Herakleion lies between Mt Psiloritis and the Lasithiotika Mountains and it is the largest administrative division of Crete. It has an area of 2,641 square km and a population of approximately 250,000. The northern part of the prefecture includes attractive resorts, very well organised with luxurious hotel complexes and fine sandy beaches, accessible by public transportation. The bustling modern city of Herakleion, the namesake capital of the prefecture and the administrative capital of the entire island, is the offspring from the union of cultures and peoples across three continents and it lies almost in the middle of the north coast on the site of the once small harbour that was the seaport of ancient Knossos.
The Prefecture of Herakleion lies between Mt Psiloritis and the Lasithiotika Mountains and it is the largest administrative division of Crete. It has an area of 2,641 square km and a population of approximately 250,000. The northern part of the prefecture includes attractive resorts, very well organised with luxurious hotel complexes and fine sandy beaches, accessible by public transportation. The bustling modern city of Herakleion, the namesake capital of the prefecture and the administrative capital of the entire island, is the offspring from the union of cultures and peoples across three continents and it lies almost in the middle of the north coast on the site of the once small harbour that was the seaport of ancient Knossos.
The Prefecture has a complete range of transportation services The city of Herakleion is the island's main transport hub with an international airport and the fifth largest harbour in Greece. The airport serves a great number of charter flights from almost anywhere in the world, while daily domestic flights connect Herakleion to Athens, Thessaloniki, Rhodes, Mykonos, Paros and Santorini. National and international ferries depart from the harbour with daily schedules to Piraeus, while in the summer there are frequent ferries to the Cyclades. Cruise liners operating out of Venice link Herakleion to Limassol in Cyprus and Haifa in Israel. Local and regional buses run between the capital and a variety of destinations both within the prefecture and beyond.
The city of Herakleion, historically Candia, takes its name from the ancient Roman port of Heracleum, which likely occupied the same site. Arab Saracens who conquered Crete in 824 AD, destroyed the capital and built a new one at the location of present-day Heakleion, which took the Arabic name Khandaq (Moat), later corrupted to Candia by the Venetians to whom the island was sold in 1204. Most of the extensive system of walls built around the city by the Venetians survives to this day. In 1669, the city was ceded to the Turks after a siege that lasted more than 20 years. During the long Turkish occupation, which ended in 1897, Candia was known as Megalokastro. The Turks allowed the harbour to silt up and caused it to lose its former commercial pre-eminence. The Turkish rule ended in 1898 after the Great Independence War that began in 1821 and ended with the formation of the independent Cretan Republic. Finally, in 1913 the Union with Greece was realised. During the German invasion in 1941, the city suffered heavy damage from bombing. After WWII, it gained considerable commercial prominence, with a new harbour with moles, an airport and many hotels to serve the tourist trade.
Sightseeing and monuments
The Prefecture of Herakleion manages to combine Crete's best highlights. Both the coastal and the inland parts have been inhabited without interruption since prehistoric times, and so the area is the richest in Crete in terms of archaeological sites. At 5km east of capital Herakleion, Knossos is the most important and well known ancient site in Crete, inhabited since Neolithic times and famous for the Palace of Knossos built around 1900 BC. Phaistos, evidently the second most important palace-city of Minoan Crete, is about 65 km of Herakleion, while at 34 km east of the capital is Malia, the 3rd Minoan place found on Crete. Second to size and importance only to the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, Herakleion's outstanding Archaeological Museum is rich in exhibits, including pottery, jewellery, figurines and sarcophagi, as well as the famous frescos from Knossos. The Historical Museum of Herakleion deals with the history and folklore of Crete since about 1000 AD, housing among its collections a painting by El Greco, who was born near Herakleion. The prefecture has a number of magnificent Byzantine monasteries, the most important of which are the 15th c. Vrondissi, the abandoned monastery of Varsamoneri and the Monastery of Kardiotissa, while the countryside is strewn with small and larger churches, picturesque chapels and small temples carved inside rocks.
Every year the city of Herakleion, as well as numerous villages in the prefecture, organise cultural events, exhibitions, and festivals which attract a lot of people, locals and visitors alike. Participation is these events is a perfect opportunity for one to acquire a first hand experience of the jovial aspect of life on Crete. The annual Festival of Herakleion held at the Manos Hadjidakis Theatre and the Nikos Kazantzakis Garden Theatre, offers one of the largest and most varied programmes, including theatrical performances, traditional music and dance events, opera, art exhibitions, lectures and symposia.
