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Information about Heraklion

Heraklion (Iraklion, Iraklio) (Ηράκλειο), is the largest city of Crete and its capital. It is also one of the largest cities in Greece.

Modern day Heraklion is a blend of at least 1,200 years of history from the date of the city's founding. Prior to this nearby Knossos shows signs of habitation from 6000 BC making this area one of the oldest population cenres on Crete.

Heraklion is the capital of Heraklion Prefecture and the major administrative, industrial and business centre of Crete.

Historical features to visit in Heraklion include: the Venetian Walls with their seven remaining bastions and two town gates; the old Venetian port with its fortress; the Venetian Loggia which now houses the Town Hall; the Morosini Fountain with its four lion heads; the Bembo Fountain; St Titos Church; and the Church of Agia Ekaterini Sinaites, now a Theological Museum.

There are a number of Museums in Heraklion including: Heraklion Archaeological Museum; the Historical Museum of Crete; The Natural History Museum of Crete; The Battle of Crete Museum; and the Museum of Visual Arts.

The Municipal Gallery is housed in the Basilica of St Mark.

Many famous Cretans were born in Heraklion including many authors, scientists, scholars, artists, musicians, clergymen and in the modern era a number of actors, film directors and sportsmen.

Heraklion has an extensive shopping centre, the largest on Crete with many Greek and Multi-national chains represented.

It has a wide range of accommodation available.

The city has many beaches nearby. See our Beaches pages for more details.

Heraklion is the primary port of Crete with its airport, Nikos Kazantzakis, located on the outskirts of the city and its ferry port in front of the city near the old Venetian harbour. Heraklion is a popular stop for cruise liners.
Please see our Travel pages for more information.


Post Minoan Period
There is evidence that during the Post-Minoan period (900 BC - 330 AD)a town called Herakleion existed here, a harbour town for nearby Knossos.

First Byzantine Era
From 330 AD, the Byzantine Empire was exerting its authority over Crete. While there was a period of peace and prosperity which lasted for over 300 years, by the 7th Century AD frequent raids by pirates mostly Arab in origin, threatened the stability of the area and in 827 AD and 828 AD, the area was under Arab control.

Arab Domination
The present city of Heraklion was founded in 824 AD when the settlement was captured by the Arab Saracens, who had been expelled by by Emir Al-Hakam I from Al-Andalus. They built defensive walls and a moat around the city to defend it, and named it Chandax 'Castle of the Moat' derived from the Arabic El Khandak meaning 'moat'. The Arab Saracens allowed the port of El Khandak to be used as a launching place and safe haven for pirates who operated against Byzantine shipping and trade routes and who raided Byzantine territory around the Aegaean. Due to this piracy, Chandax was an extremely wealthy city. They held the city for 140 years.

In 843 AD Byzantine forces attempted to retake their lost land but failed.

Second Byzantine Era
By 961 AD Chandax (Chandakas), as Heraklion was then known, was once more under Byzantine control thanks to the efforts of their commander, Nikiforos Fokas and a year long siege. During the conflict the fort and city walls were demolished and the city sacked by fire. Most of the Arab Saracens died in the fighting while any who survived were shipped as prisoners to Constantinople along with their accumulated wealth of priceless possessions gained from years of piracy. It is believed that more than 300 ships were required to carry their treasure to Constantinople. Some items survived and are today on display at Megistis Layras Monastery at Mount Athos. The city was rebuilt and Chandax continued to be ruled by the Byzantine Empire until 1204 AD.

Venetian Period
From 1204, the city and the whole of Crete became the property of the Venetians. When the Crusaders took Constantinople after the Fourth Crusade, they presented Crete to Boniface of Monferrat who in turn sold it to Venice. The Venetians ruled Crete until 1699.

The early part of their rule was disrupted by conflicts and rebellions. Their rivals, the Genoese took Crete in 1206 and in 1211 the Venetians dealt with local rebellions against their rule. It was not until 1210/11 that the Venetians were finally able to establish themselves. During the next decade they signed a treaty with the Genoese, thus ridding them of one area of conflict but the local rebellions of famous Cretan families - notably the Kallergis, Skordilis, Mellissinos and Chortartzis families, continued up to the mid 14th Century. The Venetians finally brought the rebellions to and end for a time by granting privileges to the powerful Kallergis family.

During the Venetian occupation the city and in fact the whole of Crete became known as Regno di Candia (Kingdom of Candia) and the seat of the Duke of Candia. From 1222 the Venetians introduced and settled numerous familiies from Venice to the city and more widely across Crete. A security measure of a different kind began in 1462 with the building of the huge fortifications which can still be seen today including the fortress on the harbour and the seven bastions and city walls, over 4 kilometres long and some of which are 40-60 metres thick. The grave of the famous Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis is situatedon the Martinengo Bastion.

