Travel Blog


The medieval town of Hania was given its final character by the Venetian conquerors in 1252, which was preserved after Hania was seized by the Turks in 1669. After the “Concession of Hania”, where it was mentioned that the Venetian colonists had the obligation to rebuild the town, they completed and repaired the already existing wall of Kasteli and inside its wall they created the first nucleus of the town based on Western building models. They marked out the official road, Corso, (today’s Kanevaro Street), that crossed Kasteli from east to west, dividing it into two parts. They built the Cathedral (Duomo) of Santa Maria dei Miracoli, the Palace of the Rector and the mansions of the Venetian feudalists. Across Corso they marked out other smaller roads parallel to each other, where they built their houses. The walls of Kasteli had four gates. The two central ones, on the western and eastern edge of Corso, were totally destroyed by bombing during the Second World War (1941). One of the two smaller gates was on the southern part where Katre Street is today and the other gate was on the northern part where the steps that are next to the building that houses the Polytechnic of Crete.   With the development of commerce and navigation the town spreads out beyond the walls of Kasteli. For security reasons the construction of broader walls is decided; which was begun in 1538 by the architect Michele Sammichelli. With the new walls that were constructed to encompass the wider town, the walls of Kasteli became completely redundant which resulted in its towers being turned into dwellings, whilst on its middle towers the foundations of many other dwellings were laid. Its external part was covered, to a great extent, by other buildings, which today obstructs us from seeing the outline of the inner wall in its entirety.

The new walls were given a square shape and each one of its four corners was fortified by a bastion (baloardo); on the northwestern corner the San Salvatore or Gritti bastion was built, on the south-western corner the bastion of San Dimitri or Sciavo, on the northeastern corner the bastion of Sabbionara or Mocenigo. In these internal defences small squares (piazza bases) were fashioned for the placement of cannons. The bastions of Sabbionara (on the southern part), Santa Lucia (on the western) and San Dimitri (on the eastern part) were fortified from the outside with parotides (orrechioni). In the middle of the southern part (on the left as one enters the Municipal Market) a platform was constructed and was named the bastion Retimiota or de San Giovanni or Della Misericordia. Internally,on the East and West, two low squares were formed. Towards the interior of the bastion, as much towards other parts of the middle towers, 8 minor bastions of large (cavalier) or small (cavalierotti) shape were placed. The wall had three gates – the Rethymnon Gate (porta Retimiota) on the southern middle tower west of the platform; the Sabbionara Gate (the gate of sand in Nikiforos Fokas Street) on the eastern middle tower, and the auxiliary San Salvatore Gate (entrance from Theotokopoulos Street), which opened on to the corresponding bastion. Externally, on the periphery of the walls, a trench was dug and a retaining wall was constructed (contrascarpa) in order to hold the soil. Only the bastion of Sabbionara did not have a trench as it went as far as the sea. After the Venetians were defeated by the Turks, in 1645, the cracks that were made during the siege were repaired. The cracks had been made in the bastion of San Dimitri and in the Sabbionara Gate by the Turks when they entered the town. This gate was reconstructed, its dimensions were changed and it was named Koum-kapi. The Rethymniotiki Gate was also repaired and was named Kale-Kapissi.

What finally determined the decision of the Venetians to build the Port of Hania was the capture of the town by the Venetian navy in 1293. The construction went through various stages and lasted approximately 300 years; it consisted of the deepening of the gulf at the breakwater, the lighthouse and the strong guardhouses in the arm of the lighthouse. As a consequence of the increasing Turkish threat the Venetian navy was reinforced and shipyards were constructed (which were commenced in 1526 and completed in 1599) for the maintenance of the naval fleet that remained in the harbourur of Hania. The northern part of the shipyards was open towards the sea, whilst the southern part was closed and had a small door, two rectangular windows and a round window which were interconnected by archways. In the south the gate and the shipyards were connected by a Venetian gateway which was destroyed in the middle of the 20th century. During the Turkish occupation the shipyards were neglected and started to decay. Out of the 17 shipyards that existed originally, only 7 are standing today, with various alterations such as the closing of the northern part and new partitions that have been adapted for contemporary use. Beginning our stroll from the north-western part of the harbour, we come to the Firka Fortress. This area was used as a residence for the farsighted Venetians as well as being used as a barracks. During the Turkish occupation, it operated as a barracks and prison. On the 1st of December 1913, the Greek flag was raised in celebration of the Unification of Crete with Greece. Up until the civil war it had been used as a prison. Going up Angelou Street we come across big Venetian buildings (about which we have insufficient information). At the beginning of Theotokopoulou Street the Temple of San Salvatore is still erect. It is the monastery of Franciscan monks in the homonymous western bastion. The arrangement of the monastery follows the western models with the square courtyard of the cells and a passageway at the southern part of the church. The temple is small in size with a sharp perpendicular vault and two adjacent chapels with cross vaults on the north-western side. The altar of the temple with a large arch occupies the eastern part. From the wing of the cells, the eastern part is preserved with several subsequent additions, which probably included the western part.

