Heraklion Town, Crete Island
Make no mistake, this is not a poor cousin of the Archaeological museum, in terms of artifacts anyway. We actually stumbled into it by mistake but thought it was an excellent venue. We rated it the equal of the Archaeological Museum though comparisons can be odious as the time frames are totally different. This one is post Roman but nonetheless interesting for that.
Valuable historical relics of Crete, from the First Byzantine period (330 AD) to World War II, are displayed in an enlightening manner in its 22 rooms, covering an area of 1,500 square metres.
Ceramics, sculpture, numismatics (I found them very interesting), Byzantine and modern history all have their place here with an emphasis on Chandax (the old name for Heraklion).
If you have time for the Archaeological Museum, you should have time for this as well.
Open 9-5 except for Sundays and public holidays
Heraklion is the capital and the commercial and business heart of Crete. The city is a place to visit not to stay in, unlike the rest of Crete it is a huge, dusty and noisy place with ships, liners, ferries and airplanes constantly coming and going. Most of the major attractions, shops and restaurants are within walking distance of each other in the city centre.
See My Travel Page for more information.
Go there and immerse yourself in the culture and every day life of the Cretans – modern and ancient sit side by side, fancy restaurants share the streets with simple tavernas and despite the often frenetic pace, you can always find a quiet spot to sit and relax and partake in the coffee culture…
The old Venetian fortress of Koules, constructed to protect the harbour from invaders and dating back to the 15th century is arguably one of the most photographed landmarks in the city and a popular stop off point for people visiting the city and for the locals who take their evening stroll there. The name Koules means ‘fortress’ in Turkish although the Venetians who constructed the fort, named it Rocca al Mare – rock of the sea. Overlooking the deep blue sea, and built of massive stone blocks, the exterior of the fortress bears a relief plaque of the winged lion of St Mark. Inside, the ground floor is comprised of a series of chambers which were used to store food, water and military supplies. During the Turkish rule it was used as a prison and many Cretan rebels were emprisoned and tortured there. The upper level – which has splendid views back to the town – has crenelated parapets (short wall) and cannon emplacements which were added by the Ottoman Turks. Looking back towards the city you will see the Venetian arches which used to house boats under repair as well as arsenals for storing guns and gunpowder. There is an admission charge of 2 Euros. Check locally for opening times as these may change due to renovation work.
25th August Street
25th August Street, which is now a paved, pedestrianised street and home to many neoclassical buildings, is the main street which connects the small Venetian harbour with Lion Square. Talk a stroll up the wide street and you’ll pass Agios Titus Church and the Loggia (or town hall) reaching the popular Lion Square and the Morosini fountain. Its name has a special meaning for the Greeks. It comes from the massacre of ‘martyrs' which occurred on 25th August in 1898 where 17 British soldiers, the newly arrived British Consul as well as hundreds of Cretans were killed by the Turks. The British reacted and the ringleaders of the massacre were captured and thrown out of the city. The British fleet sailed into Heraklion and forced the Ottoman army to leave Crete immediately. By the first week of November the last Turkish soldier had left the island - the ruins were still smoking from the massacre when the Turks sacrificed and lost. Crete was free for the first time in thousands of years. Nowadays the visitor will find cafes, souvenir shops, jewellery shops, banks (with ATMs), travel agencies and even a couple of fish spas where you can have a relaxing fish foot message!
Lion Square is an ideal place to sample one of the local sweet delicacies 'Boughatsa' - you can choose between a sweet or salty version and with a view directly to the Morosini Fountain, this is a great place to soak up the hustle & bustle of Heraklion and re-charge your batteries. The square is officially named Eleftheriou Venizelou, after the late Prime Minister of Greece, but is more commonly known as Lion Square. The famous fountain was the work of Francesco Morosini and it was built in order to provide the inhabitants of Heraklion with water, to the tune of 1000 barrels per day. Recently the Venetian underground ducts which supplied the fountain with water have been exposed to give people a glimpse of this ingenious water system.
