Heraklion is the largest city of Crete with a population of about 200.000. Heraklion houses the public services and the major scientific centers of Crete, being the commercial center of the island with the main port and airport.
From a scenic city with unique traditional Venetian and Ottoman monuments in early 1900s, as one of the most historical cities in the Mediterranean, Heraklion unfortunately turned into an ugly cement city, losing almost all of its aristocratic splendor. This bad development was a result of the need for rapid expansion of the city for the settling the refugees after the Asia Minor Catastrophe (1922), but also from the effort to "modernize" Heraklion by turning the beautiful old buildings into blocks of flats.
Even today the visitor can get a good taste of the glorious image of the past, while the locals can be surprised by the unknown corners of Heraklion and the story hidden behind them.
The history of Heraklion starts in Minoan era, as it was the port of the legendary palace of Knossos. However, the city in its present location (the old center) was built in 824 by the Arabs and later expanded and fortified by the Venetians and the Turks, who named it as the Large Castle of Candia. The current name Heraklion was given after the liberation of Crete from the Turks in 1898. More information about the Castle of Candia can be read here.
Some attractions of Heraklion are the giant Venetian walls (the largest in the Mediterranean) with the various gates, the Archaeological Museum, the History Museum, the Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Battle of Crete. Moreover, in the historic center it is worth visiting Loggia, the square with the Fountain of Lions, the Street August 25, the central market, the Basilica of San Marco, the churches of Saint Titos, Saint Minas, Saint Catherine, Saint Peter and the Venetian Harbour with the imposing seaside fortress of Koules. Lastly, in the evening you can stroll or cycle in the pedestrian road seaside to the Pancretan Stadium.
The picturesque city of Chania is the second largest city of Crete, after Heraklion, with more than 60,000 residents. Fortunately it did not follow the same fate as the other cities of Crete, e.g. Heraklion, where the great Venetian and Ottoman monuments were destroyed for the sake of economic growth and "modernization". Instead, the Old Town and the Venetian Harbour have remained almost intact, giving the city a special Venetian character, unique in the Mediterranean. Thus, the visitors of Chania are attracted by the beauty of the scenic narrow streets, the imposing lighthouse at the entrance of the small harbor and all the amazing monuments that make up the transcendent magic of Chania.
Chania is believed to be built on the site of the Minoan Kydonia, as shown by the excavations in Kastelli hill. Chania developed substantially in the Byzantine era, when it was fortified. Later, the Venetians turned the city into a great castle with strong walls, for which you can read here. After the liberation of Crete from the Turks in 1898 and during the Cretan State autonomy, Chania became officially the capital of Crete (till 1971). During this period, great buildings were built in the city and the suburb of Halepa. The glory of Chania reached its peak during the hoisting of the Greek flag in the fortress of Firkas in 1913, marking the final Union of Crete with Greece, after centuries of slavery. Chania played also an important role in the outcome of the struggle against the Germans in World War II, as the nearby airport of Maleme was the epicenter of the glorious Battle of Crete. Chania was the last European city to be liberated from the Germans in April 1945.
From Chania came Eleftherios Venizelos, the greatest politician of Greece, as with its successful policy as prime minister of Greece he managed to triple the territories of Greece in the early 20th century. The tombs of the Venizelos family are set in a magical site east of Chania, with panoramic views of the city.
Some attractions of Chania are the old town, the Venetian harbour with the old lighthouse, the mosque of Kucuk Hasan, the pedestrian road of Kum Kapi, the shipyards, the great Arsenal which houses the Center for Mediterranean Architecture, the central market, the hill of Kastelli with the old Palace and the Minoan settlement, the picturesque district of the Ottomans called Splantzia, the church of St. Rocco, the cathedral of Chania, the archaeological museum, the beachfront of Nea Chora district, the Maritime Museum of Crete in Fort Firkas, the Prefecture and the Courts, the graves of Venizelos family, the house of Venizelos in Halepa, the Allies' Cemetery in Souda, the Historical Archive of Crete, etc.