HERAKLION

"Heraklion is the capital and largest city of Crete. It has a population of 173,450 inhabitants, an industrial area and one of the busiest airports (Nikos Kazantzakis Airport) and ports in Greece"

HISTORY

Heraklion is the 5th largest city in Greece. Near the city there are settlements from the Neolithic Period. Even though there are just a few findings to prove it, it is believed that the city was the port of the ancient city of Knossos. The Saracens occupied the city in 824 AD and renamed it "El Khandak" (Fort of the Dyke), when they dug the big dyke around the city.

The city was re-occupied by the Byzantine Empire in 961 AD after numerous failed efforts. Two hundred years later the Empire was dismantled by the Crusaders that took over, and the Cretan government was given to the Venetians for 1.000 silver coins.

During the Venetian occupation arts flourished and "Candia", as the city was named by the Venetians, became the center of literature and arts. Many intellectuals and artists found refuge in Candia after the fall of Constantinople in 1453.

The Venetians started the construction of the city's fortification in 1462 and they needed more than a century to complete it. The walls had a total length of over 4 kilometres. They had a triangular shape and 7 bastions. The Venetians also built the port and many other buildings of magnificent architecture.

The strategic importance of the fortification was proved during the city's occupation. The city's occupation by the Turks lasted 21 years and was one of the longest in history. The final surrender was in 1669 after 100.000 Turkish and 30.000 Venetian casualties.

During the Turkish occupation the Cretans rebelled against the compulsory conversion to the Islamic faith. From 1820 onwards, a continuous guerilla / partisan warfare was carried out against the Turks.

Heraklion's population was increased after 1913, when Crete was unified with motherland Greece. Due to her strategic location, the city became a target for the German invasion forces in 1941. The German bombardment during the Battle of Crete caused great destruction to the city and after the war she was rebuilt to a great extent.

Initially, Crete's capital was the city of Chania. The administrative center of Crete was transferred to Heraklion in 1971.

 

SIGHTSEEING

Coming to Heraklion for the first time, the visitor nowadays may be somewhat surprised by the changes that are taking place in Crete's capital city; Heraklion is celebrating its rich history and moving onwards to a future full of potential.

Where, at one time, the number of cars in the city centre would have made walking difficult, you will now find large sections of the city centre clear of traffic. You can enjoy walking in one of the most historically and socially fascinating cities facing the Mediterranean, on streets free from traffic noise and rush. The city has opened up in so many ways, making the city a place of discovery. These changes bring a harmony too; between the traditionally warm, considerate people of Heraklion, and the fine buildings that surround us, the open public spaces and views over the ocean. Many landmarks tell their story about the city and the island that gave birth to gods, to rebellion, and to a place that inspires everyone who feels the spirit of Crete.

Heraklion today lies between the fast moving currents of regeneration and a deep desire to maintain links with a past. Both these strands define its character. In the last hundred years alone, we have seen huge changes, which can be quite easily followed, in buildings and streets that reflect the changing fortunes of Crete. The ‘old town' areas of the city, established from mediaeval times, now offer visitors some fantastic walks in the heart of the city.

If you begin a walk around Heraklion, starting at the fishing harbour close to the modern port, what will strike you first is the Venetian fortress at the harbour gate. The fortress was originally built by the Venetians and called Rocca al Mare, but is now known by its Turkish name, Koules. It has a mixed history; for centuries it was used as protection against invaders, as were the great city walls and ditches. These are among the longest city walls in Europe.

With its huge dark hallways and cells, the fortress was also a prison to many Cretan rebels and those who broke the rules imposed by successive occupying forces of Crete. Koules is built on two tiers and offers a commanding view of Heraklion from the battlements. Nowadays, the harbour itself is home to brightly coloured fishing boats and busy tavernas selling fresh fish.

 

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