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A few words about Heraklion:
Heraklion (ΗΡΑΚΛΕΙΟ in Greek), also Heraklio, Iraklion or Irakléio is the major
city and capital of the island of Crete. It is also the capital of the
prefecture of the same name. It has an international airport named after the
writer Nikos Kazantzakis. The ruins of Knossos, which were excavated and
restored by Arthur Evans, are nearby.
As mentioned above, Heraklion is close to the ruins of the
palace of Knossos, which in Minoan times was the biggest centre of population
on Crete. So it is very likely that there was a port here as long ago as 2000
BC. There is however no archaeological evidence for such a port. Other very
important Minoan era ruins are found in or around Archanes village (a few km
after Knossos), in Anemospilia, Fourni and Vathipetro.
The present city of Heraklion was founded in 824 AD by the Saracens (an Arabic
Muslim people). They built a giant ditch around the city for protection. They
named the city Khandak, meaning 'moat', after the ditch. The Saracens allowed
the port to be used as a safe haven for pirates, much to the annoyance of the
nearby Byzantine Empire.
In 961, the Byzantines attacked and defeated the city, slaughtered all the
Saracens, looted the city and burned it to the ground. They remained in
control of the rebuilt Khandak for the next 243 years.
In 1204, the city was bought by the Venetians 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 40m thick, with 7 bastions, and a fortress in the harbour. The
name Khandak became Candia in Italian. The city retained the name of Candia
for centuries, and the whole island of Crete was often called Candia as a
After the Venetians came the Turks of the Ottoman Empire. They besieged the
city for 22 years in a bloody war in which 30,000 Cretans and 120,000 Turks
died. The Venetians eventually handed it over in 1669. The city was renamed
during the Turkish occupation to Megalo Kastro (big castle). During their
occupation, the harbor silted up, so they moved most of their business to
Chania in the west of the island.
The city only became truly Greek with the withdrawal of the Turks in 1898. At
this stage, the Greeks decided to rename the city to something Greek, so they
chose the name Heraklion, meaning City of Heracles (Hercules), after the port
of Heracleum which had existed somewhere in the locality in Roman times.
The biggest monument of the city is the Venetian medieval fortress Rocca al
Mare (also known as Koules) located on the port.
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