Heraklion

Heraklion, island of Crete, Greece

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.

Heraklion Today

Heraklion is a large modern city, cosmopolitan and busy year-round. It is an important economic centre with a rich cultural life and the most populated city on the island. As in any big city, and in addition to the museums, and attractions, it is worth your while to enter into Heraklion’s rhythm of life: to saunter along the pedestrian streets of its historic centre, to lose yourself in the alleyways of the Old Town, to take your time in the coffee bars and raki-joints that are a part of Heraklion culture.

In recent years, many streets around the centre have been pedestrianised and link the major monuments of the city. With the development of the beachfront, Heraklion once again begins to turn its face to the sea and a more lively city centre. The coast road, running west from Nea Alikarnassos in the east, passes through the Venetian harbour on to the PanCretan stadium: it has some bicycle lanes, and some of the major monuments recently restored (such as the church of Peter and Paul). It offers an ideal spot for a pleasant stroll on foot or bike.

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

A walk in the city of Heraklion

Natural disasters, the bombings of WWII, regrettable decisions by the local authorities of the past (and not so distant past), as well as the rapid development of the recent 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. Yet, even so, the visitor will have much to see, especially in the historical centre. The old co-exists with the new and the basic structure of the historical heart has remained unchanged for centuries.

Starting 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 Agios Markos, dedicated to the patron saint of Venice. Next, on to the Loggia, one of the most splendid Venetian edifices on the island, where the Club of the Venetian nobles met; and then down the road (25th August Street) with the imposing Neo-Classical buildings and the Square of Agios Titos with the church of the same name – an unusual ecclesiastical structure (This was first a Byzantine basilica, was converted to a Catholic church, and then a mosque; it was rebuilt as a mosque, and now is an Orthodox church again). At the bottom of the street, we reach the Venetian harbour, over which the Koulehas stood to watch down the centuries. Here too are located the shipsheds, the Venetian arsenals.

The splendour does not end there! The Venetian walls, the largest defensive works in the Eastern Mediterranean, cry out for exploration. Several of the gates, galleries and ramparts are open to the public and receive numerous visitors; they also host cultural exhibitions, especially in the summer months.

The Modern city of Heraklion

Naturally one must not miss out on the city’s museums, which are counted amongst the most worthwhile in the country. The Archaeological Museum of 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 Phaistos Disc, the stone vase in the shape of a bull’s head and so on.

The Historical Museum (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 flora of Crete and the Mediterranean generally. There are several interactive exhibits, a room that simulates earthquakes, and a large educational section for children. A little outside the city are two other major attractions. The Palace of Knossos, one of the most popular archaeological sites in Greece (after the Acropolis in Athens) gives visitors the unique chance to appreciate the Minoan way of life. Further off to the east at Gouves, we find the Cretaquarium, where one can observe sea creatures and plants – including rare species, such as the loggerhead turtles (Caretta Caretta).

Saint Titus Church (Agios Titos) – Heraklion

Saint Titus Church (Agios Titos) – Heraklion

The church of Agios Titos was originally built after the liberation of Crete by Nikiforos Fokas in 961 AD. During the Venetian period, it was converted into a catholic church, however, it did not lose its Byzantine character.

Venetian walls & gates in Heraklion

Venetian walls & gates in Heraklion

Already from the years of the First Byzantine Period (330-840 AD), the city of Heraklion had fortifications which were completed by both the Arab conquerors (840-961 AD) and the Byzantines (961-1204 AD) as well as by the Venetians after 1211 AD. However, the emerging threat of the Turks forced Venice to fortify the capital of Regno di Candia in the most modern and effective way at the time. The form of fortifications we see today is based on drawings by…

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Morosini Fountain (Lions Square) – Heraklion

Morosini Fountain (Lions Square) – Heraklion

One of the most brilliant monuments of the city of Heraklion is the Fountain of Morosini or the “Lions“, as the residents of Heraklion call it.

August 25 street – Heraklion

August 25 street – Heraklion

Already from the Venetian period, August 25 Street in Heraklion was one of the most important streets in the city even though it had not acquired its name yet. The road connects the port with Saint Mark’s square, and this is where the palatial mansion of the Venetian Duke was built.

