The Prefecture of Heraklion with a coastline of approximately 250 km covers the central part of Crete, and it has roughly 300,000 permanent residents. The central part of the prefecture is rather flat, with fertile valleys and plains, the most important being the plain of Messara. Mount Idi forms a natural border with Rethymnon in the west, as does Mount Dikti in the east between Heraklion and Lassithi. A rather low mountain chain, the Asteroussia Ori, is found in the middle of the Southern part. Being less mountainous than the rest of Crete, Heraklion is densely inhabited and there are several small villages within close proximity to one another.

Heraklion is bordered by the Aegean Sea in the North, and by the Libyan Sea in the South. Most of the northern beaches are sandy, some of them well protected from the "meltemia" (northern summer winds), as they are broken up into bays and small coves. The southern coasts are open to the south, with only one large bay, that of Messara. Whether sandy or pebbly, the beaches have crystal clear blue water. Swimming starts earlier in the South, where the weather is a bit warmer.

Heraklion is a very wealthy place. Tourism has today become one of its main industries, together with traditional agriculture and animal husbandry, which used to be the main occupations of the locals. The area attracts a lot of visitors all year round, both Greeks and people from abroad, mainly from Europe. The university, higher education facilities and
some respected research centres such as FORTH and The Hellenic Centre for Marine Research add to the cultural and economic prosperity of the prefecture in general and the city of Heraklion in particular.

The history of the area dates back to Neolithic times. Not only did it flourish during the Minoan period, (2200BC-1400BC) but in fact it was the centre of this great civilisation, as the three sites of Knossos, Faistos and Mallia testify. During the Venetian domination of the island, the city, well fortified, served as the base for their activities. As with the rest of the island, Heraklion was the centre of numerous revolts and revolutions during the Ottoman occupation, as the independent character of Cretan people could not tolerate being subjugated to any foreigner’s will.

Heraklion is the capital city of the island, and being situated roughly in the middle, is an ideal starting point for exploring the whole island, as it is approximately a two-hour drive to Hania in the west, or Sitia in the east, and only an hour to the less commercially developed south coast. It has reminders of the Venetian occupation in some of its architecture and fountains, such as Morosini Fountain in Lion Square, the Basilica Agiou Markou, and the Loggia, Koules, the Venetian Harbour and of course the Venetian City walls, which almost enclose the city centre. There is also evidence of the Ottoman occupation in some of the small fountains and other pieces of spendid architecture.
It is a vibrant city, full of life even in the winter months, as there is always something going on. There are several museums in the city or in villages close by, numerous restaurants and tavernas, from the small traditional “mezedopoleia” to gourmet restaurants, not forgetting a wide variety of restaurants with fresh sea food.There is a very lively café scene, and the climate is usually mild enough for people to sit outside all year round and engage in their favourite occupation of people watching while sipping on their coffee! Several tavernas offer live music, and there are nightclubs and “bouzouzadika” for those who want to stay up till the early hours. There are two cinema complexes, and a few smaller

theatres, while a new cultural centre is eagerly awaited and should be finished in the near, not too distant, future.

In the summer, there is the cultural festival, a three-month extravaganza of music, theatre and dance, both of Greek performers and those from abroad. Most concerts take place outdoors as there are several outdoor theatres which have been created out of the bastions of the Venetian walls, adding something special to every performance.

There is of course, a lively nightlife too in the city of Heraklion - please visit our events page for what's on, our cinema page for movies and for everything else you'll need to know, check out our exclusive directory!

© 2010 NowHeraklion / Managing Editor: Clive Birch