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About this region

Crete’s capital city of Heraklion is the largest on the island and the fourth-largest city in Greece. This ancient city has been ranked among the top 20 tourist destinations in Europe and has the amenities, sights, and attractions to justify the accolade. The history of Heraklion dates as far back as 824, when it was founded by the Arabs, who had taken Crete from the Eastern Roman Empire. A moat was constructed encompassing the city, which was subsequently named Castle of the Moat, and referred to as Chandax by the Greeks. Heraklion became the capital of Crete. Under the Saracens, the port served as a refuge for Aegean pirates attacking Imperial ships. This was followed by the Byzantine, Venetian, and Ottoman eras, all leaving their cultural and architectural influences on the capital. Modern-day Heraklion is a vibrant city with a popular shipping port and ferry dock. It offers a wealth of historical and contemporary attractions for tourists, including museums, galleries, and excellent Heraklion restaurants. After all is said and done, take a breather and relax on one of the region’s pristine beaches near Heraklion.

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Local insights

Knossos Located near Heraklion, the ancient city of Knossos is the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on the island of Crete, and perhaps the oldest city in Europe. Settled as early as the Neolithic period (c. 7000 BCE), the name Knossos derives from ancient Greek. Local relics include Neolithic cloth-making equipment, stone tools and weaponry, and voluptuous figurines attributed to the worship of the Neolithic mother goddess. According to Greek mythology, King Minos dwelt in a palace at Knossos. He had a labyrinth built to imprison his son, the Minotaur (half-man, half-bull). Legend holds that Theseus, a prince from Athens, sailed to Crete to fight the Minotaur. The king's daughter, Ariadne, fell in love with him. She gave Theseus a ball of thread to leave a trail as he went into the labyrinth, ensuring he could find his way back out. After killing the Minotaur, Theseus and Ariadne fled the island, escaping the wrath of King Minos. Forged in Stone There are many impressive stone structures to be seen in Heraklion, reminiscent of ancient times and the subsequent occupants of the region. In the city’s harbor, the Koules (aka Castello a Mare, meaning ‘Fort on the Sea’) is a formidable fortress built by the Venetians in the early 16th century. The fortifications of Heraklion include a series of defensive walls and bastions surrounding the city. The initial walls were constructed during the Middle Ages and were rebuilt by the Venetians in the 1600s. These fortifications withstood the second longest siege in history - 21 years defending the city against the Ottomans, finally conceding in 1669. Furthermore, the city of Heraklion is home to a number of stone sculptures, statues, and fountains paying tribute to its heritage. Visit the Statue of the Unknown Soldier near the Heraklion Archaeological Museum or stroll through the city to see the Nikos Kazantzakis bust, commemorating the famous Greek author of such works as Zorba the Greek (1946). Venetian fountains worth seeing include the Morosini Fountain in Lions Square and the Bembo Fountain in Kornarou Square. Cultural Attractions There is a good selection of museums and galleries representing the cultural features of the city and its residents, both past and present. Visitors are encouraged to explore the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, the Lychnostatis Open Air Museum, the Museum of Visual Arts, and the Vasiliki Agios Markos Municipal Art Gallery. The Cultural and Conference Center of Heraklion is a renowned venue for the performing arts. Gournes Adventures Take a trip to Gournes, on the outskirts of Heraklion, for monstrous dinosaur and marine life experiences. The Jurassic Park of Crete is home to lifelike dinosaur replicas, equipped with realistic sound and movement technology to enhance the thrilling pre-historic encounter. If that’s not enough adrenaline for one day, pop into the Cretaquarium, famous for its resident sharks and abundance of other marine life. The Cretaquarium includes as many as 2,500 sea organisms housed in one of the largest aquariums in Europe.

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