Continuing along Theotokopoulou Street we can see many many Venetian mansions with pronounced oriental mouldings from the time of the Turkish occupation (wooden balconies, latticed windows. The neighbourhood today is called Tophanas so called because this is where Turks kept their cannons. During the later years of the Turkish occupation, the prosperous Christian families lived in Tophana. The Consulates of the Great Powers were also there. It had been the neighbourhood of Christian aristocrats and therefore inaccessible to the Turks. Following our course towards the east, in Zambeliou Street, along the way we see houses with characteristic Venetian facades. From these facades, there remain only a few features of the superb Venetian doorways. A more characteristic example is the Renier mansion with very few features remaining although the gateway has survived and bears the date 1608 and the inscription “Multa tulip Fecitus et studarit dulces patter, sudavit et alsit semper requies serena” (namely the sweet father had done a lot and studied. He had sweated and suffered, let perpetual respite give him joy). Also inside the gate, the private chapel of Renier survives almost intact. This temple is of Latin origin. The original temple must have been of the 15th century with the altar facing northwards, the entrance westwards and the window eastwards. During the alterations that were made in the 17th century, on the northern part, the altar was removed and the entrance was created with some intervention on the southern part for the construction of a new altar. The building is small, but it has very beautiful decorative architectural features, like embossed mouldings on the semi cylindrical vault of purely decorative character. Another characteristic facade is that of a Venetian mansion with an inscription carved in the wall “Nuli parvus est cui magnus est animus” (i.e., no one ispoor when his soul is big). The same inscription is decorated with an unknown coat of arms. In Zambeliou and Skoufon Street there used to be the church of St John Theologos.

In the days of the Turkish occupation, it was converted into a mosque. Today there is only a fountain. Also in Zambeliou and Portou Street there is a Turkish Haman. In the small streets behind Zambeliou Street the area is known as the Jewish quarter, because Jews used to live there during the Venetian period. The Venetians had taken strict measures against the Jews and they were obliged to live only in a neighbourhood specially appointed for them. The central road is today’s Kondilakii Street and here are houses of famous Jews. In the place of today’s tavern “Ela” there used to be a Synagogue that was recently destroyed by fire. The front and the big internal walls still exist. In Zambeliou and Halidon Street there is a two-storey building with a row of three arrows, which is identified as the Venetian Loggia. The same building was used as a military hospital by the Turks, an admiralty of the Foreign League during the period of the Cretan State, and later as the Town Hall. You can see an inscription in Arabic letters. In Halidon Street, where today the Archaeological Museum is there is a monastery built by Franciscan monks. It consists of a temple and two adjacent courtyards with all four sides closed on the south of the church. On the northern side, a penned in wall surrounded the gardens of the monastery. The whole complex was quite big – approximately 60 meters E.W. and 90 meters N.W. It is not yet known when the building of the monastery began, as there is no written evidence; a section of the temple however has strong gothic influences of temple construction a fact that probably places it in the 14th century. We do know however that the church and the bell-tower were completed in 1595 from a description found in a letter that was sent by Dr Onorio Belli to Signor Alfonso Ragona in Venice after the big earthquake of 1596. The church consists of a central temple; to the east are choral annexures, while on the west of today’s passageway are completed modifications to the original building during the years of Turkish domination. On the N.E. corner is the bell-tower that has a separate entrance. The main temple is divided into three aisles. The middle one is a raised oblong, whilst the northern and the southern ones have a semi cylindrical roof.

