Heraklion on the northern coast of Crete, is the capital of this marvellous land since a few years, taking away this privilege to the nearby Hania (Chania). In fact, in the past this city was the most important fortress in the eastern Mediterranean. Heraklion was however also known as a strategic place, since it was the harbor of the ancient city of Knossos.
Since 1971, when it became the capital Heraklion, both the city and the port have become increasingly important and crowded. The population has increased a lot and that’s why all the most modern part of the city is still growing. The offer in the tourism sector has also “modernized” and has become particularly attractive.
Photo CC-BY-SA 3.0 Beemwej
In the port ferries and large cruise ships (click here) arrive daily, pouring into cities their cargo of tourists eager to discover all the beauties of Heraklion. When you arrive in a new place, it is common to wonder: Who knows if the leaflets seen in travel agency or the images seen on the internet are truthful? But here, in Heraklion, you can be reassured and there will be no disappointment. The sea is really clear, the beaches are truly heavenly, the old town is no doubt full of charm.
We start our virtual tour from the town: it is surrounded by the defensive walls built by the Venetians and it is 4.5 km long and 18 m high well. In the South of the walls there is BASTION MARTINENGO. La Porta KENOURGIA dates back to 1587 and, in the North you can find the Porta of Pandokrator.
The Castle or Rocca a Mare, as the Venetians used to call it, was instead called “Megalo Koule” by the Turks, and now it is known as Koules. The castle was originally built by the Venetians in 1500 and also served as a prison. Over the years there have been several war events with its consequent partial destruction. The Koules was restored and nowadays dominates again the harbor; from the towers you have a fantastic view of the harbor and the city together. In front of the castle there is the Arsenal where Venetians ships used to rest before sailing the seas in search of new conquests – in fact the Arsenal was built to repair broken or damaged ships.
The Venetians have bequeathed many buildings and palaces, one of the best and most sensational is definitely the VENETIAN LODGE, dating back to 1626, which is located in Via 25 Angoustou, a street leading from the center to the old port.
On the same street there is the Cathedral S.TITO “AGIOS TITOS”, dedicated to the saint who was the first bishop of Crete and which is still highly revered.
Via 25 Angoustou leads also to PLATIA VENIZELOU, also called Piazza dei Leoni. Here the fun reaches its toll, as all around the square there are bars, cafes and restaurants; at the center of the square stands the FONTANA MOROSINI from 1628, with pretty mythological figures.
Photo CC-BY-SA 3.0 Moonik
From the square you can see a faithful reproduction of the San Marco bell tower in Venice. This is the Basilica of St. Mark’s bell tower, which was originally a cathedral built in 1239 by the Venetians. Today it also houses the Municipal Art Gallery.
Continuing you reach a pretty shopping street, with various craft shops of handicrafts, and you get to Kornarou Square, where you can admire another fountain of 1588, the FONTANA BEMBO.
Even the exclusive and chic VIA DEDHALOU is very animated with tourists who stroll around looking at the windows of the most elegant shops.
Square ELEFTHERIAS (Freedom Square) is the main square of Heraklion. Near the square there is the ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM which houses artifacts of various archeological sites: Knossos, Archanes, Phaestos, Zakros with an amazing, beautiful hall of Frescoes.
Speaking about the KNOSSOS archaeological site, which is located just 5 km from Heraklion, it goes back to the Bronze Age and is an important witness of the Minoan civilization. The city was shaped like a maze (the legend of the Minotaur and Theseus tells precisely about the labyrinth of Daedalus) and you can still see part of the Palace of King MINOS.
On the road to Knossos is the MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY of Crete, which offers a botanical garden with various species of flora and fauna coming from the island of Crete.
In the suburbs there are many, beautiful, small fishing villages but also in the inner area, the shepherds vilage (the goat and sheep cheeses are highly valued here). If you have time it is worth making a trip to discover them, because the distance from Heraklion is minimal, and you can safely use public transport to get there. It also quick to get to Hania (Chania), the other major city of Crete.
The Heraklion beaches are mostly sandy, beaches of fine white sand; they are generally equipped for tourism. You can however also find free beaches and a little wilder seaside. There are also stretches of cliffs by this stunning sea landscape.
5 km away from the center there is the AMOUDARA Beach, a pretty long beach. There is also a free beach in the area. You can follow windsurfing courses here.
One of the most crowded beaches is Hersonnisos, located on the east coast of the city.
To the west there is the wild coast with the beaches of AGIA PELAGIA (here there is also a monastery) and LUGARIA.
In the Gulf of MASSARA there is the beach MATALA; here the sand alongside the cliff where there are also the prehistoric caves.
At 15 km from Heraklion you can find a colorful and interesting aquarium, THLASSOCOSMOS, that reproduces the marine world of the Mediterranean. Here adults and children can enjoy more than 200 marine species.
Even the most demanding tourists will be attracted by the city of Heraklion, but the most important gift will be, without any doubt, the wonderful welcome of the locals!