Terracotta Angel, c.1896
Watts Chapel, England

 Photo : Jeff Saward/Labyrinthos



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The Classical Labyrinth

(also known as Cretan, seven-path/circuit or angle-type)


The archetypal classical labyrinth design consists of a single pathway that loops back and forth to form seven circuits, bounded by eight walls, surrounding the central goal. It is found in both circular and square forms. Practically all labyrinths prior to the first few centuries BCE are of this type. Found in historical contexts throughout Europe, North Africa, the Indian sub-continent and Indonesia, this is also the design that occurs in the American Southwest and occasionally in South America. During the current revival of labyrinths it has once again found popularity for its simplicity of construction and archetypal symbolism.

Wherever it is found, the same method of constructing the design is commonly encountered - the so-called ‘seed-pattern,’ shown below. This simple technique for remembering the process of drawing the classical labyrinth has undoubtedly been instrumental in its widespread occurrence and popularity...  

Circular and square varieties of the classical labyrinth design.
Mirror image forms, with the first pathway turning either left or right,
are both common

This form is also (inappropriately) known as the "Cretan" labyrinth, a term that implies an origin on the island of Crete. Although its subsequent association with the legendary Labyrinth at Knossos is well documented, the design certainly predates the legend and has not been found on Crete prior to the fourth century BCE. It is also known as the "seven-circuit labyrinth," but this too is confusing, for other labyrinth types can have seven paths and classical labyrinths may have more, or less, than seven circuits. The term "Classical" has gained widespread acceptance in recent years and is to be preferred, as it correctly implies the original form and is free from association with any particular location or region - appropriate for a design that is found worldwide.

The simplicity of its construction from an easily remembered seed pattern has clearly been instrumental in the wide cultural dissemination of the classical labyrinth. It is by far the world's most common form, and remains popular to this day. Simple amendments to the seed pattern allow different versions of this form to be created quickly and easily and such varieties, often with eleven or fifteen circuits, are common in historical contexts in northern Europe and especially in Scandinavia. Several important variants used in historical contexts are distinctive enough to deserve sub-categories of their own.

A classical labyrinth with 15 paths
(16 walls), painted on the wall of Roerslev Church, Denmark

Labyrinth Typology

Labyrinth petroglyph
(Classical-type),
Rocky Valley, England

Photo : Jeff Saward/Labyrinthos

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