Babylon Is Everywhere: The City as Man's Fate

By Wolf Schneider; Ingeborg Sammet et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
THE LABYRINTH OF KNOSSOS

THE OLDEST European city of which we have knowledge probably was Knossos on the island of Crete. It is no accident, that city culture, an Oriental invention, reached Europe through its most southerly extension.

Most of the oldest cities and the first metropolises were grouped about latitude 30 degrees north, which cuts across today's Cairo. During the last centuries B.C., city culture slowly gravitated to the 40th parallel, which runs north of Athens and south of Rome. Modern European cities with millions of inhabitants all are between the 40th and 60th parallels, Athens being the only exception.

So the first European city developed in its southernmost part. Crete is situated at an equal distance of 341 miles from the mouth of the Nile and from the island of Cyprus, which belonged to the empire of Hammurabi of Babylon about 1700 B.C. This distance of 341 miles appeared negligible already to the seafarers of the second millennium. No doubt Crete had profited greatly from the influence of Babylonian and Egyptian civilization.

Situated on a hill near the island's northern shore, among vineyards and olive groves, the palace of Knossos, one of the most remarkable structures in history, was built probably in the seventeenth century B.C. Surrounding an inner courtyard 180 feet long, rose a monumental palace structure of more than four hundred halls, rooms, chambers, hallways, stairways, and inner courts. The entire building covered an area of 558 by 512 feet, equalling 6.4 acres, and some of its parts were four storeys high. As the palace picturesquely sloped down the hill, the highest floors in the east wing were lower than the large courtyard at ground level.

The wanderer was greeted from afar by the magnificent white pillars. Large picture windows, as yet without glass panes, testified to the architectural development as well as to the carefree spirit of the masters of the palace, because large windows were in those times a tremendous luxury and extravagance. Walls and ceilings were decorated with stucco reliefs and frescoes, from which we learn how ornately and artfully the women of Knossos dressed. Bathrooms, water closets, a drainage system, and pits for refuse were taken for granted.

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