On the northern part of the main temple three chapels have been annexed, each sheltered by a quarter of a sphere. From the cells survives the external eastern part that looks onto Halidon Street (today there are a row of shops) quite altered, owing to the subsequent interference. On the southern part of the cells, there is a section of a building that can be identified as the dining room of the monastery. During the time of the Turkish occupation, it was converted into the mosque of Yousouf Pasha. Only the balcony, on the northern side with the halfdestroyed minaret, can be seen today. Opposite St Franciscus, it is said there used to be the convent of Santa Ciara with Franciscan nuns. Today absolutely nothing has remained. Opposite St Franciscus a Turkish hamam survives (today a belltower). ).Barely a few meters to the south, is the Cathedral of Hania, Trimartiri, or the church of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary. It was built in an area that used to be the soap factory of Mustapha Nily Pasha, that in its turn was built on the ruins of an ancient edifice. When Mustapha Nily Pasha became Prime Minister of the Ottoman Empire, he donated his soap factory and another 100.000 curus for the erection of the church to the Christian community of Hania, and the son of Mustapha Pasha – Velis, who was the Governor of Crete at the time, offered 30.000 curus. The Christian locals also made many offers. It was inaugurated in 1857. It had three aisles consecrated to St Nicholas (the northern), to the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary (the central) and to three Hierarchs (the southern). During firing on the Christian neighbourhood of Hania by the Turks in 1897, damage was also caused to the Trimartiri, the repairs were made with the Tsar’s money who also donated the church bell. By the sea, at the port, we can see the temple of Hassan Pasha with typical morphology of temples, with one big central dome and four smaller ones. On the southeastern corner, there is the foundation of a minaret and in the interior, on the southeastern part, the Mihrarb (the holy stand). The mansions of the Venetian relatives and the palace of the Rector were on the hill of Kasteli. At the end of Lithino Street, a complex of buildings under the name “palazzo” is identified as the palace of the Rector. Here we can see an ornamented gateway of renaissance style, leading to an internal courtyard surrounded by the buildings. Documents, from various eras of the Venetian Council as well as of the Rector of Hania, refer to the state of this building and the repairs that were made to it. The sole remnant of the “palazzo” complex is the internal courtyard, while we don’t know if the gate of 1624, quoted in the archives of the town, had been transferred from elsewhere. The Palazzo of the Venetian Rectors had been also been used as the residence of the Pasha of Hania. On the Corso of Kasteli (Kanevaro Street) used to be the Premarin mansion; that, according to an inscription, was built in 1598 by the architect Manoli Litina from Rethymnon and was always, according to the inscription, “urbis ornamentum” (an ornament of the town). On the same street, we can see the mansion of Zangarol with a gate of renaissance artistry, and on the opposite side the mansion of Molin, that had images of warriors on its gate heads and in the middle the coat of arms of Molin. The mansions, like other Venetian houses, were destroyed by the bombing in the Second World War (1941). On the hill of Kastelli in St Mark’s Street, survives a section of the monastery of Santa Maria de Miracoli. It was a convent of the battalion of the Domenicans and was founded in 1615.

The typology of the monastery follows the familiar Western prototypes. On the south of the church is the closed courtyard with the passage, while the bell-tower that used to be on the southeastern part of the church has not survived. The greatest part of the church has been destroyed, and only the southern wall remains with the embossed mouldings for the perpendicular vault and the blind arches, whilst from the rest of the complex, part of the courtyard, the cells and the passage way can be seen. On the steps north of the monastery is the big arsenal. It’s a shipyard to which a second floor was later added and was used as the Town Hall of Hania. The relics of the Minoan town are also on the same hill. Ruins of buildings are found in Katre Street and in Kanevaro Street. The most outstanding complex of houses has been dug up on the square of St Catherine during the Greek-Swedish excavations. A big building of the post-Minoan period has been discovered. It has many chambers, an open paved courtyard, a hearth and a storeroom, where a great number of pots and jars were found, as well as monumental entrances that look out on to small streets. Approximately 100 clay tablets of Linear B Scripture have been found, which probably suggests the possible existence of a palace. On a site in Katre Street, an archive of tablets of Linear A Scripture has been found. In Katre Street there is also a Turkish hamam. A few meters southwards is Splatzia Square. The Monastery of St. Nicholas is also here, belonging to Dominican monks which must have been built before 1320. The cells of the monastery, arranged according to Western models, were on the northern part, forming two closed courtyards adjacent to each other, with the passageway on the ground floor and the cells on the upper floor. From this complex, only one side of the western courtyard survives today. The eastern part has been altered by subsequent additions. The church is divided into three parts: (a) the vestibule with the entrance gate of characteristic gothic style, the three aisled main temple that has been renovated and (c) the altar with its right and left parts quite well preserved. The original bell-tower of the monastery was standing on the northeastern side of the church.

Today not even its base exists; it has been replaced by a contemporary one in a different spot. Firstly, the church of St Nicolas was converted into a temple of Ibrahim or Houghar (of the Monarch). From its use as a temple the minaret has been left on the south-western part and the imprint of the emblem of the Sultan at the entrance survive. Here the sword of the conqueror was kept in a red woollen sheath and Imamis held it each Friday when he read the Koran. Today it is kept in the Orthodox Church of St Nicholas. South of St Nicholas is the two aisled vaulted Orthodox Church of St Catherine (characteristic renaissance architecture). Until recently, it has been used as a bakery. In the neighbourhood of Splatzia, on Rougha square, in Kallinikou Sarpaki Street is the Orthodox single-aisled church of St Irene, which has been recently discovered. In Hatjimichali Daliani Street is the temple of Ahmet Agha. It is single-aisled vaulted edifice, with a minaret in the north-western corner and the “Mihrab” in the south-eastern corner. South of Splatzia is the neighbourhood of St Anarghiri, where there are the homonymous Orthodox two aisled churches which is also consecrated to St Savas. It was a parish church, owned by the brothers and priests Manolis and Damianos Fassoulas from a middle- class family registered in the Venetian catalogues of 1644. It functioned as the Metropolis until the erection of St Trimartiri (which is situated in Jacob Koumi Street). Going towards the port from Daskalogianni Street, we see in Archoleon Street the Venetian shipyards. After that, we come to northeast of the town to the bastion Sabionara. On the walls, we see the Lion of St Mark, which was the emblem of the Venetians.

