The work of the Knossos Scientific Committee on the Palace and the archaeological site

The “Palace and Archaeological Site of Knossos” project, intended to solve the various problems faced by the monument and promote it, was included in the 3rd Common Strategic Framework (CSF) in 2000 and implemented by the Fund for the Credit Management of Archaeological Works (TDPEAE). The Knossos Office was established at the same time.

From 2001, the responsibility of coordinating the projects lay with the Knossos Scientific Committee. The main aim of the Committee was to coordinate all the actions in order to restore the monument and promote its cultural value.

The establishment of the Knossos Scientific Committee was a vital step, as no integrated project for the conservation of the Minoan Palace had been realised in recent decades.

A pilot project had been carried out in 1993-97 by the Directorate of Restoration, in collaboration with the 23rd Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities. The project mainly concerned the restoration of the concrete of Evans’s restoration in the area of the “South House” and the “Hall of the Double Axes”.

In 1999, the major project to construct the visitors’ route was completed. Wooden walkways limited the damage to the monument caused by visitors walking over it, allowing the Palace to be viewed and understood more fully.

In 2000 the Villa Ariadne, Evans’s house, and its garden were restored with funding from the Region of Crete (2nd CSF), in a project implemented by the TDPEAE. The building was opened once more, housing students of Cretan civilisation (phot. 1,2).

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The Technical Forms of the 3rd CSF project incorporated a comprehensive conservation, consolidation and promotion programme for the Palace and the wider archaeological site, including the conservation and restoration of the masonry, gypsum and limestone, the copies of the frescoes, the columns and the imitation wooden structures of Evans’s reconstruction. The iron girders of Evans’s arched roofs were also replaced, the Minoan pithoi were conserved, the “West Magazines III-VII” were restored, the “South House” was consolidated and reinforced, and the “Caravanserai”, a peripheral monument of the Palace, was conserved. More specifically:

Extensive conservation and consolidation work was carried out on the ancient masonry (phot. 3, 4) and Evans’s reconstruction, as this has become part of the history of the reconstruction and is considered a monument in its own right.

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The serious problem of the rapid wear of the fragile gypsum and limestone was treated in collaboration with the Stone Conservation Centre. The aims of the laboratory study (examining the types of damage and associating them with erosion mechanisms, conservation methods) and the application of the results to the site were the preventive and/or interventional conservation of the material and the disclosure of the results to the scientific community (phot. 5, 6).

Ancient plaster preserved in various areas of the Palace and the archaeological site was also conserved.

Some of the Minoan pithoi from the Palace were conserved in a specially equipped laboratory. These pithoi had been extensively damaged by their exposure to the elements and due to earlier interventions using incompatible materials.

The famous copies of the frescoes, and the paintwork of Evans’s reconstruction on the columns, imitation timbers and architectural members, were aesthetically restored to their original state.

The rusted iron girders of the lightly-arched roofs of Evans’s reconstruction in specific areas of the Palace were replaced by new stainless steel girders, using innovative techniques and materials.

Work was undertaken in the “Hall of the Double Axes” for the static reinforcement of the corner pillar, which is set on ancient gypsum and is subjected to massive mechanical pressure due to Evans’s reconstruction. The load on the gypsum was relieved and the pillar was reinforced.

The visitors’ route from the “Loggia of the Figure-of-Eight Shields” to the “Room of the Olive Press” was improved and extended. This, together with the cordoning off of the area, helped to limit the damage to the monument caused by visitors walking over it. New bilingual visitor information signs were also placed in selected spots throughout the Palace.

The “South House” was also consolidated and reinforced, while the “Caravanserai”, a peripheral monument of the Palace (phot. 7), and the “West Magazines III-VII” (phot. 8, 9) were restored.

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Finally, the buildings at the entrance to the archaeological site were modernised: the existing WCs were extended and two disabled cubicles added, while properties were expropriated to ensure safe visitor vehicle access to a large car park north of the Palace.

The “Palace and Archaeological Site of Knossos” project was completed in the first half of 2009. At the end of 2010 it was included in the “Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship” Operational Programme of the National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF), comprising conservation and restoration work intended to supplement and complete the earlier work in the context of the 3rd CSF.

