An imposing mansion houses a varied collection of early Christian and Byzantine sculptures, Venetian and Ottoman stonework, artifacts of war, and rustic folklife items. The museum provides a wonderful introduction to Cretan culture, and is the only place in Crete to display the work of famed native son El Greco (Domenikos Theotocopoulos), who left the island—then part of the Venetian Republic—for Italy and, then, Spain around 1567; his Baptism of Christ and View of Mount Sinai and the Monastery of St. Catherine hang amid frescoes, icons, and other Byzantine pieces. Upon entering, look out for the Lion of St. Mark sculpture, with an inscription that says in Latin "i protect the kingdom of crete." Left of the entrance is a room stuffed with memorabilia from Crete's bloody revolutionary past: weapons, portraits of mustachioed warrior chieftains, and the flag of the short-lived independent Cretan state set up in 1898. The 19th-century banner in front of the staircase
sums up the spirit of Cretan rebellion against the Turks: eleftheria o thanatos ("Freedom or Death"). Upstairs, look in on a room arranged as the study of Crete's most famous writer, Nikos Kazantzakis (1883–1957), the author of Zorba the Greek and an epic poem, The Odyssey, a Modern Sequel; he was born in Heraklion and is buried here, just inside the section of the walls known as the Martinengo. The top floor contains a stunning collection of Cretan textiles, including the brilliant scarlet weavings typical of the island's traditional handwork, and another room arranged as a domestic interior of the early 1900s.