Undoubtedly, during the Minoan and Mycenaean periods Knossos was the
most important city, the economic and cultural center. However, a small
settlement upon a low hill, close to the sea, with the name Heraklion
did also existed, at least since the Archaic period. Several remains
of Archaic and more recent times are brought to light during the rescue
excavations in the city center, especially at the area of Daidalos
st., Xanthoudidou st. Beaufort st. etc.
Strabo informs us that Heraklion was the port of Knossos. The remains
from this period are several, the more characteristic being the mosaic
floors revealed during the rescue excavation conducted at the area of
During the Byzantine period the settlement was called Kastro (meaning
"Castle"), but in this period of time Gortyna was the administrative
and cultural center. The area is in decline until the Arabic invasion
in 824; earthquakes and external invasions contribute to this fall.
The Arabs reinforce the fortification of the town and construct a ditch
around the walls; named after this structure, from now on the town will
be also called Chandax (meaning "ditch" in greek). During the period
of the invasion (824-961 A.D.), the arabic culture is diffused in the
island, until 961 when the Byzantines take back Crete and of course Heraklion;
the town recovers from damages and start flourishing again. The walls
at the area of Daidalos street should have been raised in that period.
After Constantinople was conquered by the Francs of the 4th Crusade,
in 1204, Crete, along with Heraklion was given to Bonifatius of Monferrat;
this latter sold the island to the Venetians who took possession of the
island in 1211 and keep it until 1669. During the first years of the
Venetian domination Cretan people revolted several times against the
conquerors, but from the 15th century onwards, revolts came to an end
and a period of peace started for the island. As a result, Kastro or
Chandax (Candia as the Venetians called it) knows a new period of development.
It is in that times that the Venetians construct the big walls of the
city with the 7 bastions, the castle of the port, the harbor as well
as many public and private buildings and monuments. Along with the reconstruction
of the city, there is a flourishing of the cultural life: painting (the
so-called Cretan School of hagiographers, Domenico Theotocopoulos, "El
Greco"), literature, poetry and above all theatre reach their peak, thus
creating the special Cretan style which continued to develop until the
city was conquered by the Ottomans.
After an almost 25-years siege (1645-1669), the Ottomans take possession
of the city, which is now called Kastro again and it remains the administrative
center of the island. Due to the long period of war the city is almost
totally destroyed. The Ottoman government proceeds in extended repairments
both of the fortification and of many buildings; however, the cultural
renaissance of the Venetian period and the commercial activities are
A new period of development begins for the city in the 18th century,
as the Christian population participates more and more in the economic
life of the city.
At the same time, several revolts and revolutions against the Ottoman
domination take place. By the mid-19th century the capital city is transferred
to Chania, but Heraklion continues to develop and to take part in the
revolts and revolutions, up to 1898, when Crete is set autonomous.
In 1913 Crete is encorporated in the Greek state, which signals a new
step in the development of the city. Heraklion is extended in space,
the population increases and the first signs of urban pull and the needs
in buildings for residence and amenities get more pressing. So, development
proceeds sometimes in rash, which results in destroying several interesting
buildings, mainly of the post-war period.
Even parts of the Venetian walls were sacrificed to "development". In
the last decades, however, the Municipality, along with other Foundations
of the city are carrying out consolidation and restoration works, aiming
at preserving and make broadly known several monuments of the city.