Heraklion is not a beautiful city. None of the old town picturesque glam and charm of Chania or Rethymnon here. Traffic jams, fights over parking spaces, a busy place. It isn’t cut for tourism, yet it attracts thousands in its tiny, outdated airport that features regularly at the top of the worst European airport lists with no signs of improvement. More arrive by sea at the ferry port, much better structured to accommodate the high flow of people and vehicles, reaching its peak in summer.
Heraklion is the administrative and economic capital of Crete, an urban business centre and a great starting point for excursions to archaeological sites like Knossos and Faistos. That said, the city boasts a few spots of cultural and historical interest of its own, not to mention the rows of restaurants and bars making certain no one misses out on the wonders of the local cuisine, a cultural trip in itself since every part of life in Crete seems to be associated with food.
The Historical Museum of Crete is housed in a neoclassical building, a listed historical monument that once belonged to Andreas Kalokerinos, member of a distinguished family of enterpreneurs with wide range of activities in trade, finance and agriculture, nephew of Minos Kalokerinos, the first excavator of Knossos in 1878.
The house was later expanded into a modern wing to form an exhibition space of 1500 sq. metres that cover seventeen centuries of history.
Starting with a 1:500 scale model replicating the city in the mid-17th century. There are sculpture and ceramics levels and an interesting numismatics section, so relevant last summer when bank closures, capital controls and a wholly unnecessary referendum were still an ongoing
reality nightmare. Wouldn’t it have been nice to go back to the days of the original Bank of Crete, established by the government of the autonomous Cretan State, having been granted the exclusive privilege of issuing banknotes on Crete, for thirty years!
Which brings us to a special section in the exhibition: the study, library and personal possessions of the Cretan banker and politician Emmanouil Tsouderos, who served as Prime Minister of Greece during the Battle of Crete, and subsequently in the exiled Greek government in the Middle East. World War II is an emotionally laden section, as is the collection of books and personal possessions of Nikos Kazantzakis.
And, of course, there could be no Historical Museum of Crete without a few El Grecos, works of the Cretan Domenikos Theotokopoulos.
Heraklion, 04 July 2015
Shared image credits (Konstantinos & Lia)