Koules Fortress

Heraklion, Greece

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 destroyed in an earthquake but was repaired.

In 1462, the Venetian Senate approved a programme to improve the fortifications of Candia. Eventually, the Byzantine tower was demolished in 1523, and the Castello a Mare began to be built instead. Old ships were filled with stone, and were sunk to form a breakwater and increase the area of the platform on which the fortress was built. The fortress was completed in 1540.

In 1630, the fort was armed with 18 cannons on the ground floor, and 25 cannons on the pathway leading to the roof.

During the 21-year long Siege of Candia, Ottoman batteries easily neutralized the fort's firepower. The Ottomans eventually took the fort in 1669, after the Venetians surrendered the entire city. They did not make any major alterations to the fort, except for the additions of some battlements and embrasures. They built a small fort known as Little Koules on the landward side, but this was demolished in 1936 while the city was being modernized.

The fortress has been restored, and it is now open to the public. Art exhibitions and cultural activities are occasionally held at the fort.

The fortress is made up of two parts: a high rectangular section, and a slightly lower semi-elliptical section. Its walls are up to 8.7m thick at some places, and it has three entrances. The fort has two stories, with a total of 26 rooms, which were originally used as barracks, a prison, storage rooms, a water reservoir, a church, a mill and a bakery. A lighthouse tower is located on the northern part of the fort.



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Founded: 1462
Category: Castles and fortifications in Greece


4.5/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

G F (2 years ago)
This is a great location to spend a few hours and learn about the history of Crete. The fort is very easy to find and well maintained. The location is full of artifacts and has lots of information regarding the site and its uses. Well worth a visit if you go to Crete.
Leri Jandieri (2 years ago)
One of the best historical places i’ve seen in a while (I haven’t seen any historical things in my lifetime…) but to be fair it was a beautiful castle. I would visit it again.
Radu Tasca (2 years ago)
One of the first sights that draw your attention when you arrive in Heraklion, it's q very nice to walk by and also to visit inside. With a very rich history, it has been renovated to both bring it to it's former glory but also to host a piece of physical and visual gallery that will transport you a few hundred years into the past. The stories on the walls are a nice addition, while the objects dug up from the near by see make the experience an extraordinary one. And do not forget to visit the terrace: it will give you a 360 view of the surroundings.
Thomas Beech (2 years ago)
An impressive fortress from days gone by. It has many artefacts and lots of information with regards to the fortress itself and the history of Heraklion. The views from the top of the fortress are fantastic, it's also a great place to cool off in the vast cavernous rooms inside!
Bowen de Vries (3 years ago)
Beautiful historic location and definitely worth a visit if you're in Heraklion. The price for a ticket is 4 euros. They provide some information in English about the location and different times, which was an interesting read. Though the exhibition further inside I was most interested in was unfortunately almost completely in Greek. With the addition of a proper English translation you could definitely spend some more time inside. Nevertheless I recommend checking out this place as it's beautiful and so is the view from the top of the fortress.
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