Human presence at Malia
during the Neolithic period (6000-3000 BC) is attested only by potsherds, but
habitation was continuous from the middle of the 3rd millennium BC until the
end of Prehistory. Houses of a Prepalatial settlement (2500-2000 BC) have been
found under the palace, while graves of the same period are located near the sea.
The first palace was built in around 2000-1900 BC. The already existing significant
settlement of which are preserved parts around the palace, was then converted
into a palatial centre-city. The palace was destroyed in around 1700 BC and
rebuilt in 1650 BC at the same site, following the plan of the older palace,
while a few changes took place 50 years later. The destruction of the new palace
came in c. 1450 BC, along with the destruction of the other Minoan palatial
centres. The site was reoccupied for a short period in the 14th-13th century BC
Remains of a Roman settlement cover an extensive area at the site called "Marmara",
where a basilica of the 6th century is also preserved.
The English admiral Th. Spratt, who travelled in Crete in the middle
of the 19th century, reports the finding of gold sheets at the site "Helleniko
Livadi". In 1915, Joseph Chatzidakis started a trial excavation on the hill called
"Azymo", and brought to light the southern half of the west wing of the palace,
as well as the tombs by the sea, but he stopped the investigation. Finally, the
French School of Archaeology at Athens resumed the excavations, which are continued
until today with intervals, at the palace, the sectors of the town and the cemeteries
on the coast. The results have been published in the series of "Etudes Cretoises"
since 1928, and in the works of H. Van Effenterre and O. Pelon. The finds are
exhibited in the Museum
of Herakleion, and some in the Museum
of Aghios Nikolaos.
The most important buildings of the site are:
The Palace. The largest part of the ruins visible
today belongs to the New Palace period; of the first palace only a section is
preserved, to the NW of the building, while a small oblique structure in the north
court dates to the Post-palatial period. Access to the palace today is through
the west paved court, which is crossed by slightly raised paths, the so-called
"processional ways". Every side of the complex had an entrance, but the main ones
were those in the north and south wings.
The palace is arranged around the central court, which had porticos on
the north and east sides, and an altar at the centre.
The largest and most important part of the palace is the two-storeyed
west wing with cult and official appartments, and extensive magazines. Impressive
is the Loggia, a raised hall opening to the court, and the rooms to the west,
all related with cult practice, the "pillar crypt" with an antechamber, also of religious character,
and between these two, the grand staircase leading to the upper floor. Another broad
flight of steps, possibly used as a theatral area, is located to the SW of
the central court, beside the famous "kernos" of Malia.
The south wing, also two-storeyed, included habitation
rooms and guests' rooms, a small shrine, and the monumental paved south entrance
to the palace that led directly to the central court.
The SW corner of the of the palatial complex is occupied by eight circular
structures used for the storage of grain (silos).
The east wing is almost completely occupied by magazines of liquids,
with low platforms on which stood pithoi (large storage vessels), and a system
of channels and receptacles to collect liquids.
Behind the north stoa of the central court is the "hypostyle hall" and its
antechamber. Above these rooms, on the upper storey, there was a hall of equal
size, interpreted as a ceremonial banquet hall. To the west of these rooms, a
stone paved corridor connects the central court with the north court, which is
surrounded by workshops and storerooms, and with the NW court, also called "court
of the dungeon". To the west of this lie the official rooms of the palace: at
the centre, the reception hall with the typical Minoan polythyra, and behind this,
the sunken lustral basin.
The palace is surrounded by the town, one of the most important Minoan
towns in Crete. To the north of the west court is the agora and the curious "hypostyle
crypt", which has been interpreted as a kind of council chamber, connected with
the prytaneia of historic times.
The most important of the excavated sectors of the town and isolated
houses are sector Z, houses E, Da, and Db; very important is sector M, dated to
the First Palace period, which covers an area of c. 3,000 sq.m. and is actually
the most important settlement of this period in Crete. The unusually extensive
buildings of this neighbourhood included religious, official, and storage rooms,
and workshops, and it seems that in general, it had functions similar to those
of the palace.
The cemetery of the First Palace period is located
to the NE of the palace, near the north coast. The most important of the graves
found is the large burial complex called Chryssolakkos, which yielded the famous
gold bee pendant.