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Heraklion, the largest city in Crete
No other city or town in Crete is as important as the city of Heraklion. In Heraklion lies the centre of trade, commerce and tourism, as rightly befits the capital of Crete. Heraklion possesses a heritage that spans across hundreds of years and manages to bridge the gap created by time in order to embrace the progress of the future.
The Historical Heritage of Heraklion
Heraklion - or Iraklion, as the city is called in Crete - has the unique status of being at the centre of all things since time immemorial. The city stands at the outskirts of the palace of Knossos, which historians know to be the heart of the ancient Minoan civilisation.
The city of Heraklion has known times of peace and times of war. It has also known the rule of foreign masters. In 69 BC, the city came into the bosom of the Roman Empire through the conquests of Quintus Caecilius Metellus. The Byzantine Empire took possession of the city when Rome fell.
In 1204, when the Byzantine Empire was no more, Heraklion became a city under Venetian rule. In 1669, after 21 years of siege, the Venetians relinquished Heraklion and the whole of Crete to Turkish rule under the Ottoman Empire. Under this rule Heraklion remained, until Crete won its independence in 1897 and became one with Greece in 1913.
The Modern Face of Heraklion
Today, Heraklion is a city that embraces its long and colourful past but is nonetheless busy with building bridges into the future. With around 200,000 people living within its boundaries, Heraklion is a busy, bustling city.
Within the city is the Heraklion Nikos Kazantzakis International Airport, the second largest airport in Greece in terms of size and traffic. It is also a very important port of call in shipping and sea-based transportation.
Though a short drive out of the city will take the traveller to the most famous tourist attraction in Crete - the palace of Knossos - Heraklion itself has many interesting sights that should not be missed.
Among these places that should be visited in Heraklion is the Liondaria or Lions Square, officially known as the Plateia Eleftheriou Venizelou. If Heraklion is the heart of Crete, then Liondaria is the heart of Heraklion. This is where people meet for business or for pleasure. Here, one can sit at one of the cafes and be served light Cretan meals while watching people.
Other sites that should not be missed when visiting Heraklion are Koules and the ancient Venetian city walls. Koules, also known as the Castello del Molo and the Rocca a Mare, is a fortress that has protected Heraklion since the 13th century. It overlooks the old Venetian harbour.
As for the ancient Venetian city walls, they are certainly worth a look as these walls were the ones responsible for making the Turkish siege of Heraklion last for 21 years. This is also the place where the famous Cretan philosopher Nikos Kazantzakis has been laid to rest.
The heart of Crete beats in Heraklion, and a holiday to Crete will not be complete without an exploration of Heraklion.
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