If you’re wondering what Crete’s been up to for the past, say, 1700 years, a spin around this highly engaging museum is in order. Exhibits hopscotch from the Byzantine to the Venetian and Turkish periods, culminating with WWII. There’s excellent English labelling, multimedia and listening stations throughout. A small cafe offers post-browse drinks.
The undisputed highlights on the 1st floor are the only two El Greco paintings in Crete – View of Mt Sinai and the Monastery of St Catherine (1570) and the tiny Baptism of Christ (1569). Other rooms contain 13th- and 14th-century frescoes, exquisite Venetian gold jewellery and embroidered vestments. A historical exhibit charts Crete’s road to independence from the Turks in the early 20th century.
The most interesting rooms are on the 2nd floor. Fans of Nikos Kazantzakis can admire the famed Cretan writer’s recreated study from his home in Antibes, France, and watch snippets from Zorba the Greek and other films based on his books. Historically, the focus is on WWII, in particular the Battle of Crete. A state-of-the-art exhibit dramatically details the Cretan resistance, the role of Allied Secret Services, the destruction of Iraklio, the abduction of German General Kreipe and other wartime moments. A highlight is the original office of Cretan-born Emmanouil Tsouderos, who served as Greek prime minister from 1941 to 1944. It was donated by his family.
The top (3rd) floor features an outstanding folklore collection.