From the end of March 2013, the TDPEAE Management Fund was abolished and the projects it was responsible for were taken over by the Directorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities, the Directorate of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Monuments, or the local Ephorates of Antiquities. From the first half of 2013, the Knossos Scientific Committee project was implemented by the 23rd Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities, and from October 2014, with the implementation of the new Organisation, by the now-unified Heraklion Ephorate of Antiquities.

The “Grand Staircase”, a masterpiece of Minoan architecture, has been closed to the public since the 1990s due to stability problems and damage to the ancient masonry, the gypsum, the Minoan plaster and the roofs reconstructed by Evans, which mainly consist of arched roofs with iron girders and concrete.

As part of the NSRF project, the masonry of the first and second staircase was restored, as was the limestone masonry. The Minoan plaster was also restored. The girders of the arched roof of the “East-West Corridor (east section) were replaced by new ones of stainless steel, and the roofs themselves were also replaced.

On the completion of all these interventions, the “Grand Staircase” complex can be opened to the public once more. Specifically, the area will be accessible at the level of the “Loggia of the Figure-of-Eight Shields”, via the wooden walkway to the “Corridor of the Draughtboard”.

“Magazines XIII-XVIII” are the northernmost storerooms in the “West Magazines” complex of the Palace. It was imperative to restore and repair not only the masonry but also the stones, plaster and pithoi preserved in situ in this area (phot. 10-13). This work was the natural extension of the corresponding interventions to the unroofed “Magazines III-VII” to the south, in the context of the 3rd CSF.

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In order to limit the damage to the unroofed “West Magazines III-VII” after the completion of their restoration in 2009, it was necessary to construct a temporary protective roof.

The roof provided a plain and simple architectural solution, adapted to the terrain (phot. 14). However, the structure required some improvements to ensure the best possible protection of the area and the most pleasing aesthetic result.

Specifically, the polycarbonate sheets were replaced by new, improved sheets, two rows of manually operated ventilation openings were placed in the roof to avoid creating a microclimate, the beams, posts and joints were replaced by new elements of galvanised steel, and a single metal beam was placed on the floor, forming the base of the new supports (phot. 15).

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In the west sector of the “Little Palace” complex, a peripheral monument of the Palace of Knossos, is the “Lustral Basin”, in which the Minoan clay plaster preserves the marks of the fluted wooden columns, of unique archaeological and architectural value.

In 2011, in the context of the project, the old wooden roof dating from the 1950s was replaced with a new roof of wooden rafters with purlins (horizontal beams), to which polycarbonate sheets were fixed. This ensured the best possible protection of this unique and representative example of a Neopalatial “lustral basin”.

The project also involved new interventions to the Villa Ariadne, due to problems arising from its construction, founded on land with subsidence issues. The old insulation was replaced in all three rooms of the house, measuring a total of 300 sq.m.

Five of the century-old palm trees in the Villa garden were pruned and sprayed with pesticide to treat an infestation of red palm weevils. Tree surgery on selected trees resulted in their regeneration.

The “Caravanserai” is one of the peripheral monuments of the Palace of Knossos. Further north, the “Minoan Viaduct” (phot. 16) across the Vlychia stream, and the “Stepped Portico” (phot. 17), a monumental structure with stairs and a colonnade leading to the SW entrance of the Palace, are among the most impressive structures of the Knossos archaeological site.

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The extension of the existing visitors’ route from the “South House” to the “Caravenserai” has integrated all these areas, hitherto inaccessible to the public, into a unified whole. Visitors can walk to these important monuments through a landscape of outstanding natural beauty, following the Minoan approach to the Palace.

As part of this work, the masonry and stones of the “Stepped Portico” and the “Minoan Viaduct” were conserved and the surrounding area was landscaped. The “Spring Chamber” in the “Caravanserai” was also consolidated and restored.

The work of the Scientific Committee on the Palace and the archaeological site was carried out by staff specialising in all the appropriate fields, who, having identified and recorded the various types of damage and major problems of the Palace, immediately proceeded to deal with them. This laid the foundations for the scientific management of the site and the acquisition of technical expertise, which will be a benchmark for similar work in the future.

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