St. The Mark (Βασιλική Αγίου Μάρκου) is one of the most recognizable buildings in Heraklion and one of the most important monuments of the city. This landmark building is located in front of the famous Morosini Lions Fountain in Eleftheriou Venizelou Square in the very center of Heraklion. If you have seen it, you will surely remember the characteristic wooden ceiling in the front, entrance part and six columns connected by five arches.
The basilica was built during the Venetian rule in Crete. In order to strengthen their power over the new colony in Candia (then Heraklion) in 1239, the Venetians erected a basilica dedicated to their patron, i.e. St. Mark. Not only the official ceremonies of the Venetian administration were held here. It was also a burial place for Venetian high-ranking aristocrats, who were placed here in special sarcophagi. It was also here that the proclamations of the princes were announced to the people.
In 1303, the basilica was destroyed in an earthquake but has been restored. Of course, this was not the only earthquake to hit the area. However, the basilica has survived all of them.
Characteristic ceiling at the front
In the years 1645-1648, the rule over Crete gradually passed into Turkish hands. Candia, however, defended itself against the new invader for 22 years. About 30,000 died here during the fights. Cretans, and on the Turkish side, losses reached as much as 120,000. During these fights, the basilica also played its role. In the south-west corner of the church there was a tall bell tower with a clock. During the many years of Turkish siege of the city, the sound of the bell often rang alerting the inhabitants of Turkish bombs. Knowing this, the Turks tried to destroy the belfry, which was repeatedly targeted by Turkish cannons.
The city was surrendered on September 27, 1669. Defenders, including Francesco Morosini, commander of the Venetian forces, left him last. Candia's surrender sealed the final change of power over Crete. Venetian rule was replaced by the rule of the Ottoman Empire, which took over the island for 200 years. The new occupier also changed the name of the city to Megalo Kastro, meaning Great Castle.
The basilica is right next to the Morosini Fountain in Eleftheriou Venizelou Square
St. The brand was transformed into the Defterdarai Ahmet Pasha mosque. The belfry was pulled down and a minaret was built in its place. The new conquerors, disregarding the place of religious worship, destroyed frescoes and Christian graves.
When the Ottoman Empire withdrew from Crete, the local population demolished the minaret in an attempt to wipe out unpleasant symbols reminiscent of the Turkish occupation.
The former basilica passed under the jurisdiction of the National Bank, and later the commune. In 1956, an agreement was signed between the municipality and the Society of Cretan Historical Studies to begin restoration of the building, allowing the building to be restored to its original form. Thanks to this, today it is the pride of the city, which currently serves as the Municipal Art Gallery. Works by various artists from Crete and Greece are exhibited here. The gallery is open to the public every day.
Contemporary interior of the basilica
A few centuries ago, city fountains were created in response to the problem of providing cities with drinking water. It was no different in Rethymno, where several Ottoman fountains and one built during the reign of the Venetians in Crete have been preserved to this day. Rimondi Fountain is known to all who visited this city. It is the only fountain from that period that has survived in the city to our times. Back then, it was an important part of the city's fresh water supply system.