Conservation – Restoration of the West Magazines

The complex of the “West Magazines” in the West Wing is the main storage area and one of the most important parts of the Palace of Knossos. Six of the magazines came to light during the first excavations at Knossos by Minos Kalokairinos in 1878.

During the first excavation season under the supervision of Arthur Evans in 1900, the magazines were revealed in their entirety. In his first excavation report, Evans describes the long corridor as one of the most important parts of the Palace: “53 m. in length, with solid floor of gypsum slabs”. This corridor ran N-S across both the West Wing and an impressive series of long, narrow storerooms, 18 in total, covering an area of 1,300 sq.m. (these storerooms are numbered I to XVIII, south to north). Under the floor of most of the storerooms and the corridor were 93 rectangular cists, known as “kaseles”, which were used to store valuable pots and other vessels.

Some of the storerooms were almost empty, perhaps due to looting, while others contained numerous pithoi, pots and amphoras in the Palace Style, as well as fresco fragments. Linear B tablets came to light in various parts of the complex, while at the north end of the corridor was a deposit of Hieroglyphic tablets and sealings.

Evans dated the overall construction of this complex to MM IIIB, a dating confirmed by S. Hood’s investigation. During the last phase of the Palace, various modifications, not necessarily contemporaneous, were made to the magazines.

In order to preserve the gypsum floors, the door jambs and the pithoi in situ and protect them, and also to place the bases of the columns and door jambs of the “Great Hall” on the upper floor, in 1929 Evans and his colleagues decided to roof the “Magazines VIII-XII” complex with reinforced concrete. “Magazines III-VII and XIII-XVIII”, on the contrary, remained unroofed, essentially free of any large-scale interventions, providing visitors with the true picture of the Palace following its excavation (phot. 1,2).

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It was imperative to conserve and repair both the masonry and the stones, plaster and pithoi preserved here in situ. The first consolidation-restoration work was carried out from 2006 to 2009, in the context of the “Palace and Archaeological Site of Knossos” project of the 3rd CSF, and focussed on the southern, unroofed “Magazines III-VII”. The work was extended to the northern “Magazines XIII-XVIII” as part of the NSRF project (phot. 3,4).

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The masonry conservation included the following stages: removal of the mortar and strong cement plaster of various earlier interventions; cleaning of the joints; and pointing with new mortar compatible with the ancient materials (phot. 5-8).

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The stones used to cap the sockets of the vertical beams during the course of earlier interventions were also removed (phot. 9,10). This provided important information on the position and diameter of the vertical and transverse beams, the position of the lengthwise beam supporting the walls, etc.

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The stone restoration work – on gypsum and poros stone – was carried out in collaboration with the Stone Conservation Centre and included the following stages: removal of the mortar of earlier interventions from around the stones; mechanical and chemical cleaning of the surface and cracks; consolidation and repair of fragments; mortar injection and sealing of interior and exterior cracks using the corresponding mortars. Finally, large detached fragments of masonry were attached using titanium rods.

The conservation of the ancient clay and lime plaster involved consolidation and repair of crumbling and detached sections; removal of earlier interventions; binding of the ancient plaster all around the edge; mortar injections to fill the gaps; and mechanical and chemical cleaning of the surface.

Pithoi from the “West Magazines” were also conserved. After drawing and photographing, the pithoi were taken apart and the fragments/sherds transported to the laboratory. There they were cleaned by mechanical means, the materials of earlier interventions and deposits were removed, and the sherds were glued together with fresh resin and attached with titanium staples to strengthen the join. The reconstructions were carried out using the corresponding mortar and reinforced internally where necessary with aluminium mesh for greater durability, particularly on the large surfaces.

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, constructed as part of the 3rd CSF project, provided a plain and simple architectural solution, adapted to the terrain. The use of metal elements for the frame ensured its durability, safety and reversibility. Covering the frame with polycarbonate sheets ensured the natural lighting of the Magazines, without isolating them from the surrounding area.

However, the Scientific Committee considered that this structure required some improvements to ensure the best possible protection of the area and the most pleasing aesthetic result.

The work was carried out in 2015 in the context of the NSRF. 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.

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