Daily Excursions

A walk in the island of Crete is a scent of spring flowers growing in the yards of the houses. Generations of Minoan, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian, Turkish, Jewish and Egyptian people lived here. History is alive in Crete, breathing through the bow strokes of the lyra and the violin, the sound of the lute and the bagpipe. Finally, it is the tastes of a history of eastern spices, unique greens and herbs, blessed oil and wine. Here, in these cultural crossroads, a lot of memories are alive and a large number of elements of other cultures still form a part of the everydayness of the Cretan people. Mythology – Antiquity Cretan-Born Zeus was born and raised in the mountains of Crete. Minos is referred to in mythology as the son of Zeus and Europe.

Minoan Crete, with its ninety cities and their brave young men are also mentioned by Homer in Ilias. There is evidence that the island was inhabited ever since the Neolithic times. During the Copper Age the Minoan civilization developed, especially from 1900 BC until its sudden disappearance around 1500 BC. Knossos was the centre of it. The Minoans controlled the trade in the eastern Mediterranean Sea and accumulated great wealth. Apart from Knossos, many cities were also important and the excavation findings indicate a great civilization. Hellenistic era to Byzantium Then Greek tribes, the Dorians and the Achaeans, arrived on the island, followed by the Romans in 67 BC and then the Byzantines, with an interval between 824-961AD, when the island fell into the hands of Arab (Saracen) pirates. In 1204 Crete was conquered by the Venetians, who where ousted by the Turks in 1669.

From the Venetian period a lot of important buildings, like castles, mansions and fortifications have survived to the present day, not only in the well-known towns and harbours of Chania, Rethymno and Heraklion but also in every corner of the island. After the fall of Constantinople many scholars and artists of the Byzantium took refuge in Crete. So letters and arts flourished on the island, in a period critical to the maintenance of the Greek culture. Ottoman occupation Following struggles of almost two centuries, the Ottomans conquered the island in 1669. The Cretans strongly resisted the Ottoman invaders paying a bloody death toll for their love of freedom. Uncountable revolutions set the island on fire. One of the first revolts was the revolt of 1770, led by Daskalogiannis from Sfakia, who died a martyric death at the hands of the Ottomans.

In 1822 the Ottoman invaders had to ask the Egyptians for help, in order to suppress the revolt. As a result, Crete went under the rule of the Egyptians in 1831. 19th – 20th century At the end of the 19th century the ottoman troops left the island, which was autonomous until its Union with Greece in 1913. The great politician Eleftherios Venizelos played an important role in the Union of Crete. Crete strongly resisted the German invaders as well. The Battle of Crete constitutes a brilliant page in world history, as simple citizens, elderly people and children resisted the heavily armed invaders. The Cretans paid their bravery with executions, tortures and destruction’s of entire villages by the Nazi regime.

Herakleion Museum

The Herakleion Archaeological Museum is one of the largest and most important museums in Greece, and among the most important museums in Europe. It houses representative artefacts from all the periods of Cretan prehistory and history, covering a chronological span of over 5,500 years from the Neolithic period to Roman times. The singularly important Minoan collection contains unique examples of Minoan art, many of them true masterpieces.

The Herakleion Museum is rightly considered as the museum of Minoan culture par excellence worldwide. The museum, located in the town centre, was built between 1937 and 1940 by architect Patroklos Karantinos on a site previously occupied by the Roman Catholic monastery of Saint-Francis which was destroyed by earthquake in 1856. The museum’s antiseismic building is an important example of modernist architecture and was awarded a Bauhaus commendation. Karantinos applied the principles of modern architecture to the specific needs of a museum by providing good lighting from the skylights above and along the top of the walls, and facilitating the easy flow of large groups of people. He also anticipated future extensions to the museum. The colours and construction materials, such as the veined polychrome marbles, recall certain Minoan wall-paintings which imitate marble revetment.

The two-storeyed building has large exhibition spaces, laboratories, a drawing room, a library, offices and a special department, the so-called Scientific Collection, where numerous finds are stored and studied. The museum shop, run by the Archaeological Receipts Fund, sells museum copies, books, postcards and slides. There is also a cafe. The Herakleion Archaeological Museum is a Special Regional Service of the Ministry of Culture and its purpose is to acquire, safeguard, conserve, record, study, publish, display and promote Cretan artefacts from the Prehistoric to the Late Roman periods. The museum organizes temporary exhibitions in Greece and abroad, collaborates with scientific and scholarly institutions, and houses a variety of cultural events.

