Phaistos was one of the most important centres of Minoan civilization, and the most wealthy and powerful city in southern Crete. It was inhabited from the Neolithic period until the foundation and development of the Minoan palaces in the 15th century B.C.
The Minoan city covered a considerable area around the palatial centre. After the destruction of the palace in the 15th century, the city continued to be inhabited in the Mycenaean and Geometric periods, that is, until the 8th century B.C.
The exact location of the Palace of Phaistos was first determined in the middle of the 19th century by the British admiral Spratt, while the archaeological investigation of the palace started in 1884 by the Italians F. Halbherr and A. Taramelli. After the declaration of the independent Cretan State in 1898, excavations were carried out by F. Halbherr and L. Pernier in 1900-1904 and later, in 1950-1971, by Doro Levi, under the auspices of the Italian Archaeological School at Athens.
Although many inscriptions were found by the archaeologists, they are all in Linear A code which is still undeciphered, and all we know about the site, even its name are based to the ancient writers and findings from Knossos.
According to mythology, Phaistos was the seat of king Radamanthis, brother of king Minos. It was also the city that gave birth to the great wise man and soothsayer Epimenidis, one of the seven wise men of the ancient world.
Excavations by archaeologists have unearthed ruins of the Neolithic times (3.000 B.C.).
During the Minoan times, Phaistos was a very important city-state. Its dominion, at its peak, stretched from cape Lithinon to cape Psychion (Today cape Melissa at Agios Pavlos, South Rethymnon) and included the Paximadia islands. The city participated to the Trojan war and later became one of the most important cities-states of the Dorian period.
Phaistos continued to flourish during Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic times. It was destroyed by the Gortynians during the 3rd century B.C. In spite of that, Phaistos continued to exist during the Roman period.
Phaistos had two ports, Matala and Kommos.
The most important monuments of the site are:
The Palaces (old and new). They are built of ashlar blocks and spread on different terraces. To the central, peristyle court are opened the royal quarters, the storerooms, a lustral basin, and workshops. The monumental propylon and the large staircases faciliate access to the many terraces.
Minoan and later town. Sections of the town have been located at the sites called Chalara and Aghia Photeini, SE and NE of the palace, respectively.
Venetian church of St. George of Phalandra. It lies to the west of the palace, on the left of the road that leads to the archaeological site of Aghia Triada and Matala.