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.
The first signs of the city in its present position occurs just after the Minoan era (though the east side of the town - Poros - was an important Minoan residential, artisan and harbour area). A small town here, again acting as a port for Knossos, continued to be lived in through antiquity, until the Hellenistic period, when the Cretan cities formed and reformed many alliances. Heraklion belongs to the powerful one based on Knossos, one of 20 component signatories.
From the First Byzantine period, a time of prosperity, comes the first reference to the city as Kastro (the Castle). Then came the Arab occupiers of the island, who chose as their capital Kastro; they changed its name to Rabdh el Khandak (ie. the Fort with the Ditch). Thus ‘Chandax or Chandakas’ (or with a K) became the first town and base of the Arab invaders. When, following the liberation of Crete by Nicephorus Phocas, the Byzantines retake the island, the city gets a new wall, a harbour of increased size and the settlement is defined by the modern roads of Doukos Bofor, Daedalus and Chandakos.
And so we find the city at the start of the Venetian overlordship in 1217. Kastro is officially renamed Candia, remaining the capital and administrative centre of the Venetian powerbase. At this time, it becomes an important cultural and economic centre.
The importance of Candia is such that the whole of Crete is termed "The Kingdom of Candia".
It acquires new fortifications (for the most part still extant), undergoes impressive restructuring and its port develops with transactions covering the whole Mediterranean.
After the long long siege (21 years), Candia passed into the control of the Ottoman Turks. A new phase in its story begins – signs of which are visible even today. The Christian churches were transformed into mosques and acquire minarets, or even into habitations for dervishes and bath-houses. The city, still also known as the Great Castle (Megalo Kastro), continues as the administrative centre until the 19th century, when this office was moved to Chania, along with the Pasha’s residence.
The years of the Independent State of Crete (1898-1913) were ones of great change for the city in general. Many public works were conducted, Neo-Classical buildings put up (many still to be seen on the 25 August Street down to the harbour): by and by Heraklion begins to take on a European feel.
The social transformations do not stop there of course. After the Asia Minor catastrophe (1922), the last Muslims on Crete left; in their place came the refugees from Asia Minor, who settled in Heraklion by the thousands, bringing with them a rich cultural heritage.
Already by the eve of the WW II, Heraklion is an expanding urban centre. Then comes the battle of Crete - with its aerial bombardments, which took out a great deal of the fabric of the city.
In recent times, Heraklion has remained the largest city on Crete and has reclaimed some of its lost links with the sea. It grows relentlessly, at times at the expense of its historic character. The minarets are no longer preserved; many monuments have become engulfed by unrelated modern chaos. But even so, everywhere are the signs of its long history and the various conquerors.