Heraklion (Greek Ηρακλειον, also transliterated as Heraklio, Iraklion or Irakleio) is the major city and capital of the largest Greek island of Crete. Its Archaeological Museum holds the remains of the 3000-year oldMinoan civilization, which grew aroud the nearby legendary palace of Knossos (of Minotaur fame), as well as Byzantine churches and a well-preserved Venetian wall and fortress from the 15th century.
Heraklion is an industrialised city of around 155,000 residents. The modern city has been disfigured by a lack of any comprehensive planning or any serious commitment to preservation, which has resulted in a traffic-choked urban horror overlaying historical remains of potentially immense interest, but the knowledgeable visitor will still be able to trace the past under the ugly urban sprawl of the present. However, in recent years, things have began to change and efforts are being made to bring out the beauty of the city’s rich cultural history. The core of the city is still enclosed and defined by the Venetian wall, which includes seven outjutting bastions. In the southernmost of these, the Martinengo Bastion, is thegrave of Nikos Kazantzakis, standing on a windswept hilltop with its moving inscription, “I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.”
The snake goddess (c.1600 BCE) in Heraklion Archaeological Museum.
Heraklion is close to the ruins of the palace of Knossos, which in Minoan times was the largest centre of population on Crete. Though there is no archaeological evidence of it, Knossos may well have had a port at the site of Heraklion as long ago as 2000 BC.
The present city of Heraklion was founded in 824 AD by the Saracens who had been expelled from Al-Andalus by Emir Al-Hakam I and had taken over the island from the Byzantine Empire. They built a moat around the city for protection, and named the city “Castle of the Moat.” The Saracens allowed the port to be used as a safe haven for pirates who operated against Byzantine shipping and raided Byzantine territory around the Aegean.
In 961, the Byzantines, under the command of Nikephoros Phokas, later to become Byzantine Emperor, landed in Crete and attacked the city. After a prolonged siege, the city fell. The Saracen inhabitants were slaughtered, the city looted and burned to the ground. Soon rebuilt, the town of Chandax remained under Byzantine control for the next 243 years.
The Venetian loggia (1626-28)
In 1204, the city was bought by the Republic of Venice as part of a complicated political deal which involved among other things, the Crusaders of the Fourth Crusade restoring the deposed Byzantine emperor Isaac II Angelus to his throne. The Venetians improved on the ditch by building enormous fortifications, most of which are still in place, including a giant wall, in places up to 40 m thick, with 7 bastions, and a fortress in the harbour. Chandax was renamed to Candia in Italian and became the seat of the Duke of Candia. As a result, the Venetian administrative district of Crete became known as “Regno di Candia” (Kingdom of Candia). The city retained the name of Candia for centuries and the same name was often used to refer to the whole island of Crete as well. To secure their rule, Venetians began in 1212 to resettle families from Venice on Crete. The coexistence of two different cultures and the influence of Italian Renaissance lead to a flourishing of letters and the arts in Candia and Crete in general, that is today known as the Cretan Renaissance.
The Ottoman Vezir Mosque (1856), built on the site of the Byzantine St Titus, and now the basilica of St Titus.
After the Venetians came the Ottoman Empire. During the Cretan War (1645-1669), the Ottomans besieged the city for 24 years, from 1648 to 1669, the longest siege in history. In its final phase, which lasted for 22 months, 70,000 Turks, 38,000 Cretans and slaves and 29,088 of the city’s Christian defenders perished. The Ottoman army under an Albanian grand vizier, Köprülü FazIl Ahmed Pasha conquered the city in 1669. Under the Ottomans, the city was known officially as Kandiye (again also applied to the whole island of Crete) but informally in Greek as Megalo Kastro (Μεγαλο Καστρο; “Big Castle”). During the Ottoman period, the harbour silted up, so most shipping shifted to Hania in the west of the island.
In 1898 the autonomous Cretan State was created, under Ottoman suzerainty, with Prince George of Greece as its High Commissioner and under international supervision. During the period of direct occupation of the island by the Great Powers (1898-1908), Candia was part of the British zone. At this time the city was renamed “Heraklion”, after the Roman port of Heracleum (“Heracles’ city”), whose exact location is unknown.
With the rest of Crete, Heraklion was incorporated into the Kingdom of Greece in 1913.
Located in the middle of the island, all roads lead to Heraklion. Heraklion has a busy harbour and very busy airport and usually is the starting point of travels to Crete and nearby islands.
