Location & General Information
Heraklion, which lies along the north part of the island of Crete is the fourth largest city and a major urban center for Greece. Currently the population of Heraklion is approximately 150,000 people. Heraklion is a unique place that offers insight into the world of the Minoan civilization.
The city of Heraklion is believed to have received its name after Hercules who had come to Crete to capture a wild bull and fulfill the seventh of his Twelve labors. The settlement of Herakleion arose during the 9th century and served as port to Knossos. The harbor town stood for approximately 2000 years.
Unfortunately up until now no Minoan remains have been uncovered within the boundaries of ancient or medieval Heraklion. Large houses, workshop facilities and rock-cut cave and tholos tombs have been discovered at the estuary of the River Kairatos, which flows down from Knossos. Excavations have unearthed a significant portion of the town and dozens of tombs.
According to multiple historical sources, in Minoan times a small town named Herakleion, which is believed to have served as a harbor for Knossos, stood on the site of the present city. However soon the urban center soon began to decline and the population moved causing the island to be raided by pirates, mostly by the Arabs. The city was fortified and thus received the name “Chandax”. The Arabs control of the city came to an end when Byzantine forces were able to successfully penetrate the city walls bringing an end to the control the Arabs had.
The conquering of “Chadax” led by the Byzantines marked the beginning of the second Byzantine era which only lasted until 1204. Soon the Venetians were next in line to take control of the city after the the Byzantium empire started to decline in the near 10th century. The Venetians helped to improve the city constructing new buildings and expanding walls. Chadax became an important cultural center in the east during later times such as the Renaissance.
In the last years of Venetian rule, the threat of the Turkish invasion loomed over city.
The Turks were able to seize the city causing it to surrender after the dramatic loss of Cretan people. The Turks came in and began rebuilding the city immediately after the war. Turkish rule lasted from 1669 until 1897. During this time the city was recognized for it’s official name today, Heraklion. In recent years, because of its strategic location the city was attacked by German forces in which the destruction due to the war caused the city to be severely damaged.
As a center of the Minoan civilization and due to intermixing of other cultures, Heraklion boasts a variety of beautiful and intricate architectural structures. First and foremost is that of the palace of Knossos which lies not far from the heart of the city. The palace is a huge accomplishment of Minoan architecture. A similar complex can be found at the site of Phaestos in southern Crete
. The Venetians and the Byzantines also left a variety of monuments including castles and forts that survive to this day.
Heraklion served as port for Knossos, allowing for the Minoans to trade and exchange a variety of goods. The Minoans traded through out the Mediterranean with other peoples and even as far west as the island of Sicily. Goods such as olive oil, pottery and grape products were exported out of this harbor. Farming allowed for the Minoans to also support themselves. The Minoans interacted with other cultures here playing a crucial role in the transfer of ideas from Egypt to mainland Greece.
Significance to Ancient History
Heraklion is most significant to ancient history because of it’s relevance in position to most famous Minoan archaeological site, Knossos. The Palace of Knossos, the largest site in Minoan Crete, witnessed two architectural phases and which was devastated by the earthquake in 1450 BC. The site contains the remains of the palace of Minos, of dwellings occupied by officials, priests and residents, as well as of cemeteries. The Palace was an intricate building complex that was built around a central court. It was laid out on a surface of 22,000 m2 and apart from the royal apartments, it encompassed were also ceremonial quarters, treasure rooms, workshops and storage spaces. The Minoans were known as a peaceful society famous for developing navigation systems, ships, beautiful pottery an ability to trade goods.