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useful information about the prefecture of Heraklion

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"A country, Crete, in the winy sea it lies, so rich, wrapped by sea, all beautiful, with states ninety. Myriad, innumerable people living on her and their languages are many and mixed. "

Homer's "Odyssey" rhapsody t, verses 172-175

Getting to Crete:

like Daedalus and Icarus (with wings)

There are two international airports in Heraklion and Chania, connecting Crete with most Greek islands and many European destinations via scheduled flights or charters. Heraklion Airport is located 3.5 km from the center of the city and can be reached using public transportation or taxi. The airport of Chania is located 140 km from Heraklion, a distance which is covered in 2.5-3 hours.

Heraklion International Airport Nikos Kazantzakis: (+30) 2810 228446/245644
Chania International Airport Ioannis Daskalogiannis: (+30) 28210 83800/83805
Olympic Air: (+30) 2810 288073
Aegean Airlines: (+30) 2810 330475

like Theseus (by boat)

The Heraklion port is daily connected by ship to the port of Piraeus and many of the islands of the Aegean. Every night two ships depart to and from Piraeus (at 21:00 and 22:00 respectively). The trip takes about 9 hours. During the summer season there are some morning departures as well.

Heraklion Port Authority: (+30) 2810 244912
Minoan Lines: 801 11 75000
ANEK: (+30) 2810 222481
Seajets & Hellenic Seaways: (+30) 2810 346185

around the island

The northern road axis of Crete V.O.A.K. offers access to the largest cities of the island. The highways of Heraklion -Mires and Heraklion-Arkalohori connect the city with the interior of the prefecture. The city buses of Heraklion (urban KTEL of Heraklion) run from downtown to the entire city and the surrounding areas. The KTEL of Crete connects Heraklion with all the rest of the island. The main station is located near the port on S. Venizelos street.

Heraklion Buses (KTEL of Heraklion): (+30) 2810 255965/246530

Other useful numbers:

Greece dialing code: +30
Heraklion dialing code: 2810
Police: 100 (no city code) & 2810 283190
Tourist Police: 2810 283190
Road Traffic Police: 2810 274019/274080/274082/274087
Taxi: 2810 210102/231223/235859
E.O.T. (National Tourism Organization): 2810 228203/228225
E.L.T.A. (Greek Post Offices): 2810 224396
OTE (Hellenic Telecommunications Organization) phone directory information: 11888
E.L.P.A. (Roadside Assistance): 10400
First Aid Center: 166, 2810 222222
University General Hospital of Heraklion: 2810 392111
Venizelio - Pananion Hospital: 2810 368000
IKA (Social Insurance Institution): 2810 303500

What I can see in Heraklion:

The Archaeological Museum

1 Xanthoudidou street ,telephone: 2810 279000/279086/279087 opening times (until late October): Monday 13:30 to 20:00, Tuesday-Sunday 8:00 to 20:00


It is considered the most important museum of the Minoan civilization. Since November 2006 it has remained closed to the public due to renovation work. However, there is a small temporary exhibition of most important exhibits of the Museum (gallery on the north side of the building), a gallery with the Minoan frescoes as well as two galleries with the collection of sculptures.

The Historical Museum

House of A. & M. Kalokairinou,27 S. Venizelos street & 7 Kalokairinou street .
Telephone: 2810 283219/288708
opening times (in late October): Monday to Saturday 9:00 to 17:00. Sundays & Holidays closed

This very remarkable museum covers seventeen centuries of history of Heraklion and Crete, from the early Christian times to the modern era. On the ground floor, the visitor can see a representation model with the most important monuments of the city of Heraklion which are preserved up to now and which he/ she can visit later, such as the Basilica of San Marco (located in El. Venizelos square), Loggia and the Church of St. Titus (25 August street), the Cathedral of St. Minas and the Church of St. Catherine with its rich collection of religious icons of the Cretan School (St. Catherine's Square),the Venetian walls and the Venetian Fortress of Koules (Venetian port of Heraklion). Also, on the southern part of the walls (at the end of 1821 street, which runs from the Morosini Fountain or otherwise “Liontaria” -Lions, to the Martinengo bastion), lies the tomb of Nikos Kazantzakis.

The Natural History Museum

S. Venizelou street, Tel: 2810 393630/282740
Opening times: 9:00-21:00 daily

One of the most important museums of its kind, with five sections: Zoological, Botanical, Anthropological, Paleontological - Geological and Mineralogical and with collections of specimens from Greece and the Mediterranean. In the exhibition, the complex, from geological, ecological and cultural perspectives, area of the Eastern Mediterranean is approached with realistic representations of ecosystems, exhibits from the museum's collections, photographic material, drawings and explanatory texts.

