Heraklion Harbour, the Venetian harbour of Heraklion

Heraklion Harbour

The Venetian harbour of Heraklion is at the end of 25th of August Street, the pedestrian street leading from the town centre to the Koules fortress. This is the old harbour of Heraklion, now used by fishing boats and yachts, and its history is as ancient as that of the city itself.

The new, modern passenger and cargo Heraklion port extends east of the old harbour.

map of heraklion harbour

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1. Meidani (centre)
2. Shipyards (Arsenals)
3. Koules Fortress
4. Canteen in the middle of the jetty
5. Port Authority and Marina cafeteria
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6. Port car park
7. Passenger docks
8. Customs
9. Intercity buses to Chania, Rethymno, Hersonissos, Agios Nikolaos, Ierapetra, Sitia, etc.

The Venetian harbour of Heraklion

In the Venetian harbour of Heraklion stands the fortress of Koules. Here begins the long mole of the new harbour. The mole is a favourite spot for a stroll, especially on warm summer evenings, when the sea breeze offers some relief from the heat. The people of Heraklion jokingly call the mole “Bypass Avenue”, as many of those walking along the long mole are heart bypass patients taking the constitutional recommended by their doctor.

All along the mole you will see amateur fishermen waiting patiently for a bite, both day and night. In the middle of the mole is a canteen selling soft drinks, ice cream and fast food.

The Venetian harbour also contains the Venetian Arsenals or shipyards, where ships were repaired.

Opposite Koules, at the yacht moorage, is the Marina cafeteria. Behind it is the Heraklion Port Authority, with a seafood restaurant next door. Here stood Little Koules, which once guarded the entrance to Heraklion harbour along with the larger fortress.

Aerial picture of Heraklion venetian harbour
Aerial picture of Heraklion Venetian harbour

No 1 = Koules fort, No 2 = Venetian arsenals, No 3 = Cafe Marina, No 4 = Parking space,
No 5 = 25th of August street leading to the city centre

New Heraklion Port

There are two more fish restaurants a little further along, in the new Heraklion port area, where the ferries for Santorini leave. There is also a large car park where you can leave your car before walking up to the town centre or strolling round the harbour.

Continuing east into the new port, you come to the passenger terminus and docks for ferries to and from Piraeus. There are daily scheduled trips, with the ferries leaving at night and arriving early in the morning, while there are also daytime trips in the summer.

History of Heraklion Harbour

The natural bay of Heraklion, which grew into the most important harbour of the Eastern Mediterranean over the centuries, was neither particularly large nor particularly deep, and definitely not leeward. The date of the first harbour installations is unknown, although eminent scholars have identified ancient cuttings in the rock.

The first serious attempt to create an organised harbour in the bay of Chandax came in the Arab period (9th-10th c.) Its vital position on the sea routes of the Eastern Mediterranean lent itself to the pirate raids of the Arab corsairs on the one hand, while the existence of a harbour served the exploitation of Cretan sources of wealth for trading with Islamic states on the other.

Following the restoration of Crete to the Byzantine Empire in 961 AD, Chandax gradually developed into a thriving city, and its harbour was consequently fortified and improved.

When the island fell into the hands of the Venetians (1204), Candia (as the Venetians called both the city of Heraklion and the whole island) became “the other Venice of the East”. Its harbour was the only one in Greece to engage in the export trade on such a large scale. Especially during the last two centuries of Venetian rule, it was the greatest harbour in the Eastern Mediterranean. Its main exports were wine, olive oil, raisins, cheese, honey, beeswax, silk, cotton and salt, which was a Venetian monopoly.

Right from the start, the harbour of Heraklion silted up and had to be dredged constantly by the Venetians, using various methods of the time. In the 17th century the harbour acquired its finished form, able to moor 50 galleys (Francesco Basilicata, 1625).

Very few modifications were carried out to the harbour during the Turkish period (17th-19th century).

old harbour in heraklion
Old picture from Venetian Harbour in Heraklion with the small Koules (on the right of the picture)

Unfortunately, the most destructive interventions in the harbour area were perpetrated in the 20th century, in order to turn Heraklion into a modern European city. In an age in which the idea of a “monument” was of no particular value, the introduction of the car into everyday city life led to the opening of the coast road, demolishing much of the Venetian harbour installations, Little Koules and the Byzantine Harbour Gate. The coast road certainly serves the needs of the citizens of Heraklion, but unfortunately the city’s beauty and history have been sacrificed once more on the altar of development and functionality.

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