perhaps the very palace of Knossos, the ruins of which reveal the labyrinthine complexity of its structure.
Minos was of divine origin, sired by the king of the gods himself, Zeus. In Phoenicia Zeus met Europa, daughter of the king, picking flowers and fell in love with her. In order to approach her, he transformed himself into a handsome playful bull. The princess, suspecting nothing, mounted him whereas the bull immediately plunged into the sea and brought her to Crete. Minos was one of her three sons by Zeus. Europa subsequently married the king of Crete, Asterios...and after his death, Minos reigned in the kingdom.
Minos married Pasiphae who bore him four sons and four daughters. They lived in the palace of Knossos where many dramatic events took place. On one occasion Minos wished to offer a sacrifice to Poseidon and prayed to the gods to send him a suitable victim. Poseidon sent him a fine white bull from the sea, but Minos chose to keep him and sacrificed another in its stead. Thus he incurred the wrath of the god, who, to punish him, aroused in the queen a consuming passion for the bull. In those days there lived at court of Minos a very clever engineer, Daedalus. Daedalus fashioned a model of a cow in which he concealed the queen, who thus satisfied her love for the bull. Of their union was born a monster, the Minotaur, with a human body and bull's head, which lived in the Labyrinth, a complex structure which Daedalus built for it so it wouldn't escape.