Chania became the official capital of the Cretan State which was divided into four sectors. Lasithi was ruled by the French, Heraklion by the English, Rethymno by the Russians and the prefecture of Chania and Sfakia by the Italians. The capital city of Chania was placed under the joint control of the four (Germany and Austria had left the coalition for the sake of good relations with the Ottoman Empire). The Ottomans were forced to withdraw all troops and gendarmerie from the island keeping only a nominal authority over the island and Prince George of Greece was chosen to serve as the High Commissioner (governor general) with a three year tenure. The new state was completely autonomous in its internal affairs but did not have the right to exercise an independent foreign policy. Despite that the Cretan people received the Greek High Commissioner with joy and enthusiasm. Prince George immediately appointed a 16-member committee that would take over the legislative work needed for a new constitution and elections. Venizelos was among the 16 and played a key role in the drafting of the constitution was elected on 24 January of 1899 as a representative of the city of Chania. On April of 1899 he was appointed Minister of Justice.
Despite the implementation of much needed reforms in every sector of daily life by the Cretan Government of Chania it immediately became obvious to both Prince George and Venizelos that the difference in their political views would be a serious impediment. The first was a supporter of absolute monarchy while the second was a fervent believer in liberal ideas. Especially in the matter of union with Greece, the pragmatist liberal politician considered the declaration of an autonomous principality, relieved by the presence of foreign forces as the only feasible path for the union while Prince George saw his good relations with the European royal courts as the only guarantee for success. Although the Prince refused to accept Venizelos’ resignation twice on March of 1901, he would dismiss him at the end of the same month through an extremely offensive decree that referred to a traitorous agenda on his behalf. The Prince’s attack would inaugurate a feud between the two men, with the palace launching a smear campaign and Venizelos answering back through a new paper with the name Κήρυξ (herald) established in December of 1901.
The despotism of the regime was manifested through the persecution of Venizelos’ followers, the imprisonment of Venizelos himself in the prison-castle of Itzedin, and the spying of all corresponding mail, that were only some of the moves used by the Palace of Halepa to muffle the voice of opposition. It would ultimately lead Venizelos and his followers to the path of armed rebellion once again. In the elections of 1903, Venizelos’ party is defeated electing only 5 MP’s. He would be appointed however by the rest of the opposition representatives as the leader of a united opposition coalition. Two years later, on March of 1905, he and about 1000 of his followers would gather in the mountainous village of Theriso, on the feet of the White Mountains. A month later with 7.000 more armed rebels on his side, he would proclaim the political union of Crete with Greece into a single constitutional state claiming. In his declaration he would emphasize that the transitional regime of the island prevented its economic growth and kept it under the shackles of authoritarianism.
After 8 months Venizelos had defeated his opponent who was unable to secure the military support of the Great Powers. The Prince resigned and departed from Crete on September of 1906. Alexandros Zaimis, a former Greek Prime Minister was appointed High Commissioner of Crete and was formally received at the Old Port of Chania on September 1906.
Following the Young Turk Revolution of July 1908, the declaration of the Bulgarian independence & the annexation of Bosnia by the Austrian Empire, it was only a matter of few days before the Cretans rose up again. On September 24 of 1908 thousands of citizens from Chania and the surrounding areas formed a rally in which Venizelos (after having communicated with the government of Athens) announced the cessation of the High Commissioner regime and the final union with Greece. The flag of the Cretan State was replaced by the Greek flag and all public servants swore an oath to the Greek King. On July 29th 1909 the last foreign troops departed from Chania.
After a few months a representative of the Military League that had taken control of the government of Athens in August 1909, came to Chania to propose to Venizelos to take over the command of the country. In the decade that followed, the diplomatic genius of the most famous son of the city would take a minuscule fragment of an ex-Ottoman province and turn it into a country that included almost every historic Greek province of the past.
The official ceremony of the much anticipated union with Greece would take place at the Venetian fortress of Firka, at the western bastion of the Old Wall of Chania on December 1st 1913, in the presence of Eleftherios Venizelos, this time as a Prime Minister of all Greece, the King of Greece Constantine I, along with every living veteran freedom fighter of the island and thousands of crowds. Three days later the building of the Old Municipal Market is inaugurated by Venizelos himself.
Venizelos’ “Megali Idea” the Big Concept of creating a state that would incorporate all historic Greek provinces would come to an end right on the time of his greatest triumph. The populist supporters of the King would unexpectedly win the elections of November 1920 in Greece, with promises that spanned from returning all troops back home to distributing the unseen and well kept by Venizelos’ regime wealth of the new lands to the simple people. A series of suicidal mistakes from the pro-German administration of the Greek King in a time when the anti-German Alliance of Entente had already cleared the war with the help of Venizelos and his firm pro-Entente policy, would cost Greece its alliances and turn triumph into nightmare with the Asia Minor Catastrophe that followed the summer of 1922.
