Following Athene, Thessaloniki, Piraeus and Patras, Heraklion is Greek’s fifth largest city with around 175.000 inhabitants. The city was first founded by the Arabians, who called it Kandak, in 824 before being renamed Candia when the Venice took over (1204-1669). Venice’s past rule has left its mark on the city that can still be seen in the ports, fortresses, churches, fountains and the great curtain walls. In 1669 the city’s rule fell to the Ottoman Empire who named it ‘Big Castle’. The Empire wasn’t driven out until the revolution of 1820, after which the natives were finally able to choose their own name for the city: Heraklion. The city was named after Heracles who, according to the legends, first landed on Crete. The city of Heraklion is Crete’s largest city and capital of the province of the same name, it is also home to the archbishopric of Crete.
The city is extremely diverse with cozy streets, a busy shopping district, pubs, markets and restaurants with Cretan specialties. Due to its central position and growing harbour district Heraklion has become an important business centre, with the largest port focusing on export on the island. The outer area of the port is mostly reserved for cargo-vessels, while the inner area can be accessed by fishing boats, yachts and kayaks.
Heraklion’s biggest attraction is its Venetian castle – a castle that, even now, still goes by its Ottoman name ’Koules’. Little is left but the gold coloured walls, but nevertheless it makes for a magnificent sight. A sight that is only enhanced by the lion statues of San Marco still sitting there on the three outer walls. Starting from the harbour, you can walk the Venetian walls. This 4 kilometres long hike offers a beautiful panorama of the city. On this wall, near the Chania gate, you will come across the gravestone of Nikos Kazantzakis, who was a famed Cretan writer and philosopher. Three simple sentences are engraved in this headstone: I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.
Other Venetian architecture worth a visit include the Loggia and Morosisni fountains (1628), both of which you can find on the Platia Venizelou. The four 14th century lions that support the fountain were originally part of a previous fountain, before being included in the newer structure. The lobes of the fountain are decorated with scenes from Greek mythology carved in relief, many Tritons, dolphins, nymphs and other mythical water beings. The Platia is located at the far end of 25th Augustus street.
The most valuable and beautiful icons of Crete are put on display in the Agai Ekaterini church, which is located next to the Agios Minas cathedral. On 25th Augustus street you will also be able to find the Agios Titos church; Titus being the Patron Saint of Crete. Inside the church you will be able to see a shrine with the head of Titus, student of Paulus. When the Ottoman Empire took over Crete this shrine was shipped off to Venice, only to be returned years later in 1966. All of these churches and cathedrals are most certainly worth a visit.
And last but not least; Museums.
The archaeological museum contains a unique and important collection of Minoan art and culture, many of them true masterpieces. And if you prefer a more recent view of the Byzantine Empire, as well as the Venetian and Ottoman influences on Crete, you can always visit the Historical Museum.