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History of Heraklion

The history of Heraklion dates back to the Minoan times, when the Minoans looking for access to the sea founded a settlement and a small harbor that they named Heraklion. It is estimated that in the region there was a temple of Hercules, hence the name Heraklion. Oddly enough there are no written reports of Heraklion till the end of the Minoan civilization and the end of the first Byzantine period.

In 824 BC, when Crete was conquered by the Saracens, Heraklion was renamed el Khandak (Fortress of the Dike) and became the capital of the island. The city was liberated by the army of Nikiforos Fokas and came to be part of Byzantium in 961AD. A few centuries later, the Byzantine Empire was overthrown by the Venetians. The latter, realising the strategic place of Chandax - as the city was called by locals - crowned it capital of the Kingdom of Crete.

The following 250 years, Candia - the name given to the city by the Venetians - bloomed and developed to be a major European city known also as Venice of the East. Some of the most famous artists of the period where the world famous Domenicus Theotokopoulos also known as El Greco as well as Michael Damaskinos.

Following the fall of Constantinople to the Turks, the Venetians realized that the danger of a Turkish attack to the island was eminent. As a result, they began the fortification of the city by assigning to their best engineer the construction of the city's walls.

In 1645, the Turks landed in Chania and started conquering the island. To their surprise, the siege of the capital of the island would last 21 years till the 28th September 1669. The Great Fortress, as it was renamed by the Turks, had only 800 Greeks within its walls according the first official census of the Ottoman Empire.

The following years of continuous massacres of the Greeks by the Turks and after the national revolution in 1821 as well as the devastating earthquake in 1856, Heraklion was simply "decaying". On the 25th August 1898, the last year of the Turkish occupation, there was a horrific massacre of the Christians of the city that also lead to the accidental slaughter of English soldiers and the consequent intervention of the British. Soon after the Turks left the island.

From 1898 to 1912, Crete becomes an autonomous state and soon after in May 1913, the island becomes part of Greece. Due to its strategic position, the city was targeted by the German forces in 1941. The German bombardments during the Battle of Crete resulted to major catastrophes and the city had to be rebuilt after the war.




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