Superbly situated halfway up a high hill overlooking the lush of Mesara plain and Mountain Ida, Phaistos was one of the oldest cities in Crete, second only to Knossos in importance in Minoan times. Rent a car from Heraklion Airport and get to Phaistos in 30 minutes.

It was the fief of Minos’ brother Rhadamanthys and the birthplace of Epimenides, one of the Seven Sages of Ancient Greece. The first palace was built around 2000 BC and destroyed in an earthquake in 1700 BC. The second was built on top of the first and destroyed c. 1450 BC. Like Knossos but in smaller scale it was finely built of luxurious alabaster and gypsum, with a similar elaborated drainage system, masons’ marks suggest the two palaces were the work of the same builders. Phaistos’ workshops produced exquisite art and yet, unlike at Knossos, no frescoes have been found.

Bellow the palace 50.000 people lived and worked, villages dependent on the palace were scattered across the Mesara. Until Hellenistic times, Phaistos remained an independent city-state, warring with Gortyn, until the latter crushed it once and for all in the 3rd century BC. Rent a car in Crete to see the excavation, led by the flamboyant Italian Federico Halbherr. It began in 1900, just after Evans began digging at Knossos.