Heraklion, also Heraklio, Iraklion or Irakleio is the major city and capital of the island of Crete. It is also the capital of the prefecture of the same name. It has an international airport named after the writer Nikos Kazantzakis, author of 'Zorba the Greek'. The ruins of Knossos, which were excavated and restored by Arthur Evans, are nearby.

Heraklion is close to the ruins of the palace of Knossos, which in Minoan times was the biggest centre of population on Crete. So it is very likely that there was a port here as long ago as 2000 BC. There is however no archaeological evidence for such a port. Other very important Minoan era ruins are found in or around Archanes village a few kilometres after Knossos, in Anemospilia, Fourni and Vathipetro. The present city of Heraklion was founded in 824 AD by the Saracens, an Arabic Muslim people. They built a giant ditch around the city for protection. They named the city Khandak, meaning 'moat', after the ditch. The Saracens allowed the port to be used as a safe haven for pirates, much to the annoyance of the nearby Byzantine Empire. In 961, the Byzantines attacked and defeated the city, slaughtered all the Saracens, looted the city and burned it to the ground. They remained in control of the rebuilt Khandak for the next 243 years. In 1204, the city was bought by the Venetians as part of a complicated political deal which involved among other things, the Crusaders of the Fourth Crusade restoring the deposed Byzantine emperor Isaac II Angelus to his throne. The Venetians improved on the ditch by building enormous fortifications, most of which are still in place, including a giant wall, in places up to 40m thick, with 7 bastions, and a fortress in the harbour. The name Khandak became Candia in Italian. The city retained the name of Candia for centuries, and the whole island of Crete was often called Candia as a result. After the Venetians came the Turks of the Ottoman Empire. They besieged the city for 22 years in a bloody war in which 30,000 Cretans and 120,000 Turks died. The Venetians eventually handed it over in 1669. The city was renamed during the Turkish occupation to Megalo Kastro big castle. During their occupation the harbour silted up, so they moved most of their business to Chania in the west of the island. The city only became truly Greek with the withdrawal of the Turks in 1898. At this stage, the Greeks decided to rename the city to something Greek, so they chose the name Heraklion, meaning City of Heracles Hercules, after the port of Heracleum which had existed somewhere in the locality in Roman times. The biggest monument of the city is the Venetian medieval fortress Rocca al Mare also known as Koules located on the port.

Knossos, alternative spellings Knossus, Cnossus, Gnossus, is the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete, probably the ceremonial and political center of the Minoan culture. Knossos, also known by its romantic name of the Palace of Minos, was discovered by Sir Arthur Evans in 1894. However, the civil war in Crete against the Turks intervened, and it was not until March 16, 1900 that Evans was able to purchase the entire site and conduct massive excavations. Assisted by Dr Duncan Mackenzie, who had already distinguished himself by his excavations on the island of Melos, and Mr Fyfe, the British School of Athens architect, Evans employed a large staff of excavators and by June of 1900 had uncovered a large portion of the palace. The site has a very long history of human habitation, beginning with the founding of the first Neolithic settlement in ca. 7000 BCE. Over time and several different phases of growth that had their own social dynamic, Knossos grew in size until, by the 19th to 16th centuries BCE during the 'Old Palace' and the succeeding 'Neo-palatial' periods, the settlement possessed monumental administrative and religious central building i.e., the Palace but also a surrounding settlement of 5000-8000 people. A long-standing debate between archaeologists is whether the Palace acted primarily as an administrative or religious center or, more likely, was a combination of both in a theocratic manner. Other important debates consider the role of Knossos in the administration of Bronze Age Crete, and whether Knossos acted as the primary center, or was on equal footing with the several other contemporary palaces that have been discovered on Crete. Many of these palaces on Crete were destroyed and abandoned in the early part of the 15th century BCE, possibly by the Mycenaeans, although Knossos remained in use until destroyed by fire about one-hundred years later. One of the more remarkable discoveries at Knossos was the extensive murals that decorated the plastered walls. All were very fragmentary and their reconstruction and re-placement into rooms by the artist Piet de Jong is not without controversy. These sophisticated, colorful paintings portray a society, who in comparison to the roughly contemporaneous art of Middle and New Kingdom Egypt, are conspicuously non-militaristic. In addition to scenes of women and men linked to activities like fishing and flower gathering, the murals also portray athletic competitions, likely of a ritual nature, in which youths performed daring acrobatics on the backs of charging bulls as in the Toreador Fresco. The centre piece of the palace was the so-called Throne Room. This chamber has a dramatic chair built into the wall, facing a number of benches and a tank which it is speculated was used as an aquarium. Other parts of this extremely large palace include spacious apartments with running water in terra-cotta pipes, flush toilets; long halls with storerooms containing huge ceramic jars used to store grain; the world's earliest-known amphitheater with tiers of stone steps seating 200, and religious shrines. The palace is about 130 metres long on one side and since the Roman period has been associated as the source of the myth of the Labyrinth.