The site of Phaestos, 63km from Iraklio, was the second-most important Minoan palatial city after Knossos and also enjoys the most awe-inspiring location, with panoramic views of the Messara Plain and Mt Psiloritis. The palace layout is similar to that of Knossos, with rooms arranged around a central court. Also like Knossos, most of Phaestos (fes-tos ) was built over an older palace destroyed in the late Middle Minoan period.
The site has its own distinctive attractiveness. There’s an air of mystery about the desolate, unreconstructed ruins altogether lacking at Knossos. Also in contrast to Knossos, Phaestos has yielded few frescoes; palace walls were apparently covered with white gypsum.
Past the ticket booth, the Upper Court that was used in both the old and new palaces contains the remains of buildings from the Hellenistic era. A stairway leads down to the West Court with the Theatral Area , so-called because it may have been the staging ground for performances. The seats are at the northern end, while across to the south you can see the west facade of the Old Palace . The 15m-wide Grand Stairway leads to the Propylon, which was a porch. Below the Propylon are the storerooms that still contain pithoi (storage urns). The square hall next to the storerooms is thought to have been an office , where tablets containing Linear A script were found beneath the floor in 1955. South of the storeroom a corridor led to the west side of the Central Court. South of the corridor is a lustral basin , rooms with benches and a pillar crypt .
The Central Court , which was once framed by columned porticos, is the centrepiece of the palace. It is well preserved and gives a sense of the size and magnificence of the palace. Note the neolithic hut in the court’s southwestern corner. North of the court are the palace’s best-preserved sections, the reception rooms and private apartments. Past a column-flanked Formal Doorway a corridor leads to the north court; the Peristyle Court , which once had a paved verandah, is to the left. The royal apartments (Queen’s Megaron and King’s Megaron ) are northeast of the Peristyle Court. The celebrated Phaestos Disk, now in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, was found in a building to the north of the palace.
There’s a decent on-site cafe but, for better food, head a few kilometres south to Agios Ioannis where Taverna Agios Ioannis is known for its succulent roast lamb and grilled rabbit. The tiny 10th-century Church of Agios Pavlos nearby has some moodily faded frescoes.