HERAKLION

Heraklion City, the Capital and the Great Gate to Crete 

  Heraklion, also known as Iraklio, is a city located on the north coast of the island of Crete in Greece.  between two imposing mountain ranges - Ida (or Idi) and Dikti. The city holds an important geostrategic position in the southeastern Mediterranean, making it a critical location historically. Today, Heraklion serves as the administrative capital of Crete and is the fifth-largest city in Greece with a population of approximately 150,000 inhabitants.

 It is also a real hub for the entire region, an important point on the modern highway that crosses the island from west to east. The city benefits from an airport, a port, and a public transportation network with 39 city and intercity lines that connect Heraklion with all the major destinations and attractions on the island. 

 Heraklion is the place where mythology, history, and the present coexist. Archaeological findings prove that the settlement called Heraklion was probably established in the ninth century BC on the hill where the center of Heraklion is located today. The name comes from the mythological figure of Heracles or Hercules of 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 (Kronos). According to legend, Cronus devoured his children to secure eternal supremacy, with Zeus, the last-born, being the only one to survive. Unhappy at the loss of his sons and daughters, Rhea made Cronus swallow a stone and hid Zeus in a cave on Mount Ida in Crete, now known as the Zeus Cave or Diktaean Andron).

 Statistics show that Heraklion has seen the largest increase in tourists in recent years and is one of the top 19 tourist destinations in Europe with almost 3.4 million visitors annually, second only to Greece's capital Athens. You can imagine the city as an invaluable material and spiritual treasure, worthy of further exploration, while at the same time, it is Crete's economic, social, and cultural center.

A City of Metamorphosis, Between the Mythologic Age and the Modern World

 Here you will discover the remains of the great Minoan civilization of the Bronze Age, which proves the high level of architecture, art, craftsmanship, and lifestyle during the oldest and most flourishing civilization in Europe.

 The historical cycles of invasions and foreign occupations have left their mark on architecture, creating a mixture of styles that today are joined by modern buildings with minimalist designs. A day trip with a city map in hand will take you to the fortified harbor - the local landmark - and the defensive walls of the old Venetian fortress, churches, and mosques showing 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 its lively squares, historic buildings, monuments, and parks. You can stroll through the narrow streets with taverns, terraces, cafes, and boutiques hidden among the old and new houses built on top of each other with their stylish balconies facing the sun or the sea.

 Although Heraklion retains the flair of a medieval fortress, it is a modern, vibrant, and fascinating city with plenty to see and do. Once in Heraklion, you can easily lose yourself in the shopping streets, explore Cretan cuisine or try the temptations of Greek nightlife.

 With the creative promotion of the program of themed tours, open-air shows, carnivals, fairs and festivals, and cultural-artistic and gastronomic events that take place throughout the year, the municipality strives to make Heraklion a "year-round" destination and make your vacation an incredible and unforgettable experience, no matter what your plans are.

Welcome to Heraklion!

Heraklion City Sights


1. Knossos Palace and Archaeological Site


 The archaeological site of Knossos Palace, with an area of 20,000 m², is the largest and most spectacular of all the Minoan palace complexes of 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 and 1450 BC and is now considered by some historians to be the oldest civilization in Europe. The intricate architecture, the robust multilevel structure, the evidence of intense economic and commercial activity, the magnificent artifacts and the landscape discovered during archaeological excavations have led researchers to believe that it was the mythical labyrinth of King Minos, son of Zeus and the first king of Crete. 

2. Koules Fortress


 Known today by the Turkish name of "Koules", the "Castellum a Mare" (Sea Fortress) or "Rocca a Mare" (Rock in the Sea) is a famous fortress built by the Venetians at the beginning of the 16th century as an important part of the city's defense system. After the recent consolidation and restoration works, which lasted 6 years, the fortress became a museum and a landmark of the city of Heraklion. In the museum, visitors can see the food and ammunition depot, prison cells, officers' rooms, a mill and a chapel. The 2 km long promenade, which starts in Koules and runs in the sea to the lighthouse, offers a beautiful view of the harbor and is a popular walk for locals regardless of the season.