Dolphins accompanying your trip

Dolphins, some of the most fascinating sea creatures, the holy animals of Apollo and Poseidon as well as a symbol of friendship and solidarity according to Plutarch, have a special place in our heart. The view of their glimmering bodies while chasing after their food or simply playing with the waves, and their full of affection face will remain etched in your mind forever. The “mystery” of their physiology Dolphins are not fish but mammals and they carry their babies for 12 whole months. When born, the little dolphins stay with their mothers for 3 to 6 years. The mother invents a special melody-sign, which the baby memorizes and never forgets for the rest of its life! They breathe through their lungs and it is truly amazing how they can “store” enough oxygen allowing them to swim for 20 whole minutes at a depth of 500 meters! A sound- detecting system in their head allows them to find easily their way around, to spot their food and to communicate. Their brain is as complicated as the human one.

According to scientific surveys, dolphins create 3D images in their brain, a sort of ultrasound of even more advanced technology compared to the respective human one. Dolphins never sleep! They just put to sleep in turn the two hemispheres of their brain so that when the one rests, the other secures breathing. Their hearing and visibility are incredible while their body has a perfect aerodynamic shape. Their role as hunters is crucial for maintaining the balance in the sea ecosystem as they eat the unhealthy fish, thus preventing infectious diseases from spreading. The man and the dolphin Common sense, strength, vitality, affection, altruism as well as a great sense of humour are the graces of the dolphins, to which human beings look up the most. The relationship of Greeks with dolphins in particular is as old as time. Homer’s scripts, the Minoan frescos in Crete and Santorini, ancient coins depicting dolphins as well as a plethora of myths and legends highlighting the relationship between human beings, Gods and dolphins are the biggest proof! In the dolphins’ tracks… The term “dolphins” is actually misleading, as dolphins are not a single species. Each dolphin species has different characteristics, lives in different places while each one of them has a distinctive personal and sound identity.

In Greece inhabit four dolphin species, out of the 32 encountered all over the world: Risso’s dolphin, striped dolphin, bottlenose dolphin and common dolphin. In Greece there is also to observe a unique phenomenon: the Corinthian Gulf is the only place on earth where the striped dolphins mate with Risso’s and common dolphins! Let’s get acquainted with the dolphins of the Greek seas! The Risso’s dolphin is the biggest of all and its length can even reach 3, 5 meters. Although its initial colour when born is grey, it tends to obtain over the course of years linear scars all over its body- probably because of the fights it often gets involved in. It can be found in Myrtoo Sea, in Halkidiki, in North Sporades, around Kythera and in some areas in Crete. The striped dolphin is actually the most common type of dolphin. It owes its name to the characteristic black stripe starting from the eye and ending to the reproductive organs. It is rare to be seen near the coast as it is fond of deep seas!

In the Corinthian Gulf you can observe however the smallest striped dolphins on earth! There are also to be found in areas of Northern Sporades and South Crete. The bottlenose dolphin, a “cosmopolitan” and particularly playful dolphin, is the one that it is mostly possible to be encountered near the shore, at the islands of the Ionian and Aegean Sea, as well as in the Ambracic Gulf, where a small endangered population inhabits. Despite its name, the common dolphin is not common at all! Its colour is impressive while its hydrodynamic shape allows it to swim very fast, reaching 65 km per hour. You may have a chance of meeting it in the Corinthian Gulf, in the area between Lefkada and Kefallonia, in the Aegean Sea, in the Saronic Gulf, in the Dodecanese, in the Thracian Sea and the Gulf of Euboea.

Protect our friends! Sadly, dolphins are mostly threatened and put into danger because of human activity. Illegal fishing, hunting for their meat, their illegal use for dolphin shows, the sea pollution and the coastal degradation due to the landfill of ports, fish-cultivations and illegal building, interrupt the balance of coastal ecosystems. Internationally the dolphin population has decreased significantly. In this perspective, non- governmental environmental organisations as well as WWF Hellas take important initiative to protect our charming friends.

Ancient Scripts

Ancient Scripts Minoan Crete constitutes the first literate civilization of Europe and the beginning of European recorded history. In 1878, Minos Kalokairinos carried out pioneering excavations in the West Wing of the Palace of Knossos and discovered the first Linear B tablet. In the first month of excavations at Knossos in 1900, Arthur Evans discovered 3 Bronze Age Scripts, Minoan “Cretan Hieroglyphic” and Linear A, and Mycenaean Linear B, thus bringing Minoan and Mycenaean Crete into the historical period. These three scripts were syllabic in nature and were used for both administrative and religious purposes. The rulers, priests, scribes and bureaucrats of Knossos used these writing systems for approximately 800 years to keep tax archives, to list personnel and agricultural products and to record religious offerings.