By the end of September of 1922, with a population of a little more than 28.000, Chania had received more than 17.000 refugees who had fled from the slaughter of Minor Asia. In the inventory of 1923 about 7.000 of them were counted in the city of Chania and about two thousand of them spread in the surrounding towns of Souda, Alikianos, Maleme and Kasteli.
Venizelos would be summoned several times in the following years to heal the wounds of the traumatized nation. He would die in exile in his apartment-refuge in Paris on March of 1936. His body was carried to Chania where his funeral was held in Akrotiri (where his first days as a rebel began in 1897) where he was also buried in an atmosphere of deep grief and nation-wide mourning.
Five years later, on April 25th of 1941, Adolf Hitler was signing the order for the first major airborne assault in history in order to secure Crete for the Axis powers after having subjugated the rest of the Balkans and mainland Greece. Two of the key points for the control of the island were the port at Souda Bay and the military airfield constructed just before the war under the instructions of the British at the coast of Maleme, about 20 km west of Chania.
On 28th of April, under the presidency of the Greek Prime Minister Emmanouil Tsouderos, the heads of the Greek government who had fled to Crete after the fall of mainland Greece to the Nazis, convene in Chania with the commanders of the Allied forces and decide to strengthen the defense of the island after info from the British Intelligence Service. It was the first time in history that the Allies made use of the decrypted messages from the famous Enigma machine of the German military intelligence services (the story of that decryption is now famous thanks to the 2014 movie The Imitation Game ). After the addition of 25.000 British and Commonwealth troops who retreated to Crete from Greece the total number of allied soldiers reached 39.000.
Operation Mercury a compromise plan by Hermann Göring, No2 in the chain of commands after Hitler, marked the airport of Maleme in Chania as the primary target and the key for the fall of Crete. On the dawn of 20 May 1941 the sky above the village of Maleme went dark by the dozens of German aircraft that paved the way for the following invasion with a carpet of bombs. A few minutes later hundreds of paratroopers filled the sky with their parachutes.
The first wave of the attackers was reaped by a storm of heavy fire from the guns of the New Zealanders and Greeks on the ground. More than 700 Germans jumped from the planes that day. More than 500 of them were killed before reaching the ground or right after. Many Ju-52s planes were also shot down mostly from the Hill 107 that operated as the control tower of the defenders. Many DFS-230, the engine-less transport planes that were released by the Ju-52s carrying 10 fully equipped soldiers each, had the same luck.
Despite the numerical advantage of the allies, their knowledge of the coming attack and the fierce mass resistance of the Cretans who in many cases threw themselves into battle with what they could gather from their kitchens or their barns, the German war machine was simply superior. The surviving Germans managed to establish a small bridgehead east of the river of Tavronitis village. By the evening of the 20th they started slowly putting pressure on the New Zealanders of the Hill 107.
The tragic mistake of the 22nd New Zealand infantry battalion to withdraw from the Hill 107 in the night of the 20th gave the Germans the control of the airfield by the morning of the 21st. After that the door for the takeover of the whole island had been opened. Before the passing of two weeks the whole island was under German control. In the 13 days of the Battle, an estimated of 7.000 German soldiers (5.000 of them in Maleme and Souda areas) about 4.000 allies and more than 500 Greek soldiers were killed according to the military historians. Thousands more were wounded. Nearly 400 aircraft of the Luftwaffe were lost while the Royal Navy lost about 25 of its ships. The RAF also lost some forty-seven aircraft in the battle.
The city of Chania suffered greatly from the bombings of the German aircraft that partially destroyed it, especially the neighborhoods around Souda and the Municipality Market, Splatzia and parts of the Old Port.
After the initial shock of the German High Command, that came after the huge cost in human lives and aircraft on a peripheral operation (Kurt Student, the Lutwaffe General, concluded that Crete had brought the death of the airborne force, while Hitler himself forbade further large-scale airborne operations immediately after the battle) the Nazis reacted with unprecedented ferocity towards the civilian population. After Göring’s order, a wave of bloody reprisals against unarmed locals was launched on June of 1941 with the Massacre of Kontomari and the Razing of Kandanos standing out as the most horrific. German records put the number of Cretans executed by firing squads as much as 3,474, while more than 1,000 died in battles until the end of 1944.