3. Venetian City Walls


 Together with Koules, the Venetian Walls of Heraklion are an important part of the defensive strategy and military achievements of 16th-century Crete. The walls of Heraklion were built in Crete at the end of the sixteenth century. Built to protect against Ottoman invaders, today it is one of the longest well-preserved city walls in Europe and an emblematic example of medieval fortress architecture. The walls stretch for about 4.5 km and form a triangle with magnificent alleys leading through seven heart-shaped bastions (forts) and four access gates to the old town. On the Martinengo bastion, the highest point of the fortifications, is the simple 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", carved in stone.

4. Agios Titos Cathedral


  Walking up the pedestrian street "August 25" from the old port, in a beautiful square on the left side, you can see the Church of Agios Titos, one of the most famous historical buildings of Heraklion. Originally built in the 10th century, the ancient church was dedicated to St. Titus, a disciple of the Apostle Paul, who preached the Gospel during the Roman rule in Crete. The present structure is the result of further renovations after its almost complete destruction by a strong earthquake in 1856 and further works that followed in 1922. The skull of St. Titus was brought from Venice in 1956 and is now housed in a beautiful silver reliquary in the chapel on the north side of the Cathedral.

5. Venetian Loggia


 A few steps away from Agios Titos Cathedral, in the street of August 25, is the Loggia, the most elegant historical building in Crete, preserved since the Venetian rule. The Loggia was built in 1626-28 by Governor Francesco Morosini and served as a political-administrative center and club for the nobles. The Turks also used the Loggia as their administrative headquarters after the conquest of Crete. When the island regained its autonomy in 1898, the building was badly damaged and in danger of collapse. Renovation work began in 1915 but was unfortunately interrupted by World War II. The magnificent rectangular two-story palace, with an elegant atrium and an event hall, was completely renovated and now houses the Heraklion City Hall. It was awarded the first prize of Europa Nostra in 1987 for the best renovated and preserved European monument of the year.

6. Agios Markos Basilica 


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

7. Morosini Lions Fountain.


 The Morosini Fountain, popularly known as Liontaria (Lions Fountain), is one of the most famous Venetian architectural monuments in Heraklion. It is located in Eleftherios Venizelos Square, near the Loggia and the Agios Markos Basilica. The fountain was inaugurated in April 1628 by Governor Morosini and supplied the fortress with water brought from Mount Yuchta through a 15 km long underground aqueduct. Over the centuries, the water gushed continuously from the mouths of the four lions that decorate the fountain. Originally, on the top of the fountain was an imposing statue of the god Poseidon, which was probably destroyed by an earthquake.

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. It is dedicated to Saint Mina, a martyr and miracle worker (285-309 AD) who was invoked by the locals through prayers to protect the city during the Ottoman occupation. The first church dedicated to Saint Mina dates back to 1735 and is located near the cathedral. Agios Minas is now considered the patron saint of Heraklion and is celebrated extensively by the whole city every year on November 11.

9. Heraklion Archaeological Museum


 The Archaeological Museum of Heraklion is located in the city center in a modernist building built just before the outbreak of World War II. It is one of the largest archeological museums in Greece and one of the most valuable in Europe. Here you will find representative artifacts dating back from the Neolithic to the Roman eras (a time span of approximately 5500 years), as well as a unique collection of Minoan artifacts. The two-story building has 27 galleries, an audiovisual screening gallery, laboratories, a cafĂ© and a gift store. If you want to learn even more about the technological wonders of ancient Greece, 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 island's most popular tourist attractions. It was founded in 1953 by the Society for Cretan Historical Studies. 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 modern times. You can also admire El Greco's painting "View of Mount Sinai and the Monastery of St. Catherine", as well as personal belongings and manuscripts of the national writer Nikos Kazantzakis, the author of the famous filmed novel ”Zorba the Greek”