The city of Heraklion still enjoys its reputation as one of the most attractive Mediterranean capitals. It has enough to offer that the cultural tastes and shopping needs of both the visitors and the residents are fully catered for. It is no accident that it has always been the business and social center of Crete throughout the ages and that status is maintained today. It plays host to many interests and activities as well as providing a very pleasant way of life.
For those who wish to learn a little bit about the history, Heraklion is home to ancient monuments and examples of major Western civilization. The region of Heraklion is famous for Zeus, the Greek god of hospitality, who met and fell in love with a Princess of unsurpassed beauty, named Europa. She gave birth to the race of Minoan Kings and sages, the founders of the earliest civilized nation in Europe. There are many medieval monuments that indicate the prosperity of the era, situated in the center of the city.
If you continue onwards from the port to the city centre, the first significant landmark you can see is 'Lotzia'. Nowadays this houses the City Council and part of the Municipality of Heraklion services departments. 'Lotzia' used to be the society for the Duke and Officers of Crete, and is decorated with uniquely sculptured coats of arms, trophies, and metopes. For centuries the noblemen of Crete gathered here to rest, to be entertained, or to practice their formal rituals.
Its passageways (stoas) have their roots in the 14th century, but 'Lotzia' took its final architecture from the early part of the 17th century. It is located in the PIAZZA DEI SIGNORI (Square of the Administrative Authorities). It is considered to be the finest Venetian monument in the city, and was awarded the EUROPA NOSTRA first prize in 1987, for best renovated and preserved European monument of the year. The majestic fortress, 'Koules', stands by the port. It had been used for centuries not only for the protection of the city but as a prison too, with its huge dark hallways and cells.
In the southern part of the city the palace of Knossos is situated, which was built in preclassical times, when Crete was still under reign and consisted of a hundred cities. In the center of Heraklion, at the North-east corner of 'Liberty Square' (Platia Eleftherias) is the Archeological Museum of Crete. Every year thousands of visitors come to admire fabulous treasures from the Minoan, historic, classical, Hellenistic and Roman times. West of Heraklion, there is the Cretan History Museum, where the riches of the Christian, Byzantine, Medieval and earlier times are preserved for all to see.
There are also many objets d'art, examples of Cretan popular culture through the ages. These include pieces of work by the great painter EL GRECO, who was born and studied painting in Heraklion itself. In the same Museum we can also find hagiographies from the famous Cretan School of Hagiography. In addition, visitors have the chance to see a typical Cretan house as well as memorabilia of the great author, Nikos Kazantzakis. Just a few meters from the Church there is an elaborate fountain, called 'Liontaria' (lions).
It is exquisitely sculpted and decorated with images inspired by the sea and the animal kingdom. It was constructed during the first decades of the 17th century by Franzisco Morozini, not only to decorate the square but also to provide the city with water. South of the 'Lotzia' is the Basilica of Saint Marcus which was built in 1239 in the PIAZZA DELLE BIADE (Square of Blades) and used to be the Cathedral of Crete. The Basilica belonged to the reigning Duke and it was used as the Dukes' burial place. Nowadays it houses the Municipal Art Gallery.
Heraklion is surrounded by an enormous medieval wall, which used to protect it from enemies and gave the city its reputation as the best-fortified state in the Mediterranean basin. It stood up to a siege by the Turks for 25 years but the city was finally seized after its betrayal by a Venetian Engineer who led the invaders through a secret passageway into the city. The Medieval monastery of Saint Catherine stands in the southwest corner of Lion Square. This building used to be the Cretan University during the Middle ages, through which many European artists, philosophers, church fathers, poets and authors rose to prominence. Nowadays the church of Saint Catherine houses a priceless collection of Cretan hagiographies
A few meters from the church, you will find the Cathedral of Saint Minas, who is the patron saint of the city. Saint Minas rescued the Christians from slaughter when the Turks had tried to annihilate them in the early 19th century. The church took thirty years to construct and was inaugurated in 1896 with lavish celebrations. Next to it we can find the older, smaller church of Saint Minas, embellished with magnificent hagiographies and icons created by great hagiographers.
The central market and the shops in Heraklion are among the most diverse in Crete. Visitors can easily find souvenirs, jewellery, furs, food, and clothes for any price. Famous Cretan products such as oil, wine, raki(spirit), honey and herbs are really worth tasting and buying. The 'Martinengo' battlements rise from the south part of the wall, where the celebrated Nikos Kazantzakis, author of Zorbas and the Odyssey, was buried. South of here is the Old Gate called 'Hanioporta'. Lots of old churches and battlements still decorate Heraklion, which in addition to having a rich cultural heritage is very lively during the day and night.
The stadium is located in the Lido district of Heraklion, west of the centre. To get there, start off the "Hanioporta" (i.e. Gate of Hania) at the Venetian walls. Follow the 62 Martyrs' Avenue that leads to Hania. As you exit the city, you will come to a new overpass, where there are roadsigns pointing right towards the sea and the Pancretan Stadium, built right on the beach.
Twelve matches of the Olympic football tournament have taken place in the city of Heraklion, on the island of Crete (in Greek: Kriti) during the Olympic Games of 2004. The athletic games, both men's and women's, were been played in the brand new Pancretan (in Greek: Pankritio) Stadium. It has a capacity of 26,400 spectators. Nowadays, the two most popular football teams (ofi and ergotelis) use the stadium as home ground.