Ierapetra is the largest town on the south coast of Crete, active on tourism in the summer and agriculture in the winter.
Olive oil and off season fruit and vegetable are produced, supplying domestic and European markets.
Ierapetra has had a place in the history of Crete since the Minoan period. The Greek and later Roman town of Hierapytna was on the same site as present day Ierapetra. In the Classical Age Hierapytna became the strongest town of eastern Crete and as a Dorian city in continual rivalry with Praisos, the last Minoan city in the island. Later, in the 3rd century BC, Hierapytna was notorious for its tendency to piracy and took part in the Cretan War along with other Cretan cities in the side of Philip V of Macedon against Knossos and Rhodes.
The importance of Ierapetra as independent state ended when it was conquered by the Romans in 67 BC (the last free city in Crete) and was surpassed by the city of Gortyn. The Roman conquest of Ierapetra occurred about the same time as that of Knossos, Kydonia and Lato. Today remains of the Roman harbor can still be seen in the shallow bay. In AD 824 it was destroyed by Arab invaders, only to be rebuilt as a base for pirates again.
In the Venetian Age, from the 13th to the 17th centuries, Ierapetra - now known by its present name - became prosperous again. The Fortress of Kales, built in the early years of Venetian rule and strengthened by Francesco Morosini in 1626 to protect the harbor, is a remnant of this period, although local myth says it was built by the Genoese pirate Pescatore in 1212.
In July 1798 Ierapetra made a small step into world history: Napoleon stayed with a local family after the Battle of the Pyramids in Egypt. The house where he stayed can still be seen.
In the Ottoman period a mosque was built in the town. Finds from Ierapetra's past can be found in the local Museum of Antiquities, formerly a school for Muslim children. The centerpiece of the exhibition is a well preserved statue of Persephone.
Kato Mera is the old town on the southwestern headland. It is characterized by a medieval street layout with narrow alleyways, cul-de-sacs and small houses, creating a village-like atmosphere. The former mosque and the "house of Napoleon" can be found in this neighbourhood, as can Aghios Georgios metropolitan church (built in 1856) in the town's center. It is considered one of the most interesting churches of Crete. The ceiling of the church has many "blind" domes. Those, as well as the central dome, are wooden (mainly cedar wood).
Pano Mera is the new town, with wider streets and three and four storey houses. Pano Mera is still expanding towards the west, north and east.
Ierapetra's main shopping street is Koundouriotou. In the centre the town hall, the museum and a cinema can be found. The local hospital lies in Pano Mera. To the west is the southern headland with the fortress, a port for fishing boats and ´Navmachia´ area, where sea fights among slaves for citizens´ entertainment were taking place during the Roman period.
On the east there is a beach with bars and restaurants, followed by the quay for ferries to Chrissi. Further on lies the main boulevard with hotels, bars, restaurants and souvenir shops. At its end a new promenade leads alongside Ierapetra Bay's long beach.