Heraklio - The Gateway of Crete

Heraklion is the largest city of Crete and the island’s capital. Its history properly begins in post-Minoan times. Today it is a modern, lively town and an important economic centre. It preserves traces of its long history, and the conquerors who passed through.

History of Heraklio city

Heraklio - The Gateway of Crete

This, the biggest city on Crete and its capital, has a history running back for thousands of years, and still retains the old (but post-Minoan) name of Heraklion – albeit with others for some long spells.

Learn more about the history of Heraklion

Heraklion Today

Heraklio city sites and monuments, the Saint Titos cathedral

Today Heraklion is a large modern city, cosmopolitan and busy the year round; an important economic centre with a rich cultural life.As in any big city, and in addition to the museums, attractions and other tourist draws, it is worth your while  to enter into Heraklion’s rhythms of being: to saunter along the pedestrian streets of its historic centre, to lose yourself in the alleyways of the Old Town, to take your ease in the coffee bars and raki-joints that area part of Herakliot culture.

In recent years, many streets around the centre have become pedestrianized and so link the major monuments of the city. One can go about more readily, free from the rush of traffic. With the development of the modern beach front, Heraklion once again begins to turn its face to the sea.

Heraklio city sites and monuments, the Venetian Port and Koules Fort

The coast road, running west from Nea Halicarnassus in the east, passes through the Venetian harbour on to the PanCretan stadium: it has some bicycle lanes, and also on it major monuments recently restored (such as the church of Peter and Paul). It thus offers many chances for a pleasant stroll on foot or a bike-ride.

Moreover, in the summer, it is worth attending the numerous cultural events held in the moat of the Venetian walls (the out-door theatres of Nikos Kazantzakis, and of Manolis Hatzidakis), or put on in the recently renovated gates and galleries of the fortification walls that have been converted into exhibition spaces.

A walk in the city of Heraklio

Natural disasters, the bombings of WW II, regrettable choices of the local authorities of the past (and not so distant past!), as well as the rapid development of the next decades – all have been responsible for the loss of many of the city’s monuments and to a great degree the fabric of the Old Town

Heraklio monuments and Chruches, Loggia

Yet, even so, the visitor will have much to see, especially in the historical centre. The old co-exists with the new: the basic structure of the historical heart has remained unchanged for centuries.

Making a start at the Lion Square, where the  Morosini Fountain  stands in splendour, the visitor may wander around what was the heart of the Venetian administrative area. A few yards off is the  Basilica of Aghios Marcos, dedicated to the patron saint of Venice. Next, on to the Loggia,one of the most splendid Venetian edifices on the island, where met the Club of the Venetian nobles; and then down the road  (25th August Street) with its imposing Neo-Classical buildings and the Square of  Aghios Titos with the church of the same name – an unusual ecclesiastical structure (Byzantine basilica, converted to Catholic church, and then mosque. Rebuilt as mosque, and now an Orthodox church again). At the bottom of the street we reach the Venetian harbour, over which the  Koule has stood watch down the centuries. Here too are located the shipsheds, the Venetian arsenals.

The splendours do not end there! The  Venetian walls the largest defensive works in the Eastern Mediterranean, cry out for exploration. Indeed several of the gates, galleries and ramparts receive visitors on a considerable scale and host cultural exhibitions, especially in the summer months.

The Modern city of Heraklio. Heraklio city walk in the market

Naturally one must not miss out on the city’s museums, which are counted amongst the most worthwhile in the country. The  Archaeological Museum in Heraklion  (by Freedom Square) holds all the Minoan treasures from the Palaces and other revered Minoan sites that have been excavated. Amongst them, you will see the frescoes from the Palace of Knossos, the famous earring with the two bees on a comb or flower-head from Malia, the Festos Disc, the stone vase in the shape of a bull’s head and so on .. and on.

The Historical Museum  (down by and west of the Venetian harbour) houses objects that chronicle the age-long history of the island as well as the personal belongings of Nikos Kazantzakis and two famous paintings by El Greco.

Another important museum of the city is that of Natural History  (a little to the west of the Historical Museum): it is located in a historic industrial building on the seafront promenade. It covers the rich fauna and floral of Crete and of the Mediterranean generally: there are several interactive exhibits, a room in which to experience earthquakes, and a large and effective section for children.

A little outside the city are two other major attractions. The Palace of Knossos  is one of the most popular archaeological sites in Greece (after the Acropolis in Athens): it gives a unique chance to appreciate the Minoan way of life. Again, and further off to the east at Gouves, is to be found the Cretaquarium, where one can see close-up sea creatures and plants – including rare species, such as the loggerhead turtles (Karetta karetta).

  • Tips, Suggestions, Iseful info
  • History, Culture
  • What to do (Activities)
  • What to see (Culture, Nature)
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