Plan HERe

Main attractions and monuments of the city

The centre of Heraklion city is defined by the Venetian walls, which is the largest fortification of the eastern Mediterranean area and one of the most important monuments of the city. The historic centre of Heraklion has gone through numerous changes over the centuries and has been influenced and enriched by 5 + 1 cultures: Minoans, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Venetians and Turks have lived here, leaving their mark on the history, culture and architecture of the city. 

 

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Venetian Walls

The historic centre of Heraklion city is defined by the Venetian walls, which is the largest fortification of the eastern Mediterranean area.

Their construction began in the early 13th century by the Venetians, at a time when the existing Byzantine walls were no longer suitable to protect the city and its constantly growing population. Construction took place in two stages and was completed in the early 17th century according to the new “Bastion system”. Their outer perimeter featured a deep trench and other smaller defensive works and forts. Their landward parts include seven Bastions (Sabionara Bastion, Vitturi Bastion, Bastion of Jesus, Martinengo Bastion, Bethlehem Bastion, Pantokratoras Bastion and Agios Andreas Bastion) and nine Gates  (Sabionara Gate, Agios Georgios Gate, Gate of Jesus, Martinengo Gate, Bethlehem Gate, Pantokratoras Gate, Agios Andreas Gate, Dermatas Gate and the Port (or Dock) Gate). Thanks to its new walls, the city of Candia (the name of Heraklion at the time), managed to withstand the siege by the Ottoman army for more than 20 years (1648 - 1669). 

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THE SEA FORT (ROCCA A MARE) or “KOULES”

The stone castle that dominates the Venetian harbour of the city was a very important naval base of the Venetians at a time when pirates were posing a serious threat to Crete. It was built in the mid-16th century occupying the site of a former fort and became known as the Sea Fort (Rocca a Mare). During Ottoman rule a small mosque with a minaret was annexed to it and was used as an incarceration area. It was at that time that it was given its current name “Koules”. It was recently renovated and is currently housing a modern museum with historical and archaeological exhibits. Operation hours: Ticket price: Website:
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25th August Street (Ruga Maistra)

The Martyron 25 August Street

The pedestrian street of Heraklion which leads from "Lions Square" to the Venetian port has played an important role in the city’s history and culture since the Venetian era. Like in almost all Venetian cities, Heraklion revolves around the economic activity of its port. The Ruga Maistra, as 25th August Street was called then, connected the city's administrative centre with the harbour, which extended from the Dock Gate to the Voltone Gate. Featuring a series of fabulous buildings, such as the Temple of Agios Titos (Saint Titus), the Loggia, the Ducal Palace, the Morosini Fountain and Saint Mark’s Basilica, Ruga Maistra was the most impressive street in 17th century Candia. The Venetian authorities attached particular importance to the elegant image of the area and for this they had issued special provisions regulating the construction and façades of the buildings on Ruga Maistra.

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THE SHIPYARDS (ARSENALI)

The shipyards are large dome-shaped spaces by the sea, where ships were built or left for necessary maintenance works and storage. In the early 17th century, the port of the Heraklion had three shipyards. The oldest one (Arsenali Antichi) was located on the south side of the harbour and collapsed in the 19th century, probably during an earthquake. The second one (Arsenali Vecchi), located west to Arsenali Antichi, was built in the 1550s and had four sections, while the third (Arsenali Nuovi and Nuovissimi), located on the east side of the harbour, was completed in the early 17th century and comprised ten sections.

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LOGGIA

The Loggia is considered as one of the most stunning monuments of Venetian Crete. It was built in 1628 by the Provveditore GeneraleFrancesco Morosini to serve as a meeting place for members of the aristocracy. The two-storey building is decorated with Doric columns on the ground floor and Ionic columns on the first floor. Its exterior decorating elements are also particularly elaborate, featuring a frieze in the upper part of the ground floor with a variety of bas-relief representations such as the Lion of Saint Mark, trophies, armours and more. Following the occupation of Crete by the Ottomans in September 1669, the Loggia, together with the Armeria building, were used as the seat of Defterdaris, who was the Ottoman official in charge of the economic management of the island. During the interwar period the building housed Services of Heraklion Municipality.

