In 1210 AD, the city of Heraklion passed to the Venetians, the new dominators of Crete, who renamed it “Candia” and made it the capital of the so-called “Regnum of Crete”. The Venetians occupied the city for the following 450 years, and despite some serious conflicts between Cretans and Venetians (especially during the first century), through this time the island knew a golden era of development and cultural renaissance. The fusion of the Venetian cosmopolitan influences and the strong Cretan and Byzantine culture gave birth to the Cretan-venetian art, considered to be the most important facet of Crete’s cultural heritage even today.
Heraklion used to be a fortified city for the greater part of its history – in fact, even today the citizens of Heraklion are called “Kastrini”, meaning “the people of the great Castle”. Venetians named Citta Vechia the part of Heraklion inside the pre-existing Arab-Byzantine walls, while in a long distance around it, they built their magnificent fortification system, an architectural masterpiece of its time. Its construction lasted for almost a century and it is considered the largest fortification system in the Mediterranean. The Venetian Walls are perfectly preserved until today, despite the interventions that took place during the last decades. Time and human activities have wounded them in many ways – even so, the Walls overlook the city and is one of its most important characteristics of Heraklion.
Running on and around the Venetian Walls today, give us the opportunity to see all the parts of an amazing monument (like Bastions, Upper Bastions, Lower Squares, military and citizens gates, the Moat etc), as well as a magnificent view from above of the modern city. We will run up and down the Walls numerous times, both inside and outside their perimeter and we will be able to observe all their facets and hidden parts – and we will do that by following a trail that combines gravel, soil and asphalt, with no special needs in shoes or equipment – the only thing required is good mood!
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 times 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 reach 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 warm up, we will be ready to get on the outside of 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 first time get 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.
Our run continues downhill on the Walls and we enter the city once again. We will run through the inner part of the Walls, in order to see the modern Cultural Center and observe the Walls from down under. We will cross Jesus’ Gate, run outside the city again, pass the two Theaters and enter the Moat once more. The tall eucalyptuses hide the sun and make our run more comfortable. We will enter the city again, uphill along the Walls and continue our run, passing by Municipality’s open air cinema, Eleftherias Stadium (most of Cretan runners and track athletes made their first steps here…) and Chanioporta, city’s greatest gate. There, our trail will decline until Bastione di Saint Andreas, where the 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 horizon.
Our run continues by the seaside. The northern part of the Walls unfortunately is not preserved in its full length today. Industrial infrastructures, 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, the Venetian Cathedral of Saints Paul and Saint Peter and we will suddenly just in front of us see the 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, Kastrini love the old castle that outstands for almost five centuries the rough Cretan sea, symbolizing thus the free people spirit, and peoplee gather here daily – to walk, to run, to cycle, to fish, to play guitar, to philosophize 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 running earlier.
Running over the Walls is an ideal training for local runners – and we are confident that running together with our guests will be a joy both for us and them. Will you join us?