The most interesting museums and historical exhibitions in Crete
Are you interested in culture and history and would like to visit a museum during your visit to Crete? Here are our recommendations.
Those who come to Crete enjoy the endless beaches of this beautiful Mediterranean island, the hospitality and the good food. But the island pearl has much more to offer, because Crete, with its millennia-old history, has always been a center of European culture. Archaeologists have found out that Crete has been continuously inhabited by people since 6,000 BC.
Countless finds and excavation sites on the island tell the varied and adventurous story of its inhabitants. Crete was home to the first high culture in Europe from the third millennium BC onwards. The Minoans and their impressive culture played a major role in the development of the ancient Greek world. The legends that originated during this time and were later passed on from mouth to mouth also had a great influence on the Greek mythology.
Anyone who wants to immerse themselves in this fabulous and legendary world of ancient Greece can do so without difficulty by visiting the numerous museums or excavation sites on the island. Forget for a few hours the hustle and bustle of our modern world and let yourself be captivated by long forgotten worlds.
The archaeological museum in Chania
Chania is one of Crete's hotspots for archaeology. The first human settlements in the city could be traced back to the period 3,400 to 3,000 BC. Based on tradition, scientists today assume that it was founded by the mythical king Minos. Kudonija, as the city was originally called, had one of the most important ceramic production of its time and maintained trade relations as far away as Egypt, Cyprus and Palestine. But nothing lasts forever and so the Minoan culture had to bow to other cultures over the millennia. Finds from various excavation sites tell of this extremely exciting and eventful history of the island. They are kept like a precious treasure in the museums of Chania, for example, and made accessible to interested visitors.
There is no more beautiful museum building than the former Venetian Franciscan church in Gothic style in the whole of Crete. It houses some of what archaeologists have found in Chania and the surrounding area over the last 100 years. The unique ambience of this archaeological museum is enhanced by the small outer courtyard, which used to be part of the cloister. Visitors to the museum can admire important finds from the pre-Christian period, including a Minoan clay seal known as the "Seal of the Sovereign". The representation on the seal shows a powerful male figure standing on the roof of a building in front of the Kastelli Hills in Chania.
The archaeological museum in Eleftherna
Eleftherna was one of the most important Cretan city states in Greek and Roman antiquity. Cretan archaeologists have only been digging here since 1985 and are now planning to continue digging. What they have already found and what they will find in the future will find its place in the ultra-modern Archaeological Museum, which opens in 2016. For visitors, the excavations are an experience not only because of their historical dimension, but also because of the landscape and nature.
The nautical museum in Chania
The only shipping museum on our island is the striking dark red building at the western end of the harbour. If you are enthusiastic about seafaring and nautics, you have come to the right place. With the help of the numerous and well-preserved exhibits of the Nautical Museum of Chania, the visitor learns a lot about the millennia-old seafaring tradition of Crete. The three permanent exhibition areas of this house show the marine environment of the Mediterranean island, the battle of Crete during the Second World War and the ancient shipbuilding tradition of the island. Among other things, legendary creatures of the deep sea, exhibits from 1941, which tell of one of the worst chapters of the Second World War, and exhibits that bring the old Minoan shipbuilding tradition back to life. Although not a single one of these ancient ships has been salvaged, wall paintings testify to their artful construction. A replica of these ships can be admired in the Venetian shipyard hall in the port of Chania. If you concentrate on the main exhibits in the two-storey building, you will hardly need more than half an hour for a visit.
The Minoan ship of Chania
The wealth and prosperity of Crete in the 2nd millennium B.C. was not only based on the fertility of the island but also on the intensive trade the Minoans carried on in the eastern Mediterranean. But what did their ships look like? Not a single wreck of a Minoan ship has been found so far, but only representations on wall paintings. But you can now see a Minoan ship - in a Venetian dockyard at the port of Chania.
The archaeological museum in Heraklion
We now turn to Heraklion, another cultural centre of ancient Crete. According to Greek mythology, Heracles is said to have gone ashore in Heraklion, which means "Heracles city" in English, to capture the legendary Cretan bull. In ancient times Heraklion was one of the four harbor towns around the legendary city of Knossos, which maintained a variety of trade relations in the Mediterranean.
