Take a walk around Heraklion’s ancient fortifications, which protected the old city from invasion for centuries.
Gaze up from the base of Heraklion’s Venetian Walls and imagine being a frustrated Turkish invader trying to break into the city. Climb up narrow stone steps to stand on the ancient walls or walk through the huge arches and narrow tunnels. Don’t miss the stunning views of the walls and the old city from the Martinego peak.
Heraklion’s old fortifications run in a roughly triangular shape around the old city, encompassing the harbor, Eleftherias Square and several other ancient districts. They were constructed over a 200-year period from 1462 by a number of architects, most notably Michele Sanmicheli. One of the largest such fortifications in the Mediterranean, the walls certainly served their purpose well, keeping the Ottomans out of the city for over 20 years. Walk around the walls to get a complete perspective. The outer perimeter of 2.5 miles (4.5 kilometers) takes a couple hours to cover at a leisurely pace.
Starting at the western end of the harbor you’ll see the first of the seven fortifications, St. Andrew’s bastion. These are like mini fortresses in themselves and feature thick stone walls and arched, covered areas. Imagine standing in one of these watching for the invading Turkish soldiers.
Continue south to reach the first of the four gates, known as Bethlehem Gate. Admire the huge stone archway and imagine how imposing these walls would have been to a visitor entering the city for the first time. Continue on around the walls to see other interesting elements such as the large outside trenches; these were actually used for cultivating crops. You’ll also see ancient inscriptions, piles of rusted cannonballs and information boards detailing the history of the walls as you make your way around.
At some points along the wall you can climb onto the ramparts for views across the city. For the best view though, head to the Martinego bastion at the southern tip of the triangle. This is also where you’ll find the tomb of the writer Nikos Kazantzakis.
Stop for a drink in Eleftherias Square before completing your tour of the walls at Koules Fortress.