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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.
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 Palaiochora 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.
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.
Frangokastello (pictured) is one of the most intact 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.
Rethymnon (pictured), a town on the north coast of Crete, is the capital of the region 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 lane ways. 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.
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
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 km 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
Far in the eastern coast of Crete, the ancient Palace at Zakros (pictured) 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 the beach village of Kato Zakros and Zakros Palace
In Sitia town, a port town in the east of Crete, Venetians constructed a castle or fortress on the top of the hills as a protective battlement and store for arms. The ruin is now named 'Kazarma' after the Venetian 'Casa di Arma' and sits on the hillside above Sitia with sweeping views over the bay. The building dates from the thirteenth century.
Kales, the ruined seaside castle in Ierapetra, (pictured above and below) a busy town on the south-east coast of Crete, was a fortress built by the Venetians in the 13th century.
The fortress was designed with crenelations in the parapets for defence of the town. An earthquake damaged the structure in 1508 and the Turkish invading forces partially destroyed the fortress in 1647, and it has never been rebuilt. It is thought that the name 'Kales' comes from the Turkish word 'kule' for tower.
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
Take a 1 hour flight from Athens to Heraklion with Aegean Airlines or Olympic Air, with many flights available per day.
Or take a 9.5 hour overnight ferry from Pireaus port of Athens to Heraklion port.
More on flights and ferries below.
Car hire in Crete is a really good idea as it is a large island 60 km by 260 km. There is so much to explore.
When you book with our car rental partners - Rental Centre Crete - you are supporting a local company with excellent service and an easy online booking procedure. We are sure you will be well looked after by the team. Choose from hybrid or non-hybrid vehicles.
"We trust you have enjoyed these tips from the team at We Love Crete. Evíva!"
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