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

Rating

4.5/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Eliza Connolly (4 months ago)
A really excellent exhibit, and very interesting, but there are about 80+ deeply technical paragraphs throughout. I would still highly recommend it, as it gives a VERY thorough background on Heraklion in general, but just consider it more a full museum rather than a quick pit-stop. It took us about 1.5-hours(!) to get through everything.
Yiannis Pontikes (5 months ago)
The fortress is great, and the restoration and history behind also. I would give 5 stars if the people working here were a bit more smiley and friendly. Not fair to generalise, maybe these 2 ladies had a bad day...
Soizic Pasquer (5 months ago)
Very cool history and excessively beautiful view of the sea
Debbie Nugent (5 months ago)
Lovely to walk around and read its history
Asma H. Tabar (6 months ago)
The museum staff are so nice here and they explain the history of the sight very well.
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The castle first mentioned in 1200 was originally owned by the King and later, at the end of the 13th century it fell in hands of Matúš Èák. Its owners alternated - at the end of the 14th century the family of Stibor of Stiborice bought it.

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The history of the castle is the subject of different legends. One of them narrates the origin of the name of castle derived from that of jester Becko for whom the Duke Stibor had the castle built.

Another legend has it that the lord of the castle had his servant thrown down from the rock because he protected his child from the lords favourite dog. Before his death, the servant pronounced a curse saying that they would meet in a year and days time, and indeed precisely after that time the lord was bitten by a snake and fell down to the same abyss.

The well-conserved ruins of the castle, now the National Cultural Monument, are frequently visited by tourists, above all in July when the castle festival takes place. The former Ambro curia situated below the castle now shelters the exhibition of the local history.