Heraklion Koules Fortress (Rocca a Mare)

Location: Town

Koules (which means fortress in Turkish) is a massive two-story fortress that surrounds the harbor, and it is one of the most emblematic landmarks of Heraklion Town.

The castle was built on the site of a preexisting 7th/8th-century Byzantine tower, which had been erected to guard the city against the incursions of Saracen pirates. Eventually, this tower proved to be insufficient, and the city was occupied by the Arabs. In 1211 AD, the city was conquered by the Genoese, and, some years later, it passed under the control of the Venetians, who reconstructed the Byzantine fort.

After being severely damaged by devastating earthquakes both in 1303 and in 1508, it was decided that the tower should be pulled down, so that a new fortress, better suited to the needs of warfare after the introduction of gunpowder, could be built in its stead. Construction works began in 1525, using a very interesting method: the embankments needed for the fort's expansion were made by filling old ships with stones and sinking them just outside the north side of the mole. In this way, the ships functioned as breakwaters. Works finished in 1540 and the new fort was called Rocca a Mare or Castello a Mare (fort by the sea). Nevertheless, repairs were often required as a result of the fury of the waves, which constantly undermined its foundations.

Read more ...

Top Tours and activities

  • EBike Historical Sightseeing Tour and Greek Meze

    Category: City, Gastronomy

    Discover Heraklion’s eclectic mix of modern and ancient wonders on this 3 hour e-bike tour. Admire the impressive Venetian walls, explore the picturesque streets of Iakkos, learn about the city’s archeological sites, and taste traditional Greek meze.

    3 hours Map
    from € 75.00
    Book now

More about Koules Fortress

During Ottoman rule, Koules was often repaired, but it did not undergo any significant modifications, apart from the addition of battlements with openings for cannons and rifles. At that time, part of Koules functioned as a prison, and several Cretan fighters who had revolted against the Ottomans were imprisoned there. A second, smaller fort was also built opposite the old one, but it was demolished in 1936.

The architecture of the Castle follows the typical Venetian style. Covering an area of 3,600 square meters, the edifice is quadrilateral, forming a semicircle on the northeast side. Its outer walls are astonishingly strong, being nearly 9 meters thick, while the inner walls measure 1.4-3 meters. The main gate is located on the west side, but there are also two smaller ones on the northern and southwestern parts of the walls. Each of them was adorned with marvelous relief sculptures depicting the winged Lion of Saint Mark, the symbol of the patron saint of Venice. Though these sculptures have survived to this day, they have been eroded by sea winds and they are partly destroyed. On the north side, there was also a lighthouse, which was restored in 1864 by the French Society of Ottoman Lighthouses.

The ground floor consists of 26 apartments which were used to store victuals and ammunition, while some of them served as prison cells. It has a vaulted roof with broad fanlights, and it also has a large cistern. The upper floor is made up of a big courtyard surrounded by crenellations, and it housed the soldiers' barracks, the officers' quarters, a bakery, a mill and a small church.

Today the Koules Fortress has been restored and is visited by thousands of people every year. It often hosts cultural events, as well as an exhibition with findings from Jacques-Yves Cousteau's expedition to the Dia islet, which lies north of Heraklion. One of the most prominent exhibits is the French fleet's ship of the line La Therese, which had come to the aid of the revolted Cretans in 1669. Visitors can also see three Minoan shipwrecks and find rich material on the history of both the fort and the town of Heraklion.



    No reviews yet.
    Be the first to write one!