Heraklion History

Heraklio is the largest city and the capital of Heraklion Prefecture and Crete. It has an international airport named after the writer Nikos Kazantzakis which is located about 5km east of the city.

Heraklio is close to the ruins of the palace of Knossos, the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete which was excavated and restored by archeologist Arthur Evans and which in Minoan times was the biggest centre of population on Crete.

The present city of Heraklio was founded in 824 AD by the Saracens (an Arabic Muslim people). They built a moat around the city for protection, and named the city andaq (Khandak), meaning 'moat'. The Saracens allowed the port to be used as a safe haven for pirates, much to the annoyance of the nearby Byzantine Empire. In 961, the Byzantines attacked and defeated the city, slaughtered the Saracens, looted the city, and burned it to the ground. They remained in control of the rebuilt Khandak for the next 243 years.

In 1204, the city was bought by the Venetians as part of a complicated political deal. The Venetians improved on the ditch by building enormous fortifications, most of which are still in place, including a giant wall, in places up to 40m thick, with 7 bastions, and a fortress, Koules, in the harbour. The name Khandak became Candia in Italian. The city retained the name of Candia for centuries, and the whole island of Crete was often called Candia as a result. During Venetian rule, the Greek population of Crete was exposed to Renaissance culture.

After the Venetians came the Turks of the Ottoman Empire. They besieged the city for 22 years in a bloody war in which 30,000 Cretans and 120,000 Turks died. The Venetians eventually handed it over in 1669.

The city became independent with the withdrawal of the Ottomans in 1898, then part of the 1908 Cretan state, and then it was incorporated into the Kingdom of Greece in 1913. Upon its independence it was renamed to 'Heraklion', meaning City of Heracles (Hercules), after the port of Heracleum which had existed somewhere in the locality in Roman times.

The biggest monument of the city is the Venetian medieval fortress Rocca al Mare (also known as Koules) located on the port. Heraklion is an important shipping port and ferry dock. The public can take ferries and boats from Heraklion to a multitude of destinations including Thira, Rhodes, Egypt, Haifa and mainland Greece.

Welcome to Heraklio, a city that blends its rich past into its modern yet unique present.