The Castles of Crete

Tell the Fascinating History of Kriti

Castles of Crete - Venetian ruins at Gramvousa (image by Michael Brys)

Our stunning castles of Crete...

Starting with ruined kastello at Gramvousa on the west coast, Kriti is dotted with high ramparts in various states of disrepair. Considering that this island is the birthplace of European civilisation, beginning at least in 2000 BC if not earlier, there is a remarkable amount of history that can be found here, and many interesting days can be enjoyed visiting the beautiful historic castles.

The Venetian castle on the strategic islet of Gramvousa was built in the 13th century and raided many times by pirates including Barbarossa. Today only ruins remain, yet the islet is a sanctuary surrounded by crystal clear waters. Day tours or sailing trips are available to this islet and its lagoon – called Balos – trips always offer visitors the opportunity to walk up the steep path to the castle, well worth the heartburn, rewarding castle lovers with magnificent views.

Balos Lagoon and Gramvousa Islet

The town of Kastelli Kissamos is named after a castle that was built in the 16th century by the Venetians. This vibrant rural centre is located in the Chania prefecture in the west of Crete, a rich producer of olive oil. The town looks over the protected waters of Kissamos bay, and is within striking distance of some of the most beautiful untouched beaches of Crete.

The southern Cretan town of Paleochora also boasts ruins of a kastro which was destroyed by Pirate Barbarossa. Built on a thin finger of land pointing out into the Libyan Sea, this lonely outpost was prone to pirate attacks. The rugged mountains of Crete made access difficult and today make the area popular with hikers, nature lovers and bird watchers who come to see the rare Bearded Vultures.

Town Walls Chania

Chania Town Wall (image by Martin Bellam)

The magnificent port of Chania, once known as the "Venice of the East " where those famously accomplished Venetians built strong buttress walls around the city, which still stand, and her fortress at the entrance to the harbour, which is now in ruins.

Chania’s old town is full of nooks and crannies and full of history, that of the Minoans, the Arabs, Saracens and others that wove their way into Crete's fabric over her long lifetime.

Venetian Castles of Crete

Frangokastello Castle on the beach of the same name

Frangokastello (left) is one of the fullest castles remaining in Crete. This castle has a violent and turbulent history, and the spooky story of hauntings to her credit. Located on an isolated beach on the rugged south coast of Crete, this castle was built in the 1371 century by Venetians. Sitting on the coast of one of the proudest regions of Crete, Sfakia, this strategic point was valiantly defended by Cretan warriors against the Turks on the 18th of May 1828. Many deaths occurred.

To this day, locals report a ghostly parade of these black clad Sfakian men from the castle to the nearby church, on or about the anniversary of the battle. This has been witnessed many times and even the subject of paranormal investigation.

Even without the haunting, Frangokastello is an enigmatic location which cries out for soul searching, surrounded by the vast mountains of Kriti and swept by the sea.

Fortezza at Rethymnon

Rethymnon with Fortezza at Sunset (image by Mureena)

Rethymnon (above), a town on the north coast of Crete, is the capital of the prefecture of the same name, and has a proud and fascinating history. The old town of this charismatic city is a maze of narrow streets displaying beautiful Venetian architecture, topped on the highest point by the Fortezza, dating from 1578.

This castle dominates the town and gives its character and a good landmark when you are getting lost in the laneways. In summer the Renaissance Festival hosts many events within the castle walls, such as plays and music. The castle comes alive with hustle and bustle, music and laughter. 

Castello Del Molo

Castello del Molo, Heraklion

In Heraklion is a sea fort castle Castello del Molo or Koules which is so beautiful, crowned with the stunning Lion of St Mark above the entrance, and now vibrates as an open air theatre in summer festivals. 

Iraklion Koules Fortress (image by Damianos Chronakis)

Minoan Castles of Crete

Knossos Palace (image by CT Snow)

The palace of Knossos, home of King Minos, the wealthiest palace of the peace loving Minoans, dates from 2000 BC and is considered one of the oldest settlements in European civilisation. Located 5 kms outside the city of Heraklion, the palace grounds are extensive and well worth a visit. The exotic reproduction and reconstruction in the early twentieth century by amateur archaeologists creates a distinct atmosphere, leaving visitors transported to Minoan times. The Palace of Knossos…

Eastern Crete

Zakros Palace

Far in the eastern coast of Crete, the ancient Palace at Zakros (above) was a flourishing trading hub of the Minoans dating from 2000 BC.

Located in beautiful gorge country, perfect for hiking and nature lovers, and sitting just behind one of the prettiest beaches in western Crete, this palace was home to untold treasures.

More about Zakros Gorge…

Beach village of Kato Zakros and Zakros Palace…

Ierapetra Castle

Kales, the seaside castle in Ierapetra, (left) a busy port town on the south-west coast of Crete, was a fortress built by the Venetians in the 13th century.

The Castles of Crete tell us the story of Crete's history, as we sit amongst the stones and listen to their whispers...

To visit the castles of Crete, see our page about getting around in Crete...

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Thalori Retreat, Crete
Thalori Retreat
Heraklion, Crete

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