The passage from Marmaris was short and uneventful in pleasant weather conditions, just how Captains like it. However it doesn’t provide me with much to post in a blog! The approaches to the port of Heraklion are straight forward too, and the only point of note was the slight delay for the pilot due to the Aida Diva taking a little longer to tie up than expected. I continued at slow (very slow) speed towards the harbour as instructed by the pilot and was inside the sanctuary of the harbour walls before he made it to the bridge. The berth was 90 degrees to, and adjacent to the one occupied by the much larger Aida Diva, and with the weather conditions near perfect Saga Ruby turned and backed into position before being made fast and readied for our passengers to venture out into Heraklion and beyond.
Heraklion (or Iraklion) is the largest city and the administrative capital of the island of Crete, Greece. It is the 4th largest city in Greece. Heraklion is close to the ruins of the palace of Knossos, which in Minoan times was the largest centre of population on Crete. Though there is no archaeological evidence of it, Knossos may well have had a port at the site of Heraklion as long ago as 2000 BC.
The Minoans, the myth of King Minos, supposedly to have reigned from Knossos, and the story of the labyrinth with its Minotaur guardian are well known to most and are generally the stories and history we associate with Crete. However like most of this region, Crete’s history is a little more complicated than that.
The present city of Heraklion was founded in 824 AD by the Saracens who had taken over the island from the Eastern Roman Empire. The Saracens allowed the port to be used as a safe haven for pirates who operated against Imperial shipping and raided Imperial territory around the Aegean.
In 961 Imperial forces landed in Crete and attacked the city. After a prolonged siege, the city fell. The Saracen inhabitants were slaughtered, the city looted and burned to the ground. Soon rebuilt, the town of Chandax remained under Greek control for the next 243 years.
In 1204, the city was bought by the Republic of Venice as part of a complicated political deal which involved among other things, the Crusaders of the Fourth Crusade restoring the deposed Eastern Roman Emperor Isaac II Angelus to his throne. Chandax was renamed Candia and became the seat of the Duke of Candia, and the Venetian administrative district of Crete became known as "regno di Candia" (kingdom of Candia).
After the Venetians came the Ottoman Empire. During the Cretan War (1645–1669), the Ottomans besieged the city for 21 years, from 1648 to 1669, one of the longest sieges in history. During the Ottoman period, the harbour silted up, so most shipping shifted to Chania in the west of the island.
In 1898 the autonomous Cretan State was created, under Ottoman suzerainty, with Prince George of Greece as its High Commissioner and under international supervision. The island was partitioned into four quarters by the four main powers jostling for power at that time. The four quarters were divided between Italy, Russia, the United Kingdom, and France, who controlled Chania, Rethymnon, Candia, and Lasithi respectively. During this period of direct occupation of the island by the Great Powers (1898–1908), Candia, part of the British zone, was renamed "Heraklion" after the Roman port of Heracleum ("Heracles' city"), whose exact location is unknown. In 1913 with the rest of Crete, Heraklion was incorporated into the Kingdom of Greece after a brief period of autonomy under a provisional Cretan government.
The history of the island has made its people quite hardy and passionate about their identity, though they still remain welcoming and at times can be very generous. Cretan society is well known for notorious family and clan vendettas which remain on the island to date. Cretans also have a tradition of keeping firearms at home, a tradition lasting from the era of resistance against the Ottoman Empire. Nearly every rural household on Crete has at least one unregistered gun. Guns are subject to strict regulation from the Greek government, yet the authorities turn a blind eye, accepting gun possession as their tradition.
Whilst passengers proceeded ashore, the ship’s crew were exercised in one of their regular emergency drills, this time involving an evacuation to the quayside. Most of our drills generally focus on scenarios at sea, but being a passenger ship we do spend a significant time in port so it’s only prudent to cover such eventualities as well. With all of our crew lined up neatly in groups on the quay it reminded me a bit of the fire drills you used to have to do at school where you assembled in the playground.
We sailed at 5pm that afternoon leaving the Aida Diva in situ to provide a reference point for the fulcrum of the sharp turn to starboard needed to line up for the harbour’s entrance. Proceeding out to sea on another night of glorious, sunny weather, Saga Ruby slowly swung to port around the breakwater to make her way along the coast of Crete with the sun starting to descended slowly across the bow.