At the crossroads of the Mediterranean…
A meeting place of «5 + 1» civilizations Called “Kastro” (Fortress) by the Byzantines, “Fortress of the Trench” (Rabdh el Chandak) by the Arabs, “Chándax” during the Middle Byzantine period, “Candia” by the Venetians, “Kandiye” by the Ottomans and “Heraklion” at present.
Heraklion, a port-capital of the maritime routes, dominating the island of Crete, in the midst of the Mediterranean Sea. Here, where the first European civilization flourished. The rich Cretan mythology and reality are just a five-kilometre road apart. This is the distance between Heraklion, the port of the capital of Minoan Crete, and Knossos, with the unique palace of King Minos.
Heraklion City was founded as a settlement in 1000-950 BC, located around the current Venetian Harbor and was the seaport of Knossos. During the early Byzantine period, the settlement still existed and was called Castle due to its fort walls.
In 824 AD the Byzantine Castle fell to the hands of Saracen Arabs. They built a fortification wall and dug a deep trench, for this, the Arabs called Heraklion “Trench Castle” (Rabd hel Khantak), a name that was used for many centuries (Chandakas in Greek). In 961 AD and following continuous unsuccessful attempts made by the Byzantines to retake Crete, Nikiforos Fokas managed to free the island.
The fall of Constantinople to the Fourth Crusade brought with it the carving up of Byzantine imperial territory, including Crete. Venetian power was firmly established in 1217 and over the ensuing four and a half centuries, Crete was one of the most important possessions of the Serenissimi, if not the leading one.
Kastro remained the capital, but was renamed Candia, becoming a hive of economic and intellectual activity.
An act of piracy involving the Knights of St. John of Malta provided the pretext for the 5th Venetian-Turkish War, known as the Cretan War because the island was the main theatre of conflict. The Ottomans started gradually taking Crete under their control from 1645.
The siege of Chandax, one of the lengthiest of its kind in world history, began in May 1648. The defenders finally capitulated and fled in September 1669. The island then became an Eyialet (administrative region), with Chandax – thenceforth officially known as Kandiye – as is capital.
The ottoman rule on the island ended rapidly after the violent riots that took place in Heraklion, on the 25 August 1898. The withdrawal of the Turkish army, marks the end of a turbulent era.
On 9th December 1898 Prince George of Greece, landed on Crete as High Commissioner of the Autonomous Cretan State. According to the terms of the new status quo, the island was granted extended autonomy but remained under the suzerainty of the sultan and the protection of the European powers.The future of Crete was settled once and for all at the end of the Balkan Wars. In December 1913 the union of Crete with Greece was officially declared. The Asia Minor disaster in 1922 marks the beginning of the Greek interwar period (1922-1940). Thousands of refugees settled on Crete, particularly in Heraklion. At the same time, the Muslim residents were forced to abandon the island.
The Italian offensive launched against Greece on 28th October 1940 brought an end to the twenty-year Greek interwar period, forcing the country to become embroiled in global conflict. The Greek victories, together with the failure of the Italian attack provoked the German intervention that took place on 6th April 1941.
In May 1941, the Battle of Crete begins with heavy air raids that targeted the main urban centres, and a large part of Heraklion.. The battles fought over the next ten days were fierce in the extreme, but the final outcome of the struggle was determined by the assailants’ supremacy in the air. Thus the difficult period of Italo-German occupation extended to Crete. Heraklion was liberated in October 1944, but the last of the invaders did not leave the island until the German surrender in May 1945.