Archaeological Site in Around Matala

Phaestos was the second-most important Minoan palace-city after Knossos and enjoys an awe-inspiring setting with panoramic views of the Messara Plain and Mt Psiloritis. Like Knossos, Phaestos was built atop a previously destroyed older palace and laid out around a central court. In contrast to its bigger cousin, though, this site had fewer frescoes as walls were likely covered with white gypsum. Good English panelling and graphics stationed in key spots help demystify the ruins.

Past the ticket booth, the first stop is the Upper Court which was flanked by a colonnade and overlooked the West Court to which it is connected by a long staircase. Since the court is bounded by eight wide steps that may have served as bleachers, it may have been used as a Theatral Area – a staging ground for performances. On the side opposite the seats are four round cistern-like structures called 'koulores' that may have been used to store grain.

East of the west court, a 15m-wide Grand Stairway once led to the Propylae, the main palace entrance of which only the pillar bases survive. Continue past the stairway and turn left to walk past a corridor lined with a series of storerooms – called West Magazines – where pithoi (storage urns) held oil, wine and other staples of the Minoan diet. The walkway culminates in an antechamber below which another room – the so-called Archive – held records of the goods in the magazines.

The corridor spills out into the vast rectangular Central Court, the social heart of the palace, which was once flanked by colonnades and gives a sense of the size and magnificence of the palace. Turning right takes you into an area believed to have contained several shrines, including a 'bench shrine' lined whose walls were lined with low benches, and a 'lustral basin' with a sunken cistern that was perhaps used in purification rituals. On the opposite side is the east wing which contained royal apartments, although the main residential area was actually in the north wing, most of which is under cover. This is where you'll come across the Queen's Megaron (bedroom) which centered on twin pillars and featured gypsum-paved floors and benches. Immediately behind it is the King's Megaron. The celebrated Phaestos Disk, now in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, was found in a building to the northeast of the king's chambers. Before exiting, swing by the columned Peristyle Court, the most elegant inner courtyard in the north wing.