Top 10 Tourist Landmarks in Heraklion

Best Cultural Heritage Sights To Visit in Heraklion

 Not only is it the main gateway to the largest of all Greek islands, but Heraklion, the capital of Crete, is also a famous destination in itself. With a rich past, marked by the flourishing hearth of European civilization and the imprints of centuries under foreign rules, with many cultural and historical sites and unique tourist attractions, as well as a lively atmosphere and authentic local spirit, Heraklion attracts international visitors all year round.

 Tourists passionate about history will discover at the Archaeological Site of Knossos Palace the remains of the most advanced prehistoric civilization in Europe and many of the valuable artifacts unearthed here, on display at the Archaeological Museum in the city. The History Museum offers unique data and testimonies from the troubled life of the island and its inhabitants, from the dawn of Christianity to the present day.

 Leaving behind Koules Fortress in the old port, a walk through the Old Center of Heraklion takes you to some of the most beautiful architectural monuments, historic buildings, and churches in Crete. The Venetian defense walls surrounding the historic center are the best preserved medieval fortifications in Europe, and from their height, you enjoy a unique perspective on the city and the surrounding landscape.

There are countless interesting places to visit in the capital of Crete! Here are the top 10 cultural and historical sites you shouldn't miss!

1. Knossos Palace and Archaeological Site

 Stretching over an area of 20,000 sq m, the Archaeological Site of Knossos Palace brings to light the largest and most spectacular of all the Minoan palace centers from the Bronze Age found in Crete, about 6 km south of the city of Heraklion.  Discovered at the end of the 19th century, the settlement of Knossos was the heart of the advanced Minoan civilization, which reached its peak between 2700 BC and 1450 BC, today considered by some historians to be the oldest civilization in Europe. Its intricate architecture, rugged multi-level structure, evidence of intense economic and commercial activity, sumptuous artifacts, and scenery discovered by archaeological excavations have led researchers to believe that this is the mythical Labyrinth of King Minos, son of Zeus and the first king of Crete.

 Find more about the Minoan Palace of Knossos here!

2. Koules Fortress

 Located at the old port and known today by its Turkish name - Koules, ”Castellum a Mare” (sea-fortress) or ”Rocca a Mare” (rock in the sea) is a famous fortress built by the Venetians in the early 16th century, as an important part of the city's defense system. After a recent consolidation and restoration work that lasted 6 years, the fortress became a museum and a landmark of Heraklion city. Inside the museum, visitors can see the food and ammunition depot, prison cells, officers' rooms, a mill, and a chapel. The 2 kilometers long promenade that starts from Koules and advances in the sea to the lighthouse has a beautiful view towards the port, being the favorite walking area of the locals, regardless of the season.

3. Venetian City Walls

 Together with Koules, the Venetian Walls of Heraklion are a large part of the defense strategy and military achievements of the 16th century in Crete. Built as protection against Ottoman invaders, today it is one of the longest well-preserved city walls in Europe and an emblematic example of medieval fortification architecture. The walls stretch for about 4.5 km, forming a triangle with magnificent alleys that crosses seven heart-shaped bastions (forts) and four access gates to the old town. At the Martinengo Bastion, the highest point of the fortifications, is the austere tomb of the great Cretan writer and philosopher Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957), with his famous epitaph "I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free," engraved in stone.

4. Agios Titos Cathedral

  Going up from the old port on the ”25 August” pedestrian street, in a beautiful square on the left, you will see the Church of Agios Titos, one of the most famous historic buildings in Heraklion. Initially erected in the 10th century, the old church was dedicated to St. Titus, the disciple of the Apostle Paul who preached the gospel in Crete during Roman rule. The present-day structure is the result of further renovations after its almost entire destruction by a strong earthquake in 1856, and later works that followed in 1922. The skull of St. Titus was brought from Venice in 1956, currently displayed in a beautiful silver reliquary in the chapel on the north side of the Cathedral.

 Find more about The Agios Titos Cathedral here!

