The ancient history of Heraklion is strongly associated with the Minoan Palace of Knossos. Ancient historians such as Strabo refer to Heraklion as the port of Knossos, the center of Minoan civilization. This period reached its peak from the 16th to the 14th century BC and excavations have revealed a wealth society that based its economy on agriculture and trade.
The Minoans had developed an important navigation system, had built ships and had made beautiful pots to restore their trading goods, usually olive oil, cereals and wine. This was a peaceful society as archaeologists believe, since no fortifications protected the towns. The space-planning of the era is impressive and so are the frescoes that have been discovered in the palace of Knossos. This civilization was destroyed in about 1,500 BC, when the volcanic eruption of Santorini raised tsunami waves in the Aegean and covered these towns in volcanic ashes.
The centuries that followed was not very prosperous for Crete. Only in the Roman times, there was some development, when Ancient Gortyn was established in southern Heraklion. Then, Crete became part of the Byzantine Empire but it was frequently raided by pirates and enemies.
During the 9th century, the Arabs occupied Crete and founded at the site of Heraklion a new town called Radth al Khandak (Castle of Handakas). The following century, the Byzantines took over the island and remained there until the 13th century. In 14th century, the city of Heraklion was surrendered to the Venetians, who ruled Crete for four centuries. This was the most prosperous period for Heraklion with a great development in arts, trade, architecture and literature. Many intellectuals and artists found refuge there after the fall of Constantinoupolis in 1453.
The construction of the defensive walls lasted for a whole century and the strategic importance of these fortifications was revealed in the battle between the Ottomans and the Venetians, which lasted for many years.
After the siege of the Turks for 25 years, the Venetians were forced to abandon the town. The Cretans fought against the Turks for many times the centuries that followed and in 1898 the island gained its autonomy. It was finally united with the rest of Greece in 1913.
Again, due to its strategic position, Heraklion was attacked by the German forces in 1941. The war caused many destructions and the city was largely damaged. Today, a plethora of Venetian monuments still survive in the town like the old defensive walls which are built around Heraklion, the emblematic fortress, the fountains and other art works of European character.
On top of a hill outside the Walls, there is the tomb of Nikos Kazantzakis, the famous writer from Crete and near the New Gate there is also a theater to his honour.