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ARMERIA (ARMOURY)

Candia’s defence needs required, among other things, the construction of a large armoury in the city centre, in the immediate vicinity of the buildings used by the military authorities. Thus, an armoury (Armeria or Armarento) was built, which was subsequently connected to the Loggia. It took its final form in the early 17th century, following several building extension works. After the surrender of the city in 1669, the building was used by the Ottomans as a storage facility for the weaponry that had been left by the Venetians, and for some time it was used as a treasury for the taxes collected from all over the island. In 1890, five wooden boxes were found, bearing the symbol of Venetian domination, the Lion of Saint Mark, which contained arrows, iron cannonballs, weapon fittings, armour remains, etc.

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MOROSINI FOUNTAIN - LIONS SQUARE

The emblematic fountain of Heraklion, a "meeting point" within the city centre, was originally constructed to solve the practical problem of water supply during the Venetian era. The names of many Venetian officials who served in Crete were linked to public works aimed at covering Candia’s water needs. One of the most typical examples is the aqueduct and the fountain constructed by Francesco Morosini which carried water from the village of Archanes to the city centre. The fountain was inaugurated in April 1628 and had particularly impressive decorative elements which included lions, dolphins, coats of arms. Also, the top of the fountain was dominated by a statue of Poseidon holding a trident.

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SAINT MARK’S BASILICA - MUNICIPAL ART GALLERY

The Saint Mark’s Basilica was built in 1239 at PLAZZA DELLE BIADE (the Square of Grain) and was the cathedral of Crete. The temple was an important building for the citizens of Crete during the Venetian era. All the officials and rulers of the island took up their duties in an official ceremony held at the temple and people would ask for the Saint’s protection when in need. Moreover, the Dukes and the members of the island’s aristocracy were buried in sarcophagi with bas-relief decorations. Two of these graves are visible today on the eastern side of the temple. At present, the building is housing the Municipal Art Gallery and works selected from the rich art collection of Heraklion Municipality, such as paintings by Maria Fioraki, Lefteris Kanakakis, Thomas Fanourakis and many other famous artists.

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GATES

Various entrances that had been built as part of its defensive enceinte served as the means of communication of the fortified city of Candia with the "outer world". Some of those gates were “urban” gates, that is, gates which served both defensive and communication purposes and allowed for the transportation of people and goods. Others, like the Bethlehem Gate for example, were purely military gates used exclusively by the city guard. However, almost all of them were located close to bastions or strongholds of the fortification in order to be adequately protected in case of enemy attack.

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BASTIONS OF CANDIA

BASTIONS OF CANDIA (VENETIAN NAME OF HERAKLION)


In the early 17th century, the fortification of Candia had taken its final form and comprised seven large heart-shaped or triangular bastions whose names (from east to west) were: Sabionara Bastion (i.e. of the sand), Vitturi Bastion (named after the Provveditore Generale Giovanni Vitturi), Bastion of Jesus, Martinengo Bastion (named after the Venetian engineer Gabriele Martinengo), Bethlehem Bastion, Pantokratoras Bastion, Agios Andreas Bastion. In their interior, the bastions had arcades that led to various points of the fortification and to the trench surrounding the walls. Those bastions, being the pillars of defence during the siege of Candia by the Ottomans (1648-1669), which was the longest siege in European history, suffered great damage, especially the two seaward bastions (Sabionara Bastion and Agios Andreas Bastion).

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St. Andrew's Gate

St. Andrew's Gate: The "Gate of the Raid"

During the last years of the siege of the Venetian-occupied Khándax (Candia), the coastal wall, the weakest part of the fortification, was hardly hit by the Turks. Outside and around the St. Andrew (or Holy Spirit) Bastion, additional defensive works were carried out. It was a waste of time. The Ottomans responded by opening mine shafts (minas) and by constructing two hills opposite the Sabbionara and St. Andrew bastions. They placed heavy artillery at their top and struck the harbour, dashing any hope of the fortress to receive supplies and to communicate with the West. In January 1669, the situation had become tragic. The St. Andrew's Bastion had already been seized.

