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The prefecture of Heraklion is the largest in area, lies between the prefectures of Rethymnon and Lassithi, has the greatest population and the highest per capita income of Crete. Its capital is also Heraklion and the biggest town of Crete. It has approximately 150,000 inhabitants. It concentrates the biggest economical activity of the island and attracts many tourists every year. There are so many sites which worth visiting that you can't decide where to go first. Heraklion is inhabited since antiquity. The ancient towns of Knossos, Phaestos, Malia etc. will bring you to the Minoan era. The Venetian monuments spread all over the town give Heraklion a charming image. Should you come to Heraklion, you mustn't miss visiting the archaeological museum. Heraklion is a very active city, where you can enjoy anything which comes into your mind. The best night life, cinemas, restaurants, luxury hotels, bungalows and anything that you will need to have wonderful vacations. There are seven provinces in this prefecture: Malevizi, Temenos, and Pediada on the north coast and Pirgiotisa, Kainourio, Monofatsi, and Viannos in the centre and on the south coast. The main cities are Timbaki, Ano Viannos, Matala, and Mires. The northwestern area of the prefecture of Heraklion is comprised of the three provinces of Malevizi, Temenos, and Pediada. The main city is Heraklion. This area is the largest of grape - producing areas of Crete and its main products are sultana raisins, Malevizi (Malmsey) wine, and table grapes (Rosaki). In these valleys Sir Arthur Evans, the British archaeologist, excavated the Minoan Palace of Knossos, the remains of a great civilization. A low mountain range rises in the middle of the prefecture and descends into the Messara Plain. These fertile plains have been cultivated for thousands of years and have important Minoan, Greek, and Roman archaeological sites -- Festos, Agia Triada, and Gortys are the major ones. The imposing peak of Psiloritis, 2,456 metres above sea level, is visible from almost all points of the prefecture of Heraklion. It is especially impressive during the winter months when it is snow-capped. The prefecture of Heraklion has many cultural and historical features to offer the visitor. The finest collection of Minoan artefacts in the world and the sites of one of history's greatest civilizations may be of interest as well as the numerous Byzantine churches and Venetian castles and fountains. The historical aspects combine with the scenic landscapes of mountains, valleys, and sea to make this a beautiful and fascinating area. The beaches of Agia Pelagia and Limin Hersonisou (also known as just Hersonissos) on the north coast and Matala and Kali Limenes on the south coast will attract the visitor with their warm, clear seas. There are many fine restaurants and tavernas offering Cretan specialities throughout the area. The eastern part of the Heraklion prefecture has some major tourist resorts near the sea (Limin Hersonisou), some major archaeological sites (Malia), and many important Byzantine churches. The southern area of the prefecture of Heraklion includes the four provinces of Pirgiotisa, Kainourio, Monofatsi, and Viannos. The most prominent physical feature here is the Pediada Messaras. It stretches east from Timbaki to Ano Viannos. The plain is between the low mountain ranges of the south and north. The main products of Messara are cereals, olives, and fruits. and cultivation goes on year-round, aided by the use of hothouses to increase productivity. If you love nature and sea, there are so many beaches in the north and south of the prefecture that will surely cast a spell on you. The plains of Messara give you the opportunity to enjoy the view of numerous fruit trees of all varieties and smell the air of unique natural environment.
The Gate Makasi (meaning "switchman" in Turkish) is a military gate of the Venetian Walls of Heraklion, the gallery of which had a length of 110 meters. The gallery leads to the eastern low square of Martinengo bastion, that housed the canons that protected the bastion Bethlehem.
The gallery is used as a memorial for the National Resistance in Crete, as here the Germans imprisoned hundreds of locals in the Second World War. On July 15, 1943, when the so-called Big Blockade of Crete took place, dozens of Christians and Jews were captured and imprisoned here.
On November 4, 1943, many prisoners were transferred to Mauthausen concentration camp, while other 600 boarded on June 8, 1944 in Tanais ferry to Piraeus. However in the open sea, the Germans got rid of the 600 souls by sinking the ship and then announced that the British navy sank ship. The Germans never paid for these atrocities, just like all such stories in Crete.
