You may wish to read an introduction to the history of Venetian Crete first.
The next morning we descended to Megalo-castron. (..) A few persons of the upper class prefer to call it Heracleion, using the name of
the ancient city which occupied the site. This was
the port of Cnossus, and the ruins of that ancient
capital - if so they can be called, for nothing but
a single wall remains - are to be seen at an hour's
distance to the south. (..) As to the name of Candia,
by which Megalo-castron is better known in Western
Europe. (..) Though it was commonly employed by the Venetians
for the city, it is not of Italian but of Arabic origin,
for it was given to the place by the Saracens, when
they conquered Crete in the ninth century, and
constructed a fortified camp here, surrounded by
an immense moat (khandak).
Henry Fanshawe Tozer - The islands of the Aegean Sea. Published 1890, but Tozer began his travels in 1874
During the Roman Empire Heraclium was a minor port at the centre of the northern coast of Crete, whereas Gortyn, a town on the southern part of the island was the capital of the province.
The Arabs conquered Crete in 826 and they destroyed Gortyn; Heraclium became more important and it was renamed Handax. When the Venetians acquired control of Crete after the 1204 conquest of Constantinople by the Frank knights of the Fourth Crusade, they Italianized the name of the town into Candia and they utilized it to indicate the whole island.
Historical Museum of Iraklion; scale model of the walls of Candia in the XVIIth century; in the foreground the western bastions and a hornwork (a bastion outside the wall curtain having the shape of an H); the older part of the town was located
near the harbour and was protected by a ditch. The image used as background for this page shows the walls of Candia in a 1625 Venetian engraving
Candia, so famous, and generally known for the brave defence it made against the Turk, appears by the ruins to have been one of the best built Citys in the midd-land Seas. It is seated on the North side of the Island, almost midd-way between Canea and Sittia, in a pleasant Bay.
Bernard Randolph, b. 1643. The present state of the islands in the archipelago.
The city of Candia, before it was fortified by the Venetians, was but a small town, encompassing its port, and extended, as it is said, by Tramata gate from the north, to Sabionera gate on the east. The present city, which is of a semicircular figure, and very strongly fortified, may be about four miles in circumference, though they affirm that it is twice as much.
Richard Pococke - A Description of the East and Some Other Countries - 1745.
Tracé à l'italienne (designed in the Italian style) is how the French called the fortification pattern which was developed in Italy in the second half of the XVth century and which was adopted throughout Europe in the following century. The English term for such a fortification system is star fort, because the overall outline of walls and bastions resembles a star. The walls of Candia were built in 1540-1570 on the basis of a plan designed by Michele Sammicheli, one of the best known Italian military architects, who in 1535 was appointed Ingegnere Capo della Repubblica by the Venetian Senate. In Italy Sammicheli designed the walls of Verona and Forte S. Andrea at the entrance to the lagoon of Venice. This page covers the walls while the sea fortress and some Venetian monuments are covered in a separate page.
The city was taken by the Turks in one thousand six hundred sixty-nine, after a siege and
blockade of twenty three years; the Venetians having lost thirty thousand
men in the siege, and the Turks seventy thousand (..) so that it
is deservedly reckoned one of the most famous sieges recorded in history. Pococke
The fame of the place in history mainly depends on its gallant defence against the Turks by the Venetians under Morosini, which ended in a capitulation in 1669. Tozer
The City is not repair'd towards the land, where the Walls are so much shaken, that it will require a great deal of time and cost to fortify them. (..) The Fort of St Andrea at the N. Wt. of the City is well repaired, having a double wall towards the Sea. Randolph
The optimal design of the fortifications developed by Sammicheli could not be implemented at the junctions between land fortifications and maritime walls. Bastion S. Andrea which was located at the western end of the land walls was subject to repeated attacks by the Ottomans in 1668 and again in 1669.
Road on the walls leading to Pantocrator bastion
All Europe has heard of this great Seige, how many thousand Bombs were cast into the City; How many Mines, and Fornellos were blown up; and how many bold assaults the Turks made. They had at last workt themselves so near the Walls that it was impossible for the besieged to make use of any of their great Guns. For no sooner could a man appear to level a Gun, but there was a shower of bullets and arrows, so that the Turks would often attempt to undermine the Walls, and the Venetians did countermine them, and when they met under ground, they fought most desperately. Randolph
The term wall when applied to those of Candia does not properly reflect the structure of its fortifications which are made up of gigantic earthen banks able to absorb the impact of cannon warfare. They mark a development versus previous types of star fort walls such as those built at Rhodes which were based on traditional walls, although thicker then medieval ones. Because their cannon were unable to breach the walls, the Ottomans dug tunnels to place and ignite charges of gunpowder at their base.
