Heraklion Sightseeing

Knossos Archeological Site

Knossos is the most important archeological site in Crete, located 5 km southeast from Heraklion. It was the Palace of king Minos and according to mythology, home of the Minotaur. This palace was reconstructed by the archeologist Arthur Evans. It was built around 1900 B.C, over the remains of a Neolithic settlement.

A part of the palace was destroyed about in 1700 B.C probably by an earthquake. A new destruction occurred in 1450 B.C., probably caused by the explosion of Santorini’s volcano. The final destruction by a big fire came around 1350 B.C. The city was basically rebuilt and was standing through the classical and Roman periods.

Phaestos Archeological Site
This is the second most important archeological site in Crete after Knossos, located 62 km southwest of Heraklion. The King of Phaestos was Rodamanthys, brother of King Minos. Phaestos town had two ports, Matala and Kommos. The first palace was built around 1900 B.C, but was twice destroyed like Knossos, once in the 18th century B.C probably due to an earthquake and the second around mid 15th century. Phaestos was reconstructed after both destructions only to be torn down again by the invading Achaeans. Phaestos’ large parts were still standing though, until its enemy city, Gortyn, finally brought them down too at about 160 B.C.

Agia Triada Archeological Site
The archeological site of Agia Triada is located 3km west from Knossos. The palace was built around 1600 B.C and destroyed 1450 B.C. According to a theory, it was the summer residence of the king of Phaestos, but others support that it was used as his base after the destruction of Phaestos. The findings brought to light a place used as temple, a vault, store rooms, an agora (marketplace), a dome-like tomb and family tombs too. Many of the findings of Agia Triada settlement are exhibited in the Archeological Museum of Heraklion.

Various Other Archeological Sites

The ancient city Archana prospered between 2500 and 1400 B.C. A manor house, a cemetery and a Minoic temple were found in the area. The palace was destroyed around 1450 B.C., like the other Minoan cities. In the area was excavated a large cemetery, with findings including human skeletons, vessels, stamps, figurines, golden coins and more, most of which exposed in the Archeological Museum of Heraklion.

Only in a distance of 3 km east from the town Malia another ancient city existed, the name of which is still unknown. Sarpidonas, brother of King Minos and Rodamanthys is believed to have been its king. The town was built around 1900 B.C, destroyed in 1700 B.C and, finally, in 1450 B.C. The excavations brought to light store rooms containing jars and vessels, workshops, a room with weapons, an altar and various other objects.
The archeological site of ancient Tylissos is located 14 km west from Heraklion. Three big buildings, probably houses and a water supply network were found there and most of the area’s findings, such as vessels, coins, inscribed plates, tools, utensils, are housed in the Archeological Museum of Heraklion.

Gortyn Archeological Site

Gortyn was a very powerful city and also the capital of Crete during the Roman and early Byzantine period. It was a great enemy of Knossos and Phaestos. It avoided disaster by allying with the Romans who invaded the island in 68 A.D. In 828 A.D Gortyn was destroyed by the Arabs who conquered the island.

The excavations brought to light a citadel, a temple of God Apollo, a theatre, a temple of Isis and one of Serapes, a stadium and an amphitheatre. In the road to Phaestos are found the ruins of its agora, the temple of Asklipios and a conservatory. In the archeological site there is a Museum exposing the findings of the area.

The exceptional Aquarium of Crete in Heraklion city hosts hundreds of sea species including fish and other organisms in a well organized space with audio visual equipment, ideal for introducing you to the magnificent sea ecosystem and its marvels. The Cretaquarium also features an audio guiding system giving valuable details and information for each of the tanks and the species it includes.
For more information, please visit: www.cretaquarium.gr  

Matala Caves

Serving as the ancient port of Phaestos and Gortyn towns, Matala is most probably the most ancient village on Crete. The favorite gathering place for hippies in the ‘70s, Matala boast numberless natural caves which were at first used as worshipping and inhabitance places.

Later on they were mostly used as tombs. Matala caves can be visited even nowadays as they are one of the most important sightseeing spots of Heraklion and they are under the Archeological Service’s protection due to the great importance and valuable information they give for our ancestors.

The Cave of Eilytheia
South of Amnissos, located east from Heraklion, the Cave of Eilythreia is found. It is believed to have been the birth place of Eilytheia, the daughter of Zeus and Hera and has served, according to tradition, as a place of safe and painless delivery of babies by women. A temple dedicated to Eilytheia is also found here, coming to verify the truth behind the legend.