Capital of Crete
Heraklion or Iraklion (Greek: ÇñÜêëåéï; Italian: Candia), is the largest city and capital of Crete. It is also the fourth largest city in Greece. Its name is also spelled Herakleion (transliteration of ancient/Katharevousa name), or Iraklio, with other variants. For centuries it was known as Candia (Greek: ×Üíäáî or ×Üíäáêáò, Turkish: Kandiye).
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 shows his visitors its beauty only on the second glance.
Heraklion is the largest urban centre in Crete, the capital of the region and the economic centre of the island. The first European civilisation, the Minoan civilisation, flourished on this land 5000 years ago. The conquering of Constantinopole by the Franks in 1204, left Crete under the sovereignty of the Venetians until 1669. During this period, Heraklion experienced significant cultural growth and became the capital of the ''Regno di Candia''. However, all this cultural and spiritual growth came to a sudden end in 1669 with the invasion of Crete by the Turks. Crete became autonomous in 1897, to be united with Greece in 1913. The cultural heritage of the city of Heraklion offers a variety of forms of modern entertainment. Every year, the city, as well as numerous villages in the surrounding area, organize cultural events such as theatrical performances, art exhibitions, musical nights and festivals which attract a lot of people, locals and visitors alike. For those inclined to modern entertainment and clubbing, the city offers ample opportunities for night life. Heraklion is a city with one foot rooted in the past, the other stepping into the future. Currently the population of Heraklion is approximately 150000 people. It is a very dynamic and cosmopolitan town, particularly during the summer period when thousands of visitors can be seen shopping in the market or visiting the museums and other places of interest. Today Heraklion is the top choice for tourist destinations in the Mediterranean.
The unique natural beauty favours the development of alternative forms of tourism and provides a combination of mountain and sea sports.
The city is also the commercial and scientific centre of the island. It has a strategic geopolitical position in the southeast basin of the Mediterranean Sea connecting three continents and many different cultures.
During the last 20 years the city has made remarkable progress in the academic and technological fields.
The dynamic and imaginative combination of natural beauty, climate, strategic position, cultural heritage and scientific background has created an appropriate environment to add value to the broader entrepreneurial activity in the region and stimulate the local economy.
The city of Heraklion still enjoys its reputation as one of the most attractive Mediterranean capitals. It has enough to offer that the cultural tastes and shopping needs of both the visitors and the residents are fully catered for. It is no accident that it has always been the business and social center of Crete throughout the ages and that status is maintained today. It plays host to many interests and activities as well as providing a very pleasant way of life.
What to see in the city
For those who wish to learn a little bit about the history, Heraklion is home to ancient monuments and examples of major Western civilization. The region of Heraklion is famous for Zeus, the Greek god of hospitality, who met and fell in love with a Princess of unsurpassed beauty, named Europa. She gave birth to the race of Minoan Kings and sages, the founders of the earliest civilized nation in Europe.
There are many medieval monuments that indicate the prosperity of the era, situated in the center of the city. If you continue onwards from the port to the city centre, the first significant landmark you can see is 'Lotzia'. Nowadays this houses the City Council and part of the Municipality of Heraklion services departments. 'Lotzia' used to be the society for the Duke and Officers of Crete, and is decorated with uniquely sculptured coats of arms, trophies, and metopes. For centuries the noblemen of Crete gathered here to rest, to be entertained, or to practice their formal rituals. Its passageways (stoas) have their roots in the 14th century, but 'Lotzia' took its final architecture from the early part of the 17th century. It is located in the PIAZZA DEI SIGNORI (Square of the Administrative Authorities). It is considered to be the finest Venetian monument in the city, and was awarded the EUROPA NOSTRA first prize in 1987, for best renovated and preserved European monument of the year.
The majestic fortress, 'Koules', stands by the port. It had been used for centuries not only for the protection of the city but as a prison too, with its huge dark hallways and cells.
In the southern part of the city the palace of Knossos is situated, which was built in preclassical times, when Crete was still under reign and consisted of a hundred cities. In the center of Heraklion, at the North-east corner of 'Liberty Square' (Platia Eleftherias) is the Archeological Museum of Crete. Every year thousands of visitors come to admire fabulous treasures from the Minoan, historic, classical, Hellenistic and Roman times.
