Top historic sites in Crete

Knossos

Knossos is the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete island and has been called Europe's oldest city. The settlement was established well before 2000 BC and was destroyed, most likely by fire (though some claim a tsunami) around 1700 BC. The Minoan palace is the main site of interest at Knossos, an important city in antiquity, which was inhabited continuously from the Neolithic period until the 5th centur ...
Founded: 2000 BC | Location: Heraklion, Greece

Heraklion Archaeological Museum

The Heraklion Archaeological Museum is one of the greatest museums in Greece and the best in the world for Minoan art, as it contains the most notable and complete collection of artifacts of the Minoan civilization of Crete. The museum began in 1883 as a simple collection of antiquities. A dedicated building was constructed from 1904 to 1912.  Today Herakleion Archaeological Museum is one of the largest and most ...
Founded: 1883 | Location: Heraklion, Greece

Phaistos

Phaistos is an Bronze Age archaeological site at modern Phaistos, a municipality in south central Crete. The was the second largest ancient palace in Crete. Phaistos was inhabited from about 4000 BC. The palace, dating from the Middle Bronze Age (2000 BC), was destroyed by an earthquake during the Late Bronze Age. Knossos along with other Minoan sites was destroyed at that time. The palace was rebuilt towa ...
Founded: 2000 BC | Location: Phaistos, Greece

Rethymno Fortress

The Fortezza (fortress) is the citadel of the city of Rethymno in Crete. It is built on a hill which was the site of ancient Rhithymna"s acropolis. Between the 10th and 13th centuries, the Byzantines established a fortified settlement to the east of the hill. It was called Castrum Rethemi, and it had square towers and two gates. The fortifications were repaired in the beginning of the 13th century. Ve ...
Founded: 1573-1580 | Location: Rethymno, Greece

Arkadi Monastery

Arkadi Monatery is perhaps the best known monastery on Crete due to the Holocaust of 1866. However, its location and impressive architecture make it all the more special. The current catholicon (church) dates back to the 16th century and is marked by the influence of the Renaissance. This influence is visible in the architecture, which mixes both Roman and baroque elements. As early as the 16th century, the mon ...
Founded: 16th century | Location: Arkadi, Greece

Malia Minoan Palace

To the east of the modern resort is the Minoan Palace of Malia. This is the third-largest Minoan palace in Crete, built in a wonderful setting near the sea, on the road linking eastern and central Crete. This palace - the seat, according to myth, of Minos’ brother Sarpedon - was first constructed circa 1900 BC. The already large settlement, some parts of which are preserved around the palace, thus became a palace-city ...
Founded: 1900 BC | Location: Malia, Greece

Zakros

Zakros contains ruins from the Minoan civilization. The site is often known to archaeologists as Zakro or Kato Zakro. It is believed to have been one of the four main administrative centers of the Minoans, and its protected harbor and strategic location made it an important commercial hub for trade to the east. The town was dominated by the Palace of Zakro, originally built around 1900 BC, rebuilt around 1600 BC, ...
Founded: 1900 BC | Location: Zakros, Greece

Aptera

Aptera was an ancient city, now an archaeological site in western Crete, a kilometre inland from the southern shore of Souda Bay. It is mentioned tablets from the 14th-13th centuries BC. With its highly fortunate geographical situation, the city-state was powerful from Minoan through Hellenistictimes, when it gradually declined. In Greek mythology, here was placed the scene of the legend of the contest between the  ...
Founded: 2000-3000 BC | Location: Chaniá, Greece

Lato

Lato was an ancient city of Crete, the ruins of which are located approximately 3 km from the small town of Kritsa. The Dorian city-state was built in a defensible position overlooking Mirabello Bay between two peaks, both of which became acropolises to the city. Although the city probably predates the arrival of the Dorians, the ruins date mainly from the Dorian period (5th and 4th centuries BCE). The city was de ...
Founded: 400-300 BC | Location: Kritsa, Greece

Agia Triada Monastery

Agia Triada (Holy Trinity) Orthodox Monastery was built in the 17th century by two brothers of the Venetian Zangaroli family on the site of a pre-existing church. The church is built in the Byzantine architectural cruciform style with three domes. The main church is flanked by two smaller domed chapels, one of which is dedicated to the Life-Giving Spring (Zoodochos Pigi) and the other to Saint John the Theologian. The ...
Founded: 17th century | Location: Chaniá, Greece

Spinalonga Fortress

Spinalonga is a barren, arid rocky islet lying in the mouth of the natural harbour of Elounda. The islet was fortified in antiquity, to protect the ancient city of Olous. Towards the end of the 16th century, the Venetians, as part of their great fortification works to defend Crete, built on Spinalonga one of the most important bastion-type seaward fortresses of the Mediterranean. At strategic points in the fortifications ...
Founded: 16th century | Location: Agios Nikolaos, Greece

Koules Fortress

The 'Castello a Mare' is a fortress located at the entrance of the old port of Heraklion, Crete. It was built by the Republic of Venice in the early 16th century, and is still in good condition today. The site of Castello a Mare was possibly first fortified by the Arabs in the 9th or 10th centuries. By the Byzantine period, a tower known as Castellum Comunis stood on the site. In 1303, the tower was des ...
Founded: 1462 | Location: Heraklion, Greece