People and lifestyle
Setting aside the natural and historical jewels of Crete, the traveller will certainly agree that its most important asset is its people- the hospitable people of Crete, the true descendants of Xenios Zeus. The people are mainly engaged in agriculture and tourism. On Crete, tradition has found a way of appealing to modern people in forms that best serve their needs both for education and entertainment.
Gods, goddesses, and heroes were incarnated elements of nature that balanced brilliantly between godhood and the human temper. Here one finds the holy mountain of Ida where each spring the father of gods, Zeus is reborn amidst aromatic herbs and wild plants that diffuse the air with their delicate aroma, particularly during the spring. On the same mountain, on the hills of Youchtas on the slopes of innumerable hill tops and valleys thrives a unique flora and fauna owing to the excellent climatic conditions that prevail all over the region. The prefecture of Iraklio has many breathtaking locations, ideal for nature lovers. Impressive caves such as Kamares in Zaros and villages with sandy beaches such as Kali Limenes present glorious images that nature and time have created. There are also many areas for climbing and hiking, as well as various summer resorts.
Sports and Leisure
Extended good weather and the combination of mountains and sea create ideal conditions for all types of sea and land sports year round. Each year, international athletic events are organised here such as the Vardinogiannian World Marathon Race, the Minoan Cup (Sailing Regatta), the World Jet Ski events and others. There is also an 18-hole golf course with a Golf Academy. Crossing the island lengthways, the European path of long distance-walking E4 starts in the prefecture of Iraklion revealing a unique, ever-changing landscape. Trekking aficionados have the opportunity to experience the undiscovered nature of the region, old village paths, traditional settlements, monasteries and high mountains. Heraklion was an Olympic city during the Athens 2004 Olympic Games and hosted a significant number of games and other related events
Nightlife and entertainment
The cultural heritage of the prefecture of Herakleion combines harmoniously with varied forms of modern entertainment. For those inclined to modern entertainment and clubbing, there are ample opportunities at the many night clubs and music halls in the capital and the surrounding summer resorts. There is no end to the number of bars and discos featuring rock-and-roll and/or Greek popular music, although they come and go from year to year to reflect the latest fads. Visitors are sure to be kept entertained until the early morning hours.
Gastronomy and Shopping
Faithful to the Cretan culinary tradition, the local cuisine is simple, genuine, natural and palatable. Tavernas, restaurants and eateries offer a great variety of local delicacies featuring the Cretan olive oil as their basic ingredient. Wild-growing vegetables, consumed either raw or boiled, rich dairy products, fresh fish and an array of tasteful combinations of vegetables with meat provide for a wholesome, healthy and uniquely tasty diet. A glass of local wine or a shot of home-made "tsikoudia" are inseparable escorts for the superb culinary creations. The market of Herakleion, the richest in Crete and one of the finest in the Mediterranean, is in the centre of the capital city with vendors selling from fresh meat, vegetables, fish and species, as well as leather goods, tourist knick-knacks and beautiful gold jewellery. A great number of shops, high-class jewellers and clothes outlets are lining the central streets of the city. Popular artists are highly productive in such areas as woodcarving, glass- making, weaving, jewellery making, pottery and hand-painted icons. The ingenuity of the finished products, the overall workmanship, is the heritage of the Minoan civilisation.
The prefecture's top-calibre hotel units have been recently hosting international summits, world and European conferences, as well as medical, business, social and educational events. Highly trained staff, excellent infrastructure and tens of luxurious areas are the strongest points of the local hotels that support congress tourism.
USEFUL TELEPHONE NUMBERS
Airport of Heraklion: +30 2810 228402
Port Authority of Heraklion: +30 2810 244912
Heraklion Buses Services: +30 2810 245019
Heraklion Police: +30 2810 274010
Heraklion Tourist Police: +30 2810 274046
Regional Academic Hospital (PAGNI): +30 2813 402111
Heraklion General Hospital: +30 2813 408000
Archaeological museum of Heraklion: + 30 2810 279000
Archaeological site of Knossos: +30 2810 231940