What I can visit near Heraklion:

Knossos: the most important Minoan palace (16th-13th cent.), 5 km southeast of Heraklion. The palace was first inhabited in the Neolithic time (7th millennium BC) and some monuments from later eras are preserved as well as cemeteries of various periods, which show a continuous habitation in the area of Knossos. Apart from the complex of the Minoan palace, today visitors can see private residences with rich interior frescoes, some public buildings, but also some religious centers.


Faistos: the second in size Minoan palace and the most important wealth and power centre of southern Crete, 60 klm. south of Heraklion. At a close distance, one can visit the minoan villa of Agia Triada.


Malia: The third important Minoan palace on the north coast of Crete, 40 km east of Heraklion. A part of the Minoan city is saved in excellent condition, especially the district of craftsmen.


Archanes: Within a small, enclosed valley, 15 km south of Knossos, the Minoan city of Archanes was discovered. The archaeological site contains two sections: the section within the present town, where the palace complex and the housing complex lie and the section on the hill of Fourni, north of Archanes, where a major necropolis of Crete was revealed. Nearby there is the Minoan sanctuary of Anemospilioi. In the village there is an important archaeological collection in a small elegant neoclassical building.


Vathipetro: : The Minoan mansion of Vathipetro is located 4km south of Archanes at the southeast side of Giouktas. It is a grand building with features of a small palace. What is important is the winepress in the south wing, and an olive press found in the yard.


Nirou Chani and Amnisos: Within small distance of the festival site there are the remains of two Minoan villas that are visible from the street.


Gortyna: important settlement from the Hellenistic and Roman times with habitation from the Neolithic period to the Arab conquest, with most important monuments being the Roman Conservatory and the church of St. Titus. 45 km south of Heraklion.


Thalassokosmos- Cretaquarium: one of the major European aquariums within short distance from the festival site (3 km east, former U.S. base of Gournes). At its 60 aquariums of various sizes the scenography of the Mediterranean unfolds creating 100 different observation points for 2500 Mediterranean and tropical organisms.

Tel.: 2810 337788, http://www.cretaquarium.gr/

Nikos Kazantzakis Museum: 15 klm. south of Heraklion, in Myrtia there is this museum dedicated to the life and work of Nikos Kazantzakis, one of the most important representatives of modern Greek literature, with an international reputation and popularity over time affecting the global cultural thought and philosophy.

Tel.: 2810 741689, http://www.kazantzakis-museum.gr/

Fodele - El Greco Museum: the home where, according to tradition, the great Cretan painter was born houses, today, the Museum of Replicas and a representation of his studio. In the same village, there is the small frescoed Byzantine style church of the Virgin Mary which is said to have provided the incentive to El Greco to deal with hagiography. The site is located 27 km west of Heraklion.

Tel.: 2810 521500, http://heraklion-crete.net/El_Greco.php

Have I got time to get to know the natural beauty of the Cretan landscape?

The geomorphological terrain of Crete makes the island a heaven for nature lovers. Mountainous at its biggest part, with many caves and gorges, Crete is ideal for mountaineering, climbing, and hiking.

Hiking Club of Heraklion, tel. 2810 344588 http://www.pezoporikos.gr/
Alpine Club of Heraklion, tel. 2810 227609 http://www.eos-her.gr/
Naturalist Club of Heraklion, tel. 2810 224667 http://www.fysi.gr/
Cretan Canyoning Association tel. 6997090307 http://www.canyon.gr/
Greek Speleological Society, Department of Crete, tel. 2810 341039 http://www.esecrete.gr
Speleological Club of Crete, tel. 2810 283160 http://www.spok.gr/

What should I know about Crete?

The Island

“Serious is the face of Crete, so tortured. Mountains naked, rough, unsmiling. You look down from the airplane at Crete stretching out in the sea and you truly feel that this island is a bridge between the three continents. Marked from all these three fates. For the first time in Europe the hungry predator bird that we call Spirit jumped and built a nest in Crete. It stretched its wings on the Cretan land and gave birth to the mysterious, still silent, full of life, grace, movement and brilliance Cretan culture.”

Nikos Kazantzakis, "Crete, my island," magazine Nea Estia, v. 66 (Christmas 1959) 39-40.

