The long Neolithic Period was followed by the Minoan Period. The 3000-2000 B.C. period is essentially the first developed phase of civilization on Crete (Pre-Palatial Minoan Period). It is the era during which crafts using clay, stone, and metal and miniature art flourished, while at the same time there were improvements in the building of houses; settlements expanded and vaulted constructs for the burial of the dead were built. Exceptional examples in the Prefecture of Heraklion are the settlements of Knossos, Phaistos, Malia, and Trypiti in the south. Great vaulted burial buildings were discovered in ancient Levina (present day Lenta), Odigitria and Archanes (Fourni cemetery).
The era of the renowned great palaces of Crete begins at approximately 1900 B.C. The most important and largest palaces are found in the Prefecture of Heraklion: Knossos, Malia, Phaistos, Archanes and Monastiraki. These palaces, along with other smaller ones in other locations, were, for approximately 600 years, the “centres of creation and radiance of the Palatial Minoan Civilization”, the phenomenon that left deep marks on Crete’s history.
During this period the water supply and sewer network projects were completed, which visitors can admire at the archaeological sites mentioned above, while granaries were also built to keep their crops and stores of foodstuff. The artful Kamares vases also date back to this period and are an excellent example of the ceramic craftsmanship of this era.
This period was also a turning point in the intellectual development of Minoan Crete: the use of the older written language meets the form of engraved drawings and images on seals and vases (Ideograms or Pictographs). The best known monument of this writing is the clay Wheel of Phaistos, in Mesara, which has still not been deciphered.
Excavations at the Minoan palace in Sklavokambos, in Agia Eirini in Krousonas, etc., confirm the importance of mountain regions in shaping the Minoan culture. There are countless Peak Sanctuaries (among which are the ones of Mt. Juktas and Mt. Kofinas (Municipality of Gortyna in the Asterousia Mountain Range), which developed on almost all mountain peaks in Crete, as well as the archaeological finds from almost all caves, which indicate their ritual role and their importance in Minoan religion. Despite the fact that large Minoan cities almost always had close relations with the sea, excavations and scientific research over the last few years has highlighted the vital relationship of major Minoan centres with the island’s mountainous hinterland. It has been proven that every Minoan city had a mountainous production centre of major significance in supplying important raw materials, such as wool, honey, etc.
The new palace at Agia Trias, near Phaistos, was established in approximately 1650 B.C. (Neo-Palatial Period). During the same period goldsmithing reached its heyday, as proven by the elaborate jewellery discovered at Knossos, Archanes and Malia.
Throughout this “Golden Era”, the radiance of these Minoan centres reached the entire Mediterranean basin. Architecture, painting, pottery and goldsmithing achieved excellence. During the same period the great Minoan fleet dominated the Mediterranean, providing wealth for the island from commerce and protection from invaders.
Preserved murals testify to the psyche of a people that was peace loving, happy and powerful, with close bonds to the sea. No signs of fortification have been found around Minoan cities, a fact indicating there was continuous peace and safety on the island.
A great earthquake struck Crete in around 1700 B.C. completely destroying the palaces, most of which were immediately rebuilt, and Minoan civilization continued to flourish, even more enriched and magnificent. A few centuries later, however, around 1450 B.C., a new wave of destruction struck Crete, causing large scale damage to palaces and settlements. This event resulted in the disappearance of this glorious civilization. Palaces crumbled and were burnt and smaller settlements abandoned. The real causes that led to this destruction are still unknown and disputed. One theory supports that a powerful explosion of the volcano on Thera (Santorini) was what caused Crete to be deserted.
Arthur Evans, the archaeologist that carried out the excavations at the Palace at Knossos, retroactively named this period “Minoan”, from Minos, the mythical King of Knossos.
This period lasted for approximately 1,500 years and was the “Golden Age” of Crete. Evans divided the Minoan Period into Protominoan (3000-2000 B.C.), Mesominoan I and II (2000-1600 B.C.), Mesominoan III, Later-Minoan I and II (1700-1400 B.C.) and Later-Minoan III (1400-1100 B.C.).