“...people saw running water coming out of 8 spouts and the fountain was blessed in full formality – before an immense crowd who applauded and praised God” – reported General Morosini. A popular landmark and meeting place, this fountain stands in the centre of a square (known locally as Lion Square or Liontaria) and is rimmed with cafes and snack bars. It was commissioned by the Venetian governor, Francesco Morosini, in the 17th century, to commemorate the opening of an aqueduct which brought much needed water from Mount Yucktas to the city. The main basin features eight cisterns or lobes decorated with reliefs of figures from Greek mythology, while the upper basin is supported by four proud marble lions. In 2008 the Municipality of Heraklion carried out work to reveal the Venetian underground ducts which supplied the fountain with water.
Central park with great cafe culture. The park is named after the leading painter with a global reputation Domenicos Thetokopoulos, better known as El Greco. (The Greek). Surrounded almost on all sides by cafes, this is a lovely place to sit, relax and experience the great cafe culture that Heraklion has to offer.
About half way up 25th August Street is the beautiful Agios Titos Church. This popular landmark is representative of Heraklion's turbulent history and one of the most important monuments in the centre of Heraklion. Originally built by the Byzantines, it was remodelled by the Venetians into a catholic cathedral, then by the Turks into a mosque who added a minaret (now gone). Today it's Orthodox again, and is dedicated to Crete's patron saint, St Titos, who was sent here from Jerusalem by St Paul to spread Christianity. Titos' skull which is now kept in a small side chapel to the left of the main entrance was taken by the Venetians in 1669, but returned to Heraklion in 1966. Around the square you’ll find a number of bars and cafes, perfect for a relaxing, cooling drink.
Agora - the daily central market
For many the Market Street is the heart of the Heraklion and where tourists and locals rub shoulders in the friendly tavernas and ouzeries serving simple but tasty food. The street is lined with shops and stalls spilling over with luscious local products. You will find everything from socks, shirts, herbs, fish, meat, fruit and vegetables, cheese and local thyme honey. Wander through the market and soak up the smells, sights and sounds and feel the buzz around you.
The City Walls
Take a stroll along the ancient Venetian Wall and discover some hidden treasures on the way. Heraklion is surrounded by a formidable medieval wall, which was used to protect it from enemies. Owing to this, the city enjoyed the reputation as a well-fortified state in the Mediterranean basin. It stood up to a siege from the Turks for 21 years, but was finally seized in 1669 after its betrayal by a Greek-Venetian engineer who informed the invaders of the walls' weaknesses at east and west bastions. It is possible now to walk along the top of these walls and enjoy a view over the city. You may reach the Grave of the Cretan writer Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957), where it is written: "I hope for nothing, I fear nothing; I am free"
The Venetians began construction of the city walls in 1462 and they took more than a century to complete. The walls are about 4km in length and of a triangular shape with seven bastions.
The walls proved their worth when the city was besieged for 21 years, one of the longest sieges in history. The final surrender came in 1669 after 100,000 Turks and 30,000 Venetians had been killed.
View from the City Walls
View from the City Walls 2
The Jesus Gate
Just "Zorba the Greek," and "The Last Temptation of Christ" would be enough to make the Cretan author Kazantzakis (1883-1957) both well known and controversial. But he has written other books that deserve more attention. He narrowly missed winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1956 ( it is said by some that the Church just may have had something to do with that.) There are 2 rooms dedicated to him at the History Museum on Crete and a Museum dedicated to him not far from Iraklion.
His grave is on the Martinengo Bastion of the City Walls in Iraklion.
The history museum takes up were the Archaeology museum ended.
Starting from The early Christian era with much emphasis on the Venetian occupation and the Cretan war (1645-1669) which is illustrated by plans, maps and a highly detailed model of Candia (Heraklion as it was then named). There are rooms with pottery and other ceramics dating back 15 centuries and also the Altar and other finds from Gortys.
The struggle for Greek independence is illustrated by portraits, flags and weapons of revolutionaries. There is a reconstruction of the studies of Crete’s famous writer Nikos Kazantzákis (as well as extracts from his Diary and letters) and Emmanuel Tsouderós who was Greek prime minister at the time of the battle of Crete.
