At 23 km. from Heraklion there is a turning to the right which leads up to the Lassithi plateau. This is the road which will be taken by those whose trip began in western Crete and who wish to visit the plateau; it is the classic itinerary. Now we head east, and at 26 km. arrive at Limani Hersonisou, which stands on the western edge of the Bay of Malia. It takes its name from the peninsula ('hersonissos') on which it stands and which creates two sheltered little bays with fine sandy beaches. Today, the village has developed into a well-organised tourist resort with all the necessary installations and a lively night-life. To the south of the harbour, not far away, is the village of Hersonisos in a verdant setting. The village remains the picturesque traditional settlement it has always been, indifferent to the hum and bustle of the harbour.
To the west of the village stood the ancient city of Hersonissos, which was the port of ancient Lyttos. It was inhabited in prehistoric times, as can be seen from the traces of a Minoan settlement; it was autonomous, and minted its own coins, which showed the head of Artemis on one side and Apollo with a lyre on the other. It is believed that the first settlers were refugees from tyranny who brought with them the cult statue of Britomartis, 'the sweet virgin', a Minoan deity who was one of the most important figures in the Minoan pantheon. Later she became identified with Artemis.
At the famous shrine in Hersonissos, Britomarlis was worshipped because of her success in evading the clutches of Minos. After he had laid siege to her for nine months, she threw herself into the sea to the east of Heraklion. The shrine, which has not survived, was Minoan, while the scanty remains to be seen today date from Roman times. There are the ruins of an acropolis, an amphitheatre and a theatre, an old harbour and a fountain with mosaics showing fishermen. The foundations of two Early Christian basilicas have also come to light, with mosaic floors whose tesserae are arranged in geometric shapes.