Crete is the birthplace of the first European civilization, the Minoan, which flourished between 3000 BC and 1200 BC mainly in Central and Eastern Crete. Even today, the majestic palaces of Knossos, Phaestus, Malia, Zakros, Tylissos, Arhanes, Monastiraki, Galatas, Kydonia and the luxurious mansions at Agia Triada, Zominthos, Amnisos, Makrigialos, Vathipetro and Nerokouros reflect the splendor of the Minoan civilization through architectural, pottery, jewelry and painting masterpieces.
The Minoan fleet, the strongest of its era, as evidenced by several findings in the Mediterranean, brought wealth to Crete from the trade of the famous Cretan cypress and agricultural products. Built in large yards, such as the shipyard of Agii Theodori at Vathianos Kambos, ships were loaded with timber, honey, wine, pottery and olive oil from the ports of Dia, Katsambas, Komos, Zakros, Psira, Mochlos, Niros, Petras, sailing towards all directions of the Mediterranean as far as Scandinavia.
Women were equal to men and took part in all religious ceremonies, in sports, hunting, theater, dance, etc. Masterpieces of building architecture, painting, sculpture and goldsmithing continue to inspire even modern civilization. Linear A and Linear B Scripts remind of the Egyptian hieroglyphics, but they were original Greek scripts. Even today, the disc of Phaestus is one of the most famous mysteries of archeology and deciphering of its symbols remains a riddle.
The worship of deities such as the Mother Goddess of fertility, the Mistress of the Animals, protector of cities, the household, the harvest, and the underworld dominated the religious tradition of the Minoans, who used many caves and mountain peaks as places of worship. Pilgrims from all over the island ascended to the peak sanctuaries of Youchtas and the cave of Hosto Nero to offer their votives, such as Minoan inscriptions or clay idols. Peak sanctuaries were also hosted atop summits Kofinas, Vrysinas, Petsofas, Traostalos, Karfi, etc. The Diktaean, Idaean and Kamares Caves also played a prominent role in the worship of gods.
Knossos was the most important city on Crete before the Roman Era and the center of the first brilliant European civilization, the Minoan. The palace of King Minos is the most visited archaeological site in Crete with more than 1.000.000 visitors per year.
Phaestus (Phestos or Festos) was a Minoan city on Crete, the ruins of which are located 55km south of Heraklion. The city was already inhabited since 6000BC and prospered concurrently with the city of Knossos, till the 1st century BC.
At position Gaidourofas, at an altitude of 900 meters, near Anatoli village the archaelogists have revealed the traces of an imposing postminoan villa (1600 BC -1450 BC). The building had two floors and the walls are preserved to a height of 2m. There were found big jars and a crypt with pillars (Minoan sanctuary). Among the most important finds was a bronze ax.
The archaeological site of Malia is located 3km east of Malia, next to the wetland of the area and very close to the beach. It was an important Minoan city and housed the third largest Minoan palace, after Knossos and Phaestus. According to mythology, Sarpedon reigned here, who was brother of Minos and son of Zeus and Europa. Sarpedon was expelled by his brother Minos and then took refuge in Lycia in Asia Minor.
Zakros is located in a remote area of eastern Crete, 45km southeast of Sitia. Communication with the Mid East was faster from here during the Minoan Age, thus the Minoans built here the administrative center of Eastern Crete, with an important port. The findings are very rich (sheets of gold, ivory, jewelry, pottery, etc.) and prove the close relationship of the city with the ports of Cyprus, Egypt and the Middle East.
The palace of Archanes is located in the suburb Tourkogitonia of Archanes town. It came to light only in 1964 by Giannis Sakellarakis because, by then, only a few traces of the palace had been found. Some parts of the palace are still below the houses of modern Arhanes.
The Palace of Galatas is located 30km south of Heraklion, near Arkalochori, at an elevated position with views to south Crete and close to the Minoan sacred cave of Arkalochori.
The archaeological site of Ancient Tylisos is located 16km west of Heraklion, in a strategic location. Tylissos was a Minoan city that was flourished in 1650-1450 mainly because it was amid the road that led from Knossos to the west Minoan centers and Ida Mount. In 1450 it was destroyed, but was rebuilt and prospered until 1200.