Irakleio's Harbour and Venetian Fortress

Irakleio’s Venetian Harbour is one of its most attractive features, and a stroll around here with a visit to the Venetian Fortress that guards it is a relaxing treat.

Irakleio's Harbour and Venetian FortressIrakleio's Harbour and Venetian Fortress

From the Fortress you get an excellent view not only of the city but of the remains of the Venetian shipyards, or Arsenali, across the water.

Venetian Shipyards

Close up, the Arsenali is none-too-impressive, surrounded as it is now by the modern city, but the view from the Fortress shows something of their old scale and style. A look at the model in the Historical Museum in Irakleio also helps re-create a picture of what life must have been like under Venetian rule.

Fishing Boats in Irakleio's Harbour and Venetian FortressFishing Boats in Irakleio's Venetian Harbour

These 16th century shipyards would have resounded to the noise of large boats being built and repaired, where today it is the bobbing of the small boats belonging to Irakleio’s fishermen which sets the tone.

Fisherman and His Son in Irakleio's Venetian HarbourFisherman and His Son in Irakleio's Venetian Harbour

The Fortress

The Fortress which dominates the harbour entrance was built in the period 1523-40, though there have been several earlier forts on the site, one being destroyed in an earthquake in 1303. The Venetians rebuilt it and named it the Rocca al Mare, the Rock in the Sea, and the impressive name is appropriate for the impressive building you discover beyond the entrance gate.

Irakleio's Venetian FortressIrakleio's Venetian Fortress

Inside you step into a huge and dark vaulted room, with other rooms and passageways leading off it. Ahead and to the right, a long and steep slope leads to the upper levels, where visitors can climb the walls for the excellent views of the harbour and city beyond, or out to sea. The walls have some towers too which can be entered, for even greater height.

Turkish Seige

While here, mull over the most significant episode in the history of the Fortress. In 1647 the Venetian rulers of Irakleio and the rest of Crete retreated into the Fortress under siege from Turkish invaders. That siege was to last until 1669 and so became one of the longest in history. Eventually the Venetians had to succumb, but only after a long and bloody struggle during which it is said that 30,000 Venetians and 118,000 Turks lost their lives.

Sponges in a Net in Irakleio's Venetian HarbourSponges in a Net in Irakleio's Venetian Harbour

The Fortress has been extensively refurbished and some say it now looks more like a film set, but its scale remains remarkable. It now sometimes houses temporary exhibitions, and occasional plays and concerts on a stage set up in the upper level.

Top Tip

When an exhibition is on the opening hours sometimes change, so you may want to check in advance if planning a special visit.

The Winged Lion

The winged lion of St Mark the Evangelist was the emblem of the Venetian Republic. It was depicted in all areas under its dominion, carved in limestone or marble above gateways or on public buildings and fortifications. Some 80 reliefs have been recorded on Crete.  

Hidden Gem

Look for the Lions of St Mark above the entrance gate and on the seaward wall. 

Where to Stay in Irakleio

Our Irakleio pages

  • Irakleio in a Day

    Here’s our simple guide for how to see the best of Irakleio in a day including the Archaeological Museum, Icon Museum, Historical Museum and Venetian Harbour.

  • Irakleio’s Archaeological Museum

    Irakleio’s Archaeological Museum is Crete’s most important museum and contains some of Crete’s oldest artefacts, Minoan frescoes and the Phaistos Disc.

  • Irakleio’s Historical Museum

    Irakleio’s Historical Museum is officially called the Historical Museum of Crete and contains the only work by El Greco that is still on his native island.

  • Irakleio’s Icon Museum

    Irakleio’s Icon Museum in the church of Ayia Aikaterini is a small but impressive collection from the world’s best icon painters.

Enjoy this page? Please pay it forward. Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.

Latest Posts

  1. Traditional Pies from the Windy Aegean Isles

    Islanders make a huge variety of pies. They roll out sheets of pastry like silk or make fluffy pockets of dough, and fill them with wild greens and delicious cheeses.

    Read More

  2. Discovering “Handcrafted Crete,” a New Coffee Table Book

    A new coffee table book by travel writer Isabella Zambetaki presents the enormous variety and wealth of Crete's handicrafts, past and present.

    Read More

  3. Mini Guide: Essential Tinos

    Read on for the best summer hangouts on charming Tinos, from village cafes and tavernas to spectacular beaches and cultural tours, in one mini guide.

    Read More

  4. Multifaceted Greek Experiences From Delphi to Nafpaktos

    From lush and historical natural sites with jaw-dropping views to shopping, dining and fun activities, this route offers a cornucopia of things to discover.

    Read More

  5. Kythnos: The Outsider of the Cyclades

    Even though close to Attica, Kythnos knows how to stay under the radar. This carefree island is the ideal destination for our first summer excursions.

    Read More

  6. 5 Amazing Spots To Enjoy Sunset In Athens

    When thinking about summer in Greece, one of the first things that pop into your mind, except for the sandy beaches and turquoise waters, is the unsurpassed sunsets of the Greek islands. Indeed, sunse…

    Read More

  7. Rivers In Greece That Offer An Incredible Swimming Experience

    Sun-drenched beaches with crystal-clear waters and fine sand are what Greece is mostly known for all around the world. And, justifiably so, since Greece has a coastline of a whopping 13,676 kilometers…

    Read More

  8. 15 Fun Holiday Activities To Enjoy With Your Kids

    Summer is already here, and the summer holidays are fast approaching. So, if you plan to enjoy them with your family, it would be great to have some activities planned. As you know, children (and adul…

    Read More

  9. 11 Shipwrecks Now Accessible to Divers

    Greece’s Ministry of Culture announces its decision to make 11 wrecks accessible to divers, under the supervision of the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities.

    Read More

  10. Monemvasia: Europe’s Oldest Continuously Inhabited Castle Town is in Greece

    Monemvasia, on the southeastern shores of the Peloponnese, Greece is Europe’s oldest continuously inhabited castle town. Founded in 583 by inhabitants of the mainland seeking refuge from the Slavic an…

    Read More