Heraklion International Airport, or Nikos Kazantzakis Airport is located about 5 km east of the city. The airport is named after Herkalion native Nikos Kazantzakis, a Greek writer and philosopher. It is the second busiest airport of Greece, mostly due to the fact that Crete is a major destination for tourists during summer. There are regular domestic flights to and from Athens, Thessaloniki and Rhodes with Aegean Airlines and Olympic Air. Also flying to and from Athens is Athens Airways, whereas Cyprus Airways and Aegean Airlines fly to Larnaca, Cyprus. Furthermore, Sky Express operates direct flights to Aegean islands such as Rhodes, Santorini, Samos, Kos, Mytilini and Ikaria. During the summer period, traffic is intense and the flight destinations are from all over Europe (mostly Germany, UK, Italy and Russia). The airfield is shared with the 126 Combat Group of the Hellenic Air Force. Take-offs in a westerly direction pass directly over the town of Heraklion, making it a very noisy city.
Heraklion is connected with the rest of Crete by regular bus lines operated by two KTEL companies. The coaches are modern, comfortable and air-conditioned. Fare is reasonable.
There are two bus stations in Heraklion:
Bus station A (ammoudara), (near the Heraklion port), Tel: +30-2810-245020. The main station used by lines to/from other prefectures (Chania, Rethymno, Lasithi) and lines to the eastern part of Heraklion prefecture. (35.341179,25.139326)
Bus station B (ammudara), (at the Chania Gate (Chanioporta) at the west border of old city), Tel:+30-2810-255965. Used mainly by lines to/from the southern part of Heraklion prefecture. (35.336886,25.123394)
There are ferries from Athens (Piraeus) to Heraklion, Minoan Lines , Anek Lines and Superfast Ferries – and also there are normal ferries from Thessaloniki and Dodecanese – G.A. Ferries , and Highspeed Catamarans and normal ferries from Cyclades to Heraklion. G.A. Ferries , Sea Jets , Santorini Maritime and Hellenic Seaways. The frequency is reduced in the winter.
The only solution is to arrive to one of the big Ports of Crete (Heraklion, Chania, Sitia or Rethymnon). Then you have to hire a car, if you have not done it yet. Remember that you need a written authorization of the car rental company to travel with the car in a ferry.
There are Highspeed Catamaran and normal ferries from/to Heraklion, Athens (Piraeus) to Heraklion, Minoan Lines , Anek Lines and Superfast Ferries – and also from Thessaloniki, Cyclades and Dodecaneseto Heraklion. G.A. Ferries , Sea Jets Santorini Maritime and Hellenic Seaways. The frequency is reduced in the winter. Also every summer there is One Day Cruise from Heraklion to Santorini by cruise boat or highspeed catamarans
You can use public city bus network to get around Heraklion but you have to figure out the line to your destination. There are usually no routes or schedules posted at the bus stops. Buses do not stop at bus stops, unless you signal the driver by raising your arm. Basic ticket costs 0,90 €.
The Koules (Greek: Κουλές, from Turkish: Kule, “Tower, Fort”) is an isolated Venetian-era fortress at the entrance to the Old Port of Heraklion. It was completed around 1540.
Museum of Natural History
Address: University of Crete, S. Venizelou Ave., Tel: +30 2810 324366
Museum of the Battle for Crete and National Resistance
Address: Doukos Beaufort & Merambelou Sts Heraklion, Crete, Greece (Just around the corner from the Archaeological Museum in Heraklion)
Tel: +30 2810 246 554.
The museum recounts the tale of Cretan and Allied resistance against Nazi invaders in World War II.
Located about nine miles east of Heraklion on the National Road (signposted) or by Cretan Intercity Bus (Tel: +30 2810 246530)
Reception: +30 2810-337788 Bookings: +30 2810-337888
Open: June to September; 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., October to May, 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
The biggest aquarium in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Nikos Kazantzakis Museum
Located in the village of Myrtia (Varvari) 15 km. south of Heraklion; Tel: +30 2810-741689.
Open: Monday to Sunday, 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. (March to October); 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. (November to February)
Admission: € 3
The museum focuses on Nikos Kazantzakis, Crete’s most prominent modern intellectual figure.
The Heraklion Archaeological Museum is one the great museums of Greece and the best in the world regarding the Minoan art as it contains the most notable and complete collection of artifacts of theMinoan civilization of Crete. Highlights include statues of the Snake Goddess, the famous Bull-Leaping Fresco, the enigmatic and mysterious Phaistos Disk, and Minoan seals and jewelery. Also includes a number of finds from Classical Greek and Roman periods. The Heraklion Archaeological Museum is one of the world’s great museums, embodying a whole splendid vanished culture. At least two hours should be allowed to see it, and it could easily take longer. For those seriously interested in that culture, it will be worth while to make two visits to the museum, one before, and one after, visiting Knossos and other Minoan sites: seeing the museum first will enhance your understanding of the sites, and after seeing the sites, you’ll be better able to understand the artifacts in the museum when you return.
The museum began in 1883 as a simple collection of antiquities. A dedicated building was constructed from 1904 to 1912 at the instigation of two Cretan archaeologists, Iosif Hatzidakis and Stefanos Xanthoudidis. From 1937, work began on the present earthquake-proof building, designed by the renowned Greek architect Patroklos Karantinos. The museum was damaged during World War II, but the collection survived intact and was again accessible to the public from 1952. A new wing was added in 1964.
Besides the Minoan collection, other periods of Cretan history are covered, from the Neolithic to the Greco-Roman period. The Archaeological Museum at Heraklion is dedicated to Minoan art and artefacts, with a smaller section for post-Minoan art and artefacts. (The Museum is currently being renovated but a temporary exhibition is open in the main building.)
Historical Museum of Crete
The Modena Triptych by El Greco
Address: 27, Sofokli Venizelou Ave. /7, Lysimachou Kalokerinou St., Tel: +30 2810 283219, 288708.
Open: (April – October) Mon – Sat 9am-5pm; (November – March) Mon – Sat 9am-3:30pm;
Closed: Sun & Public Holidays
Admission: € 5,00; Children 12 and under- free
The Historical Museum of Crete in Heraklion presents a comprehensive view of Cretan history from early Christian times to the present day. It was founded in 1953 by the Society of Cretan Historical Studies, which had been established two years earlier. The founders’ goal was to collect and preserve valuable archaeological, ethnographic and historical material deriving from the medieval and modern periods in Cretan history. The museum is housed in a two-storey neoclassical building, which was constructed in 1903 on the site of an earlier mansion.
The Museum exhibits a number of notable works of art, such as the Modena Triptych, a 1568 painting by the artist El Greco, who was also known as Doménikos Theotokópoulos.
A portion of Arthur Evans’ reconstruction of the Minoan palace at Knossos. This is Bastion A at the North Entrance, noted for the Bull Fresco above it
Address: The Minoan Palace of Knossos, Crete (5 km south of Heraklion)
Tel: +30 2810 231940. Tel: +30 2810 226470. Tel: +30 2810 226092. Tel: +30 2810 224630.
Open: Monday to Sunday: Summer: 8:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.; Winter: 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Admission: Full ticket: €6, Reduced: €3; Special ticket package: Full: €10, Reduced: €5, valid for: HeraklionArchaeological Museum and Knossos Site
Knossos (alternative spellings Knossus, Cnossus, Greek Κνωσος, also known as Labyrinth, or Knossos Palace, is the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete and probably the ceremonial and political centre of the Minoan civilization and culture. It is the site of the most important and best known Minoan palace complex in Crete. According to tradition, Knossos was the seat of the legendary Cretan king Minos. The Palace is also connected with further legends, such as the myth of the Labyrinth and the Minotaur, as well as the story of Daidalos and Ikaros. The palace appears as a maze of workrooms, living spaces, and store rooms close to a central square. Detailed images of Cretan life in the late Bronze Age are provided by images on the walls of this palace. It is located some 5 km (3 mi) south of Heraklion and is a major tourist destination today. It has been substantially restored by archaeologist Arthur Evans.
Excavation has revealed that the site was continuously inhabited from the Neolithic period (7000-3000 B.C.) until Roman times, but its population shifted to the new town of Handaq (modern Heraklion) during the 9th century AD. By the 13th century, it was called Makryteikhos ‘Long Wall’; the bishops of Gortyncontinued to call themselves Bishops of Knossos until the 19th century. Today, the name is used only for the archaeological site situated in the suburbs of Heraklion.
Lychnostatis Open Air Museum
Address: Hersonissos, Crete; Tel: +3028970-23660.
