The centre of Minoan civilisation and capital of Minoan Crete lay 5km south of Heraklion.
Knossos flourished for approximately two thousand years. It had large palace buildings, extensive workshop installations and luxurious rock-cut cave and tholos tombs. As a major centre of trade and the economy, Knossos maintained ties with the majority of cities in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Wealth accumulation and the advancement of an urban lifestyle were the hallmarks of this zenith, which began circa 2000 BC and was typified by magnificent monumental buildings and a complex social structure.
The Minoan palace is the main site of interest at Knossos, an important city in antiquity, which was inhabited continuously from the Neolithic period until the 5th c. AD. The palace was built on the Kephala hill and had easy access to the sea and the Cretan interior. According to tradition, it was the seat of the wise king Minos. The Palace of Knossos is connected with thrilling legends, such as the myth of the Labyrinth, with the Minotaur, and the story of Daidalos and Ikaros.
The Lions in Heraklion is the square of the Fontana Morosini, the ornate Venetian fountain with four lions with water gushing from their mouths. The Fontana Morosini is in Eleftheriou Venizelou Square in the centre of Heraklion, but the inhabitants of the city never use the official name, usually referring to it as the Lions Square or the Lions for short.
The fountain with the lions is one of the most important monuments the Venetians bestowed on Heraklion. When it was built, it offered a solution to the problem of supplying Heraklion with water, providing 1,000 barrels of water a day.
The Loggia is also in the centre of Heraklion, on 25th of August Street, a few yards downhill from the Basilica of St Mark and the Lions. The elegant building of the Loggia is one of the finest monuments of Venetian Crete.
The Loggia (noblemen's club) now standing in Heraklion was constructed in 1626-28 by Francesco Morosini, the same man who built the Lions Fountain (Fontana Morosini) in Eleftheriou Venizelou Square. This is the fourth and final Loggia built during the period of Venetian rule. Very little information is available on the first three, so we do not really know what they looked like
The Basilica of Saint Mark is one of the most important Venetian monuments in Heraklion.
The Basilica of Saint Mark is directly opposite the Lions Fountain, in Eleftheriou Venizelou Square in the centre of Heraklion. Today it houses the Municipal Art Gallery and is open to the public almost all day, every day.
From the first years of Venetian rule, in the 13th century (1239), the Venetians, wishing to consolidate their rule over their new colony of Candia and simultaneously express their gratitude to and love of their home, built a basilica dedicated to their patron saint, St Mark. This was where the official ceremonies of the Venetian administration were held, and where the Venetian nobles were buried.
The Basilica of Saint Mark was plain in section with a covered portico, much like the building we see today. The Society for Cretan Historical Studies restored the building to its original form in 1956.
The Venetians built a series of shipyards (known as Arsenali) at the southern and the eastern area of the port, in order to house and protectthe activities of the building and repairing of their ships.Their size is impressive.
Initially there were three shipyard complexes: the Arsenali Antichi,the Arsenali Vecchi and theArsenali Nuovi(= Ancient, Old and New Shipyards, respectively). Only parts of the Arsenali Vecchi (south-west of the port) and the Arsenali Nuovi (south-east of the port) survive today. Unfortunately, the rest were demolished to accommodate the opening of the coastal road.
The Venetian fortress of Koules dominates the entrance to the Venetian harbour of Heraklion. The Venetians called it the “Sea Fortress” (Castello a Mare or Rocca a Mare), but today it is known by its Turkish name, Koules, a corruption of Su Kulesi (Water Tower). It is one of the most familiar and beloved monuments of the city, and the symbol of Heraklion.
Today the fortress of Koules gazes proudly out across the Sea of Crete, reminding us of the glory of Venetian Chandax. It is haunted by legends that Cretan rebels were horribly tortured in its damp, dark rooms.
Saints Peter and Paul
Built during the first period of Venetian rule by the Cistercian monks of the 12th century, and later occupied by the Dominican Order, the Catholic church of Peter and Paul, located just next to the sea-wall, between the Venetian harbor and the Gate of Dermatas, (today’s Sophocles Venizelos seaside boulevard) is one of Heraklion’s oldest architectural monuments.
During the Venetian period the church was also used as a burial ground for prominent members of the Venetian nobility. Until the 15th century the original wooden roof as well as the nave church of Gothic architecture was dedicated in honor of the Catholicon of Saint Peter of Aragon. Four chapels were added; their unique frescoes preserved till today. However, during the Ottoman conquest it was converted to a mosque dedicated to the Sultan Ibrahim. The Orthodox inhabitants of Candia, remained unaware that one of them, had been canonized by the Pope during the era of the Crusades, as there were no Catholics in the city.
In 961, Nicephorus Phocas drove the Arabs from Crete, bringing the island back under the wing of the powerful Byzantine Empire. This is when the first Orthodox church of St Titus must have been built, to rekindle the Christian faith and tradition in Crete, which had declined due to the corsair conquest of the island.