A place of sharp contrasts, Crete operates as a kind of geographical and cultural bridge that connects the three continents, a miniature of a continent itself. It is the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean with an area of 8,335 sq. km. Its shape is oblong with 257 km length. At its widest point it reaches 60 km, while the narrowest in the area of Ierapetra, does not exceed the 12 km. The Cretan Sea lies north of the island, the Carpathian east of it, the Myrtoo west of it and the Libyan west of it. On the north coast of the island five large bays, that of Kissamos, of Souda Almyrou, of Mirabello and of Sitia, and many sandy beaches are formed, while the south coast is more rugged with its greatest bay being that of Messara.Scattered near the coastline there are a lot of small in their majority uninhabited islands, like Dia, Koufonisi or Lefki, Gaidouronisi or Chrisi, Dionysades, Spinalonga, Paksimadi, Gavdos (the southernmost tip of Europe). The landscape of Crete is characterized by great natural diversity: at some places rough and wild, elsewhere tame and sweet. At some places dry, at others cool and limpid. With black sea-cliffs and but also with sweet shaded beaches. With deep and shadowy canyons but also with wide lush plains. Waters, rivers, reeds, as well as bronzed and arid landscapes full of stones, all these different but equally charming faces compose the remarkable form of this place.


The human need to interpret the world in which he lives, his desire to overcome weaknesses and adversity, his lust for domination and his successes over nature and other people triggered his creative imagination, resulting in the formation of myths. The myths associated with Crete were created in the historical era but reflect memories of the Minoan era.

So, Crete is the island where the king of the twelve Gods, Zeus was born and grew up under the care of the nymphs and the Kourites, drinking the milk of the goat Amalthea. When he grew up, he fell in love with the princess of Phoenicia, Europe and transformed into a bull, he brought her to Crete. From their union Minos, Rhadamanthus and Sarpedon were born while Europe married the king of Crete Asterios. Minos became the king of Crete, united all the states including Knossos and associated his name with peace, prosperity and naval supremacy in the Mediterranean. It is, actually, said that the gods gave him the bronze giant Talos (the first robot of humanity) which protected the island from invaders. Minos married Pasiphae, daughter of Helios and together they gave birth to many children. Fame has it that he was rather hard and probably that is true, since he had imprisoned the great craftsman Daedalus, together with his son so that he would work exclusively for him. Furthermore, Minos behaved ungratefully to God Neptune, and that behavior of his was punished exemplarily: his wife Pasiphae mated with the white bull of God and the fruit of this union was the Minotaur. The unfortunate creature was closed in the basement structure of the palace of Knossos, the Labyrinth, from where it was unlikely that one could get out. The next calamity that struck Minos was the death (or was it the murder?) of his son Androgeos in Athens. The punishment that he imposed on the Athenians was tough: 7 young men and 7 young women of the city every nine years (or every year) traveled to the island to become food for the Minotaur. The third time, the leader of the Athenian mission was Theseus, son of King Aegeus of Athens. On the island, the princess Ariadne fell in love with him and helped him to survive by secretly giving him a sword to kill the Minotaur and thread to find the way out of the labyrinth.


Crete was created by the pressure of the African surface plate beneath Europe, a process that continues even now making it a moveable island surfing for 25 million years, sometimes submerging and sometimes emerging again, not only doing seesaw (the north coast immerses while the south rises) but also travelling towards the African continent slowly but steadily! During the period of the Pleistocene (12 million years before 10,000 BC) the late intense climatic fluctuations happened and, in the end of this period, Crete took its final form which is not much different than today.

First signs of habitation

When the vegetation began to grow, birds arrived bringing with them eggs of snails and other small animals, and with the consecutive glaciation periods mammals arrived such as dwarf elephants, dwarf hippos, deer as well as ... people! One of the recent impressive findings is the discovery of tools of the Paleolithic era on the south coast of Rethymno and the islet of Gavdos. Some of the tools seem to be over 200,000 years old and to have been built by Homo Erectus. So, from one moment to another, Crete, from the most recently inhabited island in the Mediterranean becomes the first. In the same areas, there were also found traces of habitation of the Mesolithic age (11000-7000 BC). The most well known is the Neolithic period in Crete which lasts until about 3000 and inaugurated with the arrival of people from the East. They begin to build small villages scattered around the island near water (the most important settlement being that of Knossos) and innovate cultivating systematically the land, raising animals and constructing vessels, among others.

Proto-history and history in brief

The island's history from the Bronze Age onwards is rich and full of agitation. New populations from the East mingle with the locals and gradually create the so-called "Minoan civilization", with developed social organization, writing, trade relations with the eastern Mediterranean and an impressive culture. Natural disasters and internal problems made it easy for the Mycenaeans to dominate the island after 1400 for some 200 years.

