A walk around the city of Heraklion starting in a clockwise direction from the old Venetian harbor, will take in, in turn, the following bastions:
Sabbionera, Vittouri, located after Eletherias Square, Jesus, Martinengo (this is also where the tomb of Nikos Kazantzakis is located), Bethlehem, Pantocrator, under which cars pass today and Aghios Andreas (Saint Andrew) on the coast.
Visitors can then walk along a coastal stretch of road, which also used to be fortified, back to the Venetian harbor and the most definite landmark of Heraklion: The Fortress by the Sea, also known as Rocca al Mare or Koules.
Nothing is known about when this fortress at the harbor’s entrance was built, though there are references in 1303 to the damage the castle sustained from the sea in an earthquake.
In 1523, as part of far-reaching alterations to Heraklions’ defenses, it was decided to tear down the old castle and build a new one, after having extended the small peninsula (with the aid of stones and boulders) on which it sits. These early efforts were fraught with difficulty as waves battered the extension, eating away at it.
Nevertheless, an impressive fort was finally erected with the capacity for large artillery forces, which would both defend the harbor and ward off enemy fire in the event of a siege.
The fortress was also equipped with a water tank, a bakery and a mill, allowing it to be self-sufficient over a prolonged period of time.
And, of course, the fort would have been incomplete without the winged lion of Saint Mark, the symbol of the Most Serene Republic.
The fortress was also used by the Turks, who named it the big Koules, distinguishing it from the Small Koules, the second fortress built across the way from this one in order to complete the harbor’s ring of protection (The small fortress was torn down in 1936 during construction of Heraklion’s new harbor).
Nowadays the open-air top floor of the Big Koules hosts cultural events and concerts during the summer months.
The Venetian dockyards, or arsenals of Heraklion, located across from Rocca la Mare, reflected the harbor’s importance and stature.
Unfortunately, a large portion of the dockyards were destroyed in the 1930s, also for the construction of the new harbor and coastal road.