The Archaeological Museum of Heraklio is one of the most famous museum in Greece. It was established in the 19th century by the "Pro-Education Society of Heraklio" and is housed in a building constructed in 1937. The museum's twenty rooms exhibit significant archaeological finds from around the island, Phaestos, Knossos, Agia Triada and Archanes, all dated back to the Neo-Lithic- Roman Period. Here, one can admire big jars, domestic items, jewels, statues, works of gold and silver, pots, etc., thus gathering a multitude of information concerning the island's history and civilization.
The archaeological site of Agia Triada is located 63 km south-west of Heraklio. It was named after the nearby 14th-century church and a village which was situated there until 1897, when it was destroyed by the Turks. In the early 1920s, the Italian School performed excavations in the area, which brought to light a Minoan palace of great archaeological importance. Historians claim that it was built upon the ruins of a 1600 BC settlement, ruined by a fire in 1450 - 1400 BC, only to be re-build anew. The structure includes storage-rooms, the royal chambers, the altar and many murals. As the ruins of a slate-paved road, starting here and ending at Phaestos, indicates, this palace probably served as the royal summer residence. Excavations in the surrounding area have cast light upon arched tombs (3rd and 2nd millennium BC), the chapel of St. George, with beautiful 14th-century frescoes, as well as a wealth of items, like seals, pottery and coins, which can be seen at the Archaeological Museum of Heraklio.
The archaeological site of Gortys is located 46 km south-west of Heraklio. During the ancient years, here stood one of the most prominent cities in Crete. The city, is said to have first been inhabited during the Minoan Era (16th century BC). After Gortys occupied Phaestos, in the 3rd century BC, the city acquired two harbours, Levina and Matala and thrived. Excavations in the area offer a wealth of information about the city's history. The most exquisite of the finds is the famous "Laws of Gortys" (6th-5th century BC) which is also noted in Plato's "Law" and is an important sources of historic facts. During the Roman and Byzantine Era, the city retained its status as, in contrast to its rival, Knossos, sided with the invading Romans. The city's population rose to 200,000 inhabitants and it was declared the capital of the island. The city of Gortys thrived until 828 AD, when the Saracens destroyed it. Among the finds of Gortys, one can admire ruins of the Basilica of St Titus (6th century AD) which was dedicated to Titus, the island's first bishop. Other significant finds are the acropolis, the concave theatre, the ancient stadium (2nd century BC), the temple of Pythios Apollo (7th century BC), the temple of Isis and Serapes, the temple of Asklipios, the Spa, the Odeum (1st century BC), where the "Laws of Gortys" were built, and Praetorium, the seat of the Roman governor (2nd century BC). Behind the Odeum stands the plane- tree where, according to mythology, the sons of Zeus and Europe were born: Radamanthys, Sarpedon and Minos. Most of the finds are exhibited at the local archaeological museum.
The archaeological site of Knossos is just 5 km away from Heraklio and is considered as the most significant site of the island. Excavations in the area began in 1878 by the local archaeologist, Minos Kalokerinos, and continued by English, Sir Arthur Evans, in 1900. According to historians, the area was first inhabited in the Neolithic Period (6000 BC) and began a great civilisation. The city stretched around the famous Minoan Palace, first erected in the Neolithic Period, underwent a series of renovations and took its final form after a strong earthquake, in 1600 BC). Many buildings were later erected around the palace and the population of Knossos rose to approximately 100,000 inhabitants. The city’s harbours were Amnissos and Heraklio. This was the leading city of Crete, a fact which caused an on-going rivalry between Knossos and its neighbours, Gortys and Littos. The decline of the city began after a strong earthquake in 1450 BC, believed to have been caused by the volcanic eruption in Thera, which caused severe damage throughout the area. The most imposing building at Knossos is the palace of Minos, which covered an area of 20,000 square meters, had 1,400 rooms and in some parts rose five-floors high. In the interior, there are murals of unique beauty and artistry, a tell tale of the city's great prosperity. Other buildings, brought to light by excavations, are the ancient theatre, the South House, the Royal Mansion, the Small Palace, the Priest's Home, the Caravan Sarai or, Guesthouse, the Royal Tomb-Altar and the House of Dionysus. Excavations in the surrounding area revealed Minoan tombs and many archaeological finds, such as worshipping items and household items, many of which are kept at the Archaeological Museum of Heraklio.
The archaeological site of Malia is located about 36 km east of Heraklio. Excavations in the area began in 1915 by the archaeologist J. Hatzidakis and continued in 1922 by the French School of Archaeology. One of the findings was a 1900 BC palace which was destroyed twice, in 1700 and 1450 BC, when a new palace was built, covering an area of 12,000 square meters. The palace of Malia was the third most important palace in Crete, next to the palaces of Knossos and Phaestos. The surrounding city was a significant commercial and financial centre, at that time. The palace structure includes storage-rooms, the altar, the yard, the ceremonial chamber, workshops etc., while around it there are traces of an ancient settlement and burial grounds of the Late Palace Period. Excavations in the area unearthed a variety of household utensils and tools which are exhibited at the Archaeological Museum of Heraklio.
