Thursday, 13 June 2013

Walking, jogging and cycling along Venetian Walls, Heraklion... with your dog

At Saint Andrew Bastion (winter time)
It might not seem it at first glance, but Heraklion is actually a pretty good city for dog walking. Circling the old city are roughly 4.5km of fortifications, including a strip of coast to the north. These fortifications were built by the Venetians in the 15th century, and
extended and restored in the 16th. They were proven to be strong enough to withstand a 21 year siege by the Turks. 

The municipality of Heraklion has a great website, with some wonderful photos of historic Heraklion and detailed information on the city's monuments: 

Diagram of the Walls showing Bastions and Gates.  Map:

While the Venetian fortifications are better preserved in the west Cretan towns of Rethymnon and Chania, the walls of Heraklion provide a really lovely escape from the bustle and traffic of the city centre. The wall widens at the Bastions, and these areas have become like small parks. In the mornings and evenings people use the spaces for jogging, for cycling, for walking and looking at the view. During the day you often see families having picnics there. And throughout the day you find people out and about with their dogs.

Sage with my Mum, at Saint Andrew Bastion
You can access the wall from various points around the city. I like to start a good long walk from the Tomb of Kazantzakis at the Martinengo Bastion. This smaller Bastion is greener than the others, and full of bougainvillea and geraniums. Sage really enjoys cooling off by rolling in the grass there during the summer. 

Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957) is probably the most internationally well-known modern Greek writer. His works include Zorba the Greek and The Last Temptation of Christ.
His grave is very simple, and his epitaph reads: I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free (Δεν ελπίζω τίποτα. Δε φοβάμαι τίποτα. Είμαι λέφτερος.)   

Grave of Kazantzakis
From there you walk down a slightly narrower stretch of the wall to the next Bastion - Bethlehem. Below the wall to the left you'll see Eucalyptus Cafe, recently opened up in the small eucalyptus wood that grows in the 'moat' around the wall. This is also a nice park for dog walking, especially in the summer, thanks to the shade of these beautiful trees. 

A lot of dog walkers congregate at Bethlehem and the next - Pantocrator - Bastions. I found that the demographic changes every few months. At times it is a small, welcoming group with well-behaved, socialised dogs. Other times Sage and/or myself found we didn't fit in so well there, and we would continue down to the sea. 

(Not For Dogs:  Also at Bethlehem Bastion there is a summer cinema, open from (roughly) July-September and playing a selection of classic and foreign films.  Check this useful website for the programme: )

At St Andrew Bastion you can stop to admire the view of the sea, the uninhabited island of Dia off the coast, or, in the other direction, to Mount Juktas in the distance. I don't know how many hours I spent there, with take-out coffees from a nearby shop, chatting to dog owner friends and telling Sage off for eating rubbish....

Heraklion walled city. Map: 

This section of the wall ends here. You can continue on round by the sea, for a few hundred metres, until you reach the Venetian Harbour.  If you climb the steps at the side of the Megaron Hotel (by the bus station), and follow the road uphill for a couple of minutes, you'll reach Eleftherios Square, the archaeological Museum, and the next section of the wall. From here, we used to climb the wall again next to the Parko Georgiadis, through the car park at Pediados Viglas (the Vitouri Bastion). This was closed off recently, for some building works, and I'm not sure if it will re-open as a throughway for the public. Alternatively, follow the outside of the wall from Georgiadis Park until you find steps up, somewhere around Kainouria Porta (Evans Street). From here along the wall to your 'starting point', the Tomb of Kazantzakis, is a couple of minutes walk. 

Bermuda buttercup (Oxalis pes-caprae)

Marguerite daisies

I love this walk. I would walk parts of it twice a day while I was living in Heraklion. I love the way the wild flowers (Marguerite daisies and Bermuda buttercups) change the wall to bright yellow in the Spring. I love seeing the snow on the mountains south of Heraklion, and the sea to the north, from high above the city. I love it that during the summer various sections of the wall are opened up to become open air cinemas, theatres, spaces for tango lessons, all sorts of activities. 

However, I do have to point out two rather negative, but important issues about the walls. 
Firstly, I had huge problems with Sage when she was a puppy, disappearing into the undergrowth and finding a nice, fresh, stinking pile of excrement to eat. She certainly wasn't the only one -  most dogs enjoyed eating it, some liked to roll around in it. If you can keep your dog close and in your sight, good, if not maybe you want to keep them on a lead. 
Secondly, I never had a bad experience up on the walls during the evening, but sometimes I felt like it had got a bit dark, and there weren't many people around, and then I would scamper fairly quickly back to the civilisation of the streets. The lights are constantly being vandalised, and it can be quite dark and lonely up there in the evening. However big and tough you and/or your dog may be, I'd recommend you just enjoy the daytime and early evening hours there on the Venetian Walls of Heraklion.

No comments:

Post a Comment