(above) Walls between Pantocrator and Bethlehem bastions; (below) Bethlehem bastion which shows a very blunt end
It will take up three hours to walk round the out-works. There are several mines which were never blown up; Every mine had a distinct name, I was in one mine which was above a mile in length, being about 6 foot high and three broad. All the plain for above two miles without the Walls is like a new plow'd field, where you cannot walk, but must see pieces of dead mens bones. (..) The Turks take a delight to give an account of the strength of the place, and especially will shew you a small Cave or arch, where the Venetian General did use to sleep (as they tell you) to secure himself from the Bombs. Randolph
Seven large bastions strengthened the walls of Candia; five of them ended with a very obtuse angle which is rather unusual, while two (Martinengo and Vitturi) had a pointed angle because they were located at turning points of the wall curtain.
Porta del Gesù: (left) external gate; (inset) relief above the gate with the Monogram of Christ after which the gate was named; (right) bastion protecting the gate which can be seen in the right part of the image
July 1795. It is strongly fortified with Venetian fortifications, which are now, as usual, neglected, but not much
injured, and would still, I should think, stand a strong
siege if defended by anybody but Turks.
The letters of John B.S. Morritt of Rokeby descriptive of journeys in Europe and Asia Minor in the years 1794-1796.
It is still surrounded by the massive Venetian walls, and in approaching from the land side a deep moat has to be crossed, and a winding passage traversed, before the gateway is reached. Tozer
Usually historical gates had a celebratory purpose, but in the case of Candia, Sammicheli downplayed this aspect in favour of added security; from the outside, the three gates of the town were almost invisible as each entrance opened behind a bastion. As a matter of fact the Ottomans during their long siege of Candia did not even attempt to enter the town by attacking a gate, as they knew that the long tunnel which led to its internal gate was mined.
Historical Museum of Iraklion: (upper left corner) drawing of Porta del Gesù (you may wish to compare it to Porta Palio at Verona); (upper right corner) relief portraying an aggressive winged lion of St. Mark (the symbol of the Venetian Republic) protecting the city of Candia (represented by a fortress with a bell tower); (lower left corner) photo showing Porta S. Giorgio before it was demolished; (lower right corner) relief of the gate showing St. George holding a Venetian coat of arms
The Gates of Candia are the best I ever saw, the Arch or Gate-house being about 100 yards long, and the Gates 10 broad, the Arch is all built of firm stone. Randolph
What the three gates lacked in external decoration was made up for by their internal sides; Porta del Gesù, the southern gate has a distinct Renaissance aspect and is similar to Porta del Pantocratore (in 2011 they were being restored). Porta S. Giorgio had a different design, but unfortunately it was pulled down to make room for a new road.
(above) Coats of arms of four Venetian officers and at the centre the coat of arms of Doge Girolamo Priuli at former Porta S. Giorgio (1565); (below) similar relief at Porta del Gesù (1567). The letters are the initials of the names (in Latin) HP = Hieronymus Priulus
The fortifications of Nicosia and Famagusta on Cyprus were built at the same time as those of Candia.
Notwithsatnding their new walls the two towns fell to the Ottomans in 1570 and 1571 whereas the walls of Candia were able to prevent the Ottomans from seizing the town for more than twenty years.
The key factor which allowed for this extraordinary result was the presence of the Venetian fleet which included galeazze, large warships equipped with heavy artillery. When the Ottomans launched their first attack they did it at Bastione Martinengo, the southernmost point of the walls which was located inland, to avoid their camp being under the fire of the galeazze. Bastione Martinengo however was designed having in mind it could be specially targeted by the enemy; Ottoman losses were so heavy that they were one of the causes of a revolt which led to the deposition (and strangling) of Sultan Ibrahim.
The defence of Candia was not based only on repelling the assailants, but also on the Venetian fleet attacking Ottoman ships
to cut supplies to the enemy army in Candia and even to Constantinople. The Dardanelles were blockaded twice and the Ottomans had to build new fortresses on them to prevent the Venetians entering the Marmara Sea and eventually reaching Constantinople.
The resistance of Candia raised admiration in Europe and many volunteers came to help in the defence. Pope Alexander VII launched an appeal to save Candia and even France, a traditional ally of the Sultan, sent a battalion, although they fought under the papal flag, in order not to endanger relations with the Ottomans.
