The foundations for the Heraklion Archaeological Museum were laid in 1935 by the architect Patroklos Karantinos on a site previously occupied by the Roman Catholic friary of Saint-Francis, which was destroyed by earthquake in 1856. The antiseismic building is an important example of modern architecture and was awarded a Bauhaus commendation. Karantinos applied the principles of modern architecture to the specific needs of a museum by providing natural lighting through openings along the top of the walls and by facilitating the easy flow of large groups of people. He also anticipated future extensions to the museum. The colours and construction materials, such as the veined polychrome marbles, recall certain Minoan wall-paintings which imitate elaborate stone dadoes.
The museum is a Special Regional Department of the Ministry of Culture. Its purpose is to acquire, safeguard, conserve, record, study, publish, display and promote the Cretan cultural heritage from the Prehistoric to the Late Roman period. It is entitled to enrich its collections with donations from individuals, offices and institutions, with confiscated objects and through the purchase of Cretan antiquities from Greece and abroad. A major development and reexhibition project is currently under way. A temporary exhibition of 400 selected exhibits, some of the finest and most representative finds of each period, is on display in a specially designed wing at the northeast corner of the museum building.
The Conservation Department of the museum is constituted by the conservation laboratories of sculptures-ceramics, metallic objects and mural paintings. Aim of the Department is the preventive and interventionist conservation and the promotion of research in the field of Archaeological Conservation. Thus, it actively participates in all stages of implementation of the Museum exhibitions. It documents all conservation projects by keeping notebooks, conservation reports and archives of photographs of each object. Moreover, it applies pilot and innovative methods of conservation aiming at the optimum operation of the laboratories for the service of all Museum needs.
The collections of the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion started being brought together in the late 19th century BC, when the Educational Association of Heraklion with authorization from the Ottoman government devoted its activity to the rescue, collection and safekeeping of Cretan antiquities. The first museum was built from 1904 to 1907 on a site previously occupied by the Roman Catholic friary of Saint-Francis, which was destroyed by earthquake in 1856. After the addition of a secondary wing in 1912, which was especially designed by the architect W. Doerpfeld and P. Kavvadias, the secretary of the Athens Archaeological Society, this first building was never completed.