Phaestos, located 60 km south-west of Heraklio, was one of the island's most prominent cities and the dominant city in Messara Valley. According to mythology, this city's King was Radamanthys, the brother of Minos and son of Zeus. The area had been inhabited since the Neolithic Period (3000 BC) and in its prime had two harbours, Matala and Knossos, with great commercial and financial activity. The town thrived until the 2nd century BC, when its rival, the city Gortys, destroyed it. Excavations in the area were conducted in 1900 by the Italian School of Archaeology and brought to light an imposing palace which was ruined in 1700 BC. A new palace was re-built on the same location, covering an area of 18,000 square meters. In 1450 BC, probably due to the volcanic eruption in Thera, the new palace was also destroyed. Today, one can see the remains of the storage-rooms, the altar, small reservoirs, workshops and the royal quarters. A number of archaeological finds was unearthed during the excavations at Phaestos, the most important of all being the disc of Phaestos, exhibited today at the Archaeological Museum of Heraklio.
The Bembo fountain, in the centre of Heraklio, at Kornarou square, is the oldest fountain in town. The fountain was built in 1588 by Venetian architect Zuanne Bembo, whose name it took. It is decorated with beautiful sculptures, columns, coats-of-arms of Venetian families and a headless male statue, brought here from Ierapetra. In the years of the Turkish Occupation, the Arabs of Chandax (Heraklio) believed that the statue had supernatural powers and every May, they organised religious rituals in its honour.
The Castle of Heraklio, known also as "Megalo Koule" stands at the entrance of the venetian harbour and is said to be the best preserved sample of the city's venetian fortification. It was originally built by the Venetians in the 13th century and was destroyed by two strong earthquakes, in 1303 and 1500. It was rebuilt in 1523 - 1540 and was named "Rocca al Mare". The Castle grounds housed the port authorities, prisons and storage-rooms. When Heraklio came under Turkish Occupation, mosques were built in the yard and the castle was renamed "Koule". Today, one can see a large part of the building, part of a mosque, signs of Morozini and the lions of St Marcus, symbols of the Venetian Rule. From the Castle, the view of the city and the port is impressive.
The cave of Ilithia is about 1 km away from Amnissos. Ilithia, mentioned in Homer, was the goddess of birth. The cave was her main place of worship. It was discovered late last century, and the locals called it "Neraidospilios" (the cave of the fairies). It is 60 m long and 9-12 m wide. As excavations indicate, it served as a place of worship from the Neolithic Period to the 5th century BC. On the centre of the cave stands the remarkable rectangular altar surrounded by two cylindrical stalagmites which have human shape.
The church of Ag.Titus - Heraklio's patron saint - is located in the centre of Heraklio. It was built by the Byzantines and during the second Byzantine period it served as the city's cathedral. During the Venetian Rule, it housed the seat of the Latin archbishop and became a catholic cathedral. It was renovated in 1466, only to be ruined while in a fire, in 1544. During the Turkish Occupation it served as a mosque and was called "Vizier Tzami". The present-day structure is the result of renovations, in 1872 and 1922, after its entire destruction by a strong earthquake in 1856. The skull of St Titus was transferred here from Venice, in 1956, and has since been kept in the church.
The convent of Kera Kardiotissa is located in the village of Kera, 43 km south- east of Heraklio. It is dedicated to the Birth of Virgin Mary and celebrated on September 8th. The convent is built in an area (630 m. altitude) full of plane-trees and walnut-trees; the view from here is breath-taking. The convent building is a complex of four separate structures, the oldest being the church. Inside the church, one can admire the remarkable frescoes (14th century) and Byzantine icons, among which is the miraculous icon of Panagia Alissodemeni (Virgin Mary in chains). According to legend, the icon was stolen twice to be sent to Constantinopole but, although it was chained on a big column - which now stands in the convent's yard - it came back to its original place.
Crete's Historic and Ethnologic Museum was established in 1952 by the Society of Cretan Historic Studies and Andreas Kalokerinos. It is housed in the three-storey house of Kalokerinos family, at Heraklio. Exhibits include a multitude of objects from the Palaeo-Christian, Medieval and Modern Era, depicting the island's glorious history. Here, one can admire beautiful sculpts, chalcographies, icons and ecclesiastic heirlooms, folk art objects, woven-fabrics and embroideries traditional cretan costumes and jewels, daily life tensils, historic documents, manuscripts, books and maps, local traditional instruments, photographs and portraits. There are also two separate rooms exhibiting personal things and manuscripts of the famous Greek author Nikos Kazantzakis and the Leader of Crete's Battle, Emmanuel Tsouderos.
