Basilica of Saint Mark
The Basilica of Saint Mark is one of the most important Venetian monuments in Heraklion.
The Basilica of Saint Mark is directly opposite the Lions Fountain, in Eleftheriou Venizelou Square in the centre of Heraklion. Today it houses the Municipal Art Gallery and is open to the public almost all day, every day.
From the first years of Venetian rule, in the 13th century (1239), the Venetians, wishing to consolidate their rule over their new colony of Candia and simultaneously express their gratitude to and love of their home, built a basilica dedicated to their patron saint, St Mark. This was where the official ceremonies of the Venetian administration were held, and where the Venetian nobles were buried.
The Basilica of Saint Mark was plain in section with a covered portico, much like the building we see today. The Society for Cretan Historical Studies restored the building to its original form in 1956.
At the southwest corner of the basilica was a tall tower with a large clock facing onto the Lions Square. This bell-tower was a copy of that of St Mark of Venice.
The Basilica of Saint Mark has managed to survive the various earthquakes which have shaken Heraklion over the centuries, with only a few minor repairs. Under Turkish rule it was converted into the Defterdar Mosque, named after Defterdar Ahmet Pasha, the Supreme Treasurer. The Ottomans demolished the bell-tower and raised a minaret in its place, which was torn down in its turn after the liberation of Crete by the local populace, in their attempt to erase the unpleasant symbols and reminders of the Turkish occupation.