5. Venetian Loggia

 A few steps from Agios Titos Cathedral, along 25th August Street, you will find Loggia, the most elegant historic building in Crete that has survived since Venetian domination. Loggia was built in 1626-28 by Governor Francesco Morosini to serve as the political-administrative center and Club of the Nobles. Even the Turks used the Loggia as their administrative headquarter after the conquest of Crete. When the island regained its autonomy in 1898, the building was severely damaged and on the verge of collapsing. Renovation work began in 1915 but was unfortunately interrupted by World War II. Completely renovated today, the magnificent rectangular two-story palace with an elegant atrium and an event hall currently houses the Town Hall of Heraklion. It was awarded the Europa Nostra first prize in 1987 for the best renovated and preserved European monument of the year. 

 Find more about Loggia, the architectural gem of Heraklion, here!

6. Agios Markos Basilica 

 Eleftherios Venizelos Square is home to one of the oldest historic buildings in Crete, Vasiliki Agios Markos (St. Mark's Basilica). Founded in 1239 and dedicated to the spiritual patron of Venice, San Marco, the imposing building inspired by the refined Venetian architecture of the time served as the city's central cathedral until the great Ottoman invasion of 1645. After the war with the Turks in 1922, it was taken under the jurisdiction of the National Bank of Greece, and since its restoration and reconstruction in 1956, it houses the Municipal Art Gallery. Exhibitions and events on local culture and history are often held here.

 Find more about the Basilica San Marco Art Gallery and Greek Mythology in painting here!

7. Morosini Lions Fountain.

 Fontana Morosini, popularly known as Liontaria (Lions Fountain), is one of the most famous Venetian architectural monuments in Heraklion. It is located in Eleftherios Venizelos Square, close to the Loggia and Agios Markos Basilica. Inaugurated in April 1628 by Governor Morosini, the fountain supplied the fortress with water brought from Mount Yuchta by a 15 km-long underground aqueduct. Resisting the centuries, the water has gushed uninterruptedly through the mouths of the four lions that decorate the fountain. Initially, there was an imposing statue of the god Poseidon on top, probably destroyed during an earthquake.

 Find more about Liontaria - Morosini Fountain here!

8. Agios Minas Cathedral

 Founded in 1862, Agios Minas Church is the largest contemporary Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Crete and one of the largest in Greece, currently serving as the seat of the Archbishop of Crete. It is dedicated to Saint Mina, a martyr and miracle worker (285-309 AD), called by the locals through prayers to protect the city during the Ottoman occupation. The first church dedicated to Saint Mina, dating from 1735, is located near the cathedral. Agios Minas is today considered the patron saint of Heraklion and is lavishly celebrated by the whole city on November 11th every year.

 Find more about Agios Minas Cathedral here!

9. Heraklion Archaeological Museum

 Located in the city center in a modernist building erected just before the outbreak of World War II, the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion is one of the largest archaeological museums in Greece and one of the most valuable in Europe. Here you will find representative artifacts covering over 5,500 years from the Neolithic to the Roman era and a unique collection of Minoan art. The two-story building has 27 galleries, a gallery for audio-visual presentations, laboratories, a cafĂ©, and a souvenir store. If you are curious to further explore the technological wonders of Greek antiquity, take the time to visit the nearby Kotsanas Museum of Ancient Greek Technology.

10. Historical Museum of Crete

 Heraklion is home to the Historical Museum of Crete, one of the top-rated tourist attractions on the island. It was founded by the Society of Cretan Historical Studies in 1953. The museum, housed in a two-story building with neoclassical architecture, was expanded with a modern wing in 1970. The museum houses collections of archeological, historical, and ethnographic remains of the island of Crete, from the beginnings of Christianity to the modern era. You can also admire El Greco's painting "View of Mount  Sinai and the Monastery of St. Catherine", as well as personal objects and manuscripts by national writer Nikos Kazantzakis, the author of the famous ”Zorba the Greek” screened novel.

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