A temple dedicated to the patron saint of Venice, St. Mark, could not be missing from the Venetian-occupied Heraklion. Situated right across lions’ square (Morosini fountain), the Basilica now houses the Municipal Art Gallery. This is where the official ceremonies of the Venetian administration were held, and where the Venetian nobles were buried in sarcophagus. The palace of the Venetian Duke was located opposite to the Basilica, but only parts of it are preserved, buried within modern establishments, shops and cafes. Its construction started in 1239 and went through various phases until its final renovation in 1956. During the Turkish period it was converted to a Mosque and the bell tower was replaced with a minaret. Unfortunately, many valuable frescoes and Christian tombs were destroyed during this period. Later, it housed a... movie theatre and then a storage area.
Today it is restored in its initial form (three aisles with two lines of pillars) and houses art exhibitions and various cultural events, such as classical or jazz music concerts. If you are lucky, you might encounter the Heraklion Philharmonic Orchestra in its courtyard rehearsing covers of popular music pieces... from Lady Gaga to Michael Jackson!
Throughout the day, and especially at nights, the stairs of the Basilica become a favourite hangout of the youth, who sit there drinking beers or eating souvlaki, watching the crowds pass by. This activity also has a long tradition in the city of Heraklion!