An interesting and historic port of call on an Eastern Mediterranean cruise is Heraklion (Iraklion), which is the capital of Crete. There is a plethora of things to do in this city that serves as a fascinating backdrop of ancient Greece and its historical origins. Heraklion has all of the modern day amenities blending in with ancient treasures and plenty of Greek heritage and culture.
It is an easy walk to Heraklion’s historic city centre from the port and the opportunity presents itself throughout the city to discover relics that date back many centuries. The local marketplaces known as the Agora have a wide variety of local products on display on their stalls and excellent souvenirs to bring back home.
Stop off next to the Venetian Fort with its massive ramparts in the old harbour and view the catch of the day being brought in by the local fishermen.
Here are the top attractions to make the most of a day in Heraklion. Some can be arranged in advance at the ship’s tour excursion desk.
The Archeological Museum
The Archaeological Museum contains extensive and unique examples of Minoan art. Archaeological evidence is on display with items such as hand-made ceramic pottery found on the island in the 5th century BC.
Many of the pieces in the collection were excavated at Knossos, named “Minoan” after the legendary King Minos. There is well over 5,500 years covered here from the Neolithic period to the Roman era and will appease any history buff.
Historical Museum of Crete
Containing more modern works than the Archeological Museum, including paintings by El Greco, the Historical Museum of Crete covers the Byzantine era that ruled most of the Aegean region. The collections are easy to follow as they are set up chronologically and include coins, jewellery, heirlooms and works of art and the interior of a Cretan rural home recreated, amongst other items of historical importance.
This historic fortress was constructed in the 15th century with the purpose of keeping out any invaders. The name means “fortress” in Turkish and it was originally referred to as Rocca al Mare by the Venetians. The fortress has a beautiful plaque on the exterior of the winged lion of St Mark.
Lion Square (Fountain Square)
Lion Square is a nice stop off for a piece of Greek pastry in one of the many cafes. The standout of the square is the Morosini Fountain, built in 1628, which consists of four lions with water coming out of their mouths.
The squares’ official name is Eleftheriou Venizelou Square, which for many is unpronounceable. Built by Francesco Morosini, it was in honour of a new aqueduct being opened and allowed residents access to fresh water at any time. This is not only a popular meeting spot for locals but is one of the most iconic parts of Heraklion since the Arab rule (9th-10th century AD).
Minoan Palace of Knossos
There are several Minoan artefacts and sites spread out in Crete, but the Minoan Palace of Knossos is the best of them all. This is because they have 35 centuries worth of remains and artefacts that are sure to impress even the most casual of historical buffs. This location is also famous in mythological tales for being the famed Labyrinth of the Minotaur who was slayed by Theseus, national hero of Athens.
Heraklion’s cruise port is huge and has several piers for cruise ships to comfortably dock in at the same time. Located directly outside the massive walls built in the 1500’s the port encircles the city.
When a ship docks in a pier further away from the cruise terminal building, there’s a free shuttle bus that takes passengers to the port’s entranceway.
Written by Veronica Shine