The Venetian Fortress Koules

It was built by the Venetians around 1211 A.C. and it was initially named “Rocca Al Mare”, meaning Rock at Sea, at is literally built right on the sea. The fortress used to protect the old harbour by sea waves.

During the Ottoman occupation it served as prisons and many local heroes of the resistance have died within its dungeons. A beautiful structure destroyed by an earthquake in 1303 and reconstructed in its present form a few years after.

Agiofarango Gorge

Agiofarago, meaning the Holly Gorge in Greek, is located south from the monastery Odigitria and west of Kali Limenes village, in the south part of the prefecture. It exits to the Libyan Sea at a very beautiful beach and it was named after the hermits who used to go there and get isolated from the rest of the world. Throughout the route you can observe the huge vertical rocks surrounding the place and the natural caves curved into them. Just before the exit of the Gorge you will meet the church of Agios Antonios, part of which is nestled within one of the caves.

You can reach the gorge can by boat from Kokkinos Pyrgos or Kali Limenes and by car following the road from Heraklion to Moires and then direct to Sivas village and Kali Limenes, passing from Odigitria monastery first. The gorge can be crossed easily in about 90min.

Agios Nikolaos Gorge

Located in Psiloritis Mountain the gorge of Agios Nikolaos, or Rouvas gorge is rich in flora and fauna extending for about 4 km. Part of it is suitable for activities, such as climbing, hiking, wild life observance etc. Inside the gorge grows the so called Rouvas forest, with very old, tall trees, reaching up to 15m.

The forest covers a surface of 30.000 m2 and consists of many different kinds of trees, such as oaks, maples, cypresses, plane trees, pines, etc. It is considered to be a very special kind of forest because of the size of yews, that grew up to be much bigger than bushes usually are, most probably due to the lack of human presence and activities.

Other Worth-Visiting Gorges
Martsalos Gorge
This gorge exits to the south, on the beach of Martsalos to the Libyan Sea. On this beach Apostle Pavlos is believed to have disembarked on his journey to Rome. In the middle of the gorge there is a very old small church built in the rock, dedicated to Panagia (Holy Mary). Inside the gorge there is also a colony of the scarce “theofrastos” palm trees.

Karteros Gorge
The gorge of Karteros is one of the longest in the region, boasting a length of approximately 12.5km and being traversed by the river Karteros. The endings of the nearby gorges of Kounavon and Astrakon merge at some point with Karteros Gorge too. Natural springs, a river and small waterfalls form the whole scenery, together an old aqueduct used by the city of Heraklion.

Natural History Museum of Crete

The visitor here is introduced to the natural environment and ecosystem of Crete through realistic representations of natural habitats, forests, caves and mountains. The permanent exhibition includes also presentations and tributes to animals under extinction and a rich photographic archive.There are halls with fossils, rocks and minerals, describing the geological history of the island.

A tribute to the Minoan period represents the everyday life of the Minoans and their relation with nature. A reproduction of authentic palaioanthropologic material with photographs and maps illustrates the evolution of man until the first signs of human civilization.There is also a botanical garden with plants of Crete and the Mediterranean and a projection hall.
For more information, please visit: www.nhmc.uoc.gr

Heraklion Archeological Museum
One of the most important museums in Greece housed in a building of modern architecture in Heraklion. It consists of 20 halls and its collection includes findings from various areas of Crete, covering 5500 years of history from the Neolithic till the Roman period. The exhibits are presented following a chronological order according the history of the Minoan Civilization.
Address: Xanthoudidou 2, Heraklion
Tel: +30 2810 279000, email: [email protected]

Historical Museum of Crete

The museum was founded in1953 and is housed in a neoclassical building. Its exhibits illustrate the Cretan history starting from the early Christian years until the 20th century. In its 12 halls the visitor can observe pictures, books, maps, relics, Cretan costumes etc. On the second floor there is the room of N. Kazantzakis, a very important Greek writer, and the room of Emmanouil Tsouderos, a Greek politician and prime minister from Rethymno, containing many personal items.

There is also a room representing the Cretan traditional house, with tools, furniture, cooking utensils and the traditional loom with tools of weaving.
For more information, please visit: www.historical-museum.gr

Museum for the Battle of Crete (National Resistance)
The Battle of Crete Museum operates since 1994 in Heraklion and hosts a collection of documents and relics from the period 1941-1945 when the island was under German occupation.
Address: Doukos Beaufort & Meramvelou Str., Heraklion
Tel.: +30 2810 246554

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