HERAKLION





Heraklion City, the Capital, and the Great Gate to Crete 

 Located on the northern shore of the island, in an important geostrategic position in the southeastern Mediterranean, the city of Heraklion / Iraklio is today the administrative capital of Crete and the fifth-largest city in Greece.

 The city benefits from a picturesque settlement among two imposing mountain ranges - Ida (or Idi) and Dikti. Also, it is a true hub for the entire area, a major point on the modern highway that crosses the island from west to east. It is equipped with the airport, port, and a public transport network with 39 urban and interurban routes, linking Heraklion with all main destinations and attractions of the island. Official statistics show that, in recent years, Heraklion has seen the largest increase in tourist circulation, being ranked, with nearly 3.4 million visitors/year, among the top 19 destinations in Europe and the second in Greece, after the capital Athens.

 Heraklion is the place where mythology, history, and the present coexist. Archaeological evidence shows that the settlement called Heraklion probably appeared in the ninth century BC, on top of the hill on which the center of Heraklion now stands. The name comes from the mythological character Idaean Herakles or Hercules from Mount Ida, a male servant of the Mother Goddess Rhea to whom she entrusted the newborn Zeus, to hide him from his father, the Titan Cronus. (Legend has it that to ensure endless supremacy, Cronus devoured his children, the only survivor being Zeus, the last born. Unhappy with the loss of his sons and daughters, Rhea tricked Cronus into swallowing a stone and kept Zeus hidden in a cave on Mount Ida, Crete, known today as the Zeus Cave or Diktaean Andron.) 

 The city of Heraklion gives you the image of invaluable material and spiritual treasure that is worth exploring further, and at the same time, the vivid economic, technological, social, and cultural nucleus of Crete.

A City of Metamorphosis, Between Mythologic Era and Modern World

 Here you will discover the remains of the amazing Minoan civilization from the Bronze Age, which proves the refined level of architecture, art, crafts, and lifestyle during the oldest and most flourishing civilization in Europe.

 The historical cycles of invasions and foreign occupations have left their mark on the architecture of the city, creating a mix of styles, which are joined by modern constructions with minimalist design, from today. A day trip with the city map in your hand will take you to the fortified port - the emblem of the city - and defense walls of the old Venetian fortress, churches, and mosques displaying the beauty of Byzantine and Islamic art, elegant palaces and houses, museums with their valuable cultural, scientific and artistic heritage, the old city center with crowded squares, historic buildings, monuments, and parks. You may wander through the narrow streets with taverns, terraces, cafes, and boutiques skilfully sneaked between the old and new houses built on top of each other, with their stylish balconies facing the sun or smiling toward the sea.

 Even though it retains the air of a medieval fortress, Heraklion is a modern, vibrant and fascinating city, full of places to visit and things to do. Once in Heraklion, you can easily get lost in doing shopping on the commercial arteries, exploring the Cretan diet and cuisine, or trying the temptations of the Greek-style nightlife.

 Creatively promoting the agenda of themed tours, open-air shows, carnivals, fairs and festivals, cultural-artistic and gastronomic events that take place throughout the year, the Municipality strives to make Heraklion an "all-season" tourist destination and, whatever your vacation purpose, to turn it into a magnificent and memorable experience.

Welcome to Heraklion!

Heraklion City Sights


Knossos Palace & Archaeological Site. Covering an area of 20.000 square meters, at about 6 km south of Heraklion city, the Archaeological site of Knossos Palace discovered in the late 19th century is the largest and most spectacular of all the Minoan palatial in Crete, dating from the Bronze Age. The settlement of Knossos was the heart of the advanced and refined Minoan civilization, who reached its peak in the period 2000 BC-1450 BC, laying the foundations of Western European civilization as we know it today. Its complex architecture and robust, multi-story structure have led researchers to assume that this is the mythical Labyrinth of King Minos, son of Zeus, the first king of Crete.


Koules Fortress. One of the landmarks of Heraklion City, Rocca a Mare (“fort by the sea” in Italian) known today by its Turkish name, Koules is a fortress built by Venetians in the early 16th century, located at the entrance of the old port of Heraklion. After a recent work of consolidation and restoration that took 6 years, the fortress became a Museum, inside which you can see the food and munitions warehouses, prison cells, officers' rooms, a mill, and a church. The 2 km promenade starting from the fortress to the lighthouse has a beautiful and peaceful view of the port, being the favorite walking route of the locals, all year round. 


