Heraklion, the capital of Crete, situated in the center of the north coast of the island, is a place with a vivid past and a forceful present, which together have shaped the character of the city. Its history of this town is among the most glorious of all Greece and the Mediterranean. As far back as 2.000 BC, Crete was importing copper from the Orient, ivory from Syria, gold from Egypt and even amber from England. The traders brought with them new ideas, knowledge and crafts, which were subsequently adopted and developed by the Minoan civilization, that flourished in Knossos, the greater area of Heraklion.
Iraklio is a vibrant urban center that throbs with energy lacking in most other Greek provincial cities. Its population is swelled by university students, who add to the cosmopolitan atmosphere created by the steady stream of tourists. Known since antiquity, when it served as the harbor of the Knossos Palace, Iraklio came into its own in the 15th and 16th centuries when it was developed by the Venetians as Crete’s commercial center.
It’s impossible to visit Iraklio without touring the Palace of Knossos, the preeminent Minoan settlement and one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world. Discovered in the late 1870s by Minos Kalokerinos, it was excavated by Sir Arthur Evans over a period spanning three decades and is linked through Cretan myths with King Minos, son of Zeus and Europa. Minos may have ruled in legend, but it now seems more likely ‘Minos’ was not a single king but the title given to the rulers of Knossos. The palace is massive, spread over 20,000 square meters. It is about 150 meters long on each side with a central court that measures 50 meters long and 27 meters wide. It’s so large and its layout so complex that scholars believe it inspired the myth of the labyrinth and the Minotaur.
And while Evans has been criticized for going too far in his restorations, Knossos is one of the most visually arresting archaeological sites in Greece with pillars painted in what is believed to be their original colors and copies of frescoes replaced on palace walls. Start your visit from the South Propylon, a long corridor supported on five-meter high columns with thick bases and walls decorated with the famed Cup Bearer fresco. The Minoans did everything on grand scale: even the palace symbol, the sacral horns on the terrace are massive. The king received guests in the Piano Nobile, but his quarters—and the queen’s—are on the far side of the central court, where bull sports were held. Peer into the throne room for a peek at the alabaster throne, then gape at the beautiful dolphin frescoes in the queen’s quarters. Leaving, you pass the Royal Way—a stone-paved path Evans claimed was Europe’s oldest road.
The Heraklion Archaeological Museum houses archaeological findings from all over Crete (pottery, stone carvings, sealstones, statuettes etc). Pride of place goes to the treasures of the Minoan era, which can be admired in all its historical continuity.
NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM
The Natural History Museum of Crete, within the University of Crete, was established in 1980, and since 1994 it is intensively active. The permanent exhibition of the Natural History Museum of Crete opened in June of 1998. It offers visitors a unique opportunity to encounter the diverse nature through the ecologically and culturally complex environment of Eastern Mediterranean.
The Historical Museum has exhibits from the Byzantine, Venetian and Turkish periods and historical documents of more recent Cretan history. Also a rich collection of folk art consisting of local costumes, textiles, wood carvings and embroidery as well as a representation of a typical Cretan house.