The Germans left Athens in October 1944, but Fortress Chania would remain under Nazi control until the 9th of May 1945. The German surrender of the town would be the final act of World War II in Europe. The strategic importance of Chania during WW2 would make the city a military hub of Greek and Allied army including NATO. A Greek military airfield (Akrotiri), A Greek naval base (Souda), a Greek special forces camp (Maleme), 2 Greek infantry divisions( Vlites & Ayia), a NATO airfield, a NATO naval base & missile firing Installation (Akrotiri) and an American Naval Support Air Base in Souda Bay would make Chania one of the densest military hubs in Greece.
Τhe 50’s, 60’s and 70’s life in Chania followed the general lines of Greece’s economic growth, based on agricultural production and tourism. Its citizens experienced the dark days of the Greek military junta and the restoration of democracy. When Greece joined the European Union in 1981 a new era started for the public infrastructure of the whole region that started to attract an increasing amount of tourists from the European continent and heavy investment in the industry of hospitality.
Today’s Chania is a city of nearly 90.000 people if you include the suburbs and the adjacent communities with a vibrant agricultural production in its wider region including a wide range of products that span from extra virgin olive oil, wine, oranges & cheese to bananas and avocados. The tourism industry is a constantly growing sector of the local economy. As an indication of its size (2018 data) the total number of visitors in the region during the tourist season has surpassed one million, ten times the population of the permanent residents.
Its rich history and architectural heritage, the natural beauties of its wider region (some of its beaches are repeatedly voted as the best in the world, the national park of the Samaria Gorge and several other mountain trekking paths offer unique escapes very close to the city) combined with the unique character of the locals, their authentic and omnipresent folklore and last but not least their exquisite Mediterranean cuisine make Chania an irresistible destination for all travelers.
The Ottoman rulers converted the Old Catholic and Orthodox churches of Chania into Mosques & in the same time, in an effort to please the local population, they re-established the seat of the ancient Orthodox Bishop of Kydonia that had been abolished by the Venetians. A series of public baths are built throughout the city, public water fountains and hospitals, barracks & new imposing Mosques like the Yali Tzami are erected. The temple of monastery of the Dominicans built by the Venetians on the Splanzia square of Chania in 1320 is converted into the Chiougkar Tzamisi meaning the Mosque of the Prince. At its southwestern part one of the two surviving minarets is constructed, the tallest and most impressive of the city. It reached a height of 40 meters, it had two balconies and bore a conical metal roof covered with lead sheets.The Chiougkar Tzamisi was the main mosque of the city, with the neighbourhood of Splantzia square being the turkish quarter, reference center and place for all sorts of social or political events in the city. The sword of the Turkish Dervish, who had first entered into the city and was considered sacred and miraculous for Muslims was kept in this mosque.
The Turkish occupation would change the sociopolitical conditions dramatically in the city of Chania. Wealthy Muslim families became the new upper class and feudal lords in the place of Venetian and Creto-Venetians, meaning the people who had a Venetian origin but had become completely assimilated to the Greek culture and some of them didn’t even speak Latin. Chania became the seat of the Turkish Pasha of Crete.The Ottoman society was structured with religion as its prime feature. Many natives left with the Latin for Venice, regarded by most Greeks after the fall of their empire as the successor of Constantinople. Others left for the Ionian Islands, Mani even Corsica where a form of Cretan dialect can still be heard today. Many others chose to convert to Islam in order to avoid the head-tax to all the non-Muslim or in the hope to be better adjusted to the new reality on the island and maybe increase their social mobility. The ones who stayed behind and never quit their religion they also never quit the struggle for freedom with many uprisings against the Ottoman rulers starting from Chania.
Sfakia on the south coast of Chania was the only territory of Crete that managed to remain independent with a payment of a symbolic tax to the Turks, becoming a refuge for insurgents & persecuted Cretans. A clear indication of the overall situation in the coastal areas is the population of Sfakia at the time. During the Venetian era the population in the mountainous region was not more than 2,500 as is today. In the Ottoman era the population had catapulted to 11,000. The main reason was the extent of daily transgressions of the Muslim population that in some cases led whole Christian village along with their priest to convert to Islam. By 1770 Sfakia, a barren steep rock on the Southern coast had prospered to a point of having its own fleet. Among the prosperous traders with four ships in his possession was a former teacher in Sfakia known as Daskoloyiannis (Daskalos=teahcer in Greek). When the Orlov revolt broke out in Greece spurred by Catherine the Great of Russia, Daskaloyiannis descended from the mountains with 2,000 strong and started winning some battles. In the end the unwillingness of most people of the plain to go into battle and the numerical superiority of the Muslim led to the surrender & awful torture of the Greek captain. The Russian support he had anticipated had never come.
