Heraklion - Abbey Travel, Ireland

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Welcome to Heraklion


Heraklion is the main city on the island of Crete and usually the starting point for holiday visitors wishing to explore the island. The city, built on a fairly steep hillside, has a huge harbour to accommodate ferries and cruise liners, and an international airport.

Heraklion is busy, bustling and full of hotels, fast food outlets, shops and traffic. The main square of Plateia Venizelou is a pedestrian mall sporting cafés and restaurants, with some fascinating shops in the surrounding streets. Like many Greek cities Heraklion's architecture was influenced by Venetian occupation, and a Venetian fortress dominates the harbour.

Heraklion's pride and joy, though, is its archaeological museum, which contains the world's most comprehensive collection of artefacts from the Minoan civilisation, which flourished on Crete around 1600 BC. Heraklion is close to the major archaeological site associated with the Minoans at Knossos.

Information & Facts

Greek is the national language, but English is widely spoken.

The Euro (EUR) is the official currency, divided into 100 cents. Banks and bureaux de change are widely available and travellers cheques and major credit cards are widely accepted. ATMs are widespread and are generally the cheapest and most convenient method of obtaining euros.

The remains of Gortyna to the south of Heraklion tell a later tale than that of the other archaeological sites in Crete, particularly the important inscribed stones, known as the Gortyn Law Code, dating back to the 5th century BC: a complete code of law based on Minoan tradition. The Code stones are still preserved and exhibited in the north round wall of the Roman Odeon at the Gortyna site (although of course the theatre was built much later in the 1st century). Other highlights at Gortyna (which was capital of Roman Crete and Cyrene) include the Church of St Titus, where Christianity was first introduced to the island and the Temple of Apollo Pythios, dating from 700 BC.

A visit to the Minoan palace at Knossos should be complemented with a visit to the wonderful Archaeological Museum in Heraklion. Thousands of artefacts depicting the intriguing Minoan culture are on display, from magnificent bull-headed drinking vessels to the mysterious Phaistos disk inscribed with undeciphered symbols.

This museum deals with Crete's more modern history and highlights the islanders' long battle for independence from the early Christian times to the present day. Exhibits include some Cretan folk art, and the Medieval and Renaissance collection contains the only painting on Crete by the island's famous painter El Greco, The Landscape of God-trodden Mount Sinai. Another world-renowned Cretan, Nikos Kazantzakis, author of Zorba the Greek,is also remembered in the museum, which houses a recreation of his study.

South of Heraklion lies Crete's second most important Minoan archaeological site, the Palace complex of Phaistos, considered by many to be a finer example of Minoan architecture than Knossos. The west propylon, the monumental entranceway to the palace, is particularly impressive, and the ceremonial staircase and great court are breathtaking. Like Knossos the site has actually been built on twice, with the original palace, built about 2,000 BC, having been destroyed by fire and replaced with a new palace around 300 years later.

The Minoan palace at Knossos, covering an area of 215,278 square feet (20,000 sq metres), is one of the world's greatest sightseeing experiences. It consists of four wings, arranged around a rectangular central court. The palace originally had many storeys, was built of ashlar blocks and had walls decorated with splendid frescoes. British archaeologist, Arthur Evans, who excavated most of the labyrinthine Knossos site, has painstakingly restored some sections of the palace. The remains now visible are actually not those of the original palace, which was built around 2,000 BC and destroyed by an earthquake about 1,700 BC. A subsequent more complex palace was then constructed. The palace was first unearthed in 1878 by a Cretan merchant and antiquarian, but was not systematically excavated until 1900. The Knossos site is about three miles (5km) south of Heraklion.

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