Heraklion is the largest city and capital of Crete. It is also the fourth largest city in Greece. Its name is also spelled Herakleion, a transliteration of the ancient Greek and Katharevousa name, Ἡράκλειον, or Iraklio, among other variants. For centuries it was known as Candia, a Venetian adaptation of the earlier Greek name Χάνδαξ or Χάνδακας, which in turn came from the Arabic rabḍ al-ḫandaq. Under the Ottoman Empire, it was called Turkish: Kandiye). In the local vernacular, it is often called Κάστρο (Kástro, “castle”) and its inhabitants Καστρινοί (Kastrinoí, “castle dwellers”).
Heraklion is the capital of Heraklion Prefecture, with an international airport named after the writer Nikos Kazantzakis. The ruins of Knossos, which were excavated and restored by Arthur Evans, are nearby
Limenas Chersonisou is a town in the north of Crete, on the Mediterranean. This community is about 25 kilometers east of Heraklion and west of Agios Nikolaos. What is usually called Hersonissos is in fact its peninsula and harbour. It is part of the Heraklion Prefecture just 25 klm from the Heraklion airport and 27 klm from the Heraklion port.
Hersonissos is oriented towards tourism industry, and popular with Dutch, British and German nationals. At the end of it there are big hotels and the Star Beach with slides, bars, pools, games, bungie jump, go-karts, like a day time club. There is also a lot to do for children. In the main street there are many souvenir shops, as well as other shops and restaurants, some of which are near the sea. There is also a small aquarium called Aquaworld featuring local sea life and reptiles, which the children can hold. Nightlife is also important, and feature discos, clubs, bars and pubs. One can take a sight-seeing train that runs down the main street along the sea, and provides access to the surroundings of Chersonissos.
People who like to rest and sunbath on holiday can enjoy Hersonissos, for it has beautiful beaches, and excursions to other places on Crete can be made from here as well. Like many communities on Crete, the local economy is not only based on tourism, but also on agriculture. In the fall, when most of the tourists have left, many people normally employed in the tourism industry earn money with the olive harvest.
A safe natural harbour on the Bay of Messara, blessed with a gently sweeping sand and pebble beach, the place in legend where Zeus swam ashore in the guise of a bull with Europa on his back. Many people make this village their base for Cretan holidays, as it is so central on the south coast, and away from the over-development of the north coast. The beach is 250m long and 45m wide.
Matala has something for everyone. Although it has become a popular tourist destination it still retains the charm and character of the quiet fishing village it started as at the beginning of the 20th-century, and the laid-back lifestyle of the hippies of the 60’s and 70’s lives on. Half the beach is fringed by tamarisk trees, leading the eye on to impressive formations of sandstone rock cliffs with their famous caves sliding into the sea at an odd angle, creating one of the most unusual beachscapes on the island. A masseuse sets up a tent on the beach, and cafés and tavernas have terraces overlooking the beach and out to sea … after a day on the beach or exploring the village you can sit and watch the sunset over the Libyan Sea, looking out over the islands towards Africa.
There have been many pages of history here. Nobody knows quite who started caves but it seems likely that they were first hollowed out as Roman or early Christian tombs. There are other ruins at the eastern end of the village and if you go snorkelling in the clear waters of Messara Bay there are ancient ruins to be seen in the depths, while sometimes the wind blows hot and sandy from Africa … Matala it is one of just over 400 beaches in Greece that have been awarded a Blue Flag. This exclusive eco-label is given to beaches that offer cleanliness and safe bathing areas and has strict criteria dealing with water quality, environmental management and safety. There is a lifeguard and first aid facilities, as well as toilets and a shower.
Near the beach are opportunities for learning about environmental projects, such as with Archelon, the Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece, and the beaches of Matala, Kommos and Red Beach come under Natura 2000, a European Union network of nature protection areas established to assure the long-term survival of Europe’s most valuable and threatened species and habitats. At the beach there are sport facilities as well as activities for children, and if you would like to go further afield you can also rent a car, bicycles and motorbikes. Yet all this is only 75 km from Iraklion.
Knossos, also spelled Cnossus, city in ancient Crete, capital of the legendary king Minos, and the principal centre of the Minoan, the earliest of the Aegean civilizations (see Minoan civilization). The site of Knossos stands on a knoll between the confluence of two streams and is located about 5 miles (8 km) inland from Crete’s northern coast. Excavations were begun at Knossos under Sir Arthur Evans in 1900 and revealed a palace and surrounding buildings that were the centre of a sophisticated Bronze Age culture that dominated the Aegean between about 1600 and 1400 bc.
The first human inhabitants of Knossos probably came there from Anatolia in the 7th millennium bc and established an agricultural society based on wheat and livestock raising. At the beginning of the Early Minoan period (3000–2000 bc) they began using bronze and making glazed pottery, engraved seals, and gold jewelry. A hieroglyphic script was invented, and trade with the Egyptians was undertaken. The first palace at Knossos was built at the beginning of the Middle Minoan period (2000–1580 bc). It consisted of isolated structures built around a rectangular court. Knossos produced fine polychrome pottery on a black glazed ground during this period. About 1720 bc a destructive earthquake leveled most of Knossos. The palace was rebuilt, this time with extensive colonnades and flights of stairs connecting the different buildings on the hilly site.
The remains of this palace occupy the excavated site in the present day. The administrative and ceremonial quarters of the palace were on the west side of the central court, and the throne room in this area still contains the gypsum chair in which sat the kings of Knossos. This area of the palace also had long narrow basement rooms that served as storage magazines for wheat, oil, and treasure. Workshops were located on the northeast side of the central court, while residences were situated in the southeastern section. An elaborate system of drains, conduits, and pipes provided water and sanitation for the palace, and the whole urban complex was connected to other Cretan towns and ports by paved roads. The art of Minoan fresco painting reached its zenith at this time, with scenes of dancing, sports, and dolphins done in a naturalistic style. The Minoans also replaced their hieroglyphic script with a linear script known as Linear A.
About 1580 bc Minoan culture and influence began to be extended to mainland Greece, where it was further developed and emerged as the culture known as Mycenaean. The Mycenaeans, in turn, achieved control over Knossos sometime in the 15th century bc; the Linear A script was replaced by another script, Linear B, which is identical to that used at Mycenae and is most generally deemed the prototype of Greek. Detailed administrative records in Linear B found at Knossos indicate that at this time the city’s Mycenaean rulers controlled much of central and western Crete.
Some time after about 1400 bc, what Evans called the “Last Palace” of Knossos was destroyed by a fire of uncertain origin, and fires destroyed many other Cretan settlements at this time. Knossos was reduced henceforth to the status of a mere town, and the political focus of the Aegean world shifted to Mycenae on the Greek mainland. Knossos continued to be inhabited through the subsequent centuries, though on a much-reduced scale.