Heraklion (/hᵻˈrækliən/, Greek: Ηράκλειο, Irákleio, pronounced [iˈraklio]) is the largest city and the administrative capital of the island of Crete. It is the fourth largest city in Greece. According to the results of the 2011 census, the population of the city proper was 140,730 inhabitants, the municipality’s was 173,993 while the Heraklion urban area has a population of 225,574 and it extends over an area of 684.3 km2 (264.2 sq mi).
Heraklion is the capital of Heraklion regional unit.
The Bronze Age palace of Knossos, also known as the Palace of Minos, is located nearby
The Arab raiders from Andalusia (Iberia) who founded the Emirate of Crete moved the island’s capital from Gortyna to a new castle they called ربض الخندق rabḍ al-ḫandaq ‘Castle of the Moat’ in the 820s. This was hellenized as Χάνδαξ (Khándax) or Χάνδακας (Khándakas) and Latinized as Candia, which was taken into other European languages: in Italian and Latin as Candia, in French as Candie, in English as Candy, all of which could refer to the island of Crete as a whole as well as to the city alone; the Ottoman name was Kandiye.
After the Byzantine reconquest, the city was locally known as Megalo Kastro (Μεγάλο Κάστρο, ‘Big Castle’ in Greek) or Castro and its inhabitants were called Kastrinoi or Castrini (‘castle-dwellers’ in Greek).
The ancient name Ηράκλειον was revived in the 19th century and comes from the nearby Roman port of Heracleum (“Heracles’s city”), whose exact location is unknown. English usage formerly preferred the classicizing transliterations “Heraklion” or “Heraclion”, but the form “Iraklion” is becoming more common.
Heraklion is close to the ruins of the palace of Knossos, which in Minoan times was the largest centre of population on Crete. Though there is no archaeological evidence of it, Knossos may well have had a port at the site of Heraklion as early as 2000 BC.
Emirate of Crete
The present city of Heraklion was founded in 824 by the Muslims under Abu Hafs Umar who had been expelled from Al-Andalus by Emir Al-Hakam I and had taken over the island from the Eastern Roman Empire. They built a moat around the city for protection, and named the city ربض الخندق, rabḍ al-ḫandaq (“Castle of the Moat”). It became the capital of the Emirate of Crete (ca. 827–961). The Saracens allowed the port to be used as a safe haven for pirates who operated against Imperial (Byzantine) shipping and raided Imperial territory around the Aegean.
In 961, Byzantine forces under the command of Nikephoros Phokas, later to become Emperor, landed in Crete and attacked the city. After a prolonged siege, the city fell. The Saracen inhabitants were slaughtered, the city looted and burned to the ground. Soon rebuilt, the town was renamed Χάνδαξ, Chandax, and remained under Greek control for the next 243 years.
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 Eastern Roman Emperor Isaac II Angelus to his throne. The Venetians improved on the ditch of the city 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. Chandax was renamed Candia and became the seat of the Duke of Candia, and 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 settle families from Venice on Crete. The coexistence of two different cultures and the stimulus of Italian Renaissance led to a flourishing of letters and the arts in Candia and Crete in general, that is today known as the Cretan Renaissance.
After the Venetians came the Ottoman Empire. During the Cretan War (1645–1669), the Ottomans besieged the city for 21 years, from 1648 to 1669, perhaps the longest siege in history. In its final phase, which lasted for 22 months, 70,000 Turks, 38,000 Cretans and slaves and 29,088 of the city’s Christian defenders perished. The Ottoman army under an Albanian grand vizier, Köprülü Fazıl Ahmed Pasha conquered the city in 1669. Under the Ottomans, the city was known officially as Kandiye (again also applied to the whole island of Crete) but informally in Greek as Megalo Castro (Μεγάλο Κάστρο; “Big Castle”). During the Ottoman period, the harbour silted up, so most shipping shifted to Chania in the west of the island.
In 1898, the autonomous Cretan State was created, under Ottoman suzerainty, with Prince George of Greece as its High Commissioner and under international supervision. During the period of direct occupation of the island by the Great Powers (1898–1908), Candia was part of the British zone. At this time, the city was renamed “Heraklion”, after the Roman port of Heracleum (“Heracles’ city”), whose exact location is unknown.
In 1913, with the rest of Crete, Heraklion was incorporated into the Kingdom of Greece. Heraklion became capital of Crete in 1971, replacing Chania