Venetian City Wall. Together with Koules, the Venetian walls of Heraklion are a great part of the defense strategy and military achievements of the 16th century in Crete. Used as protection against invaders, today are among the longest well-preserved city walls in Europe, and an iconic example of the fortification architecture of the Medieval Age. Stretching for about 4.5 km and forming a triangle with scenic walkways around the Old Heraklion, the protective walls comprise seven heart-shaped bastions (forts) and four impressive gates of the city (portals). At the Martinengo bastion (the highest point of the walls of Heraklion) lies the austere grave of the great Cretan writer and philosopher Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957), with the famous epitaph engraved in tombstone: "I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free."


Agios Titos Church. Walking up the 25th of August pedestrian street which starts from the old harbor, 100 m on the left side, in a beautiful square, you see the majestic St. Titus' Cathedral, one of the most famous historic buildings in Heraklion. Initially erected in the 10th century, the church is probably the oldest in Heraklion, 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 work which followed in 1922. The skull of St Titus was transferred here from Venice in 1956, now being displayed in a silver reliquary in the chapel on the north wing.


Venetian Loggia. Located in Heraklion Old Town, The Loggia is considered the finest Venetian monument of Crete, today housing the City Hall. It was erected in 1626-28 by governor Francesco Morosini, to serve as the center of local administrative and social life, and the Noblemen's Club. The magnificent ornate two-story palace, with an elegant atrium and a hall for events, was awarded the Europa Nostra first prize in 1987 for the best renovated and preserved European monument of the year.


Agios Markos Basilica. In the main square of Heraklion, Eleftherios Venizelos, there is one of the oldest historical 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 construction inspired by the refined Venetian architecture of the times served until the great Ottoman invasion in 1645, as the central cathedral of the city. After the war with the Turks, in 1922, it was taken under the jurisdiction of the National Bank of Greece, and since the restoration and reconstruction in 1956, it houses the Municipal Art Gallery.


Morosini Lions Fountain. One of the most famous architectural monuments in Heraklion left from the era of Venetian rule, Morosini Fountain, popularly known as Liontaria (Lions Fountain), It is located in Eleftherios Venizelos Square, next to Loggia and Basilica San Marco. Inaugurated by Francesco Morosini, Governor of Crete, in April 1628, after 14 months of work, the fountain was the end of a 15 km long underground aqueduct, which brought water to the fortress from mount Yuchta. Since then, the water gushes uninterruptedly through the mouths of the four lions. Initially, there was a central statue of the god Poseidon which was probably destroyed during an earthquake.  


Agios Minas Cathedral. Founded in 1862, Agios Minas is the largest contemporary Greek Orthodox cathedral in Crete and one of the largest in Greece, serving as the seat of the Archbishop of Crete. Ιt is dedicated to Saint Mina the martyr and wonderworker (285-309 A.D.), who was invoked to protect the town during the Turkish occupation. The first church dedicated to Agios Minas, dating from 1735, is located close to the cathedral. Agios Minas is still the guardian saint of Heraklion, celebrated on 11 November, a bank holiday in town.


Historical Museum of Crete. Heraklion is home to the second-largest archaeological museum in Greece and one of the most important sights in Crete. It was founded by the Society of Cretan Historical Studies in 1953 and is housed in a two-story building with neoclassical-inspired architecture that was expanded with a modern wing and one floor.  The museum houses collections of archaeological, historical, and ethnographic vestiges of the island of Crete, from the beginnings of Christianity to the modern era. Also, you can admire El Greco's painting "View of the Sinai Mountain and Monastery", as well as personal objects and manuscripts by the national writer Nikos Kazantzakis.


Heraklion Archaeological Museum. Situated in the center of the city, in a modernist building erected just before the start of World War II, it is one of the largest and most important archaeological museums in Greece, and among the most valuable in Europe. Here you will find representative artifacts from all the periods of Cretan prehistory and history, covering a chronological span of over 5,500 years, from the Neolithic period to Roman times, and a unique collection worldwide of Minoan art pieces. The two-story building has 27 galleries, a gallery for audio-visual displays, laboratories, a cafeteria, and a shop with souvenirs and books. If you are curious to further explore the technological miracles of Greek antiquity, make time to visit also the Kotsanas Museum of Ancient Greek Technology, located nearby.