The archaeological site of Zakros is situated 500 m from the coastal settlement of Kato Zakros, 9 km from the village of Pano Zakros, and 45 km from Sitia.
The first excavations were conducted at the end of the previous century by the Italian archaeologists Halbherr and Mariani. The English archaeologist P. Gogarth, head of the Athens School of Archaeology, later carried out more methodical excavations during which a section of the ancient town was discovered, i.e., 12 houses of the post Minoan period and a selection of valuable artifacts. The further discovery of gold coins and a sword, led to the reopening of the site for further excavations. N. Platon, Director of Antiquities, an archaeologist renowned for his studies of the Minoan civilization, began his excavations which were extremely successful. He unearthed a new Minoan palace, the fourth in Crete after the palaces of Knossos, Festos and Mallia in which, although smaller than the other palaces, were found over 10.000 objects of exceptional workmanship, many of which were classified as “royal”. These artifacts can now be seen in the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion.
The palace covers over 8000 m2 and is spread around a central courtyard, as in the other Minoan palaces of Crete. Although the palace is similar in many ways to the other Minoan palaces it has also a few fascinating peculiarities, which are helpful to a more complete study of the Minoan architecture. There are also clues as to the way of life of the ruling families and the relations between Eastern Crete, Egypt and the Middle East.
Convincing evidence has been discovered showing that Zakros used to be a major trading centre in Crete and a transit port for ships traveling to Africa. Main exports to Egypt and other countries were cedar wood, oil and wine. Imports from these countries included ivory, gold and precious and semi-precious stones, which were processed by the artisans of the palaces. Small industry was particularly developed here owing to the lack of arable land, something which hindered agriculture.
The palace was built in 1600 BC and was destroyed in 1450 BC by the eruption of the volcano in Santorini. In the years following this sudden and complete destruction, no other palace was built in its place. The palace remained undisturbed, covered in bits of lava and pumice, until it yielded its treasures during the first excavations.
Prehistoric tombs have also been found in the surrounding areas of Traostalo and in the Gorge of the Dead.