(left) Vituri Bastion; (right) inscription celebrating the completion of the bastion by Giovanni Vitturi
After a close Siege for near 2 years continuance, the Vizier there in person, and with him the best of all the Ottoman Forces, they were forced to surrender, yet upon the most honorable termes, that they themselves could propose; carrying away with them not only their Cannon, and all other amunition, but also the bells, which were in the Steeples, and whatever else they thought worth the Labour. The Vizier was so over-joyed, that the City was surrender'd to him, that he appointed several of the Turkish boats, to assist the Venetians, if they should have occasion of their help in carrying their goods to the ships. Randolph
In 1669, after an unsuccessful attempt to break the siege, the French decided to withdraw their troops. Francesco Morosini, the Venetian commander, started negotiations with Fazil Ahmet Pacha, the Grand Vizier who was leading the Ottoman army in person. The war had strained the resources of both Venice and the Ottoman Empire, so an acceptable agreement was welcome by both parties. The Venetians were allowed to leave Candia without being attacked during this phase.
(upper left corner) 1568 winged lion near Bethlehem bastion; (lower left corner and right) reliefs between Martinengo and il Gesù bastions
At the Greeks leaving Candia there happned a most sad accident; a new ship called La Fregatta Galliera (..) being between a little Island called Ovo, and the Port of Cerigo, the ship open'd, and not a man was saved. The rest of the Fleet got well, some to Zante, others to Ceffalonia, Corfu and Venice, landing the Greeks as they had a fancy to the place which they came to, or as they found friends. Thus they left their Estates to the Enemy, and not above 5 or 6 Greeks remained, who being in years, and sickly withal, desir'd leave of the General, that they might tarry, and end their days there. Randolph
Venice retained possession of three fortresses on islets protecting natural harbours (Grambusa, Souda and Spinalonga) along the coast of Crete. When eventually the Ottomans entered Candia it is said that they did not find more than 50 people. There was no pillage and no harm was done to the signs of the previous rulers: this explains why in Candia there are so many reliefs with the symbol of Venice. An indirect tribute to the work of Sammicheli can be found in the name used by the Ottomans to designate the town: Megalo Kastro (in Greek: the Great Castle). In 1898 when Crete was de-facto detached from the Ottoman Empire, the town went back to its ancient name (which is also spelt as Heraklion and Heraclion).
Move to page two: other Venetian monuments.
Introductory page on the Venetian fortresses in Crete
An Excursion to Moni Arkadi
La Canea (Xania) and Souda
An Excursion to Kritsa
Sittia and Paleocastro
Castelfranco (Frangokastelo) and other castles on the southern coast
Other Venetian fortresses in Greece:
|Geographic area||Location||Ionian Islands||Corfù (Kerkyra) Paxo (Paxi) Santa Maura (Lefkadas) Cefalonia (Kephallonia) Asso (Assos) Itaca (Ithaki) Zante (Zachintos) Cerigo (Kythera)||Greek Mainland||Butrinto (Butrint) Parga Preveza and Azio (Aktion) Vonizza (Vonitsa) Lepanto (Nafpaktos) Atene (Athens)||Peloponnese (Morea)||Castel di Morea (Rio), Castel di Rumelia (Antirio) and Patrasso (Patra) Castel Tornese (Hlemoutsi) and Glarenza Navarino (Pilo) and Calamata Modon (Methoni) Corone (Koroni) Braccio di Maina, Zarnata, Passavà and Chielefà Mistrà Corinto (Korinthos) Argo (Argos) Napoli di Romania (Nafplio) Malvasia (Monemvassia)||Aegean Islands||Negroponte (Chalki) Castelrosso (Karistos) Oreo Lemno (Limnos) Schiatto (Skiathos) Scopello (Skopelos) Alonisso Schiro (Skyros) Andro (Andros) Tino (Tinos) Micono (Mykonos) Siro (Syros) Egina (Aegina) Spezzia (Spetse) Paris (Paros) Antiparis (Andiparos) Nasso (Naxos) Serifo (Serifos) Sifno (Syphnos) Milo (Milos) Argentiera (Kimolos) Santorino (Thira) Folegandro (Folegandros) Stampalia (Astipalea)|
You may refresh your knowledge of the history of Venice in the Levant by reading an abstract from
the History of Venice by Thomas Salmon, published in 1754. The Italian text is accompanied by an English summary.