About Crete (Heraklion)

The largest Cretan province, Heraklion is the birthplace of the Minoan civilisation, the first in Europe. Founded in 824, the city of Hercules gave the world some of its most significant artists and writers, including El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos), Nobel Prize-winning poet Odysseas Elytis and novelist Nikos Kazantzakis, whose Zorba The Greek and The Last Temptation of Christ became legendary films. His grave can be found within the city’s Venetian walls, near the Martinego Fort. Heraklion was one of the major harbours of the Venetian empire, and the city offers myriad monuments of Venetian art and architecture.

Highlights


The Historical Museum of Crete – Crete’s Most Famous Sons

Due north of St Minas, along the harbour, the Historical Museum of Crete showcases the history of this incredible island with art and artefacts from every period of the island’s history, including works by El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos), examples from the legendary Cretan School of Iconography, and Cretan folk art. Book lovers will enjoy two full rooms of items that once belonged to Nikos Kazantzakis. There is also a model of a traditional Cretan house.

The Heraklion Archaeological Museum – Twenty Galleries of Treasures

Among so many incredible attractions within the Venetian walls of this cosmopolitan city, the Heraklion Archaeological Museum still manages to dazzle visitors with its majestic exhibition of invaluable treasures from the Ancient, Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods of Crete in 20 galleries – its collection of Minoan art and artefacts is considered the finest in the world. A tour of this wonderful museum brings the history of this singular island to life. Of course, among all these architectural treasures and rich cultural institutions, you’ll find plenty of lively cafes, outstanding restaurants and unique shops.

The Loggia – Winner of the Europa Nostra First Prize For Restoration

At the centre of the city, in the Piazza dei Signori (Square of the Lords), is the elegant Loggia, a nobleman’s club, which was completed in 1628 by Francesco Morosini, who also built the nearby Lions Fountain. The Loggia received the first prize Europa Nostra award for the best restored and preserved monument in 1987. Today, it houses the Municipal Court and other municipal services departments.

St Mark’s Basilica – The Cathedral of Crete

St Mark’s Basilica, constructed by the Venetians in 1239 to honour St Mark, the protector of Venice, was built in what was known as the Piazza delle Biade (Granary Square). The ‘Cathedral of Crete’ was the property of the Duke of the island, and it was here that Crete’s Venetian lords were buried. The Cathedral of Crete survived a number of intense earthquakes and its occupation during the Ottoman period, when it was converted into a mosque, replete with a minaret where its bell tower had been – the minaret was hurriedly torn down by the citizens of Heraklion after the island was liberated. Today, the cathedral is home to the city’s Municipal Gallery.

Morosini Fountain – Fountain of Lions

That quiet roar you hear is the Fountain of Lions. Francesco Morosini built the fountain, also known as Morosini Fountain, in the 17th century, and its bas relief ornamentation is inspired by mythology and marine life. Thus, dolphins and mythological sea demons swim across its exterior beneath its mighty lions. The fountain was built to provide the people of Heraklion with water, and its eight pools, each accommodating five people, made it possible for up to 40 people at a time to draw water. It was once crowned by a statue of Poseidon.

St Titos – Built in Honour of the First Bishop of Crete

A few short blocks northeast stands the Church of Agios Titos. According to theology, St Titos was a student of St Paul’s and the first bishop of Crete. His church was built in Gorthyna, the old capital of Crete, but it was destroyed in an earthquake. After the Arabs moved the capital to Heraklion in 828, the church was rebuilt at its current location.

Excursions


Minoan Palace of Knossos – 1st European Civilisation

Duration: 4 hrs
  • Knossos
Knossos

Experience the Cretan Countryside & Lifestyle

Duration: 3.5 hrs
  • Stironas
  • Raki Distillery (Tasting and Lunch)

Venetian Heraklion and the Unique Archaeological Museum

Duration: 3.5 hrs
  • Koules
  • Loggia
  • The Fountain of Lions
  • St Mark’s Basilica
  • St Titos
  • St Minas
  • Monastery of St Catherine
  • The Heraklion Archaeological Museum