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AGIOS GEORGIOS GATE

St. George Gate: the Gate with the three names

The creator of St. George Gate is Julio Savorgnano, the ingenious military engineer and architect who was the contractor for the construction of the new defensive walls of Khándax (Candia). This impressive Gate was constructed on the northern flank (fianco) of the Vitturi Bastion, between 1562 and 1566, as evidenced by the chronology of 1565 that was engraved on both sides. The entrance towards the city was particularly elaborate, with Ionic pillars to the right and left of its opening. Above the Gate, between two plaques featuring the Lion of Venice, a marble round plate depicting the icon of Saint George was embedded, to remind us that the Gate is dedicated to the military saint.

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BETHLEHEM GATE

Gate of Bethlehem: the Gate with the "joyful" name

The bastion was named after a neighbouring small temple dedicated to the Virgin that was built in the countryside outside the city walls. The Bethlehem Bastion featured two military Gates with the same name, the Southern and the Northern. Both led to "low squares" and were equipped with the usual double gunports, from where exit galleries (sortite) led to the trench. The inner facade of the Northern Gate is quite elaborate and looks more like a main, urban Gate. Above the doorframe of its exit gallery, the date 1538 is marked.

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Vitturi Gate

Vitturi Gate: the "Gate of the Provveditore Generale"

Of all the bastions of Khándax (Candia), Martinengo and Vitturi are the strongest ones. The latter was originally called St. Eleftherios Bastion because of a small church near it and then it was named after the Provveditore Generale, Giovanni Vitturi, whose coat of arms was embedded in the corner of the bastion as soon as construction works were completed in 1540.

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Dermatas Gate

Dermatas Gate: the Gate that did not cost much

On the coastal front of the fortification, between St. Andreas and Sabbionara bastions, the Gate leading to the sandy bay of Dermatas is found. It was named after the numerous nearby leather workshops (“leather” in Greek: Δέρμα) but it is also called Giudecca or Judaica or Evraiki (that is, Jewish), because the Jewish Quarter was located near it in the northwest part of the fortified area. Dermatas Gate was built between 1590-1595, and at quite a low cost: just 100 zecchini (golden venetian currency), because the Venetians used stones which had come from demolished houses and employed aggarikous, that is, peasants who performed forced labour.

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GATE OF JESUS (PORTA DEL GESÙ)

Gate of Jesus: the "Most Beautiful Gate of Khándax (Candia)"

In August 1588, when Gian Battista da Monte (the Army Commander) arrived in the city, he said that Khándax (Candia) was "Europe's most beautiful fortress". Perhaps it was no coincidence that a year before the Gate of Jesus had been completed. The same Gate, many centuries later (late 19th - early 20th), draw the attention of Giuseppe Gerola, the Italian historian and scholar of Venetian Crete, who wrote that its monumental inner facade was the most beautiful of Khándax (Candia). The creation of this magnificent façade is attributed to the ingenuous Veronese military architect Michele Sanmicheli.

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MAKASI GATE

Makasi Gate: the "Gate of memory"

One of the two most powerful bastions of the city was Martinengo, named after Gabriele Tadini di Martinengo (1480-1544), the distinguished Venetian military engineer and successful officer who, in 1519, undertook the general supervision of the defensive works in Crete. The military Gate leading to the southeastern "low square" of the Martinengo Bastion and to the trench was known as the Martinengo Gate or Makasi Arcade - the Turkish word meaning "holder of the keys".

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PANTOKRATORAS GATE

Pantocrator Gate: A Gate for all

A major road, known as Strada Larga or Strada Imperiale or Strada Larga di Panigra (centuries later was replaced by Kalokairinou Avenue, also known as Platia Strata/ (Wide Road)), led to the western side of the Venetian fortification, where one of the main Gates of the city was located. Pantocrator Gate or Panigra Gate presented a peculiarity. It was the only Gate used both by citizens and by the army. In order to secure uninterrupted passage of both, the facade had two separate entrances, while in its interior a wall created two separate corridors.

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SABIONARA GATE

Sabbionara Gate: the "Gate of sand"

Sabbionara Bastion, together with St. Andrew Bastion (located just opposite), were the "Achilles heel" of the defensive walls. Their weaknesses helped the Turks occupy Khándax (Candia) after 21 years of siege. Initially, the Venetians had named it small Martinengo, after the Commander Girolamo Martinengo, but gradually the name Sabbionara prevailed because the Gate’s foundation laid on the sandy beach (“sabbia” is Italian for “sand”).

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