A mythical land of Gods and men, the cradle of the first remarkable European civilization, a renowned workshop of avant-garde artistic creations during Renaissance, the guardian of a wine culture of four thousand years and a modern centre for research and technology in the Mediterranean. The home of El Greco and Nikos Kazantzakis is a vibrating and strong city of magnificent contrasts artfully balancing between the past and the present, tradition and modernism, the wisdom of ancient knowledge and experimentation. On this remarkable land, people engage in a never-ending creative quest; they only stop to generously offer their visitors their world-famous Cretan “philoxenia”, a true art of hospitality.
Built almost in the middle of Crete’s northern coastline, the city of Heraklion is the administrative and financial capital of the island of Crete as well as one of the largest rural centres in Greece with several university and technological institutions. Through the centuries, its strategic location, on the crossroad of three continents and key maritime routes of the Mediterranean, has put its mark on the unique cultural identity of the city. The ancient port of the Minoan city of Knossos;
The Castle (Kastro) and the Grand Castle (Megalo Kastro) of the Byzantine Era; the Arab fortress of Chandakas; The aristocratic Candia of the Republic of Venice, a strong castle town with great artistic and commercial glory; Kandiye of the Ottoman Rule. Today, behind the urban landscape of this vibrant, modern metropolis of the Mediterranean, the city’s rich historic past is still alive. The most important sights are linked to the gold era of the Venetian rule and promise unforgettable strolls around the alleys and squares of the old city centre.
The old Venetian port with the emblematic medieval castle of Koules and the arched shipyards along the peer. The impressive fortifications surrounding the old city, the strongest and most beautiful in Eastern Mediterranean. The historic 25th of August Street with its magnificent neoclassic buildings, the impressive Loggia from the 16th century and the stunning church of Agios Titos.
The majestic cathedral of Agios Minas built in the 19th century and the renown Venetian Morosini fountain with the elaborate decorations in the centre of the Lions square. And of course, the magnificent Archaeological Museum of Heraklion, the arc of the Minoan civilization and the most important collection of prehistoric antiquities in the world.
At the city’s eastern suburbs, the landscape changes radically. An endless waterfront with organized beaches and pretentious luxurious resorts unfolds all the way to the famous destinations of Hersonissos and Malia, the international paradise for delirious summer nights.
Routes and sights near Heraklion
Between the sacred mountains of Ida and Dikti, the magical mainland of Heraklion – the Venetian Paracandia offers unprecedented travel experiences for anyone who loves nature, history and archaeology.
• Five kilometres south of Heraklion, the immense Palace of Knossos brings to life the glory and splendour of the magnificent Minoan civilization: from King Minos’ Throne Room and the Piano Nobile to the Queen’s residential quarters and the unique frescos.
• Phaestos, the second-most important palatial city of Minoan Crete awes the visitor with its grandeur and magnificent location and takes him around the kingdom of mythical Rhadamanthus with a panoramic view of the vast valley of Messara.
• In ancient Gortyna, the capital of roman Crete, a walk through the archaeological treasures is an unforgettable experience: from the amazing church of Agios Titos to the Odeion, the Roman theatre and the Great Code on the circular walls (Megali Epigrafi) with the law of Gortyna, the earliest and most compact code law in Greece.
• The stately city of Archanes has been awarded by the EU for the settlement’s renovation that was accomplished with respect to the local aesthetic characteristics and traditions. Magnificent architecture, exceptional museums and a long wine tradition in the shadow of the sacred Mount Juktas. The local Minoan palace is a “must-visit”.
• Houdetsi, Dafnes, Venerato, Ano Asites and Kato Asites. The beautiful villages of the mainland, the guardians of Cretan traditions and local architectural heritage.
• Rouvas Forest, at the south-eastern slopes of Mount Ida. The largest population of kermes oak (quercus coccifera) in Europe, a protected ecosystem with great ecological and aesthetic value. The most beautiful route to the forest is through the village of Zaros with its wonderful artificial lake, and the gorge of Agios Nikolaos.
• The south coastline of Heraklion, a blue Eden, with untouched and secluded beaches in the shadow of Asterousia Mountains and the ending points of some dramatic gorges. The impressive Agiofarago (Gorge of Saints) with emerald waters and impressive vertical rocks. The amazing black fine-pebble beach of Aspes (accessible only by boat from Tsoutsouras), Agios Nikitas with the monastery on the cliff, the beach at Vathi, Trafoulas at Lenta, Listis in Keratokampos, and many more.
• The naked and dry Asterousia mountains, a natural boundary between the Messara Plain and the Libyan Sea. The kingdom of rock, rough gorges and long eremitic tradition invites you to unforgettable off-road discoveries. The route from Kapetaniana to the sacred peak of Kofina and from there to the Monasteri of Koudoumas, is breath-taking.
• The famous Matala of the legendary 60s and 70s. Deep blue waters and amazing natural caves carved inside the steep rocks, resembling to prehistoric homes and roman-catholic tombs. • The Minoan palace of Malia, the kingdom of the mythical king Sarpidonas.
What’s not to miss…
• Visit the unique El Greco Museum in Fodele, the birthplace of the most important Cretan painter of the Renaissance, Domenicus Theotocopoulos.
• Walk on the impressive Venetian walls that surround the Old City of Heraklion, the largest and strongest fortifications in all the Mediterranean with 7 bastions and 4 main gates. From the Martinengo bastion, the burial site of the world-famous Cretan writer Nikos Kazantzakis, the view to the city is incredible.
• Learn all there is to know about the life and work of Nikos Kazantzakis in the exquisite, modern and interactive “Nikos Kazantzakis” museum operating in the village of Myrtia, the birthplace of Kazantzakis’ family.
• Explore the magical underwater world of the Mediterranean in the impressive Cretaquarium – Thalassocosmos in Gournes, the largest aquarium in Greece.
• Enjoy the famous hot cream pie (bougatsa) at the cafés of the Lions square early in the morning, right when the first ferry docks.
• Plan a day-trip via boat north of Heraklion to the uninhabited island of Dia with ancient shipwrecks and aromatic flora.
• Follow the wine roads to the magical mainland of Heraklion, the largest wine-producing district of Crete. Visit the wineries around the villages of Peza, Archanes and Dafnes, to enjoy some wine-tasting with unique native varieties.
• Let your senses free and enjoy the overwhelming aromas, colours and atmosphere of 1866 street, the busy alley that takes you through the old market with numerous traditional grocery stores and small shops with handmade souvenirs.
• Walk the mystic Agiofaraggo (Gorge of Saints), a sacred land of hermits for many centuries, a magical landscape of steep rocks full of wild olive trees and inaccessible caves. According to the legend, every olive tree belongs to a saint and every stone and carved seat belongs to a hermit.
Useful telephone numbers
Municipal police: 0030 2810-334181 Heraklion Tourist Police: 0030 2810-283190 Heraklion Traffic Police: 0030 2810-282031 Heraklion Port Authority: 0030 2813-406911 Heraklion Post Office: 0030 2810-289995, 0030 2810-234468 Municipality of Heraklion: 0030 2810-399399 Heraklion University General Hospital: 0030 2810-392111 “Venizelio” General Hospital: 2810-368000-29 “Nikos Kazantzakis” Airport: 2810-228402 Taxi service: 2810-210102, 2810-211212, 2810-361362, 2810-342533 Heraklion Bus Service: 2810- 283270 Heraklion – Lasithi Intercity Bus Service: 2810-245019 Chania – Rethymno Intercity Bus Service: 2810-221765
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