In the battles that took place the fighters from Sfakia left behind them a great number of dead Turks inspiring new insurgents to fight for their freedom & giving their fellow landsmen from the mountainous region on the South of Chania the reputation of a fierce warrior that would accompany them for years to come.
In 1821, the Greeks rose up against the Ottoman Empire. The conflicts between Greeks & Turks in Chania and the rest of the Cretan cities were brutal with bloody massacres from both sides and Muslims being driven into the fortified cities of the northern coast. Muhammad Ali Pasha, the powerful Albanian-Ottoman who ruled Egypt from 1805, was summoned by Sultan Mahmud II to restore order. After being appointed governor of the island Muhammad Ali reaches the port of Suda on 28 May 1822. The Turkish-Egyptian army was almost three times the size of the Greeks and was better equipped. By 1824 the revolt was contained with many Greeks fleeing to the mountains once more.
In the autumn of 1824 a fleet of 60 Egyptian warships carrying a force of 17,000 disciplined troops gathered in Souda Bay of Chania, on their way to crush the Greek Revolution in the Peloponnese. The Egyptian navy was sunk by the Europeans on October 1827 at the Battle of Navarino but Crete remained an Egyptian province controlled by Muhammad Ali until 1840 when it returned to direct Ottoman rule. By then as many as 60% of the Muslim population had died from famine, plague or in battle, while the Christians had lost around 21% of theirs.
It was at that bleak period of Egyptian rule that the modern symbol of the city, the iconic lighthouse of the old harbor, was reconstructed at the edge of the breakwater. It would take the place of an older one constructed by the Venetians at the end of the 16th century.
Despite the series of concessions that the Greek Cretans had managed to secure through their constant and bloody uprisings by the year 1860, their main goal, which was complete independence and union with mother Greece had not been achieved.
In the spring of 1866 new tension broke out with the Christian Cretans gaining control of most of the hinterland and the Muslims retreating in the fortified towns of the north coast again. At that time Chania served as the informal capital of the island with the consulates of all Great Powers as well as Greece concentrated on the seaside suburb of Halepa.
On May of 1866 the first pan-Cretan assembly was held in Aghia Kyriaki monastery 12km south of Chania where 99 representatives were elected and a petition describing the systematic injustices suffered by the Christian population was signed and sent to the Sultan and the consuls of the big powers in Chania.
Sultan Abdulaziz answered by sending 4.500 more troops to Mustafa Naili Pasha, governor of the island at the time. The great bulk of the Ottoman army was stationed in Apokoronas, the county between the cities of Chania and Rethymno. On August 17 1866 the first skirmish between Turks and Greeks takes place in the county of Kandanos, a mountainous region close to the southern coast of Chania.
On August of 1866 21, the general assembly of Cretans from the mountains of Askyfou (Sfakia) called the people of the island to a general and armed uprising against the Turks, according to the oath given by the Greeks in 1821. Their banner, a white cross on a blue flag with the writing “UNION OR DEATH”.
In the first battles of August 1866 in Vamos and Vrysses the Greek Cretans managed to come out victorious and cost the Turkish army more than 2.000 soldiers who died in the battlefield. Very soon however the overwhelming numerical difference between the numbers of organised and better equipped Ottoman soldiers and the rebels led to defeats first in Kandanos and then Vafes (Apokoronas).
On November of 1866 Mustafa Pasha with 15.000 strong left Chania for Rethymno and the Monastery of Arkadi, where about 250 armed rebels and more than 700 children and women from the surrounding area had found refuge. The Holocaust of Arkadi that followed provoked a worldwide indignation with prominent figures of the time like Victor Hugo praising the will of the Cretan people for freedom. By 1869 despite all the blood and sacrifices the Ottomans had managed to take back the control of the whole island, with the Greek Cretans gaining the control of the local administrations as a minimum concession for their political cooperation. Before the passing of a decade the island was again under revolutionary fever. Three revolutionary committees one in Chania, one in the village of Vamos (Apokoronas) and one in Rethymno were founded in 1877 while by January 1878 the whole island had joined in.
The Pact of Halepa that was signed on 15 October 1878 at the house of Kostis Mitsotakis, Professor of Law in the University of Athens, journalist and political activist in the city of Chania since 1872, recognized Crete as an autonomous to a great extent state of the Ottoman Empire, accepted Greek as the official language in law courts and public services, granted a series of tax reductions, predicted the establishment of a Cretan gendarmerie that would be manned by natives and formally accepted the right of the populace to carry arms. (the tradition of carrying arms is still very much alive in the island’s hinterland). Kostis Mitsotaakis became the founder of the political family bearing his name, grandfather of Prime Minister Konstantinos Mitsotakis and great grandfather of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. He was also the husband of Eleftherios Venizelos‘ sister and the reason Venizelos became a politician.
