You may wish to read an introduction to the history of Venetian Crete first.
This page covers the sea fortress and Venetian monuments of the town: the walls and a historic outline of Candia during the Venetian rule are covered in page one.
(above) The Sea Castle and the isle of Dia; (middle) its southern side; (below) its eastern side
Opposite to Candia is
the uninhabited isle of Dia, which is said to have its name from Jupiter; is called Standia by Europeans; there are three good ports to the
south of it, where the ships of the Maltese, as well as others, usually
anchored during the siege of Candia. (..) The port is made by two points of rocks that run out into the sea on the
east, west, and part of the north side, on which walls have been built,
and the port is defended by a strong castle.
Richard Pococke - A Description of the East and Some Other Countries - 1745.
The artificial Port is secured from the No wind by a Mole about 200 yards long, with a strong and large Castle at the head, called Castel del Molo having 20 great Guns. From the South is a low point of land, which runs into the Sea No. which secures it from the Easterly wind's, and makes the entrance not above 30 yards wide.
Bernard Randolph, b. 1643. The present state of the islands in the archipelago.
In the first half of the XVIth century Ottoman corsairs became the terror of the Christians living on the Mediterranean shores. One of them, Hayreddin Barbarossa (Red Beard), became the admiral of the Ottoman navy and in 1538 he defeated a large Spanish-Venetian fleet at Preveza; after this victory he raided several locations on Crete without fear of being attacked. In 1540 the Venetians hastened to complete a fortress at the entrance of the harbour of Candia in order to protect the town from raids.
In the second half of the XVIth century the Venetians turned large merchant galleys into galeazze, a new type of warship; they were equipped with many guns and although slow they were decisive in ensuring the 1571 Christian victory at Lepanto. They were veritable floating fortresses which provided the Venetian fleet with an edge over the Ottoman one.
The sea fortress when compared to the land walls is definitely a minor fortification. During the long siege of Candia in 1648-1669 however the defenders did not have to worry very much about Ottoman attacks from the sea, because the Venetian fleet was moored in the harbour and the galeazze complemented the cannon of the sea fortress.
Winged lions of St. Mark, the symbol of the Venetian Republic on the walls of the sea fortress
The port, which is enclosed,
like that of Khanea, by Venetian moles, lies on the
eastern side, and faces east, like the port of Retimo.
Over a tower, which commands its entrance from
the sea, the lion of St. Mark may be seen in two
Henry Fanshawe Tozer - The islands of the Aegean Sea. Published 1890, but Tozer began his travels in 1874
The Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Venice fought seven wars over a period of 250 years, but there was not a real enmity between them; this is testified to by the many Lions of St. Mark which were not destroyed at Candia and other fortresses conquered by the Ottomans, e.g. Modoni.
Shipyard halls in the southern part of the harbour
The Port is almost round, and secure against any wind, for Gallys and smaller Vessels, but there is not water enough for ships of any considerable bigness. It is fill'd very much with the rubbish, that the rains carryed into it, from the City. (..) There are the ruins of 12 Arches of the Arsenal, and about 6 Arches are yet entire, but they use them only to work in when the Gallys are there: No Gallys having been built here. Randolph
The entrance of the port is narrow and difficult, having only nine feet water, and there is but fifteen within, but there is a good road without the basin; there are several fine arsenals about it which are arched over, in order to build or lay up ships or galeotes, though many of them have been destroyed. Pococke
In 1570 when the Ottomans landed on Cyprus and laid siege to Famagusta the Venetians withdrew their warships from that port, a mistake they did not repeat eighty years later at Candia. One of the reasons for this different course of action lay in the availability of a shipyard with 19 large halls inside the harbour. At that time ships required frequent maintenance to be able to effectively sail and without an operating shipyard they would rapidly become useless.
Another large vaulted hall in the eastern part of the harbour
On the land side, partly entire, and
partly in ruins, stand the lofly arched roofs of the
docks or sheds that were used for the Venetian
Shipyard facilities were complemented by large warehouses and a very large water cistern. During the Ottoman siege fresh water was collected by Venetian ships at Dia, whereas other crucial supplies, such as timber and salt, came from the islands of the Archipelago (the Cycladic Islands); only Tino was a Venetian possession, but during the war many other islands were occupied by the Venetians, e.g. Tenedos.
Fontana Morosini and in the background St. Mark's and the Venetian Loggia
The street from the Mole to the chief Piazza is in good repair, being broad and pav'd with an even stone; the houses are also well inhabited. Randolph
Before the Ottomans lay siege to Candia, the inhabitants of the town could rely on the water supplied by an aqueduct which the Venetians completed in 1628. It ended at a large fountain which is called Morosini and it is usually associated with Francesco Morosini, the last Venetian governor of the town, but it was built when he was a boy of nine so the name refers to another member of the family.
Fontana Morosini: (upper left corner) medieval lions; (upper right corner) a triton, a mermaid and a dolphin; (lower left corner) the abduction of Europa (a similar relief is shown in the image used as background for this page); (lower right corner) mermaid playing the violin
In the piazza there is a fine fountain of the work of Vincenzo (?); the
lower basin is adorned with excellent bas reliefs; the upper basin is
supported by four lions, and had in the middle a fine statue by the same hand, which the Turks destroyed. Pococke
The fountain had a very practical purpose and the six small basins projecting from the main one were aimed at allowing many people to fill their jars at the same time, yet the decoration of the fountain was very elaborate. The four lions supporting the upper basin (with a statue of Neptune) are of medieval origin, whereas the reliefs which decorate the lower basin reflect Italian XVIIth century tastes; two reliefs seem to portray the abduction of Europa, a Phoenician girl, by Zeus, disguised as a bull; this mythical tale was linked to Crete because Zeus seized the young woman under the shade of a tree near Gortyn, on the southern part of the island.