After the collapse of the Mycenaean world, the first Dorians settlers come to Crete and inaugurate the Iron Age or otherwise called the Geometric Age. Life is formed into city-states and the archaic era is a period of prosperity for the island. The 6th century BC is characterized by invasions and strong collisions. During the Persian wars, the island remains uninvolved, the city-states expand and so does the competition among them, which will lead to civil strife. In the 4th century some cities develop significantly, such as Knossos and Gortyna, while smaller ones cluster around them. Thus, city unions were created seeking to increase their influence to the fullest. In the 3rd century, a loose federation of major cities is established which did not prove able to prevent civil war. Only at the end of the Hellenistic period, the Cretans united defeated the Roman fleet (74 BC), a victory that could not stop the Romans to subdue the island after a hard three-year war.

With the establishment of the Roman rule, life on the island is characterized by impervious stability. Fairly early the Christian religion spreads, in the Byzantine period Crete was converted to a Byzantine province, while in 670 raids start, and in 823 AD, the conquest by the Arabs starts. The Chandakas (Heraklion) becomes the capital. In 961, Nikiforos Fokas reoccupies Crete which, for 250 years, will flourish under the care of Byzantine power.

In 1204 it passes into the hands of Arabs, the "Kingdom of Crete" is founded and the period of Venetian rule begins and will last 400 years. The external threat of the Turks in the 16th century will add to the constant revolutions of the locals, who gradually conquer the island by 1669. At that point, the long and tough period of Turkish rule starts characterized by frequent and bloody revolutions of the Cretans and ends in 1899. After a short period of the "autonomous Cretan State" Crete was united with Greece in 1913.

From modern history it is worth mentioning the "Battle of Crete" (May 1941), in which the Cretan people strongly resisted the Germans, resistance which continued during the years of German occupation (1941-45) with a big price tag.


The Cretan mountains form a wide variety of geological formations, small basins, valleys, canyons, caves and plateaus. To the west of Crete there are the White Mountains (Lefka Ori) or Madares with Pachnes as their highest peak (2,453 m). In the central part of the island, Psiloritis or Idi rises high, the highest mountain range in Crete, with its highest peak being the Holy Cross (2,456 m). To the east there is the mountain Dicti (2,148 m) and the mountains of Sitia (1476 m).

One of the most characteristic natural beauties of the Cretan landscape are the about 300 canyons, starting from the mountains of the island and running to the sea, hosting a wide variety of rare species of flora and fauna protected by strict rules, as they are unique for all Greece. The most famous is the gorge of Samaria, which impresses visitors with its size and flora, while at its slopes one can see the famous Kri-Kri, a unique kind of chamois in Greece. Other major canyons of the island are Kourtaliotiko and Topoliano, that of Patsou and of Mili at the west, that of Rouvas and Agiofaraggo in the center, that of Sarakina, of Richtis and Zakros at the east. A few miles west of the city of Heraklion there is the canyon of Almyros while near the venue of the festival there is the canyon of Karteros both easily accessible by car.

In the mountains of Crete many caves have formed (over 3,000), a result of the mountainous morphology of the terrain. Paleontological and archaeological findings testify that in prehistoric times most of them were used as places of residence, worship and celebration of religious ceremonies. Among them the Diktaion Antro and the Ideon Antro stand out, which are connected with many local legends, the cave of Melidoni Apokoronou, the cave Sendoni of Rethymno, Eilithyias’ cave, the cave of St. John the Hermit and the cave of Omalos Chania.

Among the mountains of Crete many plateaus are formed. Some of them gather large amounts of water and are systematically cultivated for the production of vegetables and fruit, while others are used for grazing. Among them stands the plateau of Lassithi on Mount Dicti at an altitude of 900m, the plateau of Omalos, on the White Mountains (Lefka Ori) at an altitude of 700 m, the plateau of Askyfo and Nidha on Psiloritis with an altitude of 1400m. Due to the small width of the island, Crete has few rivers, ranging from the mountains of the island at its centre and flow to the Libyan and the Cretan Sea. Throughout the island there are no large natural lakes except Lake Kournas, however there are several artificial ones.

Flora and Fauna

Crete is famous for its wide range of fauna, with 2000 different species of plants, many of which are endemic. Anemones, orchids, daffodils, narcissus, wicker, sea lilies and wild buttercup interspersed with a wide variety of aromatic plants with healing properties which are used in herbal teas such as dittany, the malotira, sage, the ladania. Apart from cypress, walnut, chestnut and oak, the phoenix of Theophrastus is found as well as the eastern plane tree, varieties unique in Greece.