In the decade that followed the Pact was trampled by the Turks in several occasions leading to a new round of insurrections after 1889. It was on that year that the 25 years old promising lawyer named Eleftherios Venizelos, a person who would change the route of Greek history for ever, first entered the political arena. Prompted by his brother in law, Kostis Mitsotakis, founder of the Barefoot Party (Liberals) who had just left politics to serve as an appellate judge, Venizelos stepped up to take his place.
Venizelos’ election coincided with the first victory for the party of the Liberals who had previously been completely excluded from the administration. The victory was came as shock to the opposing party of conservatives(Caravanades). In order to put the new majority into a tough spot, just a few days after the elections of April 1889, the conservatives bring a vote that declares the need for an immediate union with Greece. Although Venizelos had argued with absolute clarity about the need for union with Greece from the time of his university years (the British Liberal politician Joseph Chamberlain had given an interview to an English newspapers that Cretans wanted independence but not Union with Greece. Venizelos leaded the committee of Cretan students that met with Chamberlain in Athens to express their objections), he and his party considered the timing of such a new declaration not favorable for the cause.
They were proved right. The Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II revoked all privileges given to the Cretans, a new body of 200, recruited in Turkish occupied Macedonia police officers, landed on the island, martial law was imposed, many Christians were slaughtered & many churches were burned to the ground. The disorientating cries of the populists (mainly conservatives at the time) targeting Venizelos as a traitor who should be put on trial for his unwillingness to support the claim of union, were practically nullified by the Ottoman reaction.
Venizelos along with several other liberal MP’s flee to Athens until things cool off but he returns a few months later to get married with his the great love of his life, Maria Katelouzou. They move in Venizelos’ family house in Halepa where they have their two children. The second, Sofoklis, would cost Maria her life and plunge Venizelos into deep grief.
A few months after Venizelos’ wife death, in September 1895, a group of educated young Cretans who had formed a secret society in the form of the Greek Filiki Eteria, would set in motion a new liberating movement this time from the village of Alikampos (Apokoronas). By the spring of 1896 the Ottomans had lost the military control of the island but in the city of Chania Muslims were still the majority. The Christian population suffered extensive looting and repeated massacres that went on until the beginning of 1897, when many Christian shops, municipal offices, even the Christian bishop’s house were set on fire.
The new wave of Turkish violence pushed the usually mild temper of Venizelos to a boiling point. On January 23rd with the Christian neighborhood of Chania still burning, he decides to join a small group of about 100 rebels in the mountain of Malaxa. The group heads for Akrotiri, in order to have the high ground and a good view of the bay of Chania, sets camp in Korakies and is immediately joined by hundreds more who flock to assist the struggle for independence. The borderline outposts of the revolted reach Profitis Helias to the west and Marathi to the east.
On January 25th a committee of the most educated among the rebels issues a resolution that declares the end of Turkish occupation and the union of the island with Greece and sends it to the consuls of the Great Powers (Great Britain, France, Austro-Hungary, Italy) and of course Greece itself and raises the Greek flag on Prophitis Helias. The Great Powers do not accept the request of the Cretan rebels but decide to end the matter of the Cretan Issue that had dragged on for nearly 80 years, with an international occupation of a new Cretan State. In the same time an expeditionary force of 1500 men from Greece lands in Kolymvari, 20 km west of Chania. They are warned however not to approach the city at a close range.
The attempt of the Turkish side to cause an incident to the detriment of the Greeks would pay off when the Cretans breached the neutral zone created by the Powers between the two sides. The anchored in the bay of Chania fleet of the Great Powers opened fire against the rebel camp and one of the most heroic scenes of the Cretan war of Independence would unfold. As the bombs pounded the rebels’ positions, the Greek flag was twice shot down by the shells. Twice, a young Cretan named Spiros Kayalès, raised it back right risking his own life. When a third shell blew the mast completely to pieces, the young rebel lifted it up again with his body as a flagpole. It is believed that the sight of the death defying Cretan holding the flag forced the Italian admiral Canevaro, leader of the Great Powers’ fleet to order a ceasefire. The camp of the rebels was shaken by cheers of joy. The Italian would write later in his memoirs that the heroic act was something that he would never forget. It was also something that caused world sensation and drew even more sympathy for the Cretan cause, especially in the major European capitals.