The Archaeological Museum in the island's capital is the most important and largest museum on the island. Here you will get the best impression of how varied and high quality the art work on Crete was about 3500 years ago. But you will also gain an insight into the fashion, everyday life, crafts, festivals and leisure activities of the Minoans of that time. You should plan at least two hours for a tour of the two museum floors.
The historical museum in Heraklion
Rulers came, rulers left Crete. The collapse of the once so powerful Roman Empire and the rise of Christianity have not left Crete without a trace. If you want to get an idea of this extremely varied and exciting time, you should definitely plan a visit to the historical museum of Heraklion. With the help of modern exhibition concepts involving audiovisual media, you will be immersed in a time when Ottomans and Byzantines determined the history of the island. The highlight of the exhibition is the painting 'The Monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai' by the famous painter El Greco. It is the only work of the artist on the island, who was originally born as Domínikos Theotokópoulos in Crete and achieved fame and glory in Spain.
The 'Historical Museum of Crete' shows a collection of objects from the island's history during the Christian era in an old and a new building. In front of the ticket office, the figurehead of a Venetian galley of the 16th/17th century hangs on the wall on the right. These animals have apparently always fascinated people. Here they are probably supposed to keep all evil away from the ship like ancient Gorgons.
The Museum of Christian Art in Heraklion
The small museum with a modern design in the church of St. Catherine of Sinai, built as early as the 13th century, houses the most valuable icons of the island, bringing visitors closer to Byzantine icon painting in Crete. Even those who have little interest in pious paintings will be delighted with a little artistic sense, because in them the strict theological canon of Byzantine icon painting is combined with the vividness of Western Renaissance art.
The Natural History Museum in Heraklion
Interested visitors can find out more about the island's past and present flora and fauna in the Heraklion Natural History Museum. The museum has an impressive area of 3,500 m², making it the largest exhibition of its kind in the Mediterranean. A visit to the museum is highly recommended, because here you can discover the natural characteristics of the Mediterranean in an original way. You will also learn interesting facts about the former and current animal world.
A visit to the live museum is particularly recommended. This is a very special museum complex consisting of many small aquariums and terrariums for live animals such as snakes and lizards, thus illustrating the fauna of the eastern Mediterranean. Mega-dioramas impressively convey the various ecosystems of the eastern Mediterranean region and with the almost complete skeleton of the giant Dinotherium, an elephant-like animal can be marvelled at, which had its habitat in Crete a good nine million years ago.
In 1981, the natural history museum was founded under the patronage of the University of Crete. It carries out impressive pioneering work in the following areas: studying and managing the environment of Crete, promoting education, raising awareness among the local population and visitors to Crete.
The archaeological museum in Rethymno
The old Archaeological Museum of the city in front of the entrance to the Fortezza was closed in 2015. A new one is planned, but is unlikely to be built before 2022. Some particularly important and exemplary objects from the rich collection will remain on display in the former Roman Catholic Church of San Francesco for as long as this is the case. Although the exhibition is small, it has been arranged very lovingly. A tour takes about 10-15 minutes.
The archaeological museum in Kissamos
The west of Crete only became increasingly important in the classical and Roman antiquity. For from this time on, the western Mediterranean area was also discovered as a trading partner for the island's goods. The most interesting archaeological finds from this period are exhibited in the archaeological district museum of Kissamos. The heart of the exhibition are two very well preserved mosaics from Roman times. The mosaics are made of white, grey and red-brown mosaic stones and show the life in the urban villas of the Greek-Roman Kissamos. Also very remarkable are a sundial from that time and life-size Roman marble statues. The museum is housed in an administrative building from the Venetian-Ottoman period which, thanks to expert restorers and craftsmen, forms the traditional heart of the town.
The archaeological museum in Ierapetra
The small museum in a school built in 1899 especially for the Muslim children of the city presents only few but very interesting finds from the region. The English language explanatory panels are relatively detailed and informative. As soon as you enter you look through the long, narrow alignment of the two halls at an almost completely preserved marble statue of the goddess Persephone from the 2nd century AD.
What would you like to experience while on holiday in Crete?
Just click on your preference
- Discover amazing beaches
- Stroll through old towns
- Drive off-road with a jeep
- Cycle through beautiful nature
- Get inspired in a museum
- Visit secluded monasteries
- Enter stalactite caves
- Admire archaeological sites
- Explore pristine villages
- Dare extreme sports
- Hike through impressive gorges
- Get to know Crete's finest delicatessen