Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Crete - Heraklion

It was time for a break from beaches and archaeological sites on Crete so we hopped on the bus and headed into Heraklion for the day. Heraklion is the largest city and the capital of the island. It's had a fairly mixed history; Probably a port for the city of Knossos during Minoan times, the city proper was founded by the Saracens back in 824 A.D., then passed into the hands of the Byzantine Empire who then sold it on to the Venetians, who called it Candia. After them, it passed into the Ottoman Empire and they eventually made it a republic until it was given over to Greece in 1913. So it's had Minoans, Arabs, Romans, Venetians, Turks and Greeks in control of it over the centuries.

Castello del Molo (Koules)Castello del Molo, also called Koules

We'd been to the city on a previous visit and had spent most of that day in the archaeological museum. It wasn't the plan at the time but the museum is huge and it takes a long time to wander through all of it. Most of the good stuff from all of the ancient sites around the island has ended up here so it's worth a visit if you're interested in that kind of thing. Anyway, we'd already done that so this day was for a more general wander around.

The bus station is quite close to the harbour so that's where we headed first with the intention of visiting the Castello del Molo, which dominates the entrance to the Venetian harbour tand is also known as the Rocca a Mare and the Koules Fortress. This version was built around 1523-1540 to protect the enclosed harbour and predates the second Venetian fortifications around the city. We had a good old wander around the fortress, both inside and out, and it offers some excellent views out over the city, against the backdrop of the Idi mountains. Closer to the harbour, you can see the enormous Venetian shipyards or arsenals, which were used to house and build ships.

Morosini FountainMorosini Fountain

After lunch in a seriously busy restaurant just up from the harbour, we wandered up the 25th of August Street, heading for Eleftherias Square. On the way, we stopped in the little El Greco Park and passed the impressive Byzantine cathedral of St. Titus as well as a host of architecturally beautiful buildings. We also stopped at Lionaria Square, which is home to the beautiful Morosini Fountain but it was being renovated and was both incomplete and difficult to see. We eventually ended up at Eleftherias Square, a huge open square but not particularly interesting.

Agios TitosAgios Titos

From there we headed over to the St. George's Gate on the Venetian city walls, which was used as the main route between the city and the port. It's now used mainly as an art exhibition venue. We also had a brief detour around the nearby little Georgiadis Park before heading back to the bus station and out to Hersonissos.

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