At the time of the bombardment Venizelos was on board of the Greek war ship “Hydra” that was also anchored inside the bay of Chania. He decided to write a letter of protest to the Admirals and the Governments of the Great Powers that would also create sensation in the European capitals that had started to face a wave of demonstrations by university students, intellectuals and politicians who expressed their support to the Cretan people and decried the stance of their governments.
While the Greeks were entering into an open war with the Ottoman Empire over Crete in mainland Greece, Venizelos was evolving into a leading figure of the revolution, with the general assembly of Cretans electing him as the head of the three-member committee that would take over the negotiations. He would once again show his uncompromising stand against ochlocracy by going against the grain and proposing the Cretans should not end their struggle by accepting the proposed autonomy by the Great Powers without any other pre-conditions. However Greece was losing the war with Turkey and the exhausted by the constant warfare Cretans wanted to grab on the chance before the Ottomans turned all of their military might against them. Venizelos became the target of all of the anger and the frustration of his compatriots. Twice he escaped by nearly losing his life by the angry mob, which demanded and got his resignation.
Even though western culture never managed to dominate over the local culture, in time the two started to coexist and intertwine, resulting in the so called Cretan Renaissance (1580-1669), a bright period when Cretan artists & intellectuals created masterpieces in literature, architecture & painting, with prime examples the poem of Erotokritos by Vitsenzos Kornaros, the famous tragedy of Erofili by Georgios Hortatzis & the stunning universally recognized paintings of El Greco. A thing that had surely played a part in that period of cultural growth was the change in the stance of the Venetians towards the locals. The Cretans were now seen as an integral part of the Venetian Empire not merely subjects but allies. Allies against a greater enemy that seemed to be too close and too big to ignore.
Almost 200 years after the Fall of Constantinople the Ottoman Turks reached the island of Crete, determined to seal the complete control of the Eastern Mediterranean. The Turkish fleet first landed at the bay of Kissamos on the west and after looting a number of villages it sailed again for the bay of Kolymvari. From then on the army, according to the estimates about 50,000 troops, continued on foot until it reached the village of Galata. At the time according to the census of by Piero Castrofilaca in 1583 and later records the population of Chania was well over 50,000. The first attack on the city started at the end of June of 1645. After a siege that lasted 57 days Chania had fallen.
By 1648 the whole island of Crete, with the exception of Candia (former Chandax) the largest city of the island & a few strongholds like the fort of Suda (in the entrance of the gulf of Chania) and Gramvousa (northwestern edge of Chania) was in Ottoman hands. In 1669 after one of the longest sieges in history (started in 1648), Candia had fallen as well. The whole island was now the possession of the Sultan of Constantinople. The Venice of the East would be no more.
The Venetians struggled to establish their authority in Western Crete as they faced strong resistance from the locals who looked to the Greek Empire of Nicaea, one of the successor states of the Byzantine Empire for aid. By the year 1252 however the Venetians had managed to consolidate their authority. Chania was chosen as the seat of the Rector or Administrative General of the region, which was divided in separate feuda, plots of land, that were assigned to the Venetians settlers, who in return were ordered to reconstruct the city from scratch. For Venetians the island was not a temporary conquest. Their planning based on the number of soldiers -who were stationed in Chandax not Chania- their mighty navy and seemingly lax way of life of the period, pointed to people who intended to stay on the island for ever, unobstructed by serious outside threats.
Their plans would soon have to be revised. In 1263 a fleet from Genoa sailed into Chania, defeated the Venetians soldiers and burned the city before leaving. The rebuilding of Chania would have to follow the lines of a wider, reinforced fortification that would surround all the houses around the hill of Kasteli. After 20 years of construction (1536 to 1556) the whole project was judged to be insufficient so the Venetians summoned their best engineer, Michele Sanmicheli from Verona, to build a wall that would make them feel secure enough. Strong walls which embraced the greatest part of the city, enforced with 4 bastions, towers & a protective trench strengthened the city’s defense considerably and new forts were erected on the adjacent islands of Souda, Thodorou and Gramvousa.
New sumptuous private & public buildings are designed & constructed such as the Palace of the Rector (governor’s palace, a hotel today) & the villas of several Venetian commanders and members of the old nobility that chose the new city on the sunbathed south for a fresh start, tall multistory houses according to the contemporary Venetian style for the new land-owners. Large Catholic churches like the Cathedral of Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Catholic convents like the Dominican Monastery of St. Francesco (old archaeological Museum at Chalidon St) are erected to cater to the needs of the Catholic population.