Loggia, a classic sample of Venetian architecture, is located in the centre of Heraklio. It is a four-side building with semi-circular arches, built in the 16th century, and used as a place of gathering and recreation by the local nobility. During the Turkish Occupation it was turned into a mosque and a minaret was erected. Today, Loggia houses the Town-hall of Heraklio.
The Lychnostatis Museum is situated at Limenas Hersonissou and was established in 1992 by professor of ofthalmology and collector -laographer Georgios Markakis. It is a remarkable Folk and Nature Museum of tremendous interest. Here, one is informed about the island's natural environment and folk tradition. Exhibits include representations of a traditional cretan house, a church, a windmill, a field, a workshop of weaving and natural paint, a workshop proccessing aromatic plants etc. Here, one can also tour the small outdoor exhibition of Cretan raw materials, the exhibition concerning Cretan folk artists, the outdoor theatre and the auditorium which hosts significant cultural events, seminars and lectures.
The monastery of Varsamonero is located near the village of Voriza. Originally, it was a head-cloister, belonging to the Monastery of Vrontissio. Today, in the ruins of the monastery, one can still admire the three- aisled church of Agios Fanourios. The building’s architecture is famous, with two parallel aisles and another one vertical, built on different dates. The most beautiful parts of the monastery are the church's frescoes (14th-15th century) and the icons, most of which were transferred to the Museum of Agia Ekaterini, in Heraklio.
The monastery of Vrontissio was built in the 14th century. It was a significant centre of monastic life and spiritual guidance, particularly during the last years of the Venetian Rule. The church, as well as a significant part of the cells, were destroyed in 1866, during the Greek War of Independence. Today, the church is decorated with frescoes dating back to the 14th century. At the monastery's entrance, there is a marble fountain (15th century), where one can admire carved images of God, Adam and Eve, as well as four figures, symbolising the rivers Heaven.
The Morozini fountain is situated at the centre of Heraklio, at Venizelou square. It was built in 1628, on the location where once stood a 14th-century fountain, by the Venetian commander, Francesco Morozini, whose name it took. It is surrounded by eight cisterns and decorated with depicting figures of Greek mythology, Nymphs, Tritons, sea monsters and dolphins, while the main basin is supported by four lions. It is said that in the fountain's centre stood an impressive statue of Neptune, holding a trident. The most popular version claims that the statue was destroyed by an earthquake during the Turkish Occupation.
One of the most significant Greek novelists, poets, drama writers and scholars. He was born in Heraklio, in 1833 and studied Law in Athens and Philosophy in Paris. He was influenced by the theories of Ion Dragoumis and Eleftherios Venizelos. His trip to Russia in 1919, acting as General Manager of the Ministry of Welfare, was the introduction of his exciting odyssey: Vienna, Berlin, Italy, Crete, Russia, Cyprus, Spain, Egypt, mount Sinah, Goethesgub (Tsechoslovakia), Nice (France). He died in Germany, in 1957. His first novel was "The Snake and the Lilly", in 1906, followed by "Foreman", "Ascetic Life", the translation of Dante's "Divina Comedy". His prime was evident by the works "Life of Alexis Zorbas", "Christ is crossed again", "Captain Michael", "The Last Temptation", "God's Poor Man" and "Reference to Greco".
The Walls of Heraklio constitute the most significant work of fortification on the island. Their construction began in 1462 and was based on the design of the architect Michele Sanmicheli. The construction took almost a century to complete, while the supplementary work for their expansion lasted until the 17th century. The exterior of the walls (4,500 m long, 60 m wide), enclosing a triangular area, is surrounded by a deep trench. Along the walls one can see the carved lions of St Marcus, parts of the outposts and fortresses of all shapes, the largest being the one north- east, the Agios Demetrios. The Walls had four gates, the Gate of Molos, the Gate of Agios Georgios, or Porta Lazaretou, the Gate of Jesus, or Kenourgia Porta and the Gate of Pandokrator, or Panigra. Along the walls there were other smaller towers, such as the Tower of Leon (Kastelli or Megalo Koule) and Mikro Koule. From the entire fortress unit, today one can only see seven barracks, the most prominent being the imposing barrack of Martinego, and two gates, the Gate of Pandokrator - decorated with the lion of St Markus, the facade of Pandokrator, the Latin sign "Omnipotent" and Kenourgia Porta (New Gate) which was built in 1587 and was named after the Venetian Ruler, Mogenigo. In this area, one can also visit the burial site of world famous author, Nikos Kazantzakis.