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Heraklion

Heraklion Heraklion, the largest town on the island, has a variety of nightlife and sightseeing to offer. In the prefecture of Heraklion are three of the most important Minoan centers ,Knossos, Phaestos and Malia.

With full of tropical beaches, traditional villages, everyone with a different history, a huge variety of gorgeous landscapes, remains from ancient civilizations, you've got people here writing history for the last five thousand years. N. Kazantzakis was inspired and wrote his famous book "Zorba the Greek" in Crete.

The town is linked by air to Athens and Thessaloniki. In the summer months there are frequent flights to Santorini, Paros, Mykonos & Cyprus. There are also charter flights which link it to many European cities.

The town is linked by sea to the port of Piraeus, to several of the Islands of the Cyclades and the Dodecanese, to Cyprus, Italy and Israel. Local and regional buses run between the town and a variety of destionations both within the province and beyond.

History: The town is built on the site of the small harbour which was the seaport of Knossos. This small harbour much later became an important fortified town under the Arabs, who held it for a period of over one hundred years (824-961 AD). Thy build strong walls to protect it and surrounded it with a deep moat (from which it got its name "Chandax" from the Arabic word "Khandak" meaning moat.

Knossos

Knossos Palace The archaeological site of Knossos is at a distance of 5 km southeast of Heraklion, near the small village of the same name, on a hill. A local bus runs very regularly between Heraklion and Knossos and all the tourist agencies organise visits and guided tours to the site. The name Knossos is mentioned in the Minoan tablets in Linear B. It is by this name that it is mentioned by Homer, who speaks of Knossos as a big city. The first palace of Knossos was built around 1900 BC, on the remains of a pre-existing Neolithic settlement, which had been inhabited since 6000 BC. This palace was destroyed around 1700 BC and, in its place, another one was built. During the period between1700-1450 BC, Minoan Crete, and especially Knossos, was at the height of its brilliance and power. In 1600, a destructive earthquake caused serious damage. Soon, however, the necessary repairs were made and, at the same time, other sumptuous buildings were erected on the same site. Around 1450, a new catastrophe occurred - probably due to the eruption of the volcano on Thera (Santorini)- with destructive effects. Then came the invasion of the Achaeans and, a little later, during a battle, the palace was totally destroyed. After this, the palace area was no longer used, but Knossos continued to be an important city-state until the first Byzantine period. During the Roman period, Gortys was established as the most important town of the island and was the seat of the Praetorians, putting Knossos to second place.

During the Venetian period, Knossos sank into oblivion, its glorious name was forgotten, and it was only mentioned thereafter, and until not so long ago, as "Makrytoichos" (Long Walls). It was then only a small settlement built on the Roman ruins, which got its name from a long wall, surviving from Roman Knossos.

Almost all the ruins of the palace which have survived today belong to the Neo-palatial period.

In 1878, Minos Kalokairinos, a citizen of Heraklion fired with a great love for antiquity began, on his own private initiative, the first trial excavations on the Knossos hill - a site which, at that time, was covered by arable land.

He uncovered a number of large jars and other objects, but soon gave up his excavations. Systematic excavations of the site were begun in 1900 by the British archaeologist, Sir Arthur Evans, and his collaborators. The excavations were carried on intermittently for 35 years. Evans has left an important collection of writings on his excavations of Knossos. They consist of four volumes (The Palace of Minos, ed.1921-1935), and a great many reports. The reconstruction of the palace of Knossos, executed by Evans, was considered by many too ostentatious and overdone, and he was criticized for using too much reinforced concrete. Despite this, however, it was later seen that the multi-storey buildings would not have been able to stand up to time if they had not been sustained in this way.

Disk of Phaistos Another very important archaeological sight is Phaestos. It lies 62.5 km southwest of Heraklion. It is built on a hill (at an altitude of 100m above sea level), south of the Lythaeon river, and commands the fertile plain of Kato Messara, which is surrounded by impressive mountains (Psiloritis,Asterousia). Due to its importance Phaestos, is mentioned in the texts of ancient writers like Diodorus, Strabon, Pausanias and Homer as well. According to mythology, the dynasty which ruled Phaestos, was that of Rhadamantus, son of Zeus and brother of Minos.

History: Phaestos was a very strong, rich, populous and independent city.
It minted its own coins and, at the acme of its power and prosperity, its domination extended from the Lithino point to the Melissa point and included the islets of Paximadia (Letoae was their ancient name).
The state of Phaestos also disposed of two strong ports, Matala and Kommos to the southwest.
The area had been inhabited since Neolithic times ( 3000 BC approximately) as is evidenced by the foundations of Neolithic habitations, the tools, figurines and potsherds which were discovered under the storerooms of the palace, during the excavations which were carried out there.
The first palace was built approximately 1900 BC and, together with the other structures around, covered an area of 18,000 sq.m (slightly less than that of the palace of Knossos). The great earthquake which occurred around 1700 BC was the cause of its destruction, as it was of Knossos too. In its place a new, more impressive palace was built, to which the greater part of the ruins which have been restored belong, while several parts of the first palace have also been excavated, mainly those lying to the southwest.
After the discovery of the southern part of the palace, during the excavations by D. Levi, various converging clues which came to light, seemed to lead to the conclusion that the second palace destroyed by an earthquake when the southern part of the hill subsided and carried along with it the southern part of the palace and the central court. Despite the recurring destruction of the palace, Phaestos continued to flourish during the Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic periods until, around 200 BC, it was destroyed by its rival, Gortys, with which it was in constant conflict. In spite of this, life continued in Phaestos during the Roman period.

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