There is a large display about the German, Italian and Bulgarian occupation during the war and also a memorial to Cretan people that were shot by the Germans during the war and buried in mass graves.
Finishing off the exhibition is a large collection of Folk art and handicrafts including a mock up of an old Cretan house.
After visiting Agia Minas and Agia Ekaterinas we turned left along Ag Mina St heading for the Archaeological museum. It was very very hot and we came across the small Vitsentzou Kornarou square with a graffiti adorned fountain. My son stuck his head in it without caring what may be in the water as long as it was cool he was not bothered.
After getting to the end of 25th August St we turned right and walked down Leof kalorkerinou then turned left up a small side St to Agia Ekaterinis Square. We walked across the square and down the side of Agia Ekaterini which the guide book says is now a Theological Museum but was closed; we entered the much more impressive and very much larger Agios Minas Cathedral. Beautifully decorated, and with many fine Byzantine Icons.
At the top of 25th August St is El Velizelou Square (Lion Square) and the Morozini Fountain. It was built in 1628 by Francesco Morozini who was the Venetian Governor of the Island. A 16km long aqueduct was built to channel the water to it from Mt Giouchtas. It has 8 circular basins decorated with reliefs of Cherubs, Mermaids, Dolphins, nymphs and mythical creatures. Above the Lions (which are from the 14th c and were incorporated into the fountain when it was constructed) would have been a statue of Neptune.
The fountain works but is very rarely in operation and when we went it was being restored and so had a green net around it. Sort of spoiled the pictures but at least there are not loads of people sat around or on it.
There are some very nice looking cafe's here some of which specialize in Bhougatsa which is a flaky pastry filled with cheese or cream and then drizzled with honey. When we visited Iraklion again later in our holiday the nets had been removed from around the fountain.
Theotokopoulou (El Greco) square and Gardens (Iraklion) Near the top of 25th August St (Opposite the Loggia) is El Greco square and gardens where some nice looking cafe's spill out into the pedestrian area.
Just off 25th August St is the church of Agios Titos, a beautiful building, Byzantine in origin then rebuilt in the 16th century by the Venetians. The building was taken over by the Turks who converted it into a mosque and rebuilt it after the 1856 earthquake. It was renovated and re-consecrated by the Greek Orthodox Church in 1925. Fronted by a spacious square to the right side are some lovely gardens and the church bells which are situated outside the church like a garden ornament.
This Impressive fortress was built in the early 1500s and guarded the old port; it is unique for the impressive mass of its stone fortifications, its immensely thick walls and the views from its turret and roof. The restored interior looks just like a castle should. On the exterior are two carved relief’s of the Lion of St Mark which the Turks surprisingly left intact.
It was €2 to get in and it is open from 0800 to 1930 1st July to 31 October and 0900 to 1500 other times of the year (although I have heard they sometimes they open late and close early)
Walking from the bus station to the port you will see some huge vaulted buildings from the 16th c These are the Venetian Arsenals were ships of the Venetian Navel Fleet were once built, repaired and fitted for battle. The sea is now slightly further away and a road has been built them and the harbour. If you go to the History Museum there is an excellent model of how Heraklion used to look and you will see the port with the arsenals on that.
Walking along the harbour front you will notice an old steam train and an old boat on the side of the road leading up to the Port Authority building. The building houses the port police, Coast Guard and of course the Port Authority. It is a good place to take pictures or the harbour and the Venation fortress, There is also a very good and reasonably priced bar restaurant.
Heraklion is the biggest city in Crete, so dont forget to get a quick tour of the city.
Landmarks to check out are:
- Venetian Fortress and Tomb of Nikos Kazantzakis (Old Harbour)
- Cathedral of St. Minas
- Morosini Fountain (Lion's Fountain - Liondaria in Greek) / Plateia Venezelou Square
- Loggia - City Hall
- Handakos Street (pedestrian street) for shopping
- St.Titus Church
- St. Mark Basilica
- Chanioporta Gate
- Elefteria Square
Half a day to a day is enough. Take advantage of the beaches instead.