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Inside the Koules fortress of Heraklion

The Koules fortress of Heraklion

On the western pier of the Heraklion harbour stands an imposing Venetian fortress known as Koules, or Rocca a Mare or Castello a Mare, meaning “Rock of the Sea” or “Castle of the Sea” accordingly. This monument stands strong and dominates the harbour of Heraklion for centuries, protecting the city and adding with its grand frame to the compelling coastline and the rich history of the island of Crete.

The fortress of Koules was initially built by the Venetians in the early 16th century, but it was destroyed, rebuilt, expanded and renovated many times since then. It is a square, thick brick-walled, two storey high construction with heavily vaulted doors that made it almost impenetrable, and an array of cannons on the ramparts of the roof that could keep any intruder away.

The fortress was primarily used for military supply storage and soldier quarters, but it has changed usage many times in the course of the centuries. It has served as a prison whose dungeons have witnessed the tortures of many Cretan patriots who fought against the Ottomans, as barracks for the soldiers keeping the fort, and its architecture has been altered to include a church, a mill, a bakery, a water reservoir, in order to cater to the soldiers’ needs.

On the outside walls of the fortress the Winged Lion of Venice was proudly depicted by marble plaques that survive until today, sadly decapitated though. The Koules fortress is now a significant landmark of the city of Heraklion, and it is open to the public at museum hours. Thanks to its enchanting, historical scenery and the panoramic view of the city it provides, the fortress frequently hosts cultural events such as music recitals, take the chance if you get it for a memorable night at the Koules fortress of Heraklion!