Koules Fortress


The Koules (Greek: Κούλες) or Castello a Mare ("Fort on the Sea" in Italian) is a fortress located at the entrance of the old port of Heraklion, Crete, Greece. It was built by the Republic of Venice in the early 16th century, and is still in good condition today.

Part of the fortifications of Heraklion
Heraklion, Crete, Greece
Venitian Fortress of Koules.jpg
The Koules fortress
Carte pour Koules.jpg
Map of Candia (modern Heraklion) with Koules circled
Coordinates35°20′40.7″N 25°8′12.66″E / 35.344639°N 25.1368500°E / 35.344639; 25.1368500
Area3,600 m2 (39,000 sq ft)
Site information
Open to
the public
Site history
Built byRepublic of Venice
Battles/warsSiege of Candia


The site was possibly first fortified by the Arabs in the 9th or 10th centuries. By the second Byzantine period, a tower known as Castellum Comunis stood on the site.[1] In 1303, the tower was destroyed in an earthquake but was repaired.[2]

In 1462, the Venetian Senate approved a programme to improve the fortifications of Candia. Eventually, the Byzantine tower was demolished in 1523, and the Castello a Mare began to be built instead. Old ships were filled with stone, and were sunk to form a breakwater and increase the area of the platform on which the fortress was built. The fortress was completed in 1540.[1]

In 1630, the fort was armed with 18 cannons on the ground floor, and 25 cannons on the pathway leading to the roof.[2]

During the 21-year long Siege of Candia, Ottoman batteries easily neutralized the fort's firepower. The Ottomans eventually took the fort in 1669, after the Venetians surrendered the entire city. They did not make any major alterations to the fort, except for the additions of some battlements and embrasures. They built a small fort known as Little Koules on the landward side, but this was demolished in 1936 while the city was being "modernized".[1]

The fortress has been restored, and it is now open to the public.[2] Art exhibitions and cultural activities are occasionally held at the fort.[1]


The fortress is made up of two parts: a high rectangular section, and a slightly lower semi-elliptical section. Its walls are up to 8.7m thick at some places, and it has three entrances. The fort has two stories, with a total of 26 rooms, which were originally used as barracks, a prison, storage rooms, a water reservoir, a church, a mill and a bakery.[2]

A lighthouse tower is located on the northern part of the fort.[3]


  1. ^ a b c d "The Venetian Castello a Mare in Heraklion". Explore Crete. Archived from the original on 6 April 2015. Retrieved 20 August 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d "Koules Fortress". Heraklion-Crete.org. Retrieved 20 August 2015.
  3. ^ Rowlett, Russ (2014). "Lighthouses of Greece: Crete". The Lighthouse Directory. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retrieved 20 August 2015.

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