Heraklion the capital and fifth largest city in Crete is the birthplace of El Greco and Nikos Kazantzakis. It is a place where you can take a look into history and admire the beauty of the sea. There are wonderful Venetian mansions and plenty of Turkish fountains.
Tourists enjoy taking a trip to the huge Archaeological Museum which was once an old power station. It is located on one corner of Eleftherias Square. Here you can look at many items from different archeological sites in Crete. The museum spans periods dating back many thousands of years through the Minoan, post-Minoan and later periods. Among the popular highlights are the Phaestos disc, classic Hellenic and Roman sculptures, frescoes, jewelry, wall-paintings and pottery. Lovely things can be found at the museum shop.
Traveling with or without children you’ll enjoy the new Aquarium – CretAquarium or Thallassocosmos. It is housed in a 5000 square meter building which also has a research center (housing the Institute of Marine Biology & Genetics and the Institute of Oceanography). The aquarium has 32 tanks that represent fascinating underwater Cretan seascapes and there are 50 viewing points. Among the sea creatures to see here are 2500 organisms of 200 Mediterranean marine species from hunter sharks to lobsters to colorful jellyfish.
About 20 to 25 minutes from the center of Heraklion you’ll find The Palace of Knossos. This is a Minoan palace where you can get an idea of how the Minoans lived. There are guides who can provide you with details and history. It is a most interesting place to explore.
In Heraklion there are many Venetian and Turkish fountains all over the city. One of the most famous is the Venetian-style Morozinifountain also referred to as the Lions and is a popular landmark. Other interesting fountains are the Bembo Fountain on Kornaros Square, the Sagredo Fountain in the northwestern corner of the Loggia and Priuli Fountain near the port.
Eleftherias Square has been reconstructed giving the center of Heraklion a more modern appearance. The square has some eucalyptus trees, is paved with marble, has some benches and other decorations. Here is where you’ll find the Archaeological Museum and lots of cafes where to sit and relax. In the center of the square is the statue of the Unknown Soldier. This statue is a work of art from the 20th century. On national days – March 25 and October 28 and on the anniversary of the Battle of Crete city authorities lay down wreaths here to honor those who gave their lives for liberty.
In the very heart of Heraklion you’ll find Liondaria or Lion Square. This is a small square where people mingle around the Morosini or Lion Fountain. This decorated fountain has eight cisterns and is decorated with stone relief depicting figures from Greek mythology, Nymphs, Tritons, sea monsters and dolphins. The main basin is supported by four sitting lions that balance a circular bowl upon their heads. This fountain was left by Francesco Morosini, the Italian governor, who had it built to commemorate Venetian success in being able to bring water, through a viaduct system from Mount Youchtas to the city center. There are plenty of places to eat in this square and enjoy food like souvlaki. On the far side of the square is Handakos Street. This pedestrian street is a wonderful place to stroll and shop.
Take a walk through the Agora, the Market Street where you can find a large selection of goods. This is the place to find clothing, herbs, fish and even fresh meat. Shops here sell most everything including Cretan music and the finest of cheeses. Take the time to explore the little side streets here and rest at the cafes. At the top of the market you’ll discover Plateia Kornarous Square and the lovely Venetian fountain, the Bembo Fountain which counts as the oldest, has some lovely decoration but is no longer in use. It was built in 1588 by Venetian architect Zuanne Bembo. The fountain is decorated with columns, Venetian family coats-of-arms and has a headless male statue that was brought from Ierapetra. At one time people thought that this statue had supernatural powers and every May religious rituals were held here. The Plateia was named after Vitsenzos Kornaros, the composer of the epic poem Erotokritos. This poem is regularly performed all around Crete. From here it is a short distance to Agios Minas Cathedral.
There is a wide space with lots of activity going on right in front of Agios Minas Cathedral which has been dedicated to the Patron Saint of Heraklion. It is one of Greece’s largest churches and was created in a cruciform shape with twin towers. After suffering damage from various battles it took thirty years to rebuild it. The cathedral was inaugurated in 1896 with lavish celebrations.