The wall was designed by the famous military engineer, Michele Sammicheli. The building of the walls took 100 years, during which time every Cretan between the ages of 14 and 60 had to give one week every year to the building project. The project was funded by taxes on the Cretan population. Candia flourished under Venetian rule, influenced by the Italian Renaissance, becoming a centre for The Arts. This was amplified by an influx of scholars and artists who fled to Crete in 1453 after the fall of Constantinople. This period is today described as the Cretan Renaissance. Many of Heraklion's famous buildings - churches, fountains and squares are from this period.

In 1508, a major earthquake hit the city devastating many of its buildings. The sea fort on the harbour had to be demolished in 1523.

Turkish forces made several attempts to raid Crete during the 15th and 16th Centuries and by the end of the 16th Century Candia faced a threat of a different kind when the city's population was wracked by plague.

The final years of Venetian rule saw another major earthquake in 1629 and a loosening of Venetian control as the Ottoman Turks began occupying Crete in 1645.

Ottoman Turkish Rule
By 1648, Crete was under the control of the Ottoman Empire except for Candia (Heraklion) and a handful of other well protected fortresses around Crete.
The Cretan War lasted from 1645 to 1669. For Candia, this involved one of the longest sieges in history, beginning in 1648 and lasting until 1669. The Venetians, supported by help from around Europe held out for nearly 22 years before fleeing with as much of the administration and population as they could manage. The siege was a bloody one, in the last 22 months alone, 70,000 Turks, 38,000 Cretans and over 29,000 Venetian and their allies died.

Under the Ottoman Turks the city became officially known as Kandiye, while the local population referred to it as Megalo Kastro (Big Castle). Heraklion and the whole of Crete fell into a period of stagnation, losing much of their earlier prosperity and enlightenment. It was indeed a dark time for the city and Crete. In 1671 the Ottamans installed a new taxation system. The harbour, a port for centuries, silted up due to the neglect of its Ottaman controllers and shipping moved to Chania in the west. The Turks repaired the city's fortifications to defend the city from anyone who would try to take it from them. In 1692 the Venetians attempted to retake Crete but failed.

The Turkish rulers were held in great contempt by the Cretan population. Of all the many occupations of the city and of Crete during the centuries it was the Turkish occupation which is probably the most bitterly resented.

The Cretans organised constant resistance against their Turkish oppressors but the Turks responded with harsh measures including a number of major massacres such as those in 1828 and in 1898. During periods of resistance, the Muslim population of the outlying areas of Crete would flee for safety to population centres such as Heraklion where they felt safer but in retaliation for being displaced they took out their frustrations on the local Cretan Christians in violent outbursts such as that in 1821.

From 1822 Egypt was in control of Crete due to the rebellion on Crete in 1821. The Egyptians remained in control of the city until 1840. During their governorship, a program of public building was undertaken and the port was dredged opening it to shipping. The Egyptians were able to bring some degree of harmony to the Christian and Muslim populations of the city.

The city returned to Ottaman domination in 1840.

In 1850 Heraklion lost its supremacy as the administrative centre of Crete to Chania, where the Ottamans established their new administration.

In 1856 Heraklion suffered another major earthquake.

During the last decades of Ottaman rule a number of schools, public facilities and administrative reforms were undertaken including granting privileges to the Cretan Christian population but rebellions continued and the Turks continued to enact terrible massacres against the Cretan population. 25th of August Street in Heraklion is named after one such massacre when Cretans were slaughtered on the road between the harbour and the city. The road is still named after this tragic event.

The Turks occupied Crete until 1897/8. During these years thousands of Turkish families left Crete and the European Powers comprising Britain, France, Italy and Russia proposed autonomous rule for Crete. Prince George of Greece the new High Commissioner for Crete arrived in 1898.

The Independent Cretan State
So began the Independent Cretan State. A delicate political situation in which Crete was still under the Suzerainty of the Sultan of the Ottaman Empire but with extensive autonomy and peace keeping to be supervised by the Great Powers.
Britain was responsible for Heraklion during this period of occupation which lasted until 1908. Many British soliers were stationed in and around the city. It was during the British occupation that Heraklion gained its modern name being named after the Roman port of Heracleum.

The famous Cretan statesman, Eleftherios Venizelos, of Chania, figured prominantly in this period and was to influence events to come.

The first Cretan government was established in 1899 after elections.

Crete was an independent state from 1898 to 1913. In 1913, after years of effort by Eleftherios Venizelos, Crete became united with the Kingdom of Greece.

World War II
During World War II, the Germans occupied Heraklion. During the Battle of Crete Heraklion underwent considerable bombardment by the German airforce, causing massive damage. After the war Heraklion was rebuilt and began an expansion which continues today.

Today, Heraklion is a thriving city which combines the ancient and the modern.



It is located on the northern coast of Crete, east of Rethymno and west of Agios Nikolaos.

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