Gramvousa Fortress

The fort at Imeri Gramvousa island was built between 1579 and 1584 during Venetian rule over Crete to defend the island from the Ottoman Turks. The fort remained in Venetian hands throughout the prolonged Cretan War, and in the treaty of 16 September 1669, which surrendered Crete to the Ottomans, Gramvousa, along with the fortresses of Souda and Spinalonga, was retained by Venice. These three forts defended Venetian ...
Founded: 1579-1584 | Location: Kíssamos, Greece

Gournia

The Late Minoan town of Gournia was excavated by Harriet Boyd in the first years of the 20th century. The original name of the settlement is not known and its present name comes from the hollow vessels found all over the site, many of which can still be seen at the entrances to the rooms. Gournia lies on a small hill, a few hundred metres from the sea in the Gulf of Mirabello. Its position is important as it lies on the ...
Founded: 1700 BC | Location: Ierapetra, Greece

Toplou Monastery

Toplou monastery is one of the most significant monasteries in Crete, dedicated to Virgin Mary and St. John the Theologian. It was founded around the mid-15th century, probably on the ruins of an earlier convent. The monastery was plundered by the knights of Malta in 1530 and shattered in 1612 by a strong earthquake. Due to its strategic position, the senate of the Republic of Venice, then ruler of Crete, decided to ...
Founded: c. 1450 | Location: Sitia, Greece

Gonia Monastery

Gonia is an Orthodox monastery located on the coast of the south-east Rodopos peninsula in Crete, overlooking the Gulf of Chania. Today dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin, the monastery was founded in the 9th century and was originally dedicated to St. George. It was originally situated at Menies on the ruins of the ancient temple of Artemis Britomartis (Diktynna). The monastery was built in the 13th c ...
Founded: 1618-1634 | Location: Plataniás, Greece

Paliani Convent

Paliani is one of the oldest convents on Crete, situated south of Venerato village and built on top of the ruins of an ancient temple, as confirmed by the capitals located in the courtyard of the convent. The convent is dedicated to the Dormition of Mother Mary and has been in operation since the first centuries of the Byzantine Empire, reaching its prime during the Venetian era. During the era of Ottoman rul ...
Founded: 7th century AD | Location: Heraklion, Greece

Frangokastello Castle

Frangokastello castle was built by the Venetians in 1371-74 as a garrison to impose order on the rebellious Sfakia region, to deter pirates, and to protect Venetian nobles and their properties. The Venetians named it the Castle of St. Nikitas after the nearby church. The locals, however, who never saw it in a positive light, contemptuously dubbed it Frangokastello, meaning the Castle of the Franks (i.e. Catholic fo ...
Founded: 1371-1374 | Location: Sfakiá, Greece

Gortyn

Gortyn or Gortys was a city that flourished particularly during the Roman era. It was the capital of the Roman province of Crete and Cyrenaica. It had its origins in the Minoan era (around 3200 BC). The most distinctive monuments are the Praetorium, the residence of the Roman governor of the province, and the Nymphaion (both dating from 2nd century AD), where the Nymphs were worshipped. There is also a temple of Pythian ...
Founded: 3200 BC | Location: Górtyn, Greece

Preveli Monastery

Preveli Monastery comprises two main building complexes, the ruined Lower Monastery of St. John the Baptist, and the currently operational Upper (Rear) Monastery of St. John the Theologian. The monastery was probably founded in the Middle Ages, during the occupation of Crete by the Republic of Venice, its founder being a feudal lord named Prevelis. It developed over several centuries as a religious and cultural centre ...
Founded: 16th century | Location: Ágios Vasíleios, Greece

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Barnenez Cairn

The Cairn of Barnenez is the largest Megalithic mausoleum in Europe. It dates from the early Neolithic Age is considered one of the earliest megalithic monuments in Europe. It is also remarkable for the presence of megalithic art. Radiocarbon dates indicate that the first phase of the monument was erected between 4850 and 4250 BC, and the second phase between 4450 and 4000 BC. Pottery found in and around the monument indicates that it underwent a period of reuse in the Bronze Age, in the 3rd millennium BC.

The cairn was first mapped in 1807, in the context of the Napoleonic cadaster. Its first scientific recognition took place in the context of an academic congress in Morlaix in 1850, when it was classified as a tumulus. Privately owned until the 1950s, the cairn was used as a quarry for paving stones. This activity, which threatened to destroy the monument, was only halted after the discovery of several of its chambers in the 1950s. The local community then took control of the site. The cairn was restored between 1954 and 1968. At the same time, vegetation was removed from the mound and systematic excavation took place in and around the monument.

Today, the Barnenez cairn is 72 m long, up to 25 m wide and over 8 m high. It is built of 13,000 to 14,000 tons of stone. It contains 11 chambers entered by separate passages. The mound has steep facades and a stepped profile. Several internal walls either represent earlier facades or served the stability of the structure. The cairn consists of relatively small blocks of stone, with only the chambers being truly megalithic in character. The monument overlooks the Bay of Morlaix, probably a fertile coastal plain at the time of its erection.

Engraved symbols occur in several of the chambers and passages. They depict bows, axes, wave symbols or snakes and a repeated U-shaped sign. One of the carved slabs is in secondary use was originally part of a different structure, an interesting parallel to the situation in several other such monuments, including Gavrinis. The symbols on the engraved blocks resemble those found in other megalithic monuments in Brittany; in broader terms they belong to the cultural phenomenon described as megalithic art. One of the recurring symbols is sometimes interpreted as an anthropomorphic depiction (the so-called \'Dolmen Goddess\').

An exhibition in the modern entrance building explains the results of scientific excavation and displays some objects from the site.