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. 



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). 



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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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.


25th August Street (Ruga Maistra)

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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.


Οι Προμαχώνες της Κάντια

Στις αρχές του 17ου αιώνα η οχύρωση της Κάντια έχει πάρει την οριστική της μορφή και περιλαμβάνει επτά μεγάλους καρδιόσχημους ή τριγωνικούς προμαχώνες, οι οποίοι κατά σειρά, από ανατολικά προς δυτικά, ήταν: Προμαχώνας Σαμπιονάρας (δηλ. της άμμου), Προμαχώνας Βιττούρι (από τον Γενικό Προβλεπτή Τζιοβάνι Βιττούρι), Προμαχώνας Ιησού, Προμαχώνας Μαρτινέγκο (από το Βενετό μηχανικό Γκαμπριέλε Μαρτινέγκο), Προμαχώνας Βηθλεέμ, Προμαχώνας Παντοκράτορα, Προμαχώνας Αγίου Ανδρέα. Στο εσωτερικό τους, οι προμαχώνες διέθεταν στοές που οδηγούσαν σε διάφορα σημεία της οχύρωσης και στην τάφρο που περιέβαλλε τα τείχη. Οι προμαχώνες αυτοί αποτελούσαν τους στυλοβάτες της άμυνας κατά την πολιορκία της Κάντια από τους Οθωμανούς (1648-1669), η οποία υπήρξε η πιο μακρόχρονη πολιορκία στην ευρωπαϊκή ιστορία και υπέστησαν μεγάλες φθορές, ειδικά οι δύο παραλιακοί (Προμαχώνας Σαμπιονάρας και Προμαχώνας Αγίου Ανδρέα).


One of the central gates which guaranteed the communication of the fortified city with the island’s heartland was Agios Georgios Gate. It was built in 1565, when Paolo Zorzi was serving as the military commander of Candia. It is located on the eastern part of the walls and it is also known as Lazaretto Gate (that is, the gate leading to the Lazaretto [hospital for those with infectious diseases]). Its inner façade was demolished in the 1910s in order to open a road. In the late 20th century its interior gallery was restored and is currently used as a venue for exhibitions and events.      


The “Makasi” Gate of Martinengo or Sortita (exit) al Martinengo, as it was called during the Venetian era, is a dome-shaped passage that served military purposes and led from the city’s interior to the eastern piazza bassa (lit. "Low square") of the Martinengo bastion, where heavy artillery was installed. With a total length of about 110 meters it was the largest military arcade of the walls. In the years of Ottoman rule name "Makasi" was used for all arcades of this type.



The Bethlehem Gate, located next to the bastion of the same name, was built in the late 16th century. In spite of its military character, its inner façade was particularly elaborate and featured an engraved inscription and an architrave. Its arcade led to the northern piazza bassa (lit. "Low square") of the bastion, where another arcade would lead to the trench. During Ottoman rule it was called Karanik Kapi. In summer, the piazza bassa (lit. "Low square") is used for concerts and theatrical performances.


The Gate of Jesus was one of the three main entrances of the city during the Venetian era. It was named after a small orthodox temple, which was located just outside the Venetian Walls. It was designed by the Italian architect and engineer Michele Sanmicheli and was probably completed in 1587. Its inner façade had a main entrance and two smaller ones that led to the auxiliary areas used by the guard. The Ottomans called it Kainouria Porta (i.e. New Door) / (Geni Kapi in Turkish), which is the name used at present.



Pantokratoras Gate was the main communication channel between the city and the western districts of the island. Just like the Gate of Jesus, it owes its name to a nearby temple of the same name. Its construction was completed around 1570, a date written on the Doge Pietro Lorentan's coat of arms, which was located above its outer entrance. Its monumental façade was the work of the Italian architect and engineer Michele Sanmicheli. Its inner side featured two large doors that led to two separate arcades; one was of general use and led outside the city, and the other was used exclusively for military purposes and led to the piazza bassa (lit. "Low square") of the bastion of the same name. Its inner façade featured two bas-relief plaques, placed over the doors, depicting Christ Pantocrator and the Lion of Venice.



Sabionara Gate is located at the part of the defensive enceinte overlooking the seafront, on the northwest side of the bastion with the same name and led towards the inner part of the city through a strong uphill slope. Its seaward exit is austere while its landward façade has an elegant, elaborate pedimented façade. Right above the gate, overlooking the Venetian port, there is a wonderful parkland with benches.       
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