Out and about: The Archaeological Museum of Herkalion

Written by Claire Messenger, Manager, International Training Programme

Last year I had the pleasure of travelling to Crete, one of the beautiful Greek islands.  Although I was there on holiday I wanted – of course – to visit as many cultural and heritage sites as I could.  One of the ‘must see’ places on my list was the Herkalion Archaeological Museum, one of the oldest and most important museums in Greece.  It was built between 1935 and 1958 and has recently undergone an extensive – and beautiful – restoration and redisplay.

The new displays are laid out over two floors and through 27 rooms and covers the Neolithic to Roman times – 6th Century BC to the 3rd Century AD.  While full of incredible objects, the Museum is perhaps most famous for its astonishing Minoan collections. The Minoan civilisation, named after the legendary King Minos, was a Bronze Age Aegean civilization on the island of Crete and other Aegean Islands, whose earliest beginnings were from c. 3500 BC, with the complex urban civilization beginning around 2000 BC, and then declining from c. 1450 BC until it ended around 1100 BC.

Following the Museum’s careful COVID guidelines, our visit to the Herkalion Archaeological Museum was such a pleasure.  The layout of the museum takes the visitor straight into the earliest Minoan collections with the galleries focussing on extraordinary pottery and luxury items from Knossos, Mesara, Malia, Mochlos and Archanes including votive offering of clay figurines.

The galleries then take the visitor through all aspects of worship; celebration; daily life; the afterlife; sport; economy and maritime trade with some astonishing objects such as the bull-leaping fresco; snake goddess and stone bull’s head, a masterpiece of Minoan art.

One of my favourite displays – as, like many of you I’m sure, I can’t look around a museum without also considering the display, interpretation, gallery layout – was the coins section.  One display shared a wonderful ‘timeline’ of coins found across the island while the other used a map of the island to share find spots for the collection.

Archaeological Museum of Herkalion coins
Archaeological Museum of Herkalion coin map

The Herkalion Archaeological Museum contains some of the most incredible objects I’ve ever had the pleasure to see – in person – but you can enjoy more of its story and collections through their website – https://heraklionmuseum.gr/.