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  • Across the fortress of Koules, there used to be another "Small Koules"Across the fortress of Koules, there used to be another "Small Koules"© Yiannis Makrakis

Venetian Harbour: the Fortress of “Koules” & “Neoria” (Arsenals)

The harbour of Heraklion has always been an important part of the city and the Cretan civilization at large. During the Venetian period, the harbour of Heraklion was the commercial hub for trading among other important centers of the Mediterranean, such as Egypt, Syria, Cyprus and Rhodes. It was a central dock yard of the Venetians in eastern Mediterranean for both commercial and warships. The Venetian harbour took its final form during the 16th and 17th century after suffering numerous natural disasters and human interventions. Later, the construction of the road and the extension of the port “demanded” the demolition of part of the arsenals (neoria), as well as of two city wall gates that led from the harbour into the city (Gate of Molos and Gate of Neoria). The result of this “renovation” was the harbour as we know it today.


The fortress of Koules is the unquestionable landmark of the city of Heraklion. The name “Koules” originates from the Turkish period and probably comes from the Turkish "Su Kulesi" (water tower), while during the Venetian times it was known as “Castello del Molo” and ‘Rocca a Mare’ (sea fortress). It was built with stone blocks and took its final form somewhere between 1523 and 1540. The fortress was used for the protection of the port and has two storeys:  the ground storey was used for the accommodation of captains and storage. There were also torture chambers and prisons where Cretan rebels were held by the Venetians, and later by the Turks. A small detail that is often unknown, even to locals, is that right across the fortress of Koules during the Turkish period there was another “Small Koules”, built for the reinforcement of the harbour’s defence, which was demolished in 1936.

The promenade starting from the fortress to the lighthouse is one of the favourite walking routes of the locals, especially in the summer. There you will see people of all ages walking or jogging, cycling, fishing, enjoying a romantic date or simply gazing at sea munching corns or pumping seeds, sold by street vendors in the main entrance.

Take a picture in front of the imposing main gate of the fortress with the anaglyph lion of St. Marco, which was the symbol of Venice, and then take a stroll by the sea along with the locals. The whole route to the lighthouse is approximately 3km and it is absolutely relaxing!

Neoria (Arsenals)

Neoria is the ancient Greek word for dock yard or arsenal (“neorion”) and refers to the domed constructions south of the Venetian harbour. They were used by the Venetians for the restoration and construction of commercial and war ships. Initially, there were three complexes of “neoria”: Arsenali Antichi, Arsenali Vechi and Arsenali Nuovi. Nowadays only parts of Arsenali Vechi (southwest of the harbour) and of Arsenali Nuovi (southeast of the harbour) remain, while the rest were demolished for the construction of the road. Next to Arsenali Nuovi there was a sea salt storage area and a large water basin.