Day Trip #4 (by car)
Heraklion city has many sights to visit, so leave Petrokefalo and Agioklima Traditional House early. You can drive to the city and park your car next to the port and then visit everything on foot, the distances from sight to sight are small. After all, Heraklion is busy during daytime and it won’t be easy to find parking space in the center of the city.
If you park near Koules, the Venetian Castle (1523-1540), it is truly worth visiting after its restoration, the view of the city and of the harbor from the top of the castle is magnificent. Koules was built to protect the port and the city. On the ground floor are 26 rooms that housed captains and stored food. On the upper floor there are battlements for placing canons. The upper parts of the castle are Turkish changes. Outside, on the main side of the castle, you can see the lion of St. Mark, the symbol of Venice. During the Turkish period, the Turks used it also for imprisoning the Cretan revolutionaries.
The main road to the center of the city, after you exit Koules, is in front of you: it is a touristic, wide pedestrian road called 25th August that leads you to Lions Square, in the middle of which you will see the famous Venetian fountain. The street is named after the massacre of 700 Cretan citizens from a Turkish mob in 25 August 1898, because the Turkish troops refused to leave Crete after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Greek liberation.
On this street you can see the church of Saint Titus which was built when the seat of the bishopric was transferred from Gortys to Chandakas (Heraklion) by Nikiforos Fokas in 961. The new cathedral, which is the largest in the city, was dedicated to the Apostle Titus. When the Venetians took over Crete, they installed in the orthodox bishop the Latin archbishop. In the middle of the 15th century, destructions, caused by earthquakes and fire, resulted to the rebuilding of the church from the start in 1557. The church was a basilica, almost square in shape, with a dome in the middle and a bell-tower in the southwest corner. During the Turkish period, the church was given to Fazil Ahmet Kioprouli and it was changed into a mosque and the bell-tower into a minaret. The big earthquake of 1856 destroyed the temple and it was rebuilt once again. After the exchange of populations, the Church of Crete repaired it, and in 1925 it was dedicated again to Apostle Titus.
After Saint Titus Church is Heraklion City Hall (Loggia). It is one of the most characteristic buildings of Venetian architecture on Crete. It was built in 1626-28 (the one we see today) by Francesco Morosini, the same man who built the Lion fountain. It was a public building for the aristocrats and Lords of the city, to confer and reach decisions on financial and commercial matters and also a place for their entertainment (something like a Gentlemen’s Club). Its architecture combines the Dorian and the Ionian style.
Basilica of Saint Mark, one of the most important Venetian monuments in Heraklion, is a few meters away from Loggia. Saint Mark was the patron of Venice. The basilica in his honor was constructed in 1239, it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1303, in 1669 it was converted into a mosque and in 1956 it returned to its current state. Nowadays it is used as the City’s Art Gallery with many different exhibitions from time to time. Many of the original features have been restored. The high arches and thin columns are typical of Venetian architecture.
Exiting the Basilica of Saint Mark you will see the famous Venetian Lion Fountain. You are now standing on Lions Square. It was the largest slave market in the Eastern Mediterranean in 9th-10th century. During the Byzantine period, up to 13th century, the Lions Square was the site of the residence of the Byzantine governor of the city. In Venetian times, until 17th century, the Palace of the Venetian Duke of Crete stood here, on the north side of the Lions Square (where the souvlaki shops are today). The Ducal Palace was a two-storey building with verandas on the ground floor which were rented out as shops. Unfortunately, the earthquake of 1856 destroyed everything except the fountain.
The Morosini Fountain, the famous Lion Fountain, was the work of Capitan Generale Francesco Morosini and his engineers. The fountain was constructed to bring unlimited drinking water to the city which had no springs, and its citizens used mostly wells. It was watered by Karidaki spring from Archanes village on Mountain Yuchtas and the water traveled about 15kms to get to the fountain. The work took 14 months to complete (1628). The fountain is composed of eight lobes, making it easier for 40 people to fill their water-jars at the same time. The lobes of the fountain are decorated with scenes from Greek mythology and marine figures. At the centre of the fountain sit four lions (the symbol of Venice) with water gushing from their mouths. At the top of the fountain was a large statue of Poseidon, we don’t know whether it was removed or destroyed. In 1847, by decision of the Turkish administration, marble columns enclosed the fountain and an inscription honoring the Sultan was added. By decision of the Municipal Council in 1900, the fountain has been restored to its original condition. Nowadays water runs from the lions’ mouths once more and there have been efforts to reveal the Venetian underground ducts which supplied the fountain with water, making them visible to people walking on Lions Square.
If you cross the road, you will see the local market. You can buy traditional Cretan products, fruit and vegetables, herbs and spices, cheese and meat, and maybe grab a bite.
When you leave the port with your car, going to Petrokefalo and Agioklima Traditional House, 200 meters away from Koules Castle, you will see the church of Saints Peter and Paul amongst ruins of buildings of the Byzantine period. This large single-aisled Basilica was constructed by the Venetians as a Monastery of the Dominican Order and is one of the two churches of Crete that has some parts of gothic architecture. After 1669, it was transformed into a mosque. Today its initial form has been restored and it’s truly breath taking.
Next to the church of Saints Peter and Paul you will find the Historical Museum of Crete. It is housed in a neoclassical building dating to 1903 which was owned by Andreas Kalokairinos. He granted it to the Society of Cretan Historical Studies to be turned into a museum in 1952. Valuable historical relics of Crete, from the First Byzantine period (330 AD) to World War II, are displayed in its 22 rooms, covering an area of 1,500 square meters.