The first building that was constructed in this place was Venetian. In the 7th decade of the 16th century the Venetians constructed the barracks of St. George, with a capacity of 700 soldiers. The building, after the additions made to it in the 17th century, was 261 m in length, had 200 rooms and a large long portico along the northern side. After the conquest of the Khandax by the Ottomans, the Venetian barracks were used by the new conquerors. They were destroyed, however, by a large earthquake in 1856. The Ottomans decided to build new barracks in the same place. The designs were made by Athanasios Mousis, who also designed other significant buildings of the city, like the cathedral of St. Minas and the Vizier Mosque (today the church of St. Titus).
The foundation stone of the new barracks was laid in 1883. It was a long, single two-storey building, known under the Turkish name “kislades”. It had a wooden tiled roof. In the middle of the northern facade the famous renaissance marble doorframe of the chapel of St. Francis’ catholic monastery was walled-up. This doorframe, a gift of the Cretan Pope Alexander V to the monastery in the second decade of the 15th century, was removed from its initial position and placed in the new one when the building of the Turkish barracks began. That was after the earthquake of 1856.
After the autonomy of Crete was declared and the Ottoman troops left the island, the old barracks housed the “Gymnasium of Heraklion” and later, in 1921, the second high school of the city. In the late 1920’s the building was divided into three separate parts, with large outdoor crossings between them. The wooden floor and the wooden roof were replaced with reinforced concrete slabs and the facades were developed in neoclassical style.
(Author: Chrisoula Tzombanaki, architect-archaeologist)