is the largest town in Crete - the fifth largest in Greece - and also the capital of the
prefecture. Due to its geographical position, Heraklio is the administrative
capital and the transport hub of the island, with an international airport and a
seaport. It lies just outside Knossos and near Phaistos and has one of the most
important archaeological museums. Near Heraklio are the beaches of Ammoudara and
Amnissou but for really nice beaches you can visit Matala, which is located
southwest of Heraklio city.
The Heraklion Archaeological Museum is an
outstanding museum second in size and importance only to the National
Archaeological Museum in Athens. It contains a concentration of almost all the
discoveries, which have been made on Minoan civilization. The exhibits are
arranged in 20 large galleries (rooms) of the museum with the material
classified chronologically. The exhibits are classified into the following main
categories: Ceramic. Vases belonging to the Vasilike style, the polychrome vases
from the Kamares Caves, the vases of plant and marine style and those of the
palace style are especially notable. Stoneware. Mainly vases made of marble,
semi-precious and precious stones. Those, which come from the sacred treasuries
of the palaces at Knossos and Zakros,
are outstanding. A special category is formed by the stone utensils used in
religious ritual, which carry various representations in relief. Seal stones.
These have been usually carved out of semi-precious stones. Miniature sculpture.
Clay figurines and others made of stone or precious materials. Goldsmith's
work, ornaments in general Metalwork. Household utensils, tools, weapons and
ceremonial axes. Frescoes. From the large and the small palaces, villas of the
wealthy classes and mansions. Mural paintings combined with reliefs form a
category of their own. Sarcophagi. The one from Agia Triada, made of stone is
Historical Museum of Crete:
This museum contains fascinating pieces from
Crete's more recent past. Photograpfs, charts, maps form Byzantine to Turkish
rule, an El Greco painting the only one in Crete. In the 2nd floor there is a
library with manuscripts and books of the author Nikos Kazantzakis.
The most famous archaeological site on Crete was brought to light in the late 19th
century by the British archaeologist Arthur Evans. The Minoan Palace of Knossos
lies at a distance of 5km from the town centre or Heraklion. The imposing Palace
was built in a site, which was admired for its natural advantages. It provided
good water supplies, access to the sea and proximity to a large fertile forest
and strong position. The site has been inhabited as early as the Neolithic era
and later, in the 3rd millennium BC during the Pre-palatial period, it developed
into an important settlement. The first Palace was built around 2000 BC and
destroyed 300 years later. In the Neo-palatial period, between 1700 and 1400 BC,
a second, more luxurious palace was erected. This was also destroyed, most
likely by the terrible eruption of the volcano on Santorini. Following this
event, it is restored once more and used by the Achaean rulers as a residence.
During the middle Ages, Knossos was an unimportant small village called
"Makrys Toichos". The archaeological site at Knossos covers 20.000 sq
meters. A wall with several entrances encircles the palace, which has no
fortifications or walls. The palace was both the residence of the royal family
and a major shrine of the Minoan religion.
After Knossos, this is Crete's most important archaeological site, where
Radamanthys, Minos brother, had his luxurious palace. Phaestos - like Knossos, was
both a centre of religious and economic activities. The palace was built
twice. The ruins of the second palace are what the visitor mainly sees today.
The palace architecture is Minoan and its orientation wad towards the west,
serving religious and practical purposes. Most of the Phaestos findings can be seen
in the Archaeological Museum of Heraklio.
A small fishing village located southwest of Heraklio. Matala developed in the
past few years, with increased tourism. There is a sandy beach 300 meters in
length, at either end of which are limestone cliffs, which make the cove a
rather private place. Once the famous caves of Matala were the homes of the
fishermen who live here, during the 1960's they became one of the centres of
the international hippie movement. Today, the caves are fenced off by the
archaeological service and it is forbidden to stay or spend the night in them.
Where to eat
For a small snack don't forget to try bougatsa. An
excellent sweet - (custard filled) or savoury ( cheese filled)
It offers huge range of mezedes, fish dishes like calamari and
Is located in a very nicely decorated old
house in the center of Heraklio. In summer there is outdoor eating on a quiet
street. The cuisine is a mix of a Greek and Italian specialties.
A simple restaurant serving fresh, good quality fish. Other local dishes are
served. The service is excellent.
How to get there
- By air: from Eleutherios Venizelos airport in Athens, from Macedonia airport in Thessaloniki
- By ferry: from Piraeus in 12 hours or from Thessaloniki in 22 hours.