Similar to the Morosini, the Bembo were a Venetian family who gave the Republic many magistrates including a doge, the head of state. Gianmatteo Bembo was the Provveditor General (governor) of Candia and in 1552-1554 he built a fountain which was decorated with an ancient statue found at Ierapetra on the south-eastern part of the island.
(left) Details of Fontana Bembo; (right) Fontana Sagredo
The Venetian governors of the island had also the more pompous title of Duca di Candia, however they were not absolute rulers;
the Republic appointed other officers who assisted (and controlled) the governors; this explains why several coats of arms of local Venetian officers were placed on monuments, bastions and gates to celebrate their completion.
The Sagredo were another Venetian noble family (two doge) and their name is associated with a third (reconstructed) fountain on the left side of the governors' residence.
(left) Loggia; (right) metopes (now at the Historical Museum of Iraklion)
The great Hall, formerly called La Sala di Consiglio, is a very stately building of white Marble, with several works in Basso Relievo. Randolph
The city is well built, though some parts of it near the ramparts lie waste; the streets are broad and handsome, and the shops built after the Venetian manner. A wall is standing of the antient palace of the governors. Pococke
Venetian governors resided in a palace near the Morosini fountain at the end of the main street of Candia which started at the harbour. The building was not just a private residence, but it housed public offices and it was a meeting place for the local noblemen; it was preceded by a large Palladian style loggia which was built at the same time as the fountain. Today the building houses the Town Hall of Iraklion and it has been restored to its pristine state, after changes made by the Ottomans. The original metopes which decorated the cornice of the ground floor have been replaced by copies.
(left) St. Mark's; (right) reconstructed portal inside the church
Not above one eighthpart of the houses, that formerly were, are now inhabited, very few being left entire, nor do the Turks repair any but those where they dwell; the chief Mosque is well repair'd, it was formerly a Church dedicated to St Mark, and stands to the Et of the great Piazza. Randolph
There are in Candia six thousand men belonging to the six bodies of the Turkish soldiery, but those include all the Turks who are fit to bear arms; for they all belong to some military body: They have about fourteen mosques, six or seven of which were churches. Pococke
The Catholic Cathedral of Candia was dedicated to St. Mark, the patron saint of Venice. It had a separate tall bell tower similar to that of St. Mark's Square in Venice; the Ottomans turned the church into a mosque and replaced the bell tower with a minaret which was eventually pulled down in the 1920s when the Muslim inhabitants of Candia left the town. The building currently houses the Municipal Art Gallery.
There are some families
of Armenians, who have a church; the Greeks likewise have a church
belonging to the convent of mount Sinai, and another at the house of the
metropolitan. The capuchins have a small convent and chapel for the
consul and French merchants, and the Jews a synagogue. Pococke
The monastery of St. Catherine's was built in 1555 and it was dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria (or of the Wheel). It belonged to monks coming from the famous monastery by the same name which is located on Mount Sinai in Egypt.
The Ottoman Empire tolerated three non-Muslim communities (millet), i.e. Greek Orthodox, Armenians and Jews. In some islands of the Aegean Sea, Catholics were allowed to profess their faith under the patronage of the King of France, a traditional ally of the Ottoman Sultans.
St. Peter's, a former Dominican monastery
Venice was a cosmopolitan city and the Republic of Venice, when compared to other European countries, was rather tolerant in religious matters. Venetian rulers had to strike a balance between the Republic being a Catholic country and the Orthodox faith of most of its Greek subjects. The great Catholic orders such as Jesuits, Franciscans and Dominicans all established monasteries and nunneries in Candia, but this did not lead to mass conversions to Catholicism.
The number of the Inhabitants of the City is not reckoned to be above 10000 with
Greeks and Jews. Since the taking the place, they have granted liberty to all, who will come to inhabit there, but all their incouragement cannot bring the Candiotes to dwell there. Formerly the Plain was full of Olive trees, with delightsom pleasure-houses and gardens. Now nothing but ruins are to be seen. Randolph
Sebil are small kiosks where passers-by were offered glasses of water; they were very popular at Constantinople where sultans and high rank officers built them as an act of charity. Today the only remaining sebil in Iraklion has been converted into a café, which is a use not very dissimilar from the original one. Other traditional Ottoman fountains can be found by wandering about in the old town.
St. Titus was a disciple of St. Paul and he is regarded as the founder of the Cretan church; a large basilica was dedicated to him at Gortyn in the VIth century. The relics of the saint were eventually moved to Candia and they were kept inside another church dedicated to him. When in 1669 the Venetians agreed to surrender the town they brought with them all the relics of Candia including those of St. Titus.
The church of St. Titus was turned into a mosque which collapsed in 1856 because of an earthquake.
The Ottomans pulled down the ruined building and erected a brand new mosque which eventually was converted into a church in the 1920s.
In 1966 Pope Paul VI returned the skull of the saint to Iraklion (and the head of St. Andrew to Patras).
Return to page one: the walls.
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||Corfų (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, Passavā and Chielefā Mistrā 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.