The castle of Nikiforos Fokas


Prophitis Elias is a small town south of Heraklion built at the foot of the Rokka hill.

Here you can see everything: the morning dew covering the rocks of the castle, the hot midday sun turning the vines and olives into a golden color, the sunset gilding and coloring the mountain peaks as it slowly descends, while the farmers gather their cattle.

A small world living in the shadow of the Byzantine Castle.

The castle of Temenos or Nikiforos Fokas, as it is called, is the most important Byzantine monument in Crete. It is located 16 km south of Heraklion.

It stands on the hill overlooking the island, desolate and imposing, scarred by time. The fortress was first called the fortress of Rokka.

When the castle town was founded by Fokas, it was named Temenos.

The Turks called it Kanli Kastelli, which means “bloody castle” because of the many Turks who were killed there during the Venetian-Turkish war.

In more recent years, the name Fortress of Nikiforos Fokas prevailed.

Its history

In the 820s, Heraklion was occupied by the Arabs of Andalusia. Starting from Chandax, the Saracen-Arabs organized an extensive chain of attacks on the Aegean islands, which were plunged into destruction and desolation.

The conquerors significantly improved the fortification of Heraklion and reinforced it with a trench. Thus, Heraklion at this time was called Rabdh Al Khandaq, meaning “Trench Castle”.

In 961 the Byzantine troops led by Nikiforos Fokas managed to recover the island and the city after 135 years of Arab occupation. The city suffered extensive damage.

This was followed by an unsuccessful attempt by Nikiforos Fokas to relocate the capital south of Chandax, on this steep hill which he reinforced with a fortress known as “Temenos”.

The relocation did not happen after all, as the port was more important for the Cretans. The city of Chandax quickly recovered from the disaster, was rebuilt, and once again became the administrative and religious center of the island.

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