Heraklion is the largest urban center in Crete and the economic, commercial and scientific center of the island. As the myth goes, Heraklion was named after Idaios Hercules, the "father" of the Olympic Games.
During its 3,000 years of life, the city of Heraklion boasts a stormy history with main reference to the Minoans, fathers of the Cretans. According to archaeological excavations, the island was first inhabited in the Neolithic period and the first settlements in Heraklion region were located at Knossos, Phaistos and Katsambas.
Over the years and due to its strategic geopolitical position - southeastern Mediterranean basin connecting three continents - Crete was the target of many colonists such as the Achaeans, Dorians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Venetians, Turks and even pirates!
Taking a stroll around beautiful Heraklion, you will see for yourself the influences of these various peoples, notably the Venetians, mainly in the city architecture. But apart from its rich history, Heraklion is a lively city with more than 180,000 permanent residents, students and thousands of tourists who visit it throughout the year.
Its cozy hangouts, the beautiful Cretan traditions and delicious Cretan delicacies are just some of the reasons Heraklion is high in the preferences of tourists from around the world, even from Greece.
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The imposing church of Saint Minas was built in 1862 and symbolizes the gratitude of the people of Heraklion to the Saint for the protection offered to them during the period of the Turkish rule.
This is one of the largest temples in Greece whose builder was Athanasios Moussis, the architect who also underttok to built the church of Saint Titus and the barracks in Eleftherias Square, which today houses the Prefecture and the Courts of Heraklion.
What makes this building so important is the emotional involvement of the local people in its building. A newspaper of that time reported that during the construction of the temple, the committee which had undertaken the task did not have extra money for workers and so the students created a human chain to transport the necessary materials from the port of Heraklion to the church.
The Church of St. Minas is located in Kornarou Square with the small church of St. Minas, as it is called by the locals, in front. This small church was built in 1735, several years before the church of St. Minas to house the metropolis of Crete.
Next to them there is the Church of St. Catherine, another beautiful structure.
The church of St. Titos located in the center of Heraklion and is one of the most important monuments in the city center. According to the history, Saint Titus was a disciple of the Apostle Paul and the first bishop of Crete.
The history of the church begins in 961 AD when Nikiforos B Fokas - emperor of the Byzantine Empire drove the Arabs away from Crete and ordered to build the first orthodox church of St.Titos, to rekindle the Christian faith and tradition of the place.
The first church was located in the old capital, Gortys, which housed the metropolis of the island, before the transfer of the capital to Candia, today’s Heraklion. The skull of St Titus was translated, and the miraculous icon of Panaghia Mesopantitissa and other relics from the Church of Gortyn were transfered to this new church.
Several years later, in 1856, a great earthquake completely destroyed this magnificent church, which was rebuilt in its present form as an Ottoman mosque by architect Athanasios Mousis. He designed the orthodox church of St. Minas and the barracks in Eleftherias Square.
In 1920, the minaret of Saint Titos was demolished and today it operates under the orthodox dogma and is dedicated to equal-to-apostle Titos.
On St. Titos square, one can also admire the reservoirs of the 2nd Byzantine period which supplied Heraklion with water and date back to around 961 AD.
“Cretaquarium” or "Thalassocosmos" * is a unique research, education, culture and recreation park, which aims to promote and diffuse knowledge for the marine environment, revealing its uniqueness, organisms and ecosystems.
Covering 60 acres, with 32 tanks, 50 observation points and hundreds of marine species, Thalassokosmos constitutes a unique activity for the young and the old. There, you will have the opportunity to observe the life and "habits" of marine organisms through special cameras and get to know up the beautiful world of the Mediterranean.
While you are there, be sure to go for a walk by the Dinosauria Park **, where T-Rex (life-size!) & his friends welcome you in a specially designed space in which you can explore and learn all about the fascinating history of dinosaurs!
* With your Bonus Club cards, you have 25% discount on a membership card for Thalassocosmos, which offers free admission for one year and 20% discount at the aquarium restaurant and store.
** The Bonus Club members receive a 10% discount on entrance tickets for adults & children.
If you want to get to know everything about the Minoan civilization - the oldest European civilization - then a visit to the new Archaeological Museum of Heraklion in the city center is a must.
