The Palace of Malia, 3km east of Malia, was built at about the same time as the great Minoan palaces of Phaestos and Knossos. The First Palace dates back to around 1900 BC and was rebuilt after the earthquake of 1700 BC, only to be levelled again by another temblor around 1450 BC. Most of what you see today are the remains of the Second Palace where many exquisite Minoan artefacts, including the famous gold bee pendant, were found.
Malia is a relatively easy site to comprehend, especially if you’ve already visited Knossos, which follows a similar ground plan. A free map and basic labelling throughout also help, as does the exhibition hall just past the entrance, where photographs and scale models of the ruined and reconstructed complex help you visualise the main palace and surrounding sites.
Access to the ruins is from the West Court . Instead of entering, though, turn right and walk south along the West Magazines to eight circular pits believed to have been grain silos . Continue east past the pits to the palace’s south entrance and turn left to reach the southern end of the Central Court . On your left, in the ground, is the Kernos Stone , a disk with 24 holes around its edge. Archaeologists have yet to ascertain its function, but it probably had a religious purpose, possibly for offerings. Immediately adjacent are the four surviving steps of a large staircase that may have been used as a Theatral Area .
Walk to the sunken altar pit in the centre of the courtyard and take in its impressive dimensions: 48m long and 22m wide. Beneath a canopy on your right are the East Magazines , where liquids were stored in giant pithoi. Opposite, the west wing harboured the most important rooms of the palace. These include the Pillar Crypt behind a stone-paved vestibule; the 11 remaining steps of the Grand Staircase , which might have led to a shrine; and the elevated Loggia , which was probably used for ceremonial purposes. Walk to the northern end of the courtyard and look down to see the stumps of the pillars that once held up the portico of the Hypostyle Hall . Fitted benches indicate that it may have served as a kind of council chamber. Near here, tablets containing Linear A script were found.
Continue along the paved walkway west of the Hypostyle Hall to the North Court , which was once lined with workshops and storage rooms . En route you’ll pass by an oddly oblique room that dates to the more recent Postpalatial period. West of the north court you can spot the royal apartments anchored by the cordoned-off Reception Hall (labelled Polythyron, meaning ‘many doors’), a rectangular structure on a raised platform. Behind it is the lustral basin where religious or symbolic cleansings possibly took place.
Malia Palace was surrounded by an entire city, the excavation of which is still ongoing. The canopied structure just west of the compound is described as the Crypt , while north of here the Agora was essentially one large building wrapped around a central courtyard. The most impressive section is Quarter M , a residential area a bit further west. Though fenced off, it’s still possible to appreciate its size and complexity. These outer buildings date back to the First Palace period.
Guides are available at the entrance. Highly recommended German-speaking guide is Giorgos Pothos, a charismatic individual who brings the site alive.
Buses from Iraklio stop on the main road, 250m from the site.