The Heraklion North Coast - More than just Tourist resorts
There is a commonly held belief that the northern coast of Heraklion is an endless strip of tourist resorts. Nevertheless, there are several spots that are well worth visiting.
West along the main national highway, Palaiokastro comes into sight, one of the castles built by Enrico Pescatore in 1216 in his early effort to capture the island. The beach near Palaiokastro is nearest the centre of Heraklion. Further along the road, Rodia is a lovely little village with well-preserved old houses and a beautiful view. Take note of the Venetian gate, which was built in the early 16th century by feudal lords Georgios and Francesco Modino.
In a lush ravine of Mt. Vassiliko is one of Crete’s most historic monasteries, the Savvathianon Monastery, which is dedicated to the patron saint of monks, Saint Anthony. Historical sources indicate that this was an important monastery in the 16th century, but it suffered extensive damage during the siege of Handakas by the Turks, who used the area as a base of operations.
Agia Pelagia, once a picturesque coastal village, has today evolved into a busy tourist hub with few surviving reminders of its past appearance. The nearby village of Lygaria is a little prettier.
In contrast, at Fodele, a beautiful little village set in a verdant ravine, the locals have held on to their traditional lifestyle, despite the rampant tourist development of the surrounding area. Most people visit Fodele because tradition has it that Domenikos Theotokopoulos was born here; there is even a small museum dedicated to him in the village.
Near the village is a 14th century Byzantine church with beautiful murals. It is built on the site of an older 8th century church, of which only a few architectural traces can still be seen.
Near the village of Tylissos, the remains of three Minoan villas are visible. The largest of these used to be built on two levels and had a monumental entrance, a bath, light well and colonnades.
If they head westward toward Anogia, travelers will come across the village of Sklavokambos, where there are the remains of a large Minoan villa dating back to 1500 BC. The village takes its name from a colony of Slavs in the area, brought by Nikiphoros Phokas in 961 when he reclaimed Crete from the Arabs.
Kroussonas is a well-developed small market town on the slope of Mt. Psiloritis. Just above Kroussonas, you will see the Monastery of Saint Catherine, which dates back to the 17th century, according to sources, and was destroyed in 1822 by the Turks. The monastery was not reopened until 1944.
Further along the route, the village of Agios Myronas is located where the city of Raukos used to stand in antiquity before it was destroyed, according to some sources, in 180 BC following an alliance between Knossos and Gortys.
The Monastery of Gorgolaini, an important monastery of Malevizios, which suffered many vicissitudes during the Ottoman era, is also where in 1868 the Cretan chieftain Frangias Mastrachas was killed. His bust is on display at the monastery.
To see the eastern side of Heraklion’s northern coast, it is necessary to take the older coastal road instead of the national highway. Just after Heraklion is Amnisos, where in 1932 Spyridon Marinatos unearthed a luxurious Minoan villa, which was dubbed the Lily Mansion after its magnificent fresco, now on display at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. The same area used to have a later sanctuary dedicated to Zeus Thenatas, while excavations also uncovered the remains of a harbour that is most probably sunken today.
Nearby, in the little hillock, there used to be a cave named after Eilytheia, where the goddess of childbirth used to be worshipped. The area of Army-rides, located in the tourist resort of Kokkini Hani, boasts the remains of the impressive villa Nirou Hani. It was a two-storey residence with an impressive 40 rooms on the ground floor alone, while numerous finds indicate that it must have served as the seat of some administrative officer of Knossos, or of an arch-priest, as many of the finds were of a sacral nature.
Just after the village of Gouves is the impressive Skoteino Cave (meaning dark cave), also known as the Cave of Agia Paraskevi. The goddess Britomartis used to be worshipped in this cave, while there are also traces of an old Christian church.
The area of Hersonissos is testimony to the extremes of tourist development. Basically, the entire area has been taken over by tourism. On the eastern side of the harbour, there are a few remains of a pier that dates back to Roman times, while it is also worth visiting the Lychnostatis Museum, which is dedicated to Cretan folk tradition.
Other areas in the region that have fallen victim to extreme tourist development are Stalida and Mallia. Mallia (from Omalia) is located some 36 km east of Heraklion, near the coast where there used to be a small natural harbour. Some sources contend that the Minoan name for the area was Milatos and that the local king was Sarpedon, son of Zeus and Europa, and younger brother of Minos because it was the third-largest palace (7,500 sq.m) after Knossos and Phaistos, the seats – respectively – of Minos and Rhadamanthys.
The history of the palace is similar to other palace complexes in the area. It was built around 1900 BC and leveled by the earthquake of 1700 BC. Reconstruction began immediately afterwards, based on the design of the old palace, but it was destroyed again and abandoned for good in 1450 BC following the war that claimed the entire Minoan palace civilization.
The palace used to be surrounded by a city, while the royal burial grounds of Chrysolakkos were uncovered near the sea – this is where the famed Bee Pendant comes from. The city and tombs are of more interest to archaeologists than they are to laymen, however, especially as excavations by the French Archaeological School, which first brought the palace and city of Mallia to light, continue today.
excerpt from Explorer Guide Crete