The Minoan palace of Knossos is located five kilometers southeast of the city of Heraklion and is a symbol of one of the first refined civilizations on earth, as this area was the largest commercial power in the east Mediterranean for centuries. You will dive into the Minoan civilization through the impressive monuments of the Neolithic and the Bronze Age and the various forms of artistic expression, from the Throne Room to the frescoes and the pottery.
The Minoan Palace of Phaestus is located in south-central Crete, 55 kilometers south of Heraklion and in a short distance from the archaeological sites of Agia Triada, Gortys and Matala. Phaestus is one of the most important archaeological sites in Crete, attracting countless visitors every year. The palace reflects the status of a flourishing city that arose in the fertile plain of Messara during prehistoric times, from 6000 B.C. until the 1st century B.C., according to archaeological findings. The world famous findings include the Disc of Phaestus, which is exhibited in the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion (read below), and is one of the most famous mysteries of archaeology as its purpose, meaning and even place of manufacture remain unknown until today.
The Minoan palace of Malia is located east of the current area of Malia. It is the third largest palace of Minoan Crete (you have already read about the two largest ones) and it was built in a privileged location, near the sea and on the road linking eastern and central Crete. According to the Greek mythology, the Palace of Malia served as the residence of Sarpidonas, brother of Minos. The monument fascinates the visitor with its size, complex plan and multiple details.
The legendary Venetian Fortress of Heraklion, which is also called koules (meaning ‘fortress’ in Turkish) or Castello a Mare (meaning ‘castle on the sea’ in Italian), is an impressive fortress that surrounds the city’s harbor. The massive fortress was built by the Venetians in the early 13th century, when they conquered the town. Today, the fortress occasionally hosts art exhibitions, plays or concerts. You can visit it every day except from Monday, from 8:30 am to 3 pm in the winter and 7 pm in the summer.
Archaeological Museum of Heraklion
Τhe Archaeological Museum of Heraklion is one of the largest museums in Greece and one of the most important museums in the whole Europe. Its exhibits are authentic reflections of the Cretan prehistory and history (about 7000 years), from the Neolithic Age until the Roman Empire. The artifacts belonging to the Minoan civilization are going to amaze you with their historic but also aesthetic value.
Old City of Chania
The second largest city of Crete is a wonderful seaside one that lies along the north coast of the island. The old city of Chania is full of synagogues, mosques and orthodox churches, and its multicultural identity is completed by beautiful buildings of Turkish and Venetian origin. Of course, the place also has modern influences, with trendy boutiques, bars and restaurants on the waterfront.
The legendary route of Samaria starts from Omalos and unfolds within a narrow, rocky gorge for 18 km before reaching Agia Roumeli. It provides its sportive visitors with the chance to see wild goats, raptors and generally rare samples of the local flora and fauna. Do note that Samaria Gorge is accessible only during the summer period.
The golden beach of Matala is located 65 kilometers southwest of Heraklion and is famous for its 300 meters long sandy beach and its crystal clear waters. Here bathers can swim on the waters of the Lybic sea with a view of the dominant rocks, which are the trademark of the area. Every summer, various cultural events take place in Matala, while the beach also hosts an office for the protection of the sea turtle.
Cretaquarium was established in December 2005 in the city Gournoi, 15 kilometers east of Heraklion. It is a unique park focused on research, education, culture and entertainment, always within the thematic framework of the marine environment. Visit it to explore up close the marine environment of the Mediterranean, as well as the countless species that live under the surface of the sea.
The barren island of Spinalonga used to be a lepers colony until 1957 and became world famous some years ago, through Vistoria Hislop’s bestseller The Island that even became a Greek TV series. Nowadays, the island is not inhabited, but is accessible from the port of Elounda. The atmosphere of the empty streets, the old stone houses, the fortresses and the cemetery evokes a wild and tragic beauty that cannot be described and transferred with words.
By Evangelos Tsirmpas