The decipherment of Mycenaean Linear B in 1952 by Michael Ventris added 7 centuries to the history of the Hellenic language. Using Linear B it is possible to begin to approach an understanding of the Minoan script and language. Mycenaean Linear B Script Among other things, the coming of Mycenaean Greeks from Mainland Greece to Crete was accompanied by the adaptation of Minoan script to the Hellenic language. Mycenaean Linear B, which was also a syllabic script, was recorded on clay tablets at Knossos (ko-no-so), c.1400 B.C.. It was deciphered by the English architect Michael Ventris in 1952. The language of the tablets is Mycenaean Greek; they refer to the rulers of Knossos (Anax), to warriors and chariots, to olive oil and aromatic oils, honey, wine and large numbers of sheep. Extensive references are made to the tax records of Knossos, thus indicating a highly organized bureaucracy. There is also information concerning offerings to the Pantheon, to Zeus and to other divinities. The Linear B Script fell into disuse following the destruction of Knossos, though its survival has been attested at Chania (ku-do-ni-ja) and in Mycenaean Greece. Minoan Linear A Script During the period from 1700 to 1450 B.C. the syllabic script of Linear A was widely used. Because Minoan Linear A developed into Mycenaean Linear B, it is possible to “read” though not to fully “understand” the contents of the Minoan inscriptions, which record various products (wine, cereals, figs), animals, personnel, as well as offerings at religious sites (peak sanctuaries).

Minoan inscriptions have also been found beyond Crete, in the Peloponnese, on Thera, Milos, Kea, Kythera and Samothraki, at Troy, at Miletus in Asia Minor and in Palestine-Israel, thus demonstrating the extent of Minoan trade and international relations. The Minoan inscriptions are now approximately 2000 in number. “Cretan Hieroglyphic” and Linear A inscriptions of the Second Palace Period are now beginning to inform us about Minoan administration, society, commerce and religion. “Cretan Ηieroglyphic” Script The oldest example of writing from Europe is on a seal-stone found at Archanes, 10 km. from Knossos. The symbols in this first script are encountered as early as the Pre-Palatial period, mainly on seal-stones. The idea for the “Cretan Hieroglyphic” Script probably came from the neighbouring literate people of Egypt, although the script, like Mycenaean Linear B and Minoan Linear A, was also syllabic in nature. Such inscriptions are found on clay tablets, seal-stones and various other objects. The “Cretan Hieroglyphic” Script (c.2000-1600 B.C.) was an invention of the First Palaces and is found in inscriptions of both administrative and religious content. The best known example of this is the Phaistos Disk (which bears 45 different printed signs, 242 in total, in 61 words, on its two sides). The Phaistos Disk and Related Inscriptions The best-known Minoan inscription is the Phaistos Disk. It is commonly accepted that this can be read spirally, i.e., from the rim inwards. 16 cm in diameter, the disk’s two sides bear a total of 242 signs which can be divided into 61 groups. There are 45 different signs on the Disk, too many for them to constitute an alphabet and too few for them to constitute a truly ideographic script, as is the case with Chinese. This observation enables us to deduce that it is also a syllabic script, as are both Linear B and Linear A. It goes without saying that that the language of the Disk is unknown, and thus the text remains beyond our reach. Nevertheless, this has not deterred many potential decipherers from offering their own interpretations. Indeed, more has been written about this Cretan inscription than about any other, but most work is the product of fantasy. Mycenaean Greek (c.1400-1200 B.C.)

The decipherment of Linear B by Michael Ventris in 1952, demonstrated that the language recorded in the clay tablets was Mycenaean Greek, some 500-700 years before the Iliad and Odyssey of Homer. The inscriptions from Knossos, Pylos, Mycenae and Tiryns, Thebes and Khania, clearly demonstrate the nature of the Greek language as a well-defined distinct centum branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Linear B records the Greek Language in the second half of the second millennium from the Mycenaean take-over of Knossos until the destruction of Pylos, shortly after the Trojan War. The works of Ventris, Chadwick, Hooker et alii have shown the phonology and morphology of Mycenaean Greek, and its unbroken development into Classical, Hellenistic, Byzantine and Modern Greek. It is possible, by interpreting Mycenaean inscriptions, to write the history of Mycenaean Greece (c.1400-1200 B.C.). Minoan Language (c. 2000-1400 B.C.) The excavation of Knossos by Arthur Evans, and a century of subsequent research on Minoan Crete, has uncovered c.2,000 Minoan inscriptions.

An epigraphic study, transferring the sound values from Mycenaean Linear B to Minoan Linear A as a working hypothesis, has made it possible to “read” the Minoan language. Subsequent linguistic study has now made it possible to begin to “understand” the Minoan language. Indeed, a systematic approach has made it possible to identify the Minoan language as a separate distinct branch of the Indo-European family of languages from the first half of the second millennium, with connections with Sanskrit, Armenian and Greek. There is clear evidence for gender, noun and verb endings, and items of vocabulary, all indicative of a language of an Indo-European nature. It is now possible to start writing the history of Minoan Crete (c.2,000-1400 B.C.).