The local population remained faithful to their Greek-Orthodox religion and traditions. The Cretan Church continued to refer to the Byzantine Empire as the true and lawful rulers of their island up until the fall of Constantinople and even after the dissolution of the Greek Empire it kept the ties with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, ties that survive until this day. Most locals belonged to a cast of a second rate citizen known as villani parici, peasants that worked the fields of the Venetian rulers or the nobilitas cretensis, the feudal lords of the old aristocracy like the Skordyli or the Kallergi who very frequently led the revolts against the Latins. From 1212 until the end of the Venetian era in the mid 1660’s the Cretan population organized 27 revolutions with the Revolt of Saint Titus in 1363 uniting the colonists with the locals against the Venetian Senate.
After several failed attempts to recapture the island, the Byzantines with the army of Nikephoros Phokas, commander of the eastern armies & future Emperor, finally succeeded in taking back control after a successful siege of Chandax that forced the rest of the Cretan cities to capitulate and accept the Byzantines as the new rulers in 961 AD. In their attempt to erase all traces of Arabic influence from the social, political & religious life of the island, the Byzantines would order the rehabilitation of new populations from other regions of the Empire to Crete, including some of the noble families of Constantinople that took over the leadership of the island. In order to shield Crete from future attacks, the Byzantines built new fortification walls in various coastal outposts of the island, with the city of Chania building the new wall from the ruins of the ancient wall of Kydonia. This was the period that the Arabic name was changed from Al Hanim into the Greek contemporary name of Chaniá.
After the 4th crusade of 1204, the Fall of Constantinople & the abolition of the Byzantine Empire, Crete was given to Bonifacio, Marquis of Montferrat leader of the crusade, who in his turn chose to sell it to the Venetians after failing to enforce his control over the island.
Before the Venetians could establish their foothold however their Genoese rivals under the leadership of their compatriot Enrico Pescatore, Count of Malta, took hold of the island, building 14 forts around it to fight the Venetian fleet. Pescatore ruled the entire island with the exception of a few isolated Venetian garrisons & managed to repel the Venetian attacks until finally in 1218 a treaty left Crete in Venetian hands.
In 330 AD, the year the Imperial capital moved to Constantinople from Rome, Kydonia becomes the seat of the first paleo-Christian Episcopate after a continuing spread of the new religion in the region of Western Crete. As a Byzantine province, in a time the eastern empire focused mostly on its interests and enemies in Anatolia, Crete and Kydonia in particular fell into obscurity and a kind of historical lethargy, with Christian religion being the dominant feature of that era. As an independent administrative region under the supervision of a Byzantine General, the island of Crete had its military & administrative center in the city of Gortyna, following the footsteps of the Roman administration.
By the time of the 7th century it became clear that the Byzantine navy was not sufficient for the protection of every single island of its realm. Crete, that by the mid 600’s had a population of about 250.000, suffered from the successive raids of the Vandals (end of 5th century), of the Slavs (beginning of 7th century) and especially the Arabs, who raided Crete in the 650’s, in the 670’s, during the first decades of the 8th century and finally in the 820’s when a large group of exiles from Muslim Andalusia managed to conquer the whole island and establish the Emirate of Crete with the fort of Chandax (modern day Heraklion) serving as their power-center.
The Arabic period that lasted for more than a century shattered the Christian population of the island that was persecuted & forced to flee to the mountains. The Arabs renamed the settlement of Kydonia into Al Hanim (the sanctuary). According to current belief and various sources in the wider region of Kydonia, stood a settlement with the name of Αλχανία κώμη (alchanía kómi) dedicated to the Greek God of Hephaestus, the Roman God Vulcanus later, a name the Arabs found easier to pronounce. Although the historical sources from this period are few it seems the Arabic population was only interested about the coastal areas of the island and not its mainland. For approximately 135 years the Emirate of Crete was a major thorn in the Byzantine side, controlling the sea routes of the Eastern Mediterranean & functioning as a safe haven for corsair fleets from the Muslim world that ravaged the Byzantine shores of the Aegean Sea.
The first major wave of settlers from mainland Greece, the Dorian Greeks, came around 1100 BC with Homer referring to them for the first time in Odyssey where Kydonia is referred to as one of the most important cities on the island of Crete. Like most of the Greek city states at the time, Kydonia was constantly at war with its neighboring city states, such as Aptera to the east & Phalasarna to the west. According to the excavated evidence it seems Kydonia gave the victory to whichever side it chose to support, in the constant infighting between the cities of the Cretan island. Although only a few traces from the classical period (4th – 5th BC) have been found, we can safely assume by the references of ancient writers that the city knew a time of prosperity. The famous sculptor Kresilas (Κρησίλας), student of the renowned sculptor Phidias (architect of the Athenian Acropolis), came from Kydonia.
