Heraklio - The Gateway of Crete

Heraklion is the largest city of Crete and the island’s capital. Its history properly begins in post-Minoan times. Today it is a modern, lively town and an important economic centre. It preserves traces of its long history, and the conquerors who passed through.



 This, the biggest city on Crete and its capital, has a history running back for thousands of years, and still retains the old (but post-Minoan) name of Heraklion – albeit with others for some long spells.



oday Heraklion is a large modern city, cosmopolitan and busy the year round; an important economic centre with a rich cultural life.As in any big city, and in addition to the museums, attractions and other tourist draws, it is worth your while  to enter into Heraklion’s rhythms of being: to saunter along the pedestrian streets of its historic centre, to lose yourself in the alleyways of the Old Town, to take your ease in the coffee bars and raki-joints that area part of Herakliot culture.




In recent years, many streets around the centre have become pedestrianized and so link the major monuments of the city. One can go about more readily, free from the rush of traffic. With the development of the modern beach front, Heraklion once again begins to turn its face to the sea.

  The coast road, running west from Nea Halicarnassus in the east, passes through the Venetian harbour on to the PanCretan stadium: it has some bicycle lanes, and also on it major monuments recently restored (such as the church of Peter and Paul). It thus offers many chances for a pleasant stroll on foot or a bike-ride.



Moreover, in the summer, it is worth attending the numerous cultural events held in the moat of the Venetian walls (the out-door theatres of Nikos Kazantzakis, and of Manolis Hatzidakis), or put on in the recently renovated gates and galleries of the fortification walls that have been converted into exhibition spaces.

A walk in the city of Heraklio

Natural disasters, the bombings of WW II, regrettable choices of the local authorities of the past (and not so distant past!), as well as the rapid development of the next decades – all have been responsible for the loss of many of the city’s monuments and to a great degree the fabric of the Old Town

  Yet, even so, the visitor will have much to see, especially in the historical centre. The old co-exists with the new: the basic structure of the historical heart has remained unchanged for centuries.



Making a start at the Lion Square, where the  Morosini Fountain  stands in splendour, the visitor may wander around what was the heart of the Venetian administrative area. A few yards off is the  Basilica of Aghios Marcos, dedicated to the patron saint of Venice. Next, on to the Loggia,one of the most splendid Venetian edifices on the island, where met the Club of the Venetian nobles; and then down the road  (25th August Street) with its imposing Neo-Classical buildings and the Square of  Aghios Titos with the church of the same name – an unusual ecclesiastical structure (Byzantine basilica, converted to Catholic church, and then mosque. Rebuilt as mosque, and now an Orthodox church again). At the bottom of the street we reach the Venetian harbour, over which the  Koule has stood watch down the centuries. Here too are located the shipsheds, the Venetian arsenals.



The splendours do not end there! The  Venetian walls the largest defensive works in the Eastern Mediterranean, cry out for exploration. Indeed several of the gates, galleries and ramparts receive visitors on a considerable scale and host cultural exhibitions, especially in the summer months.




  Naturally one must not miss out on the city’s museums, which are counted amongst the most worthwhile in the country. The  Archaeological Museum in Heraklion  (by Freedom Square) holds all the Minoan treasures from the Palaces and other revered Minoan sites that have been excavated. Amongst them, you will see the frescoes from the Palace of Knossos, the famous earring with the two bees on a comb or flower-head from Malia, the Festos Disc, the stone vase in the shape of a bull’s head and so on .. and on.

The Historical Museum  (down by and west of the Venetian harbour) houses objects that chronicle the age-long history of the island as well as the personal belongings of Nikos Kazantzakis and two famous paintings by El Greco.

Another important museum of the city is that of Natural History  (a little to the west of the Historical Museum): it is located in a historic industrial building on the seafront promenade. It covers the rich fauna and floral of Crete and of the Mediterranean generally: there are several interactive exhibits, a room in which to experience earthquakes, and a large and effective section for children.




A little outside the city are two other major attractions. The Palace of Knossos  is one of the most popular archaeological sites in Greece (after the Acropolis in Athens): it gives a unique chance to appreciate the Minoan way of life. Again, and further off to the east at Gouves, is to be found the Cretaquarium, where one can see close-up sea creatures and plants – including rare species, such as the loggerhead turtles (Karetta karetta).



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Chania - The Jewel of Crete

 Chania, or ‘Venice in the East’, is the second biggest city in Crete, built on the site of old Kydonia

The distinctive colour of the old town with all that it has inherited from earlier manifestations, the iconic Venetian harbour and the unique architecture have together established Chania as one of the most popular tourist destinations on the island.



Chania is built on the site of Kydonia, an ancient city that according to legend was founded in prehistoric times by Kydones, a son of Hermes or Apollo. Homer described the town as ‘important’ in Crete.




Chania has managed to keep its historic appearance and its authentic ‘colour’ in balance with the strong growth of the recent years. It is one of the most beautiful cities in Greece – rightly named ‘Venice in the East’, keeping alive the imprint of the various cultures that have passed through down the centuries.

In recent decades, Chania has emerged as one of the fastest growing tourist centres on Crete. Especially during the summer the Venetian harbour and the narrow lanes of the Old Town are swamped by visitors from all round the globe.


At the same time, cultural activities reach a peak with the hosting of sundry festivals and events in the renovated historical buildings, such as the impressive Moro shipyards.

But it remains a living city beyond the limits of the tourist season. The numerous student population and the active local groups continue the long intellectual and spiritual heritage of Chania to this very day.

A walk in the city of Chania

A walk here would certainly pass through the historical quarters of the Old Town, which are made up of individual residential areas, each with its own particular character and architecture.


On the way we will see details and structures representative of the Venetian, Ottoman and local building styles, Neo-Classical houses, churches, squares and so on.


  Starting at the west end of the Venetian harbour, we can admire the view from the  Firka fort, and then discover the stone-paved streets of the leading Christian families at Topana – with their unusual and multicultural forms. Next we pass through the lovely Jewish quarter and arrive at Venizelos Square – the meeting point of the Chaniots and with its historical resonance as it was here that Venizelos made his speeches.

We continue down Halidon Street –  past the  Archaeological Museum , and the church of Aghios Francesco, and stop to pay our respects at the  Panagia Trimartyri  –  the main church of Chania.
Now we turn east into Splantzia, a predominately Turkish neighbourhood, taking Srydlof Street behind the Trimartyri church, where are the famous Bootmakers shops




  Keeping on towards Splantzia, we pass behind the impressive cruciform structure of the Municipal Market, one of the busiest spots in the town with its colours and smells
Arriving at Splantzia, one can still see today the plane tree where Christians were hung by the Turks, and the Venetian church of Aghios Rocco. Then we proceed towards the sea, to visit the dockyards and Grand Arsenal

A little further on we will encounter one of the most iconic structures in Chania – the Giali Tzami – or mosque: the first to be built in Crete, its name means the Mosque on the Strand. Today it hosts various exhibitions.




Opposite us looms the lighthouse – the most photographed object in Chania, as we continue our stroll along the colourful  Venetian harbour always teeming with life. Once more we hit the paved lanes – in search of ‘new’ corners with their unusual mixes of architecture – a sure sign of the long history the city has seen.




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