Heraklion or Iraklion (Ηράκλειο, Irákleio, iˈɾaklio̞; ), is the largest city and capital of Crete. It is also the fourth largest city in Greece. Its name is also spelled Herakleion, a transliteration of the ancient Greek and Katharevousa name, Ἡράκλειον, or Iraklio, among other variants. For centuries it was known as Candia, a Venetian adaptation of the earlier Greek name Χάνδαξ or Χάνδακας, which in turn came from the Arabic rabḍ al-ḫandaq. Under the Ottoman Empire, it was called Kandiye). In the local vernacular, it is often called Κάστρο (Kástro, "castle") and its inhabitants Καστρινοί (Kastrinoí, "castle dwellers").
Heraklion is the capital of Heraklion Prefecture, with an international airport named after the writer Nikos Kazantzakis. The ruins of Knossos, which were excavated and restored by Arthur Evans, are nearby.
Heraklion is close to the ruins of the palace of Knossos
, which in Minoan
times was the largest centre of population on Crete
. This Bronze Age
palace and human settlement
has yielded significant archaeological
finds that have given insights to the Minoan civilisation
. It is likely that there was a port at Heraklion as long ago as 2000 BC
, although no archaeological recovery has been made of the port itself.
The present city of Heraklion was founded in 824 AD
by the Saracens
who had been expelled from Al-Andalus
by Emir Al-Hakam I
and had taken over the island from the Byzantine Empire
. They built a moat
around the city for protection, and named the city ربض الخندق rabḍ al-ḫandaq
'Castle of the Moat'. The Saracens allowed the port to be used as a safe haven for pirates who operated against Byzantine shipping and raided Byzantine territory around the Aegaean.
, the Byzantines, under the command of Nikephoros Phokas
, later to become Byzantine Emperor
, landed in Crete and attacked the city. After a prolonged siege
, the city fell. The Saracen inhabitants were slaughtered, the city looted and burned to the ground. Soon rebuilt, the town of Chandax remained under Byzantine control for the next 243 years.
In 1204, the city was bought by the Republic of Venice as part of a complicated political deal which involved among other things, the Crusaders of the Fourth Crusade restoring the deposed Byzantine emperor Isaac II Angelus to his throne. The Venetians improved on the ditch by building enormous fortifications, most of which are still in place, including a giant wall, in places up to 40 m thick, with 7 bastions, and a fortress in the harbour. Chandax was renamed to Candia in Italian and became the seat of the Duke of Candia. As a result, the Venetian administrative district of Crete became known as "Regno di Candia" (Kingdom of Candia). The city retained the name of Candia for centuries and the same name was often used to refer to the whole island of Crete as well. To secure their rule, Venetians began in 1212 to resettle families from Venice on Crete. The coexistence of two different cultures and the influence of Italian Renaissance lead to a flourishing of letters and the arts in Candia and Crete in general, that is today known as the Cretan Renaissance.
After the Venetians came the Ottoman Empire
. During the Cretan War (1645–1669)
, the Ottomans besieged the city
for 22 years, from 1648 to 1669, the second-longest siege in history. In its final phase, which lasted for 22 months, 70,000 Turks, 38,000 Cretans and slaves and 29,088 of the city's Christian defenders perished. Under the Ottomans, the city was known officially as Kandiye
(again also applied to the whole island of Crete) but informally in Greek as Megalo Kastro
("Big Castle"). During the Ottoman period, the harbour
silted up, so most shipping shifted to Hania
in the north of the island.
In 1898 the autonomous Cretan State
was created, under Ottoman suzerainty
, with Prince George of Greece as its High Commissioner and under international supervision. During the period of direct occupation of the island by the Great Powers (1898-1908), Candia was part of the British
zone. At this time the city was renamed "Heraklion", after the Roman
port of Heracleum ("Heracles
' city"), whose exact location is unknown.
With the rest of Crete, Heraklion was incorporated into the Kingdom of Greece in 1913. The biggest monument of the city is the Venetian medieval fortress Rocca al Mare (also known as Koules, Turkish for "tower") located at the port.
Heraklion is an important shipping port and ferry dock. The public can take ferries and boats from Heraklion to a multitude of destinations including Thira
and mainland Greece
Heraklion International Airport, or Nikos Kazantzakis Airport is located about 5km east of the city. The airport is named after Herkalion native Nikos Kazantzakis, a Greek writer and philosopher. It is the second busiest airport of Greece, mostly due to the fact that Crete is a major destination for tourists during summer. There are regular domestic flights to and from Athens, Thessaloniki and Rhodes with Aegean Airlines and Olympic Airlines. Cyprus Airways and Aegean Airlines fly to Larnaca. Furthermore, Sky Express operates direct flights to Aegean islands such as Rhodes, Santorini, Samos, Kos, Mytilini and Ikaria. During the summer period, traffic is intense and the flight destinations are from all over Europe (mostly Germany, UK, Italy and Russia). The airfield is shared with the 126 Combat Group of the Hellenic Air Force. The take off in western direction leads directly over the town of Heraklion, which makes it a very noisy city.
European route E75
runs through the city and connects Heraklion with the three other major cities of Crete: Agios Nikolaos
, and Rethymno
There are a number of buses serving the city and connecting it to many major destinations in Crete.
has a warm Mediterranean
climate. Summers in the lowlands, are hot and dry with clear skies. Dry hot days are often relieved by a system of seasonal breezes. The mountain areas are much cooler, with considerable rain. Winters are mild in the lowlands with rare frost and snow. Although Heraklion is further south than Athens
, it has a milder climate.
Colleges and Universities
The city hosts three football clubs
Both OFI and Ergotelis FC use the Pankritiko Stadium, which was built for the Athens 2004 Summer Olympics.
Heraklion has been the home town of some of Greece's most significant spirits, including the novelist Nikos Kazantzakis
, the poet and Nobel Prize winner Odysseas Elytis
and the world-famous Greek painter Domenicos Theotokopoulos (El Greco
Scientists and Scholars
- Kyrillos Loukaris (1572–1637) theologian, Patriarch of Alexandria as Cyril III and Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople as Cyril I
- Theodore II (1954) Patriarch of Alexandria