Experience Heraklion - Crete, Greece

Enjoy Heraklion and our courses!

Heraklion is Crete’s largest urban center, the region’s capital, and the island’s economic center. The Minoan civilization, the first European civilization, flourished on this land 5000 years ago. The municipality of Heraklion currently has a population of around 150.000 people. Heraklion is located on the island’s north coast, about 80 kilometers from the town of Rethymnon and 135 kilometers from the city of Hania. Agios Nikolaos (60 km) and Sitia (60 km) are located to the east (130km).

It is a very dynamic and cosmopolitan town, especially in the summer when thousands of visitors can be seen shopping in the market or visiting museums and other places of interest. The city has also made remarkable progress in academic and technological fields over the last 20 years. It is strategically located in the southern Mediterranean Sea, connecting three continents and many different cultures.

Knossos Palace is one of Crete’s most popular tourist attractions.

It is about 5 kilometers south of Heraklion and is easily accessible by car or bus.

The palace was first built during the Neolithic period, but it expanded most significantly during the Minoan period.

Knossos was the Minoan civilization’s largest and most important palace. It was discovered in 1878 and fully excavated in 1930.

Visitors can now visit the ruins of this fascinating ancient palace and learn about its history and significance.

Tickets and prices are easily accessible online. Every year, over one million people visit the Knossos archaeological site.

When visiting Heraklion for the first time, visitors will discover a city that combines history with a bright future. You can walk through one of the most historically and socially fascinating cities on the Mediterranean, on streets free of traffic noise and rush hour. The city has opened up in so many ways, making it a place of exploration. These changes also bring harmony: between Heraklion’s traditionally warm, considerate people and the fine buildings that surround us, open public spaces, and views of the sea. Many landmarks tell the story of the city and the island that gave birth to gods, rebellion, and a place that inspires everyone who feels Crete’s spirit.

Today, Heraklion is caught between the fast-moving currents of regeneration and a strong desire to maintain ties to the past. Both of these strands define its personality. In the last century alone, we have seen huge changes in buildings and streets that reflect Crete’s changing fortunes, which can be easily followed. The city’s ‘old town’ areas, which date back to medieval times, now provide visitors with some fantastic walks in the heart of the city.

Koules and the Arsenals

Rocca a Mare, also known as Koules in Turkish, is the Venetian fortress that stands at the entrance to the city harbor.

It has a mixed history; for centuries, it, like the great city walls and ditches, was used to protect against invaders.

With its vast dark corridors and cells, the fortress also served as a prison for many Cretan rebels and those who violated the rules imposed by successive Crete occupiers.

The battlements of Koules, which is built on two levels, command a commanding view of Heraklion.

Looking back towards the city you will see the strong arches which housed boats under repair and were used as an arsenal for storing guns and gunpowder.

The greatest threat to the Venetian stronghold of Heraklion, or Candia, as it was named, was thought to come from the seaward side of the city, and indeed, many naval skirmishes were fought off this coast.

The view northward takes in the uninhabited island of Dia, where evidence of ancient Minoan settlement (approx. 2700-1450 BC) was found by the diver, Jacques Cousteau.

Boat trips can be booked from travel shops throughout central Heraklion, as can excursions to various places of interest.

25th of August Street

The car free 25 August St. is directly opposite the Old Harbour and extends to Lion Square. It takes its name from a massacre of ‘martyrs’ which occurred in 1898. This involved the killing of many Cretans and, crucially, British in this area, by the Turks, finally forcing the ‘Great Powers’ (Britain, France and Russia) to recognize Crete’s struggle. These events led eventually to the declaration of a Cretan State and, finally, unification with Greece in 1913. Old and modern buildings compete for space now on the street named to remember the 25th of August.

Walking up the short hill, and passing the shops and tourist offices, we reach St. Titus’ Cathedral. Saint Titus, a fellow traveller of Saint Paul, preached the gospel in Crete during Roman rule and was martyred in Gortyn, where a 7th Century basilica stands in his memory.

His church in Heraklion was built during the second Byzantine period, when it first served as the city’s cathedral. During Venetian rule, it housed the seat of the Catholic archbishop and was renovated in 1466, only to be ruined in a fire in 1544.

During the Turkish Occupation it served as a mosque and was called Vizier Tzami, when a minaret was added, now gone. The present-day structure is the result of further renovations after its almost entire destruction by a strong earthquake in 1856, and later work which followed in 1922.

The skull of St Titus was transferred here from Venice in 1956 and has since been kept in the church.

A little further and you discover the Venetian architecture of the Loggia which functioned as a club for the nobility to gather and relax.

The Loggia is a wonderful example of Venetian building, unmistakable with its semi-circular arches. It was built in the 16th century and was located in the Piazza dei Signori (Square of the Administrative Authorities).

Today, the Loggia, decorated with sculptured coat of arms, trophies and metopes, houses part of the town-hall of Heraklion.

The Loggia was awarded the Europa Nostra first prize in 1987 for the best renovated and preserved European monument of the year.

 St. Mark’s Basilica, almost next door, is now the Municipal Art Gallery and often host to art and crafts exhibitions, almost always open to visit.

Built in 1239 in the Piazza delle Biade (Square of Blades), it was at one time the Cathedral of Crete.

The Basilica belonged to the reigning Duke, eventually becoming his burial place.

In May 2006, the Basillica was host to the First International Conference on Ethics and Politics, featuring speakers from all over the world.

You will welcome its cool, dignified interior and may begin to feel the great age of this city in its venerable walls.

Liondaria, or Lion Square

This is the heart of Heraklion where tourists and locals share the small space around the fountain, exchanging glances and perhaps a few words. Business and pleasure combine here, and it is the place to meet for whatever purpose or no purpose. To give some background, it might also be called the Morosini Fountain or, Liondaria in Greek or, more properly, Plateia Eleftheriou Venizelou. The decorated fountain is composed of eight cisterns and decorated with stone relief, depicting figures of Greek mythology, Nymphs, Tritons, sea monsters and dolphins, while the main basin is supported by four sitting lions balancing a circular bowl on their heads. Francesco Morosini, the Italian governor, had it built to commemorate Venetian success in bringing much needed water, through a brilliantly executed viaduct system from Mount Youchtas, to the centre of the city. Morosini was still in charge when the Turks captured the city.

No need to be hungry here. The bougatsas, or vanilla cream pies, are great for breakfast, and there are plenty of omelet, crepe and souvlaki places around. You will always be given water when you sit to order something, and might well be charmed into sitting for quite a while in any of these worthwhile establishments. On the far side of the square, you might prefer the renewed Handakos Street, now closed to traffic. Handakos, a busy thoroughfare since antiquity, is an attractive place to walk, shop or rest.