West of Heraklion, there is the Cretan History Museum, where the riches of the Christian, Byzantine, Medieval and earlier times are preserved for all to see. There are also many objets d'art, examples of Cretan popular culture through the ages. These include pieces of work by the great painter El Greco, who was born and studied painting in Heraklion itself. In the same Museum we can also find hagiographies from the famous Cretan School of Hagiography. In addition, visitors have the chance to see a typical Cretan house as well as memorabilia of the great author, Nikos Kazantzakis.
Just a few meters from the Church there is an elaborate fountain, called 'Liontaria' (lions). It is exquisitely sculpted and decorated with images inspired by the sea and the animal kingdom. It was constructed during the first decades of the 17th century by Franzisco Morozini, not only to decorate the square but also to provide the city with water.
South of the 'Lotzia' is the Basilica of Saint Marcus which was built in 1239 in the Piazza delle biade (Square of Blades) and used to be the Cathedral of Crete. The Basilica belonged to the reigning Duke and it was used as the Dukes' burial place. Nowadays it houses the Municipal Art Gallery.
Heraklion is surrounded by an enormous medieval wall, which used to protect it from enemies and gave the city its reputation as the best-fortified state in the Mediterranean basin. It stood up to a siege by the Turks for 25 years but the city was finally seized after its betrayal by a Venetian Engineer who led the invaders through a secret passageway into the city.
The Medieval monastery of Saint Catherine stands in the southwest corner of Lion Square. This building used to be the Cretan University during the Middle ages, through which many European artists, philosophers, church fathers, poets and authors rose to prominence. Nowadays the church of Saint Catherine houses a priceless collection of Cretan hagiographies.
A few meters from the church, you will find the Cathedral of Saint Minas, who is the patron saint of the city. Saint Minas rescued the Christians from slaughter when the Turks had tried to annihilate them in the early 19th century. The church took thirty years to construct and was inaugurated in 1896 with lavish celebrations. Next to it we can find the older, smaller church of Saint Minas, embellished with magnificent hagiographies and icons created by great hagiographers.
Stroll around the city center
The central market and the shops in Heraklion are among the most diverse in Crete. Visitors can easily find souvenirs, jewellery, furs, food, and clothes for any price. Famous Cretan products such as oil, wine, raki(spirit), honey and herbs are really worth tasting and buying. The 'Martinengo' battlements rise from the south part of the wall, where the celebrated Nikos Kazantzakis, author of Zorbas and the Odyssey, was buried. South of here is the Old Gate called 'Hanioporta'. Lots of old churches and battlements still decorate Heraklion, which in addition to having a rich cultural heritage is very lively during the day and night.
Every evening during the summer, the Municipality of Heraklion organizes several arts events in its charming open-air theatres. The Festival has been honored by the presence of the Bolsoi Ballet, Kirof, the Opera di Vienna, Joan Baez, Theodorakis, Hatzidakis, Markopoulos, Brubek, Moustaki, Roussos, Halloway and Alvinand Berzam. The Festival begins in June and finishes in September, but during the rest of the year, art exhibitions, shows, recitals and concerts take place. At Christmas, Easter and in May there are celebrations for Holy Days and also for the Battle of Crete in 1941.
Arts events still take place, which are examples of a both a flourishing civilization and a creative development.
In Heraklion there are many nightclubs as well as tavernas/restaurants with Cretan and other folk music with dancing.
In Heraklion there are a great number of hotels ranging from one to five star, various rooms to rent and many travel agents and car rental firms. See hotels...
There is a great number of restaurants and tavernas, which offer traditional Cretan food as well as international cuisine. Local 'raki', 'ouzo'(spirits and fish-taverns are well known for their local delicacies, traditional drinks and low prices.
The Heraklion airport is named after Nikos Kazantzakis and is very busy, being the link between Crete and everywhere else in Greece and Europe. In addition, Heraklion port is the link to Piraeus, Thessaloniki and the Aegean islands.
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