HERAKLION - VILLAGES
The prefecture of Heraklion, among the most popular regions in Crete, offers many tourist or remote villages to discover. Heraklion Town, Hersonissos and Malia offer plenty of tourist facilities, while villages in the inland and the southern coast give a nice view of rural life on Crete.
Heraklion is the capital and largest town of Crete with a population of 130,000. The town lies close to Knossos Palace and around the busy port. The busy town has nothing in common with the beautiful and picturesque towns of Chania, Rethymnon and Agios Nikolaos, although there are still several well-preserved buildings and ancient remains that witness the town's glorious past. Some of the best sightseeing in Heraklion is the Venetian fortress or Koules built at the entrance of the Venetian port. The Loggia is a remarkable two storey building and today it houses the Town Hall, it is really worth admiring. Several fountains adorn the squares of the town while there is nice shopping in the numerous local shops found at the center. Today, Heraklion seems more like a big city and is home to one of the best Greek Universities. Moreover, it is the base of the well-esteemed Science and Technology Park. Over the last decades and after World War II, Heraklion has experienced a spectacular development that has caused many problems like lack of parking, chaotic constructions and traffic jams.
The town of Heraklion is close to the ruins of the Minoan Palace of Knossos and houses many of the finds in its brilliant Archaeological Museum. There are countless other beautiful Cretan villages and small towns around the Heraklion area. Gouves is a small scenic village close to the well-known coastal tourist resort of Kato Gouves. Quiet resorts on the south coast of Heraklion region are Matala and Tsoutsouros. Some of the most vibrant beach resorts are Hani Kokkini, Agia Pelagia, Ammoudara, Hersonissos and Stalis (Stalida).
Malia stands out as the liveliest of all the beach resorts on Crete and is also home to the Minoan Palace of Malia. By contrast the hillside and mountain villages reveal to the visitor a laid-back charm characteristic of the Cretan way of life. One of these Crete villages is ancient Archanes, which was one of the most important areas in Minoan Crete. Another inland village is Peza village, which is renowned for its wine making and olive oil production. Visit there if you want to try tasting some of the most delicious Cretan wines.
Hersonisos is the most popular resort of Heraklion located 17 miles east of the town. It counts on 4,000 inhabitants most of whom are engaged in fishing and tourism. It attracts many travelers for its pristine beaches and friendly atmosphere. This lively village is popular for its nice accommodations, restaurants, fish taverns and local shops, bars and night clubs that welcome many visitors every year. A small part of Hersonissos remains authentic and untouched by tourism. Some ruins from the Roman period can be seen from that time and some remains lie under the sea. Hersonissos is the ideal destination for families. A beautiful place called Aqualand and a great water park have been created especially for the children to enjoy a variety of games.
Agioi Deka is one of the prettiest villages of Crete, spread in the fertile valley of Messara. The village is a transport hub between the northern and the southern side of Heraklion and is located only 27 miles south of the town, on the way to Tymbaki and Matala. Agioi Deka (meaning Ten Saints) took its name from the ten Cretan men who were killed by the Romans in 250 A.D. because they were Christians. The tombs of those men are found in the village as well as a stone church dedicated to them. The church was constructed in the 12th century and has a beautiful wooden iconostasis. This village is also important because it was the seat of the first Cretan bishop and protector of the island, Saint Titos. In close distance to Agioi Deka is the archaeological site of Ancient Gortyn. This town flourished from the Minoan till the Roman times. The remains today include an acropolis, an open theatre, a temple of Apollo, a Christian church and tombs.
Arhanes is a large village located 10 miles south of Heraklion Town, on a fertile and verdant hillside with abundant running water. The village is very beautiful with picturesque streets, flowered yards and balconies and several superb neoclassical houses. Epano (Upper) Arhanes is located 3 miles from Kato (Lower) Arhanes. The whole area is famous for its excellent wine. During the Turkish rule Arhanes (Epano and Kato) was attacked many times by the Turks. In the wider region some interesting archaeological findings have come to light and have revealed a Minoan construction including a small palace which is believed to have been the summer residence of the king of Knossos. Other excavations have brought to light the richest and most extended prehistoric (2500-1250 BC) graveyard of the Aegean. It has been found on the hill of Fourni, half a mile northwest of Arhanes, and includes domed tombs which are carved on the rock, a group of graves and burial chambers. Some seals, stone plates with ivory, gold jewels, copper urns pots and statuettes have also been excavated.
Kasteli has a population of about 1,400 inhabitants and is located 20 miles southeast of Heraklion Town, on a fertile plain full of olive trees and vineyards. It is a large village and an important commercial area. Every Wednesday, a bazaar takes place during which all the products produced in the village are sold and the village is filled with life, colors and sounds. About 2 miles away from the village are the ruins of Ancient Lytos, which was a powerful town during Dorian times and a rival of Knossos. In Roman times the city was rebuilt and flourished. Remains of a Roman citadel and an aqueduct have been excavated as well as various Roman statues which are today housed in the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion.