Crete

Crete

A Brief History of Crete

Crete in antiquity was not threatened by external enemies. The first enemy who conquered Island was Roman empire. So, until then, the fortification of the cities did not concern external but internal enemies. After the end of the Roman period (67 BC-330 AD) things changed radically. Crete joined the Eastern Roman State, evolved into the Byzantine Empire. Thus, due to its natural and geopolitical position, Crete has gained special importance and became an “apple of controversy” for the peoples of the Mediterranean, who began to gaze upon it for their own reasons.

The pirate raids began to thicken and the island’s seaside monasteries were fortified to protect themselves. A system of fortifications is developed on the coast and in the hinterland, and they manage to keep the invaders away for a few centuries. In 1206, Crete passed into the hands of the Genoans, who immediately gave special importance to the fortification of the island. Within a few years, three castles and 12 fortresses were built, but then the Venetians managed to occupy the island in 1209. The Venetian rule in Crete lasted 4.5 centuries and was based mainly on the colossal fortifications built by great engineers.

Koules Fortress Heraklion
Fortifications of Heraklion
Itzedin Fortress
Venetian Fortress Heraklion
Kales of Ierapetra
Frangokastello
Gramvousa Castle

When the Turks succeeded in occupying Crete in 1669, after 22 years of siege, they strengthened their presence by improving the Venetian walls and building many small fortresses throughout the Cretan territory. The Turks maintained their fortifications until the end of their presence on the island. Even today, the visitor can get an idea of ​​how the great cities of Crete were fortified, as their walls are preserved in perfect condition. The impressive castles in Chania, Rethymno and Heraklion and the impressive fortresses on the islands of Souda, Gramvousa and Spinalonga are only a few examples.

Below are some of the most impressive castles in Crete you can admire

Spinalonga - Lasithi

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In 1578 the Venetians charged the engineer Genese Bressani to plan the island's fortifications. He created blockhouses at the highest points of the northern and southern side of the island, as well as a fortification ring along the coast that closed out any hostile disembarkation. In 1715, the Ottoman Turks captured Spinalonga taking over the last remaining Venetian fortress and removing the last trace of Venetian military presence from the island of Crete.
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Casarma Castle - Lasithi

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The fortress known today as "Kazarma" (Casa di arma), is the most imposing historical monument in Sitia. It was originally a Venetian construction with major modifications during the Ottoman period. The fortress was built in the 13th century by the Venetians at the location where a Byzantine city and fortification already existed. The Turks,in 1645, turned the Kazarma Fortress into a fort, making major changes to the interior of the structure. The new fort was built over the structure of the old Venetian castle.
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Ierapetra Castle - Lasithi

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Τhe Venetians occupied Crete in 1212 and held it until the middle of the 17th century. The castle of Ierapetra was built to protect the port and the city some time in the 13th century by the Venetians. In 1508, it was destroyed by a strong earthquake and was not repaired fully. In 1626 the admiral Morozini made some repair works. The Ottomans captured Ierapetra in 1647 and renovated the fort
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Voila Tower- Lasithi

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The ruins of an Ottoman tower built around 1740. The tower was inside the medieval settlement of Voila which today is abandoned and ruined.
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Tower of Vainia - Lasithi

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On a hill above the village of Vainia there is a rocky hill with a panoramic view to the Ierapetra area and with a little chapel on it (of the Holy Cross). Close to the chapel and at a lower point there is this Venetian tower.
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Agios Stefanos Castle - Lasithi

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The fort was probably built in the 16th century on the ruins of an ancient acropolis. The rock is naturally fortified as its surrounding edges have vertical cliffs, except the south side which is accessible. Today, only a narrow wall on the south side, 30m long and 2m high, and a small part of a tower remain.
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Venetian Walls - Chania

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Based on the masonry of the walls surrounding Kastelli Hill, the first fortifications at the city of Chania or ancient Cydonia date back to the Hellenistic period. The later Byzantine wall is associated with the recapture of Crete by Nicephorοs Phocas in 961, and the programme instigated by the Byzantines to rebuild and fortify key positions in Crete and the Aegean region.
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Gramvousa Fortress - Chania

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On the highest part of the island, at 137 meters, the Venetian built an impressive castle between 1579 and 1584 for the protection of the entire northeastern Crete. Gramvousa was surrendered to Turks in 1692, after the Turks bribed the Venetian commander (who lived happily after in Constantinople). The fortress was captured by Cretan Fighters, in 1825, and became the seat of the Revolutionary Committee of Crete.
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Thodorou Forts - Koules

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In 1583 the Venetians built two small fortresses on Agios Theodoros in part to prevent pirates from using the islands and in part to defend the coast of Crete.
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Kasteli of Kissamos

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The first fort of Kastelli was built by the Genoese pirate Henry Pescatore on the site of the ancient Kissamos, in the early 13th century, and was one of the 15 forts fortified by the Genoeses after 1204 AD. In 1538, the fortress was destroyed by Barbarossa and was repaired in 1554. In 1595 it was completely destroyed by an earthquake. In 1646 the Turks besieged the fort, which fell after the betrayal of the commander Giovani Medici.
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Frangokastello - Chania

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The 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. In 1770, the Cretan rebel Ioannis Vlachos, otherwise known as Daskaloyiannis occupied Frangokastello but later it was captured by Turkish forces.
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Souda Fortress - Chania

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There was a fortress on the little island already in the 14th century. The constructions of the Venetian castle started much later, in 1573, by the Venetians, in an effort to reinforce the defense of the port of Souda and to control the Gulf entrance. In the years that followed, until the Turkish invasion in 1645, conservation and other complementary works for the fortification's improvement were taking place.
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Byzantine Wall of Chania

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In antiquity, a settlement known as Cydonia existed on the site of modern Chania. By the Hellenistic period, in around the 3rd century BC, the Cydonia was surrounded by walls. The fortifications of Chania are a series of defensive walls and other fortifications which surround the city of Chania. The inner city walls were first built in antiquity, and were rebuilt by the Byzantine Empire. The outer walls were built in the 16th century by the Republic of Venice.
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Itzedin Fortress - Chania

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The Fortress of Itzedin has been built by the Turks 3 decades before the liberation of Crete, on a hill overlooking the sea. It was located 14 km east of Chania Town and very close to the village of Kalami.
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Firka Fortress - Chania

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This was an old Venetian fort on a small island in the Lefkas canal (which island used to be the tip of a peninsula). In 1807 the area was under the control of a Russian-Turkish alliance who had replaced the French (who had replaced the Venetians) and were trying to confine the ambitious Ali pasha of Ioannina. The Russians rebuilt the old Venetian fort in 1807 and named it after their Tsar Alexander.
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Aptera Fortress - Chania

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It was built by Hussein Avni pasha after the Cretan Revolution of 1866 to control the region of Apokorona and to support Itzadin fortress in controlling the strategically important bay of Suda.
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Fortress of Askyfou - Chania

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Askyfou is a plateau , 45km south of Chania. In 1821 the Greeks liberated the area but later in 1823 the Turks returned and torched the villages. This fortress was built after the Cretan revolution of 1866. Thera are two small forts there very close to each other.
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Polyrrinia ruins - Chania

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Pollyrinia is an ancient fortified city. Part of the walls from the Hellenistic and the Romans periods are still visible but most of the fortification is of medieval origin, probably from the second Byzantine period of Crete (10th to 12th century).
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Agia Roumeli Fortress - Chania

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A Turkish fortress of the 19th century on a hill above the village of Agia Roumeli and the south exit of the gorge of Samaria in Crete.
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Koules of Loutros - Chania

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Above the little port of Loutros in the Sfakia region of South Crete there is a Turkish fort from the 19th century (most probably) with a very particular design. In a short distance from the fort there is also a cylindrical tower in relatively good condition.
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Koules of Koxare - Chania

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One of the many small forts -the so called “koules”- built by the Turks after 1886 following the outbreak of the Cretan revolution that year. It was one of the forts guarding the important passage from Mesara plain to Sfakia area. It was built near the entrance of the gorge Kourtaliotis, near the village Koxare. It was partially destroyed by the Greek rebels in 1896.
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Gortyna Acropolis - Herakleion

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Gortyna is one of the most important archaelogical sites in Crete. Gortyna was inhabited since 3000 BC. In the Mionoan period, it was one of the most important cities and after the 3rd century BC, it became more important than Phaestus. In the Roman period it was the capital of Crete and remained the capital of Byzantine Crete as well. The ruins of the fortifications that we observe today are the remains of a reconstruction effort in the 7th century to deal with the threat of the Saracen pirates.
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Charakas Castle - Herakleion

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This kind of rocks in Crete are called “Charaki”. On the rockthere is a castle and a church. The rock is accessed only from the north-west and it is a monolithic barrow. The time of the construction of the fort is not known exacly. It was certainly a Venetian fortification built most probably in the 14th century.
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Venetian Walls - Heraclion

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Heraclion existed with the same name since the beginning of the 1st millennium BC as a port of the Minoan city of Knossos. The walls of the city of Heraclion are from the Venetian period of Crete. Their construction started in 1462 and lasted more than a century. This is the best preserved fortification of the 15th-16th century in the world and the best preserved fortification in the Mediterranean.
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Koules Castle - Herakleion

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The Koules Castle dominates the modern port of Heraklion. It is a massive fortress with two floors that used to guard the entry to the port. The Castle was constructed by the Venetians in the early 13th century. The first fortress was probably built on the site of Koules during the Arab period (9th-10th c.), while there is a reference to a tower called the Castellum Comunis at the harbour entrance in the Second Byzantine period (10th-13th c.)
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Temenos Fortress - Herakleion

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The Fortress of Temenos or of Nikephoros Focas it is the most important Byzantine monument in Crete. It is located on a hill 16km south of Heraclion, close to the village of Profitis Elias. When the Byzantine general Nicephorus Phocas (later an emperor) liberated Crete from the Arabs in 961AD, he founded a fort on Rocca, in order to transfer the city of Candia there. In 1204, when the Genoan pirate count of Malta and pirate Enrico Pescatore conquered Crete, he either founded or repaired 15 fortresses to ensure his grasp of the island. One of these was the fort of Temenos.
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Xopateras Tower - Herakleion

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Xopateras was a monk in the monastery who was excommunicated after the killing of a Janissary, hence the name Xopateras or Xopapas (meaning something like “ex-priest”). After that, Xopateras joined the rebellion against the Turks in Crete, using the monastery as a base.
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