Sunday, December 9, 2007

Heraklion in history

Heraklion is close to the ruins of the palace of Knossos, which in Minoan times was the biggest centre of population on Crete. It is thus very likely that there was a port here as long ago as 2000 BC. There is, however, no archaeological evidence of the port.
The present city of Heraklion was founded in 824 AD by the Saracens (an Arabic Muslim people). They built a moat around the city for protection, and named the city خندق Ḫandaq, 'moat'. The Saracens allowed the port to be used as a safe haven for pirates, much to the annoyance of the nearby Byzantine Empire.
Byzantine Era
In 961, the Byzantines, under the command of Nikiforos Fokas, later to become Byzantine Emperor, attacked and defeated the city, slaughtered the Saracens, looted the city, and burned it to the ground. They remained in control of the rebuilt Khandak for the next 243 years.
Venetian Era
In 1204, the city was bought by the Republic of Venice as part of a complicated political deal which involved among other things, the Crusaders of the Fourth Crusade restoring the deposed Byzantine emperor Isaac II Angelus to his throne. The Venetians improved on the ditch by building enormous fortifications, most of which are still in place, including a giant wall, in places up to 40 m thick, with 7 bastions, and a fortress in the harbour. Khandak was renamed to Candia in Italian and became the seat of the Duke of Candia. As a result, the Venetian administrative district of Crete became known as "Regno di Candia" (Kingdom of Candia). The city retained the name of Candia for centuries and the same name was often used to refer to the whole island of Crete as well. To secure their rule, Venetians began in 1212 to resettle families from Venice on Crete. The coexistence of two different cultures and the influence of Italian Renaissance lead to a flourishing of letters and the arts in Candia and Crete in general, that is today known as the Cretan Renaissance.
Ottoman Era
After the Venetians came the Ottoman Empire. They besieged the city for 22 years in a bloody war in which 30,000 Cretans and 120,000 Ottoman soldiers died.[citation needed] The Venetians surrendered in 1669. Under the Ottomans, the city was known officially as Kandiye (again also applied to the whole island of Crete) but informally as Megalo Kastro 'Big Castle'. During the Ottoman period, the harbour silted up, so most shipping shifted to Hania in the west of the island.
Modern Era
In the period of autonomy under Great Power supervision (1898-1908), Candia was part of the British zone. With the rest of Crete, it became part of the Cretan State in 1908, and was incorporated into the Kingdom of Greece in 1913. Upon its union with Greece it was renamed "Heraklion", after the Roman port of Heracleum 'Heracles' city' whose exact location is unknown. The biggest monument of the city is the Venetian medieval fortress Rocca al Mare (also known as Koules) located at the port.