The centre of Minoan civilisation and capital of Minoan Crete lay 5km south of Heraklion. Knossos flourished for approximately two thousand years. It had large palace buildings, extensive workshop installations and luxurious rock-cut cave and tholos tombs. As a major centre of trade and the economy, Knossos maintained ties with the majority of cities in the Eastern Mediterranean. Wealth accumulation and the advancement of an urban lifestyle were the hallmarks of this zenith, which began circa 2000 BC and was typified by magnificent monumental buildings and a complex social structure. The Minoan palace is the main site of interest at Knossos, an important city in antiquity, which was inhabited continuously from the Neolithic period until the 5th c. AD. The palace was built on the Kephala hill and had easy access to the sea and the Cretan interior. According to tradition, it was the seat of the wise king Minos. The Palace of Knossos is connected with thrilling legends, such as the myth of the Labyrinth, with the Minotaur, and the story of Daidalos and Ikaros.

The first excavation of the site was conducted in 1878 by Minos Kalokerinos of Herakleion. This was followed by the long-term excavations 1900-1913 and 1922-1930) of the Englishman Sir Arthur Evans, who uncovered virtually the entire palace. The earliest traces of inhabitation in the area of the palace go back to the Neolithic period (7000-3000) BC). The site continued to be occupied in the Pre-palatial period (3000-1900 BC), at the end of which the area was leveled for the erection of a large palace. This first palace was destroyed, probably by an earthquake, about 1700 BC. A second, larger palace was built on the ruins of the old one. This was partially destroyed about 1450BC, after which the Mycenaeans established themselves at Knossos.The palace was finally destroyed about 1350 BC by a major conflagration. The site it covered was occupied again from the Late Mycenaean period until Roman times. Extensive reconstruction of the Palace of Knossos was carried out by the excavator, Sir Arthur Evans. It was a multi-storey building covering an area of 20.000 square meters. Impressive features of it are the variety of building materials used, and the painted plaster, marble revetment and wall-paintings adorning the rooms and passages. The advanced level of technology attained by the Minoans is also demonstrated by some original architectural and structural features, such as the light -wells and polythyra, the use of beams to reinforce the masonry, and the complex drainage and water-supply systems.

The palace is set around a large Central Court, an area used for public meetings. A second courtyard, the West Court, acted both as the official approach to the palace and a ceremonial area. The west wing was occupied by the official rooms for administrative and religious activities, including the Tripartite Shrine, the Sacred Repositories and the Pillar Crypts. The Throne Room is out standing amongst them, with its lustral basin and the gypsum throne flanked by benches. The most important areas in the south wing are the South Propylon, the Corridor of the Procession and the South Entrance, with the fresco of the Prince of the Lilies. The east wing contained the residential quarters and large reception rooms, the most important being the Hall of the Double Axes and the Queen”s Hall. These rooms are approached by the imposing Grand Staircase.

From the North Entrance, a road led to the harbour of Knossos. The North Entrance is flanked by elevated stoas, the one at the west being decorated with the Bull Hunt fresco. A large, stone-paved processional way, the Royal Road, led from the Small Palace and the city to the Norh-west conrner of the palace, where there was an open-air theatral area.

Around the palace extended the Minoan settlement, with the cemeteries on the hills. Important buildings from this same period include: the South House, the House of ther Chancel Screen, the Small Palace, the Caravanserai, the Royal Villa and the Temple-Tomb. The Villa Dionysos with its floor mosaics (2nd c/. AD) is an important building of the Roman period. The numerous finds from the palace, all of exceptionally high quality art, pottery, vessels, figurines, the archive of Linear B tablets, and the original wall-paintings, are all housed in Herakleion Museum.

Heraklion History

Heraklio is close to the ruins of the palace of Knossos, the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete which was excavated and restored by archeologist Arthur Evans and which in Minoan times was the biggest centre of population on Crete.

The present city of Heraklio was founded in 824 AD by the Saracens (an Arabic Muslim people). They built a moat around the city for protection, and named the city andaq (Khandak), meaning ‘moat’. The Saracens allowed the port to be used as a safe haven for pirates, much to the annoyance of the nearby Byzantine Empire. In 961, the Byzantines attacked and defeated the city, slaughtered the Saracens, looted the city, and burned it to the ground. They remained in control of the rebuilt Khandak for the next 243 years. In 1204, the city was bought by the Venetians as part of a complicated political deal. The Venetians improved on the ditch by building enormous fortifications, most of which are still in place, including a giant wall, in places up to 40m thick, with 7 bastions, and a fortress, Koules, in the harbour. The name Khandak became Candia in Italian. The city retained the name of Candia for centuries, and the whole island of Crete was often called Candia as a result. During Venetian rule, the Greek population of Crete was exposed to Renaissance culture. After the Venetians came the Turks of the Ottoman Empire. They besieged the city for 22 years in a bloody war in which 30,000 Cretans and 120,000 Turks died. The Venetians eventually handed it over in 1669. The city became independent with the withdrawal of the Ottomans in 1898, then part of the 1908 Cretan state, and then it was incorporated into the Kingdom of Greece in 1913. Upon its independence it was renamed to ‘Heraklion’, meaning City of Heracles (Hercules), after the port of Heracleum which had existed somewhere in the locality in Roman times. The biggest monument of the city is the Venetian medieval fortress Rocca al Mare (also known as Koules) located on the port.

