The town and palace of Zakros are at the southeast end of Crete. In Minoan times the region would have been difficult of access because the mountains of Siteia cut it off from the rest island. The bay of Zakros is one of the safest anchorages in eastern Crete. The palace that was built at kato Zakros must have been the centre of the transit trade, which was controlled by the local ruler, who would certainly have been serving the interests of the central authority of Knossos.

The site first received mention in 1852 by the English Captain Spratt. The first actual excavation, however, were carried out in 1901 by the archaeologist D.G. Hogarth on parts of the Northeast and southwest hills of the settlement. In 1961 N. Platon excavated there and found the palace, which is located between the two hills where Hogarth had dug.

The history of the area immediately around the palace does not seems to have begun before 1500 BC, but in the Karydaki district the British archaeologists discovered a Neolithic site. On the northeast hill Hogarth had observed remains of the Early Minoan period, and in a grave in a cave in the “Faraggi ton nekron” (Gorge of the dead), a stone pyxis was discovered in 1963 with a dog carved on it that dates to between 2300 and 2100 BC.

The palace of Zakros is the fourth complete palace to have been discovered in Minoan Crete. Its five times smaller than the palace of Knossos, carelessly built for the most part and without fortifications, like the other palaces. It was built in about 2000 BC.

A peak sanctuary in the region of the palace, on the neighboring hill of Traos Talos, as well as other finds in the Faraggi ton nekron next to it indicate organization from the first palatial period. The later palaces that one sees today were built in about 1650 BC. A harbor mole was found at the southern end of the beach. The land place where the palace was built was favorable compared with the surrounding countryside, in a fertile valley suitable for gardens and protected from the winds, with two hills.

The palace covers 7000 m2 and possesses a Central and west court and four wings, of which the most important are the east and the west. The approach is through four entrances. The main one was on the east, by the Harbour Gate which led via an antechamber with a sloping floor to a square hall and from there to a court with a system of drains.

The material used in the construction and decoration was the local limestone from the locality of “Pelekita”, where the quarry was found, and unbaked bricks for the upper parts. The shoddy construction, which hardly matches the exceptional quality of the finds, confirms the view that the building complex at Zakros was not intended for a kind, but either for a powerful district governor entrusted with external trade or else as an advance naval station for the Minoan fleet.

From the harbor gate and stepped corridor and from the east court into which they led, a narrow corridor communicated with the central court. The central court measures 30 x 12 m and does not have the classic Minoan north south orientation. There was a built altar in the northwest corner. In its heyday the court was the scene of ceremonies, procession, sacrifices and public feasts. There were three entrances from it to the west wing. The main entrance was opposite the altar and it was flanked by two smaller ones.

West Wing

The main entrance opened into a corridor with a stairway leading to the upper floor. Behind the corridor there was a stone paved Reception lobby and behind it magazines in which important artefacts were found that had fallen from the floor above. The same lobby communicated with the hall of ceremonies which was also accessible from the south door in the central court. The hall measures 12 x 10 m. the main entrance was on the northeast through a square light well with columns on two sides. The back wall was closed by a “polythyron” leading into a spacious room. The hall is divided into two parts. The larger one has two small columns and a third larger one on its long axis. The floor was divided into sections by joints of red plaster. The rhyton depicting a peak sanctuary, the bull’s head rhyton, a sheet of lead and bronze tools, like the huge saw 1,70 long, were found there.

The banquet hall was entered from the hall of ceremonies through a polythyron. It measures 6 x 7 m and was given this name because of the large number of amphorae found in it. The floor was decorated with panels of coloured plaster. The walls below the ceiling have a relief decoration of rosettes on a frieze, of which a length of 26 m has survived. The central shrine was a small room with a bench, which may have been used to put cult objects on. Next to the shrine was a lustral basin in which an amphora of veined marble was found. Southwest of it were a stone cutter’s workshop, a magazine with 15 pithoi and the treasury of the Shrine, which produced some exceptionally fine ceremonial utensils, including rhyta (libation vases) like the famous rock-crystal one, which was found broken into 300 pieces, double axes and other finds.

A particularly important discovery was the Archive. Here, in a clay compartment were found 13 Linear A tablets that had survived because of the fire. Beside the Archive Room another room was found, also with clay compartments for storing cult objects. The Industrial Quarter was behind the Shrine Complex. Among the workshops, dying rooms were identified. Also the rooms at South-West were workshops, where perfumes were probably prepared using plants and herbs. In room, that is thought to be an ivory workshop, some rock crystal and ivory objects have been found. The rooms at the northeast end of the Central Court were different in character. They were fronted by a portico with two wooden columns facing onto the Court. There was a bench at the back which was intersected in the middle by a stairway leading to the upper floor. There was a group of rooms in the eastern part included a bathroom or a lustral basin. Directly northwest of these rooms is a large area the kitchen, above which was the official Banquet Hall. A metal furnace with a large firing and draught chamber was found beside the harbor road.

Southeast Wing

This is thought to be the wing where the royal apartments were, as at Knossos. They face the central court opposite the entrance to the northwest wing and rooms. The hall, or the Queen’s apartment, had polythyra in three sides, a light well with two east windows and an entrance from the court with a central column. There must have been sleeping quarters on the upper floor. Behind the royal apartments is the hall of the cistern with an intervening corridor and access from the apartments. It was a rectangular open air space and had a circular cistern in the centre with an internal diameter of 6 m. Seven steps led down to it, and parapet around it supported at least five columns. According to the excavator this was the actual “Throne room”. More probably, however, it was an aquarium or water cistern or a place for the king’s ceremonial bath, like those in Egypt, which were called “Sacred Lakes”. An opening in the southwest corner leads to a chamber where the water collected and ran into an underground spring, similar to the “fashioned fountain” descripted by Homer in the Odyssey. It may also have been a cult place. The well spring at the southeast corner of the central court completes the picture of the part played by water in their cultic rites. A ritual cup containing olives was found in the well spring.

There was an extensive settlement on the two hills on each side of the palace, of which it was certainly an extension, showing evidence of town planning, with the building blocks separated by a network of streets and an excellent internal organization, including wine presses, magazines, etc. Buildings were found on the northeast of the hill separated by smooth slopes or steps and which had more than one storey. There may even been hanging gardens on the terrace walls. It is thus clear that the palace of Zakros apart from being a transit centre of trade was also a pleasant place to reside.

On road between Epano and Kato Zakros a two storey villa was found contemporary with the palace, which had a system of wine presses and many pitharia with linear A inscriptions and fresco decoration.