The recently renovated Museum is regarded as one of the most important museums in Europe and the most important in the type of artefacts it exhibits worldwide.
In its rooms you can admire exhibits that tell the whole story of Crete, from the Neolithic to the Roman period (over 5500 years).
Artefacts from Minoan palaces, houses, tombs and caves revive the rich culture of the Minoans and invite you to an educational journey through time.
The Historical Museum of Crete presents a comprehensive view of Cretan history from the early Christian times to the modern era. The initial aim of the museum was to collect and preserve the valuable archaeological, ethnographic and historical material deriving from the medieval and modern periods in Cretan history.
In its specially laid-out spaces (1,500 sq.m.) you can discover the history of Crete covering a period of 17 centuries.
Also, the neoclassical building of 1903, which today houses the museum is itself a historical relic, as it is classified as a historical monument.
• Introduction to the Museum
• Numismatic Collection
• Byzantine and Post-Byzantine art
• El Greco
• Ottoman and Modern period
• Second World War
• Nikos Kazantzakis
• Ethnographic Collection
Whatever you may have read or heard about the palace of Knossos, it certainly cannot be compared to what you will see during your visit. Indeed it is no coincidence that this monumental symbol attracts thousands of tourists from around the world.
It is a city built on the hill of Kefalas, which due to its strategic position - had access by land and sea- was the seat of the king of kings of ancient civilization, Minos.
With continuous life from the Neolithic period to the 5th AD century, the palace of Knossos boasts enormous cultural wealth to its guests, which is why it is one of the most important destinations of Heraklion. The myths of the Minotaur with the famous Labyrinth and Daedalus with Icarus are just some of the stories that will come alive before your eyes as you go around the site...
Koules or otherwise Castello a Mare or Rocca a Mare is the Venetian fortress (tower) that dominates the entrance to the Venetian harbor and its magnificence causes awe to visitors. The Venetians called it the "Sea Fortress" as it protected them from pirates and other sea travellers. It outer walls are 9 meters thick while the inner ones reach up to 3 meters thick.
Also, the name “Koules” comes from the Turkish Su Kulesi and is one of the most talked about sites of Heraklion and symbol of the city. It is said that in the basement of the tower, the Cretan rebels were held prisoners and tortured.
Today the building is occasionally used for art exhibitions and events, but you can visit Koules and admire its grandeur every day.
The Loggia is an architectural masterpiece of 1628, which in its time was the center of administrative and social life of the city of Heraklion. It is a Venetian monument, where the nobles, princes and feudal lords used to meet to take decisions on issues concerning the economic and commercial life of the region. It also functioned as a meeting place and entertainment site for the nobility of Crete.
Its name derives from the Italian "loggia", meaning "Gallery" and now houses the City Hall of Heraklion.
Taking a walk around the center of Heraklion it is difficult not to come across it as it is very near the Basilica of San Marco and the famous Lions.
The Museum of Natural History of Crete (NHMC) is a modern museum which operates under the auspices of the University of Crete and displays in its showrooms the special characteristics of nature in Crete and the Mediterranean.
The visitor can wander and learn more about the five basic components of the natural environment: Zoological, Botanical, Anthropological, Paleontological-Geological and Mineralogical.
What makes this museum so interesting and innovative is that it wants its guests to be more than just spectators. Through the original, three-dimensional, interactive exhibits, each visitor can participate and take note of what happens in nature, gaining an even more complete experience.
As you can see, a day out in the Natural History Museum of Crete will be interesting both for you and your children!
The Basilica of San Marco is one of the most important Venetian buildings - monuments in Heraklion. Today it houses the Municipal Gallery of the city, but in the past it was the temple where the Venetians showed their gratitude and love for their homeland.
True to its name, this temple was dedicated to the patron saint of Venice, Saint Mark (San Marco) and over the centuries it has remained standing imperious.
Its glory did not go unnoticed either during the Turkish occupation when it was converted into a mosque in honor of Defterdar Ahmet Pasha, who was in charge of the finances. The bell tower of the basilica was demolished and in its place was a minaret was erected, which after the liberation of the island was shattered by the locals in an effort to extinguish the unpleasant memories and the symbols of the Turkish occupation.
A visit to the Basilica of San Marco suffices to learn more about the history of Heraklion and discover up close the symbols and culture of 3rd different peoples.