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 c ...
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

São Jorge Castle

São Jorge Castle is a Moorish castle occupying a commanding hilltop overlooking the historic centre of the Portuguese city of Lisbon and Tagus River. The strongly fortified citadel dates from medieval period of Portuguese history, and is one of the main tourist sites of Lisbon.

Although the first fortifications on this hilltop date from the 2nd century BC, archaeological excavations have identified a human presence in the Tagus valley as far back as the 6th century BC. The first fortification was, presumably, erected in 48 BC, when Lisbon was classified as a Roman municipality.

The hill was first used by indigenous Celtic tribes, then by Phoenicians, Greeks, and Carthaginians as a defensible outpost that was later expropriated by Roman, Suebic, Visigothic, and Moorish peoples. During the 10th century, the fortifications were rebuilt by Muslim Berber forces, these included the walls or Cerca Moura ("Moorish Encirclement").

Kingdom

In the context of the Christian Reconquista, the castle and the city of Lisbon were freed from Moorish rule in 1147 by Afonso Henriques and northern European knights in the Siege of Lisbon during the Second Crusade; this victory was the only notable success of that failed crusade. According to an oft-repeated legend, the knight Martim Moniz, noticing that one of the doors to the castle was open, prevented the Moors from closing it by throwing his own body into the breach, thus allowing Christian soldiers to enter at the cost of his own life. With the taking of the castle Christian forces were able to maintain the defense of Lisbon until the end of the 12th century.

When Lisbon became the capital of the kingdom in 1255, the castle served as the alcáçova, a fortified residence for Afonso III, in his role as governor. It was extensively renovated around 1300 by King Denis I, transforming the Moorish alcáçova into the Royal Palace of the Alcáçova. Between 1373 and 1375, King Ferdinand I ordered the building of the Cerca Nova or Cerca Fernandina, the walled compound that enclosed the entirety of the castle. The master builders João Fernandes and Vasco Brás were responsible for its construction. This wall, which partially replaced the old Moorish walls, was designed to encircle previously unprotected parts of the city. Completed in two years, it had 77 towers and a perimeter of 5,400 metres.

The castle and the city resisted the forces of Castile several times during the 14th century (notably in 1373 and in 1383–1384). It was during this period (the late 14th century) that the castle was dedicated to Saint George by King John I, who had married the English princess Philippa of Lancaster. Saint George, the warrior-saint, was normally represented slaying a dragon, and very was popular in both countries.

From this point onward many of the kingdom's records were housed in the Torre de Ulisses, also known as the Torre Albarrã, until the reign of Manuel I. The Portuguese National Archive is still referred to as the Torre do Tombo. Between 1448 and 1451, the master builder was paid several stipends for his work on the palace. These public works continued until 1452, with additional payments being made for labor and materials to convert the building from a fortified castle to a royal residence.

Around the early 16th century, following the construction of the Ribeira Palace beside the Tagus river, the Palace of Alcáçova began to lose its importance. An earthquake occurring in 1531 further damaged the old castle, contributing further to its decay and neglect. In 1569, King Sebastian ordered the rebuilding of the royal apartments in the castle, intending to use it as his official residence. As part of the rebuilding, in 1577 Filippo Terzi demolished one of the towers near the principal facade of the Church of Loreto. However, many of the works were never completed after the young king's apparent death during the Battle of Alcácer Quibir. The following Portuguese dynastic crisis opened the way for sixty years of Spanish rule and the castle was converted into military barracks and a prison. On 30 December 1642, Teodósio de Frias the Younger was appointed master builder to continue the works begun by his father, Luís de Frias, and his grandfather, Teodósio de Frias. This was part of a greater plan by the Spanish forces to recommission the fortification.

However, after Portugal regained its independence following the Portuguese Restoration War, the works were taken over by the Portuguese government. On 6 November 1648, Nicolau de Langres was called upon to take over the design, execution and construction of a new fortification that would surround the Castle of São Jorge and the city walls of Lisbon. In 1650 the military architect Mateus do Couto was named master builder of the project and reconstruction took on a new formality: although the military engineer João Gillot built new walls in 1652, construction again followed Couto's plans between 1657 and 1733. In 1673, the Soldiers' Hospital, dedicated to São João de Deus, was installed on the grounds beside the Rua do Recolhimento. At the end of the 17th century the Recolhimento do Castelo was constructed along the southeast angle of the courtyard, and in 1733, new projects were initiated by master Custódio Vieira.

The 1755 Lisbon earthquake severely damaged the castle and contributed to its continuing decay: apart from the walls of the old castle, the soldier's hospital and the Recolhimento were left in ruins. The necessity of maintaining a supporting military force within the capital city required expansion of the site's role of garrison and presidio. From 1780 to 1807, the charitable institution Casa Pia, dedicated to the education of poor children, was established in the citadel, while soldiers continued to be garrisoned on site. Inspired by the events of the earthquake and the following tsunami, the first geodetic observatory in Portugal was constructed in 1788 at the top of one of the towers of the castle, later referred to as the Torre do Observatório.

Republic

As part of the commemorative celebrations marking the foundation of nationhood and restoration of independence, the government of António de Oliveira Salazar initiated extensive renovations at the site. Most of the incongruous structures added to the castle compound in previous centuries were demolished and there was a partial restoration of the Recolhimento. In addition, on 25 October 1947, a monument dedicated to Afonso Henriques, presented by the city of Porto, of a replica created by Soares dos Reis (in 1887) was installed on the grounds.