The Romans foresaw the strategic importance of the island & tried to find ways to intervene in its domestic affairs from the start of 2nd century BC. In 71 BC Marcus Antonius Creticus tried to clear the Mediterranean Sea from the threat of piracy but was defeated and most of his ships were sunk by the Cretans and their pirate allies. He barely saved himself by signing a humiliating treaty and was mockingly given the by-name Creticus, which meant conqueror of Crete by his fellow Romans. Two years later however, the Roman consul Quintus Caecilius Metellus Creticus father of the famous in history Mark Anthony, member of the Roman upper class, praetor and pontifex from 73 BC until his death, defeated the Cretans & conquered Kydonia, to which he granted the privileges of an independent city state & the right to mint its own coins.
After the Roman conquest the Island of Crete formed a joint province with Cyrenaica, the coastal region of Eastern Libya. The province was known as the Provincia Creta et Cyrene with its capital being Gortyna, on the south of modern day Heraklion. A long and peaceful period followed with many luxurious public & private buildings of elaborate mosaic floors & fine Roman sculptures, a Roman theater (it survived until 1585) erected in Roman Kydonia.
In 298 AD the great reformer Roman Emperor Diocletian separated the two provinces recognizing the geographic inconvenience of their political matrimony. The Diocletianic Persecution (303–11), the empire’s last and bloodiest official persecution of Christianity, did not destroy the empire’s Christian community, on the contrary, after 324 Christianity became the empire’s preferred religion under its first Christian emperor, Constantine the Great. Constantine placed Crete in the Praetorian prefecture of Illyricum that included most of modern Greece and Western Balkans and was run by Thessaloniki.
The history of the city of Chania starts from the Neolithic era according to the archaeological evidence of the 3rd & 2nd millennium BC, mainly ceramics that have been found on the hill of Kasteli (east of the city’s old port). The first permanent settlement on Kasteli Hill was established by a Minoan prince named Kydon, son of Hermes (according to the legend–or Apollo according to others) & Akakalida, daughter of King Minos (after whom the ancient Cretan civilization was named), according to ancient Cretan traditions.
The settlement of Kydonia quickly evolved into an important commercial center with close relations with the nearby island of Kythira. In 1450 BC the settlement on the hill of Kasteli is destroyed by a big fire, with several inscriptions from clay that were burned in the fire and surviving to this day, referring to the existence of a palace in the wider region.
The city was rebuilt after the fire and as we can conclude from the size of the necropolis, the tombs & the stoneware of that time it flourished despite the decline of the Minoan civilization and its subjugation to the Greek tribe of the Mycenaeans around 1400 BC. Today it is widely believed that the downfall of the Minoan civilization was the outcome of one of largest volcanic eruptions in history which took place sometime between (1550–1500 BC) in the Island of Santorini, about 100 km north of Crete, causing a massive tsunami and the destruction of several coastal settlements among other things.
This is the best place for breakfast and brunch in the city. Hands down. It’s what they do and they do it in the best way possible. Will you find more places for breakfast and brunch in Chania? The city is breaming with them. Will you find any one as good as this? Not a chance. Take our word and do yourselves a favor. Thank us later. Cause you will thank us for this.
Stavrós is not the only place worth visiting in Akrotiri. Maráthi is another paradise little village split in two sandy beaches preferred especially by the local crowds mainly during the weekends. The beaches’ proximity to the two fish taverns located literally on the wave, offering fresh & traditional dishes can be a dreamy combo for every visitor and since the locals seem to have such a timeless love for them, it’s as safe as it can get…
Other very noteworthy places in Akrotiri are the Monasteries of Agía Triáda of Jagarolon, of Gouvernéto & finally of Saint John the Hermit, very close to each other, in a line that forms the reason why the peninsula of Akrotiri is often called the “Holy Mountain of Crete”
The Crusading Monastery of Agia Triáda (Holy Trinity) is one of the most significant monastic complexes from the end of the Venetian occupation on the island. Jeremiah Jagarolo took over the reformation of the small monastery standing there before 1611, that went through several tidal changes through the years.Today one can marvel its great architecture but can also sample one of its famous products that include several different varieties of wine as well as olive oil made by its own trees & vines.Shortly after it one can find the castle-like Monastery of Gouverneto (Lady of the Angels) built in 1537 & burnt by the Ottomans after their invasion in the middle of 17th century but rebuilt later on. After the visit to the second convent, a paved little path leads to the slopes of a beautiful canyon surrounded by wild nature ending with the famous Arkoudospiliá (bear cave) named after a large stalagmite that dominates its main chamber & the cave of Saint John the Hermit.If you continue even more, you will reach a small creek that was once used as a berth,where you can take a cooling dive before ascending the challenging path up to the top.