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Irakleio or Candia[1] (Modern Greek: Ηράκλειο, Irakleio; antiquated: Ἠράκλειον, Irakleion, Herakleion) is the fifth largest city of Greece, on the northern coast of the island of Crete. It is the capital of Crete and of the Irakleio Prefecture. It has 140 357 inhabitants (2007).

The famous, archeological site of Knossos lies in the upper hills behind Irakleio.

Naming (with an outlook on history)

The official, current name[2] in Modern Greek is Ηράκλειο, Irakleio [iˈrakliɔ] (but in katharevousa, a former standard variety of modern Greek until 1976, it was Ἠράκλειον, Irakleion). This name is a revived use of the Ancient Greek name Ἠράκλειον, Hērákleion: it referred to the hero Heracles and designated a harbour, whose exact location is unknown, that served Knossos in the Roman period.

In 824 AD, the Arabs dominated the region and founded the current city; it was named in Byzantine Greek Χάνδαξ, Chandax, from Arabic Khandaq “moat”. This name remained when the Byzantine Empire took again Crete in 960-961. In 1204, the city and the island went under the control of the Republic of Venice and Χάνδαξ, Chandax was adapted in Venetian (Northern Italian) into Càndiga, then Candia. The name Candia was borrowed then by a lot of other languages (e.g. in English) and used to designate not only the city but the whole island of Crete. In early Modern Greek, Χάνδαξ, Chandax evolved into Χάνδακας, Chandakas.

During the Ottoman domination (1669-1898), along with Χάνδακας, Chandakas, an informal Greek name appeared: Μεγάλο Κάστρο, Megalo Kastro “Big Castle” or simply Κάστρο, Kastro “Castle”.

The ancient name Ηράκλειο(ν), Irakleio(n) was restored from 1822 on, as Cretans rose up against the Ottomans. This name was confirmed officially with the foundation of the short-lived Cretan State (1898-1913) and with its integration into the Greek state in 1913. Nowadays, Greek speakers say only Ηράκλειο, Irakleio or, informally, Μεγάλο Κάστρο, Megalo Kastro; but the Venetian type Candia is still known in several languages (e.g. Italian and English Candia, Catalan Càndia, Turkish Kandiye).


  1. Webster dictionary.
  2. Information about etymology retrieved in: BAMBINIOTIS Georgios (1998) = ΜΠΑΜΠΙΝΙΩΤΗΣ Γεώργιος, Λεξικό της νέας ελληνικής γλώσσας [Dictionary Of The Modern Greek Language], Athens: Κέντρο Λεξικολογίας, art. Ηράκλειο.