Heraklion was founded as the seaport of Knossos, the very center of Minoan civilization, and evolved to be the most important city for all the different rulers of the island of Crete. Through the centuries, these civilizations left behind their markings, some of which are invisible at present while others are still well preserved – and all together combine to give Heraklion its complex character and unique personality. Regard modern Heraklion as the evolution of the mythical Labyrinth – as a maze outlined by great walls and Venetian castles. These boundaries surround cathedrals, fountains, statues and other historical monuments, libraries and museums – as well as University and Olympic infrastructures, modern cafés, abandoned industrial buildings and hidden neighborhoods full of urban legends. It is this very aspect of Heraklion we would like to introduce you on this run – will you join us?
Our run will begin at Eleftheria’s Square, the largest free area of the historical center of Heraklion and one of the most important reference points of the city. It is also known as “The three Arcs”, after three Venetian gates that used to be there – the arcs are not saved today, but even so, the old name of the place prevailed. Eleftheria’s Square changed many forms through last decades, and played always a crucial part in city’s life – as the traditional meeting point for a walk or coffee break, as the place where all the protests begun, as an exhibition center, as a place ideal for skating or biking. Our run will begin there, as an ideal place for warming up, and getting to know one another.
We will continue through Georgiade’s Park, running under the trees, in order to get into the Moat that surrounds the outer part of the Walls. As a matter of fact, it was never flooded by water as it was originally designed – however, we can let our imagination run free and picture it as it was supposed to be. With no trees at all, filled by the Cretan sea, impressive and startling, it should be a spectacle to remember… After this small heating, we will be ready to get outside the Moat, enter the city through Jesus’ Gate and run on Bastione Vitturi, in order to get on the Walls for first time. We will run following a quite wide trail that inclines over Jesus’ Gate until Bastione di Gesu – there we will for the first time have a great view of Heraklion from above. We will continue running on the Walls following a flat trail, surpass two open-air theaters placed in the Moat (Nikos Kazantzakis’ Garden Theater and Manos Chatzidakis’ Theater, two places strictly attached to cultural events of Heraklion) and Municipality Herbs Garden and we will reach Bastione di Martinengo. Nikos Kazantzakis, one of the greatest writers of Greece was buried there, staring at the Cretan Sea and his beloved homeland in eternity.
We will continue running on the Walls, passing by Municipality’s open air cinema, Eleftherias Stadium (most of Cretan runners and track athletes made there their first steps…) and Chanioporta, city’s greatest gate. There, our trail will decline until Bastione di Saint Andreas, where Walls meat the seaside. The view there is unobstructed. Psiloritis, the tallest mountain of the island, Strumbulas, the pyramid shaped mountain, Giouchtas, sleeping Zeus’ head, surround the city – while the island of Dia, the legendary petrified sea-monster, prevails on the northern horizon.
Our run will continue downhill on the Walls, and we enter the city once again. We will run backwards through the inner part of the Walls, we will pass an abandoned barrack and we will cross impressive Chanioprta to get outside Old Town. The main avenue follows the Moat on the outer perimeter of the Walls and we will follow it until we get by the seafront once again. At this point, our run will continue by the seaside, turning west, away from city’s center. Coastal face of Heraklion used to be neglected for decades, hidden by industrial infrastructures and large warehouses. By the beginning of 20th century, it was totally reformed and today, almost nothing reminds us of this past. A wide pathway welcomes daily numerous visitors, who enjoy the refreshing sea breeze. We will run through this pathway, adorned by graffities, fountains and playgrounds, until we will meet Pancretan Stadium, which was constructed in order to accommodate 2004’s Olympic Games.
Our run will return to once again arrive in the Old Town, following the seafront. Venetian Walls used to surround Heraklion – however, the northern part of the Wall is not preserved in its full length today. Industrial buildings, modern blocks of flats and, mainly, the seaside avenue, constructed at the beginning of 20th century, destroyed or hid the fortification seafront, already wounded by the strong northern winds – sad as it may be, we can even so follow the trail of the Walls. We will run by Natural History Museum, Dermatas gate, Historical Museum, and we will finally meet the Venetian Cathedral of Saints Paul and Saint Peter. There, we will follow Handakos Street (constructed over the old Arab-Byzantine Wall) which will lead us to Lions Square – the very heart of the city. The Fountain of the Lions, constructed originally to be a copy of Alhambras’ equivalent in Granada, Spain, is the most known point of reference for citizens of Heraklion and it is surrounded by Vikelea Municipal Library and St. Marcos’ cathedral.
We will show self-control there and say no to the delicious bougatsa pie (another important point of reference…!) and continue our run through narrow and hidden streets until Byzantine Art Museum of St. Katherine and of course St. Minas’ Cathedral (the protector of the city, with many stories and legends attributed to him). We will cross the maze of Lakos, the old neighborhood of brothels and gangsters, full of memories and urban legends, until we will meet the Walls once again, just behind the modern Cultural Center. Thereon, we will reverse, in order to cross the Old Market, full of smells and noises, and Daedalou Street, constructed as well over the old Arab-Byzantine Wall, which will lead us again over Lions’ Square.
There, we will follow Delusions’ Street, which passes in front of the Venetian Loggia (accommodating City’s Hall) and St. Titus Cathedral, leading to the astonishing Old Port and, of course, Koules, one of the most known landmarks of the city – a strong castle that secured Heraklion’s port. Its reputation is a bit dark, as it served as a prison for the Cretan rebels during the ottoman period. Even so, Kastrinis love the old castle that outstands for almost five centuries the rough Cretan sea, symbolizing thus the free people spirit, and people gather here daily – to walk, to run, to cycle, to fish, to play guitar, to philosophize about life.
Leaving the port behind signalizes that our run is near to its end. We will run in front of Neoria, the old Venetian shipyards, and will incline over Baufort Street, that lays over the eastern part of the Walls and ends just in front of the Arcaehological Museum, to the northern part of Eleftherias square, where we started our run earlier.
We can understand that 15 kilometers may sound quite a distance – but do believe us, we will have to do a lot of talking, and our run will end before you expect it. And afterwards, we will have a great excuse to succumb without regrets to kalitsounia, loukoumades, pies, ntakos, bougatsa and all the other traditional delicacies! Isn’t it a good reason to run after all?