The Arabs who ruled Crete from AD 824 to AD 961 were the first to govern from the site of modern Iraklio. It was known then as El Khandak, after the moat that surrounded the town, and was reputedly the slave-trade capital of the eastern Mediterranean.
El Khandak became Khandakos after Byzantine troops finally dislodged the Arabs, and then Candia under the Venetians who ruled the island for more than 400 years. While the Turks quickly overran the Venetian defences at Hania and Rethymno, Candia’s fortifications withstood a 21-year siege before finally surrendering in 1669.
Hania became the capital of independent Crete at the end of Turkish rule in 1898, and Candia was renamed Iraklio. Because of its central location, Iraklio became a commercial centre, and resumed its position as the island’s administrative centre in 1971.
The city suffered badly in WWII, when most of the old Venetian and Turkish town was destroyed by bombing.