Koules Fort, Heraklion

The imposing medieval fortress of Koules still stands at the beginning of the western breakwater of the modern port of Heraklion. Its real name is Rocca al Mare, named so by its Venetian founders. Koules, or the Great Koules like it is called, was not the sole ruler of the port. Opposite it, in today’s marina pier, a smaller fort (the Small Koules) was standing till the early 20th century, which was demolished to make room for the pier (!). Moroever, Koules was built on the site of another round tower with battlements. But let us learn how the fort evolved both as a building and as a determinant of history. It is well known that, in the Minoan Era, Crete was not threatened by any external enemy, thus there was no need for fortifying the coastlines. These conditions remained unchanged during the Roman and the First Byzantine periods. However, things changed when pirates firstly appeared in the Mediterranean Sea. Then the need fortification of cities and ports arose. The Byzantines were the first to fortify several places of Crete, but not to the extent needed, as they were mostly busy with their internal problems and the danger of the Turks. Thus, Crete in 824AD was conquered easily by the Arabs who looted and destroyed the forts. The Arabs fortified Heraklion, named it Candia, and made it the base for their pirate raids. After several failed attempts, the Byzantines regained Crete under the commands of Nicephorus Phocas in 961, but after 250 years Heraklion was firstly conquered by the Genoese and, after a few years, by the Venetians. The new rulers built new walls, which were very impressive and named it Candia or Grand Castle. For increasing the safety of the harbor, they built the famous fortress of Rocca al Mare, i.e. the Fort of the Sea. This was originally a small tower, as we mentioned earlier. But soon the Venetians realized that the fortification of the port with one tower was insufficient, especially after the discovery of the gunpowder and the invention of cannons. Besides that, the small tower was already severely damaged by the earthquake of 1303 and was not repaired properly. Thus, they decided to build a new larger fort, which would meet their needs. The decision for demolishing the old fort was taken in 1523 by the relevant council, which consisted of the Duke Mark Minios, the Captain Thomas Motsenigo, the engineer Sarakinis and the commander of Infantry, Dakomo. The decision was immediately adopted by the Venice and demolition of the old fort started in the same year. The construction was completed in 1540 and the exorbitant cost was covered by the funds of Venice and Candia. The construction conditions were hard, as the works were interrupted during the winter, due to storms and low temperatures. Also, the basements and the platforms were built using boulders from the Minoan harbor, from the island of Dia and the bay of Fraskia. To construct the protective sea walls, old ships were loaded with stones and were sunk. When the construction finished, an architectural masterpiece emerged. This modern fortification project, in collaboration with the fortress Paliokastro, ensured the safety of the entire Gulf of Heraklion. The fort consists of two floors. The ground floor was divided into 26 apartments for various uses (food stores, ammunition depots, rainwater tanks and prisons). All apartments were lit by large skylights, called sospirali lucernai, starting from the vaulted roof. The fort was also equipped with a bakery, mill and a small church.

Distances from:

Hersonissos: 25 Km
Heraklion: 1.5 Km
Chania: 141 Km
ONYX Rentals: 27 Km