Heraklion is an important shipping port and ferry dock. The public can take ferries and boats from Heraklion to a multitude of destinations including Thira, Rhodes, Egypt, Haifa and mainland Greece. Welcome to Heraklio, a city that blends its rich past into its modern yet unique present. Knossos Knossos was undeniably the capital of Minoan Crete. It is grander, more complex, and more flamboyant than any of the other palaces known to us, and it is located about twenty minutes south of the modern port town of Iraklio. Knossos was inhabited for several thousand years, beginning with a neolithic settlement sometime in the seventh millennium BC, and was abandoned after its destruction in 1375 BC which marked the end of Minoan civilization. The first palace on the low hill beside the Krairatos river was built around 1900 BC on the ruins of previous settlements. It was destroyed for the first time along with the other Protopalatial palaces around Crete at 1700 BC, probably by a large earthquake or foreign invaders. It was immediately rebuilt to an even more elaborate complex and until its abandonment was damaged several times during earthquakes, invasions, and in 1450 BC by the colossal volcanic eruption of Thera, and the invasion of Mycenaeans who used it as their capital as they ruled the island of Crete until 1375 BC.

Arthur Evans, the British Archaeologist who excavated the site in 1900 AD restored large parts of the palace in a way that it is possible today to appreciate the grandeur and complexity of a structure that evolved over several millennia and grew to occupy about 20,000 square meters. Walking through its complex multi-storied buildings one can comprehend why the palace of Knossos was associated with the mythological labyrinth. According to Greek mythology, the palace was designed by famed architect Dedalos with such complexity that no one placed in it could ever find its exit. King Minos who commissioned the palace then kept the architect prisoner to ensure that he would not reveal the palace plan to anyone. Dedalos, who was a great inventor, built two sets of wings so he and his son Ikaros could fly off the island, and so they did. On their way out, Dedalos warned his son not to fly too close to the sun because the wax that held the wings together would melt. In a tragic turn of events, during their escape Ikaros, young and impulsive as he was, flew higher and higher until the sun rays dismantled his wings and the young boy fell to his death in the Aegean sea. The Labyrinth was the dwelling of the Minotaur in Greek mythology, and many associate the palace of Knossos with the legend of Theseus killing the Minotaur.

The Greek myth associated with the palace about Theseus and the Minotaur is fascinating, but walking around the ruins of Knossos today it is hard to imagine it to be a place of torment and death. Instead, the palace radiates with joyous exuberance through the elaborate architectural planes and volumes that were clustered around the central courtyard over time. The elegant wall frescoes which decorated the walls speak of a people who approached the subtleties of life and the splendor of nature with a joyous disposition. For the visitor today, the area around the ramp which leads to the main palace, immediately exposes the rich strata of ruins that span millennia. To the left of the entrance ramp three large kouloures in the shape of large round pits reveal in their deep bottom the remains of Prepalatial building ruins. The palace of Knossos was the center of administration of the entire island during Minoan times, and its position as such allowed for unprecedented growth and prosperity as witnessed by the plethora of storage magazines, workshops, and wall paintings. The Throne room with its gypsum throne and benches to accommodate sixteen persons, the central courtyard, and the theater, along with the royal chambers paint a portrait of Knossos as a forum of elaborate rituals and extraordinary historical occurrences. The restorations performed by Evans have been criticized as inaccurate, and there is a feeling that many of the details were reconstituted (to use Evans’ term) utilizing at best “educated guesses”. For the visitor however, the restorations render the incomprehensible strata of ruins along with their past grandeur a bit more obvious, and bring the majesty of Minoan life at the palace a little closer. The ruins of a prepalatial building at the bottom of one the Koulouras. Picture of Knossos Palace. Looking NE towards the Hypostyle Hall (or Customs House).

The Knossos Grand Staircase leading to the royal chambers. The Shield frescoes are visible behind the characteristic Minoan columns. The columns supporting the portico of the Hall of the Double Axes. Storage Magazine of the West wing with pithoi. Irrigation drain at Knossos. Knossos Artifacts at the Heraklion Museum Bull’s Head Found at the temple repository. The Snake Goddess. Faience figurine. Found at the temple repository at Knossos. Dancing girl fresco. From the Queen’s megaron at Knossos. Relief wall painting of Bull’s head. From the West Bastion of Knossos Palace. Bull Games (Taurokatharpsia). From a room at the East wing of Knossos palace. Dolphins wall painting. From the Queen’s megaron at the palace of Knossos.