Open: 09:00 to 2:00p.m., Closed on Saturdays
Admission: Adults: 5 €, Students: 3 €, Children (till 12 years’ old): 2 €
Lychnostatis Open Air Museum contains a variety of artifacts and structures related to Cretan folk tradition and ethnology, economic activity and culture, nature and the environment. Notable assets include traditional Cretan farmer and merchant houses, wine and olive presses, a distillery, weaving and ceramic workshops, a herbarium and fruit and cactus gardens, a folk art gallery, library, a mineral and stone exhibition, a 150 seat auditorium and a 250 seats theatre as well as a cafe and shop. A number of performances are put on in the auditoriums includuing the “Traditional September” annual event as well as Greek dancing performances, and grape and wine-tasting events.
Inheritance regulations, fragment of the 11th column of the Law Code of Gortyn, Louvre
Gortyn or Gortyna (Greek: Γορτυνα, Γορτυς, or Γορτυν) is an archaeological site on the Mediterranean island of Crete, 45 km away from the modern capital Heraklion. Gortyn, the Roman capital of Crete, was first inhabited around 3200 BC, and was a flourishing Minoan town between 1600-1100 BC. Placed in the valley of Messara in the north of the Psiloritis mountain in the current position of the settlements of Metropolis and Ten Saints (Hagioi Deka), and near the Libyan Sea.
Entryway to the palace
Phaistos (Greek: Φαιστος), also transliterated as Phaestos, Festos and Phaestus is an ancient city on the island of Crete. Phaistos was located in the south-central portion of the island, about 5.6 kilometers from the Mediterranean Sea. It was inhabited from about 4000 BC. A palace, dating from the Middle Bronze Age, was destroyed by an earthquake during the Late Bronze Age. Knossos along with other Minoan sites was destroyed at that time. The palace was rebuilt toward the end of the Late Bronze Age.
Hagia Triada (also Ayia Triada, Agia Triada, Agia Trias), “ahyuh treeahdhuh”, is the archaeological site of an ancient Minoan settlement. Hagia Triada is situated on a prominent coastal ridge, with the Mesara Plain below. Hagia triada sits at the western end of the ridge, while Phaistos is at the eastern end. Hagia Triada means holy trinity in Greek.
Matala caves are located 75 km south-west of Heraklion. The artificial caves in the cliff of the Matala bay located to the north of the coast were created and inhabited in the Neolithic Age.
Matala was the port of Phaistos during the Minoan period. In the year 220 BC Matala was occupied by the Gortynians. During the Roman period Matala became the port of Gortys. In the 1st and 2nd centuries the caves were used as tombs. One of the caves is called “Brutospeliana” because according to the legend it was frequented by the Roman general Brutus. Matala was then a fishing village. In the 1960s the caves were occupied by hippies who were later driven out by the church and the military junta.
In Greek Mythology, when Zeus seduced the princess Europa in the form of a white bull, he crossed the sea and brought her to the beach of Matala. There he changed into an eagle and flew her to Gortys where he had sex with her.
The Eileithyia Cave
The Eileithyia Cave was in use from the Neolithic period until 400BCE. The archaeological finds of the cave are on display today at the Iraklion Museum and the Archaeological Museum of Iraklion. For Minoan and Mycenaean the cave was sacred dedicated to the goddess of childbirth.
The Cave of Skoteino is about 22 km from Heraklion city. It is one of the three largest caves of Heraklion.
Koudoumas Monastery is located 80 km from Heraklion. The last 24 kilometers have to be made by a dirt road.
Kaliviani monastery is about 60km from Heraklion. The monastery was built during the second Byzantine period.
The Vrontisiou Monastery is about 50 kilometers from Heraklion.
Heraklion Summer Arts Festival – from June to September
Amoudara the city’s beach area; a three kilometer strip of sandy beach, lots of cafes, bars and hotels and the site of “Technopolis”, a modern multiplex cinema and open-air theatre.
Horseback riding, experienced and amateur riders can ride at the beach of Karteros, or take riding lessons at Ippikos Omilos
Horseback riding at the sandy beach of Karteros -6km east of Heraklion
Rock Climbing, visitors can climb a 50 foot rock at the suburb of Karteros, east of Heraklion. Safety equipment can be rented.
Water fun at the nearby Water City and Aqua Plus water parks.