The most famous animal is the Cretan goat, the famous Kri-Kri, very difficult to come across today. Often in the countryside ferrets, rabbits, badgers, wildcats and weasels can be seen and hawks flap in the sky. Among the birds that nest in the Cretan mountains the golden eagle and the bearded vulture stand out. Great is the variety of migratory birds passing from Crete traveling to hot countries.


The climate of Crete is generally mild and healthy and is characterized as temperate Mediterranean. The summer is hot and dry with little rain and lots of sunshine. Winters are mild in the coastal areas, slashing with snowfall in the mountains. In early October the temperature is around 15-250C with a low probability of rainfall.


The island is administratively divided into the prefectures of Heraklion, Lasithi, Rethymno, Chania with Heraklion as its basis, the capital of the prefecture with the same name. The island's population reaches 500,000 inhabitants living mainly from agriculture, livestock and lately tourism. Within major towns, cobbled streets hide mansions, houses, churches, fountains and ruins of the island's history. The countryside is adorned by rustic stone houses, settlements built on high plateaus, monasteries, castles and chapels. Villages with a strong element of green, olive trees, vineyards and citrus, add life to the sometimes rugged landscape, where traditional Cretan life styles have not changed over the centuries: coffee under the shade of trees, traditional dances, “sousta” and “pentozalis” accompanied by the sound of the Cretan lyra and the sweetness of Cretan wine. The inhabitants of Crete are known for their peculiar nature: people are pleasant, cheerful and hospitable and, as is shown by the glorious turbulent history, possessed of a strong desire for freedom and independence that is reflected in all aspects of everyday life. The Cretans keep the local customs and traditions, songs and dances and older people still wear traditional costumes. They live mainly from agriculture, animal husbandry, trade, folk art crafts and most recently from tourism which has developed lately, not always in an environmentally friendly way. Deterioration of the environment is, also, observed in recent years due to the huge wind and solar farms, despite vehement protests from residents and local institutions.

Cretan diet

Crete has one of the oldest and tastiest culinary traditions in the world, a tradition of flavors, scents, materials and styles starting from prehistoric times and reaching the present. The particular diet, which is becoming increasingly popular worldwide for its beneficial effects, is based on traditionally kneaded bread or barley dry bread, olive oil, legumes, abundant vegetables and greens, fruits, fish and less on meat, cheese and yogurt, essentially seasoned with aromatic plants and herbs. Each meal comes with a glass of red wine or raki while aromatic drinks and infusions are consumed at different times of the day.


Besides the above mentioned sites, information was also found on:

Oliver Rackham «The history of the Cretan landscape and theis particular plants'» TMG Issue 63 (January 2011), http://mgsgreece.blogspot.gr/2011/03/blog-post_27.html
St. Psimenos "Unexplored Crete", ed. Road, Athens 1999.

collection and processing of information: Lisa Chrysikopoulou


Crete the wind-swept isle, Crete the chthonic island, blessed land and the slender isle.
Crete, the island of forest nymphs, mother earth and child.
Island of vegetation, lush nature, flowers, gorges and caves.
Island of wisdom, of knowledge thousands of years old, of the ancient experience of thousands of footsteps upon footsteps.
A sacred place, blessed, from the womb of the Great Goddess herself, the birthplace of Cretan Zeus,
an entire 'continent' unto itself intimately bound up with both sea and land.
Celebrating thousands of years, Crete...
a tale of reproduction, continuous development through death and rebirth of all things.
Crete, the land of labyrinths, mysteries and the cyclical flow of life.
The mother of music and dance, of light and the arts, of awakened senses.
Oh, how the senses awaken in your body!
The scents, the sounds and colours, the images and flavours alternate without end, in infinite diversity!
Countless lands all gathered together in one.
A land chthonic and subterranean, a place of sea and sky.
Yet somehow, everything is found here, everything talks about you, your pottery, your goldsmithery, your seal stones and wall frescoes.
Statues and sculptures, Byzantine churches and Venetian fortresses.
Everything speaks of what you are, about your history, about your very substance.
All one has to do is relax, unwind and listen to everything you have to say, you have to show and reveal; move at your pace, roll with you on the ground, jump to your rhythm...
Crete, prehistoric, historic, modern muse… a place where cultures fuse and blend…
Oh revolutionary Crete!
Free-spirited, a place of remembering and forgetting; your men are brave, often-times heroes; uncompromising, independent, frank and hospitable.
And yet the tradition still remains vibrantly alive!
Walk in the mountain villages and it is everywhere around you…
Ancient customs survive. Family bonds are tight. Friendship is clear-cut. LIfe's pleasures are simple. Smiles guileless and the food a ritual delight.
Crete, an island both large and small, popular and familiar, wild and calm in equal measure. Your entire world a feminine nature.


Marina Paters