Crete’s long and very proud history of invasion, rebellion and trading on an island that is at the crossroads of all ancient Mediterranean civilisations has left a legacy that is extraordinary.
WEST CRETE: Chania and Rethymno
Chania archaeological museum: Housed in the Venetian church of San Francesco. Its exhibits from western Crete and other areas date from the Neolithic to the Roman era and include idols, statues, inscriptions, weapons, pottery, seal stones, coins, jewelry, etc.
Naval Museum of Crete in Chania: On the mole of the Venetian harbor. Exhibits linked with the island’s history.
Rethymno archaeological museum: Near the Venetian Fortezza there is a museum containing interesting archaeological finds from the Prehistoric era to Classical Antiquities as well as a fine coin collection. They are exhibited in chronological order and by excavation sites.
Historical and Folk art museum in Rethymno: The Museum’s collections include over 5.000 items that come from donations, purchases, and loans. They are displayed in units; Folk Art collections include weaving, basket weaving, embroidery laces, costumes, ceramics, metal work, traditional cultivations, and traditional occupations, while the historical ones include documents, photographs, maps, weapons, banners, and coins.
SITES: Aptera arch. site: One of the most important cities of ancient (7th c. B.C.) western Crete. Aptera was built on a site 15 km. from Chania, south of Souda bay, near the village of Megala Horafia, which had a view of the whole plain of Chania. The city walls still standing today are reminiscent of the Cyclopean walls of Tiryns and Mycenae. One can also see the remains of a small 1st c. B.C. temple of Demeter, a Roman theatre, and the enormous vaulted cisterns of the Roman period – according to one source they were used for grain storage – are preserved in excellent condition.
Falassarna: This town, the port of Polyrrhenia, lay to the west of it, at the base of the extreme northwest peninsula of the district of Chania. The ruins-remains of Cyclopean walls, tombs, house foundations, sculptures carved out of the rocks, most notably a throne – are found near the village of Koutri.
Frangokastelo Fortress: To protect the small bay nearby, from the pirates, it was decided, in 1371, to construct this fortress. It was barely used during the Venetian occupation, and on the eve of the Turkish attack, it was actually abandoned. In 1828 the Cretan rebels occupied the fortress and during the siege that followed, its towers were destroyed.
Lissos: The site was the religious center of the cities in southwest Crete. It flourished during the Hellenistic and Roman periods. The most important monuments of the site are: The Temple of Asklepios, dated to the Hellenistic and Roman periods. Part of a Roman theatre. Rock-cut and built chamber tombs.
Polirrinia: The ruined walls and acropolis of Polyrrhenia lie 49 km west of Chania, near Selti or Paleokastro. At Kria Vrissi, near Kissamos (Kastelli) , are the remains of a Roman aqueduct. Polyrinnia, an important ancient western Cretan city, was founded with the help of the Achaeans, who succeeded the Minoans as overlords of the island.
Apodoulou: Apodoulou was first excavated by Spyridon Marinatos in 1934. The area was inhabited from the Late Neolithic times to the Late Minoan period, and the building was in use in the Middle Minoan III period. The site has yielded Linear A inscriptions on a basin and fragments of a stone cylindrical jar, as well as a small golden ax. 400m north of Apodoulou is a Late Minoan vaulted tomb. Four sarcophagi were found here and are on exhibit at the Archaeological Museum of Rethymno.
Armeni: A cemetery with tombs carved out of rocks has been unearthed. Just 10 km south of Rethymnon, the famous cemetery of Armeni, which dates back to the Late Minoan period (13th/12th century BC), was discovered near the homonymous village in a beautiful oak forest by Yiannis Tzedakis.
The Archaeological Site of Ancient Eleftherna: Ancient Eleftherna is located at a distance of around 30 km. to the SE of Rethymnon and occupies two long, narrow ridges, called Pyrgi and Nissi.
Three streams flow around the foot of the hills and join to the north of them. The urban center of ancient Eleftherna was always located at Pyrgi. Ruins of Hellenistic walls and buildings, Roman structures, and an early Christian Basilica are preserved on the east slope of the hill.
On the west slope of the hill, at the site called Orthi Petra(standing stone), lies the cemetery of the Late Geometric and archaic periods, part of which was covered by Roman buildings. Remains of a settlement that flourished in the Hellenistic period have been uncovered on the Nissi hill.
Fortezza Fortress – Rethymno –Old town: This fortress was built from 1573 to 1580 by the Venetians, for the protection of the inhabitants from the Turkish threat. It is star-shaped with three gates and six bastions.” The Fortezza” was built on top of a low hill, above Rethymno town, Crete. The hill is known as Palaiokastro, which means “old castle” in Greek and suggests the existence of an older structure in that place. This huge fortress, with its turbulent history, was built between 1540 and 1570 by the Venetian maritime power as a bulwark against Turkish pirates.
More than 10,000 Cretans on compulsory labor and over 4,000 pack animals were used in the construction of this mighty fortress. However, Fortezza was conquered by the Turks in 1646. After many upheavals during the next three centuries, only the outer fortifications of the Fortezza remain intact and few buildings are still under restoration. The Fortezza is visible from every part of the town and provides the visitor a panoramic view of Rethymno town. The visitors enter from the East Gate through an impressive archway.
Some of the many sights to see inside the Fortezza are the Ibraham Han Mosque, the Bastion of Santa Maria, and the church of Agios Theodoros Trichinas. This orthodox chapel was built in 1899 by the Russian Governor of Rethymnon. The 20th-century Theatre of Erofili is also inside the Fortezza and holds many cultural events every summer. This theatre got its name from the play of a local play writer, Georgios Chortatsis.