Saint Titus was a disciple of the Apostle Paul and the first Bishop of Crete. The first church dedicated to him was that in the old capital Gortyn, which also housed the metropolitan see of the island until its destruction by earthquake and the Arab transfer of the capital from Gortyn to Chandax (Heraklion) in 828 AD.
The skull of St Titus, the miraculous icon of the Virgin Mesopanditissa and other sacred relics from Gortyn were moved to the new church.
Saint Minas (Agios Minas in Greek) is the patron saint of Heraklion and his feast-day, on 11 November, is a public holiday. To go to the Cathedral of Saint Minas, walk along Vikela Street and then Agiou Mina Street, a five-to-ten-minute walk at most.
In front of the Cathedral of Saint Minas is a large paved square. To the right is the Archiepiscopate of Crete, while to the left is the original little church of Saint Minas. The original church of Saint Minas, little Saint Minas as the local call it ("mikros Agios Minas" in Greek), was built in 1735 and housed the Metropolis of Crete for the first time after the Turkish occupation.
The church of the Monastery of Saint Catherine of the Sinaites, to the northeast of Saint Minas, was formerly a dependency of the Monastery of the Sinaites, which bestowed the church on the Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Minas in 1924.
The Monastery of Saint Catherine was founded in around the 10th century and the building preserved today was its main church. The church was built in the 16th century and is obviously influenced by Venetian architecture.
The Monastery of St Catherine had an income sufficient to support a large monastic community. In the period between 1550 and 1640, the School of St Catherine of the Sinaites became a school of university learning, teaching Ancient Greek authors, Philosophy, Theology, Rhetoric and Art. Many graduates of the school distinguished themselves in Greek literature.
The Heraklion Archaeological Museum is regarded as one of Europe''s most important museums. The present building was constructed between 1933 and 1937 to plans by P. Karantinos, on the site of the imposing Venetian Franciscan friary destroyed by an earthquake in 1856.
The museum brings together archaeological finds from all over Crete, covering over 5500 years of the island''s history. Pride of place is given to the treasures of Minoan civilisation, the entire historical course of which can thus be appreciated. Justly regarded as the home of Minoan civilisation par excellence, the museum houses the most important collection of Minoan antiquities the world over.
Historical Museum of Crete
The Crete Historical Museum in Heraklion is at 27 Sofokli Venizelou Avenue, the coast road.
The Historical Museum is housed in a Neoclassical building dating to 1903 which was owned by Andreas Kalokairinos. He granted it to the Society of Cretan Historical Studies to be turned into a museum in 1952.
The Historical Museum of Crete, or Historical Museum of Heraklion is open Monday to Saturday, from 09.00 to 17.00. It is shut on Sundays and holidays.
Valuable historical relics of Crete, from the First Byzantine period (330 AD) to World War II, are displayed in an enlightening manner in its 22 rooms, covering an area of 1,500 square metres.
Natural History Museum of Crete
Don’t miss the chance to learn about Crete’s unique natural environment at this excellent modern museum.
Visit the Natural History Museum of Crete to explore the different ecosystems in the island’s unique climate and see some of the animals that thrive here. Learn about the species that existed here long before humans. Experience the sensation of an earthquake on the Seismic Table. Children can have fun while learning in the Stavros Niarchos Discovery Center with several interactive exhibits. Rest for a few minutes while you sit down and enjoy one of the excellent shows in the multimedia room.
Heraklion walls, or more accurately, the Venetian walls of Heraklion are an excellent example and one of the best preserved monuments in the Mediterranean basin, concerning the fortification architecture of the 16th century A.D.
Walking along the Heraklion Walls feels like unwinding the skein of history of the city, while vivid memories of the glorious past are strongly embodied into them. The citizens of Heraklion sometimes take for granted the beauty that surrounds them and they don’t very often walk on the Venetian Walls, yet it’s worth the visit.
The Venetian Walls of Heraklion extend to a length of about 4,5 klm and form a triangle protecting the “Old Heraklion” of the 16th century A.D. Starting from the western end of the city Walls you will see seven heart shaped bastions (forts) and four impressive city gates (portals). The fist bastion of St. Andrew is followed by Pantocrator, Bethlehem, Martinengo (the vertex of the triangle), Jesus, Vitouri and lastly, Sambionara: The Bastion of the Sand at the east end of Heraklion. The four gates are Pantokrator or Chania Gate, the reconstructed Bethlehem, the Jesus Gate or more often called New Gate and the Gate of St. George on the Freedom Square in the centre of Heraklion nowadays.
However, the history of Heraklion neither began nor ended with the Venetians, and the same is true of the city walls. The first walls were built by the Byzantines, followed by the Arabs and the Arab walls; then the Venetians came and were replaced by the Turks, after 100,000 lost their lives before the Venetian walls during the 22-year siege; and finally the walls of Heraklion survived yet another conflict, the Second World War and the Luftwaffe bombings.