Heraklion Architecture

Heraklion is the largest town in Crete and the center of the Minoan civilization. Due to its long history, the architecture of Heraklion reflects the influence of many cultures.

Not far from the heart of the city lies the Minoan Palace of Knossos, one of the most important archaeological discoveries in the world. Consisting of a huge building complex, this structure is one of the finest examples of Minoan architecture offering a plethora of architectural marvels and interesting findings from the Minoan times. A similar complex can be found in the site of Phaistos in southern Crete, though this one is smaller and less complicated. Other noteworthy Minoan sites in Heraklion include Malia and Agia Triada.

Due to its strategic location, Heraklion was of great significance for the Byzantines and the Venetians, who left a fair number of forts, castles and beautiful monuments that survive to this day. Prominent among them is the Venetian fortress welcoming visitors at the port, as well as many splendid mansions lining the streets of the town. There, you will find many fountains from the Venetian times, like the Priuli Fountain or the Morosini Fountain, which stands in the middle of Venizelou Square. Right opposite is Saint Mark’s Basilica, built by the Venetians in 1239, which now houses the Municipal Art Gallery. Another prime example of the town’s Italian legacy is the Venetian Loggia, where the Town Hall is housed today. Throughout the prefecture, visitors also have the chance to admire many Byzantine churches and monasteries.

In 1669, the town was seized by the Ottomans, who, besides repairing the Venetian fortifications and buildings, left their own mark on the local architecture. To begin with, water was very important to them for religious purposes, so the Turks constructed dozens of fountains, like that of Yenicar Aga in Ikarou Avenue or the one on Kornarou Square, which looks like a domed circular edifice. Numerous elegant neoclassical buildings from the Ottoman times also adorn the streets of Heraklion. The imposing Chronaki House, the small Serai and the mansion housing the Italian School of Archaeology are some of the most imposing samples of Ottoman architecture. Inside their high walls, Ottoman residences enclosed fairytale worlds, with painted wooden ceilings, partitions and magnificent pebbled yards.

Unfortunately, many of the town’s mighty buildings were leveled by earthquakes or fires, while urbanization and expansion further wounded the historic aspect of Heraklion. Nevertheless, besides the surviving monuments, it is possible to find many hotels that have been created with respect to traditional architecture.