EAST CRETE: Heraklio- Lasithi
Heraklion museum: One of the most important museums in Greece. Here are assembled almost all the finds from the Minoan era. Pottery, stone carvings, seal stones, statuettes, gold, metalwork, the marvelous frescoes from the Royal and Little Palaces and villas of the wealthy, and finally, the unique painted limestone sarcophagus from Aghia Trias.
Heraklion Historical Museum: Exhibits from the Byzantine, Venetian and Turkish periods and historical documents of more recent Cretan history. Also a rich collection of folk art consisting of local costumes, textiles, woodcarvings, and embroidery as well as a representation of a typical Cretan house.
Aghios Nikolaos museum: Archaeological Museum. it contains finds from excavations in eastern Crete.
Ierapetra and Sitia archaeological collections.
Knossos palace: 5 km. south-east of Heraklion. Inhabited since the Neolithic era. The first palace of Knossos was built around 1900 B.C.Two hundred years later it was destroyed by an earthquake and rebuilt, becoming grander and more luxurious. The final catastrophe occurred about 1500-1400 B.C., according to one theory, with the eruption of the volcano in Santorini. Despite this blow, people continued to live there for another fifty years, until a fire swept through the city circa 1400 B.C. The Minoan palaces were not only the residence of the ruling house, but they were also administrative and religious centers for the whole region. The ruins of the capital of the Minoan Kingdom include the palace of Minos, the homes of the officials and priests who surrounded him (Little Palace, Caravanserai, House of the Frescoes, etc.), the homes of ordinary people, and the cemetery. The palace was a labyrinthine complex built around a central court. This multistoried construction covered an area of 22.000 sq.m. and, in addition to the royal quarters, also contained places of worship, treasuries, workshops, and storerooms.
Phaistos palace: 63 km. southwest of Heraklion and about 78 km. southeast of Rethimno was the second most important palace city of Minoan Crete. The residence of the mythical Radamanthes, the palace was also the nucleus of a settlement inhabited since the Neolithic age. The architectural layout is identical to that of Knossos. Here too the rooms are arranged around a court. On the other hand, in contrast to Knossos, the frescoes decorating the walls were relatively scanty, the unpainted floors and walls being covered with a lining of pure white gypsum. The area of this palace was 9,000 sq.m.
Aghia Triada: 2.5-3 km, west of Phaistos, were found the ruins of a royal villa, which most probably was the summer palace of the Phaistos rulers. Certain of the more important pieces on exhibit in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum – the larnax, the Harvester Vase, and the impeccably painted frescoes–come from the site.
Gortys( Gortyna): 46 km. south of Heraklion. A city that flourished particularly during the Roman era, Gortys was the capital of the Roman province of Crete and Cyrenaica. It had its origins in the Minoan era, as testified by the ruins of a 16th c. B.C. farmhouse, which has been excavated. The most distinctive monuments are the Praetorium (2nd c. AD.), the residence of the Roman governor of the province, and the Nymphaion (2nd c. AD.), where the Nymphs were worshipped; the temple of Pythian Apollo the sanctuary of the Egyptian divinities; and the Odeon, where the famous inscription with the laws of Gortys was found. Plato spoke of these laws, which were written in a Doric dialect and date from the 6th century B.C., with admiration.
Malia: 34 km. east of Heraklion and 3 km. beyond the summer resort of the same name. Excavations have brought to light a palace similar to the ones at Knossos and Phaistos (also built around 1900 B.C. and abandoned about 1450 B.C.). At Hrissolakos (Pit of Gold), archaeologists also unearthed the districts surrounding the Minoan palace and cemetery. The palace covered an area of about 9.000 sq.m. Many of the objects now on display in Heraklion’s Archaeological Museum were found in Malia.
Koules-Venetian fortress: The symbol of Heraklion. The original name of the fortress was «Roca al mare»; it was built by the Venetians, before the construction of the new walls. It was destroyed by the great earthquake of 1303 and took its final shape between 1523 and 1540.
Spinalonga islet: It is an islet at the entrance of Elounda bay. In antiquity, there was a fortress of the Olounites. In 1579 the Venetians built a mighty fortress there, which remained under their rule even after the Ottoman occupation of Crete in 1669. During the last years of the Ottoman occupation, it was a safe refuge for Ottoman families. In 1903, by the law of the Cretan government, it was appointed as the place of stay for the lepers of Crete.
Kato Zakros: 117 km. southeast of Aghios Nikolaos is the site of a luxurious Minoan palace, the fourth in significance on the island, which produced many important finds, now in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. This palace, which covered 7.000 to 8.000 sq.m. and contained royal apartments, storerooms, and various workshops, and the nearby city were destroyed around 1450 B.C. by a violent earthquake, most probably the one that caused a whole section of the island of Santorini to sink into the sea. Zakros was a major Minoan naval base, which established trading connections with Egypt and Anatolia. It was from here that Minoan farming estates, two sacred peaks, a cemetery, and cave tombs have been discovered.
Gournia: 19 km. southeast of Aghios Nikolaos, 15 km. north of Ierapetra, the best preserved of the Minoan settlements, and one of the most noteworthy archaeological sites in Crete. It appears to date from 1550-1450 B.C. The ruins of the town include small houses and a small palace on top of a hill; even the narrow streets and connecting stairways have survived amidst the foundations of the houses.
MONASTERIES OF CRETE: Arkadi, Preveli, Panagia Kera, Toplou, Gouverneto, Aghia Triada etc.