Keramos Pottery Workshop – Fodele

Keramos Pottery Workshop – Fodele

The pottery workshop “Keramos” is located in the village of Fodele, a place with characteristic natural beauty but also a special historical and artistic charge since, among other things, it is the special homeland of Dominikos Theotokopoulos.

Fortress of Koules – Heraklion

Fortress of Koules – Heraklion

The Fortress of Koules in the city of Heraklion is part of the fortification works conducted by the Venetians in the 16th century while it was part of the Republic of Venice to defend the port city from attackers. Two fortresses were built at the end of each pier, however, only the largest one, the so-called Koules, survives today.

Agios Minas Church – Heraklion (Saint Minas)

Agios Minas Church – Heraklion (Saint Minas)

The cathedral of Saint Minas, patron saint of Heraklion since 1734 is located near the centre of the city following Vikela Street and then entering Agiou Mina Street. Near the cathedral, a much smaller and older church known as “Little Saint Minas” can also be seen. On the other side of the square, we find the church of Saint Catherine, and the square that is named after it, full of vibrant cafes, restaurants and shops.

Moni Varsamonerou

Moni Varsamonerou

The Monastery of Varsamoneros was one of the most important centres of the Cretan School of Hagiography and is connected with the monastery of Vrontisiou. Most of the buildings of the monastery are now destroyed and only a few architectural elements from the complex are preserved.

Old Monasteries in Viannos

Old Monasteries in Viannos

The municipality of Viannos in the southeastern part of Heraklion is known for its wild beauty. Located at the foothills of Mount Dikti, it offers impressive geomorphological formations, beautiful plateaus and charming villages. During World War II, Viannos found itself at the centre of a mass extermination attack by Nazi soldiers, in reprisal for their support of the rebel forces. Most of the villages in the area were burned and looted while more than 500 people were executed during a…

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Venetian Loggia – Heraklion Town Hall

Venetian Loggia – Heraklion Town Hall

The Loggia (from the Italian word for “lodge“) is one of the most important buildings of the Venetian period in Crete. It was a kind of gentleman’s club, where the rich nobles and lords gathered. The building was built after 1541 probably with designs by Michel Sammicheliin Palladian style.

Labyrinth music workshop

Labyrinth music workshop

The Labyrinth Music Workshop was founded in 1982 by Ross Daly. The main object is to introduce young people to a creative approach to musical traditions from all over the world. Since 2002, the Labyrinth Music Workshop in collaboration with the Municipality of “Nikos Kazantzakis”, houses its activities in an old building, tastefully designed, in the village of Houdetsi (20 km from Heraklion) under the artistic direction of Ross Daly.

Historical Museum Of Crete

Historical Museum Of Crete

The Historical Museum of Crete offers a complete and comprehensive view of the history of the island and is found in the centre of Heraklion.

Natural History Museum of Heraklion

Natural History Museum of Heraklion

The Natural History Museum of Crete functions as part of the School of Sciences of the University of Crete and is located in the centre of the Heraklion. Despite what the title suggests, it does not only present the natural wealth of the island but also of the rest of Greece and the Eastern Mediterranean. It has been awarded for its “diverse educational, research, writing and publishing work, its exemplary organization and its promotion of scientific research and training” with…

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Archaeological Museum of Heraklion

Archaeological Museum of Heraklion

The Archaeological Museum of Heraklion is located in the center of the city and is one of the most important archaeological museums in the world. It houses an unrivaled collection of artifacts from the Bronze-age Minoan culture – the first of note on what is now European soil and is one of the most important collections of history in Europe and Crete. The exhibits cover a period of ten millennia, from the Neolithic era until late Roman times.

History of Heraklion – Crete

History of Heraklion – Crete

The history of Heraklion goes back many centuries and spans different eras, encapsulating a variety of themes and influences. Some of the earliest examples visitors will explore, in Heraklion, are from the post-Minoan era, with the most notable example being the Palace of Knossos.