Heraklion Basilica di San Marco

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Location: Town

Standing just opposite the Morosini Lions fountain in Eleftherios Venizelos Square, the Basilica of San Marco is one of the greatest Venetian monuments of Heraklion Town.

It was built in 1239, shortly after the Venetian occupation of Crete in the context of the Fourth Crusade. The location chosen was in the very heart of Handakas (as Heraklion was previously called), opposite the duke’s majestic palace, which, unfortunately, has not survived to this day. The ducal family’s members were buried inside the church, and two of the sarcophagi can still be seen on the eastern side of the temple. The original edifice was damaged by the tremendous earthquake of 1303, as well as by several seismic events throughout the 16th century, so a series of buttresses had to be added to enhance its stability.

After the city was conquered by the Ottomans in 1669, the basilica was converted into a mosque, known as Defterdar Mosque. The belfry was pulled down and a minaret was erected in its place. It was in operation until 1915, and the minaret was demolished a few years later.

Subsequently, the place was used as a cinema, while during the German Occupation, it functioned as a storehouse. Today it houses the Heraklion Art Gallery, which hosts temporary art exhibitions, besides boasting a permanent collection of works by a number of Greek artists.

Between 1956 and 1960, extensive works were undertaken in order to restore the basilica in its original form. The church is three-aisled, the central aisle being higher than the others. The aisles are separated by two series of pillars made of green-colored granite and topped by Gothic arches and capitals. The main gate has a lintel with a relieving arch, while an ornately carved portal from the Palazzo d’ Ittar has been incorporated into the northern entrance. The western facade features a Renaissance-style portico known as the Loggia of San Marco, which was used by wheat merchants during the Venetian era. On the south wall, five windows with pointed arches survive from the original 13th-century construction, while the rest of the windows on the other three sides were added after the restoration works, recreating the original ones. The Byzantine-style frescoes have also been uncovered.



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