Chania, Crete

Chania, or in Greek, Χανιά, is a compellingly beautiful place and the second largest city on the island of Crete and is located on the north coast of the island with an area population of about 70,000. Outside of Athens and Thessaloniki, it is the most densely populated area in Greece.

Chania is the site of the Minoan settlement the Greeks called Cydonia which was significant enough to have been mentioned in the Odyssey of Homer. It has been through numerous cultural influences from the Dorians around 1100 BC, and later the Romans. Afterwards, Chania was under the influence of the Byzantines from 395–824 AD and later under the rule of the Arabs until 961 AD when it was retaken by the Byzantine Empire. That rule lasted until 1204 AD. In this period the Arabic name of the city was changed into Greek Chania. Byzantines began to strongly fortify the city in order to prevent another Arab invasion, using materials from the ancient buildings of the area. By this time, Chania was the seat of a Bishop in the Orthodox Church. Then the rule of Chania fell to the Venetians. Chania was chosen as the seat of the Rector (Administrator General) of the region and flourished as a significant commercial centre of a fertile agricultural region.

After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, many priests, monks and artists took refuge in Crete and reinforced the Byzantine religion and culture on the island. The city of Chania during the period that followed was a blend of Byzantine, Venetian and Classical Greek cultural elements. Many of the important buildings of the town were built during this era and intellectual activities were also promoted. However the Turkish army overran the city in 1645 after just two months' siege. Huge numbers died in the siege, particularly Turks. The Turkish commander was executed on returning home for losing up to 40,000 men. Later, most churches were turned into mosques and the treasures of Chania were taken. The pasha of Crete resided in Chania.

In 1821, as Greece rose against the Ottoman Empire, there were conflicts between Greeks and Turks in Chania, leading to casualties from both sides, most of whom were Christians. For example, a Bishop was hanged from a tree for participation in the revolutionary events. In 1878, Christians were granted certain rights. Then a big part of the local Muslim population moved to Turkey. In 1898, during the final moves towards independence and enosis, or union with Greece, Chania was made the capital of the semi-autonomous Cretan state. This was a very important transitional period when the city became more cosmopolitan and flourishing, regaining its role as the crossroad of civilizations, influenced by Europe as well as by the East. Many important buildings were built during this era, intellectual and artistic societies were created and a new class of local aristocracy brought a different atmosphere to the everyday life of the town. After other conflicts, Crete was ultimately united with Greece in1913 and the Greek flag was raised for the first time at Fort Firca in the Old Harbor.

Another important period for the city of Chania was the invasion and occupation by Nazi forces during World War II. The British force that faced the German paratroopers during the Battle of Crete in 1941, had artillery elements over the hill in the south of the city. These elements bombed the German forces in the Malame airfield undetected, until they ran out of ammunition. Part of the city of Chania was bombed, progress in several aspects of life was halted and a significant proportion of the area's population was either executed or imprisoned due to its participation in the resistance against the German rule. The Jewish community of Chania was also eliminated during the German occupation. Most of them were transported off the island by the Nazis occupiers in 1944. Unfortunately, a British torpedo sank the ship "Tanais" carrying most of the Jewish prisoners, tragically killing the island's pre-war community.

Fortunately, during the 1970s Crete became a major tourist destination for Greek and international tourists, something that gave a significant boost to the city's economy and affected the everyday life and the overall culture. The city of Chania can be divided in two parts: the old town and the modern city which is the larger one. The old town is situated next to the old harbor and is the matrix around which the whole urban area was developed. It used to be surrounded by the old Venetian fortifications that started to be built in 1538; of them the eastern and western parts have survived.

Despite being heavily bombed during the war, Chania's Old Town is considered the most beautiful urban district on Crete, especially the Venetian harbor. A very distinctive area of the Old Town is the old harbor and the seafront or "akti," which features several historical buildings and a thriving nightlife. The cultural background of Chania is very rich, first of all due to Chania’s long history and its interaction with many diverse civilizations in the past. Two main sources of wealth in Chania are agriculture and tourism. Chania’s sister city is Wellington, New Zealand. Sadly, some of the spectacular images of Chania that follow reflect damage from World War II bombing – a modern reflection of Chania’s turbulent past.

Bay View Church Interior Ruins
Crumbling Bldg Memorial Greek Church
Church Interior Bay View Side Street
Side Street Ancient Wall Side Street
Door Greek Church Side Street
Town Center Interior Garden Door
Crumbling Bldgs Bay View Side Street
Bay View Battlements Side Street Outdoor Cafe Apartments Hotel Arch Greek Church
Bay View Town Center Lighthouse Side Street Side Street Side Street Bay View