Chania, Crete, Greece

Chania: In the West of Crete's History

Golden Beach, Stavros
The Golden Beach of Stavros, at the top of the Akrotiri peninsula.
Mosque of the Janissaries
Chania's main Ottoman monument, out of step with the predominant Venetian architecture.
Church Amulet
Miniature church blesses a house in Chania.
Twilight over Venetian Port
Perspective of the Venetian Port of Chania.
Crete Style Counter
Counter of one of the many restaurants in Chania.
Venetian Buildings
Colorful buildings with Venetian architecture from the historic center of Chania.
waiting cart
A carriage driver waits for passengers at the Mosque of the Janissaries.
Chania Twilight
Visitors watch as night falls over the Venetian Port of Chania.
Shadow fishing
Fishermen on the dark side of Porto Veneziano.
The Venetian Port
Perspective of Venezian Port with the Mosque of the Janissaries in the foreground.
Streets in Greek
Secular corner of the Cretan city of Chania.
Venetian architecture
Visitors descend a staircase between buildings with Venetian architecture from Chania.
Porto silhouettes
The night brings shadows and new tones over Porto Veneziano.
Last Boat of the Day
Vessel enters the Venetian Port of Chania.
The balcony
Restaurant installed in a bright building in Porto Veneziano.
Cello in Venetian Port
Cellist livens up the evening at the Venetian Port of Chania.
Chania was Minoan, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Venetian and Ottoman. It got to the present Hellenic nation as the most seductive city in Crete.

As we feared, the crowds disembarked from the cruises and pointed to the Palace of Knossos harm us.

We were unwilling to visit and photograph an unavoidable monument of Minoan civilization and Hellenic history bursting at the seams. To avoid it, we rise early.

We packed for the next trip from Iraklio to Chania.

At eight o'clock in the morning, we arrived at the entrance to the complex. We are the first to enter. We unveil the palace as it is, bathed in sunlight that is still soft, though no longer golden.

The early morning incursion leaves us ecstatic, but on the edge. Prevented from entering Chania's house until one in the afternoon, we decided to take a look at some of the beaches at the top of the Acrotíri peninsula, to the northeast, where the city's airport is located. Those in southern Crete, Elafonisi, for example, stayed for later.

One hundred and fifty kilometers and two hours later, we find ourselves in the cove of the Gold Coast beach, facing the mountain of Zorba that enclosed it.

Chania Crete Greece, Stavros, Golden BeachFor reasons known only to the tides, the water barely reached our knees. Such depth dispensed with the services of a lifeguard. It kept him away from the post.

And to us, without motivation to dive there, or to go back to the car in search of another beach. We ended up sleeping on towels, recovering the hours of sleep that the crowds that landed in Iraklio had stolen from us.

Here and There, through the History of Chania and Crete

At two in the afternoon, we finally meet Yannis and his dog Fidel. We installed ourselves in the house that the Cretan host was renting and that an Irish couple had just vacated. Half an hour later, we inaugurate the discovery of Chania.

Chania Crete Greece, Venetian PortWealthy and resplendent, Chania has always aroused the greed of neighboring peoples. Fortified to match.

It is along the western wall of its Firka fortress that we approach the city's historic and urban core, its Venetian Port, once overflowing with ships that plowed the Mediterranean.

The road takes us across the square of Talos, placed between the walls and the Bay of Chania. Without expecting it, at a certain point, it ends up at a corner.

Chania Crete Greece, streets in GreekIt confronts us with the city's lighthouse, erected on the edge of an opposite sea wall, from there, only accessible by an almost circular walk all around the port.

We rounded the nearest angle, under the battlements and tower of Firka's Greek flag.

On the other side of the fortress, spaced apart by the benches and Parisian lanterns, fishermen held their reeds at the ready, spending their time keeping an eye on the Cretan Sea.

Chania Crete Greece, Venetian Port, silhouettesPassers-by stopped to admire the pastel elegance of the houses in front, straddling the rival Hellenic blues, navy and sky blue.

Greta and Cretan cuisine around Porto Veneziano

We continue in the same direction. The houses here are in the shade. A platoon of holidaymakers from northern Europe, who are used to having an early dinner and, accordingly, are already keeping an eye on the menus of the restaurants that fill the seafront.

Chania Crete Greece, restaurantThe interest is mutual. In a good Mediterranean way, recruiters from successive establishments approach them and try to seduce them with the unmistakable flavors of the local cuisine, the salads dakos of tomato and feta cheese, also served fried and grilled.

Eggplants, tomatoes and stuffed potatoes, semi-light starters for the real dishes that should follow: grilled squid, octopus or fish well drizzled with olive oil or, just and only for the bravest, enhanced moussakas.

We continue along the Akti Kountorioti seafront.

We pass through the main historical landmarks around it, so diverse and even disparate that they perfectly demonstrate the complexity and civilizational dynamics that gave rise to Chania.

From Minoan Civilization to Modern-day Greece

A few dozen meters inside the houses, the Etz Hayymim synagogue was hidden, a religious center for the Mizrahim Jews who believe that they originate mainly from Alexandria and other parts of Egypt. The Orthodox Cathedral of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary is a short distance away.

Returning to the bay, already walking from its bottom to the north, we come across the Kyuchuk Hassan Mosque, known as the Mosque of the Janissaries.

Chania Crete Greece, Porto Venetian, Mosque of the JanissariesThis is the most jarring of the buildings in Porto Venetian, topped off by a vaulted top of undercooked clay, a central legacy of the city's Ottoman period, when the island of Crete's own pasha resided there.

The Ottoman is, however, only Chania's fifth major historical period.

As far as there are records, the genesis of the city was a Minoan village treated by Cidónia (the quince tree). Later, around 1100 BC, it was conquered by the Dorics.

In a context of constant conflicts between neighboring city-states, in 69 BC, the Romans took it over and granted it a status of autonomy.

Byzantine Persistence

There followed a Byzantine and, soon, an Arab term. The Arabs – who called the city Chania al Hanim (the inn) – forced the Christian population to take refuge in the imposing mountains in the center of the island, so high that it is normal to preserve snowy summits in April and even into May.

The Byzantines recaptured the city in 961, preserved it until 1204 and consolidated the use of the Greek term Chania. Fearful of a new Arab onslaught, they added the additional fortifications that continue to envelop it.

The space between the Janissary Mosque and the sea accommodates a row of white carriages that wait for passengers for guided tours of the port and the village.

Nearby, a cellist is installed with her back to the sunset. Adjusts the scores and offers Chania a classic soundtrack alternative to the chords of the Sirtaki that resonate from the various restaurants.

Chania Crete Greece, Porto Venetian celloSoon, passersby reward the music with cash. Aware of the girl's vulnerability, two beggars from Eastern Europe snatch the profit from her instrument cover.

We leave the coastal road for a perpendicular that leads us to the top of another fortified point, nestled between the Venetian houses of Kastelli, panoramic like few others.

From there, in the company of small clans of young Cretans, we admire the city's scenery opposite the inaugural one, the bay below and extending to almost 360º, the solitary silhouette of the lighthouse, diffused against the setting sun soon.

And the figurines of a few visitors bent on traversing the sea wall from wire to wick to reach the base of the bell pillar that rests on it, overlooking the Cretan Sea and the entire Chania to the south.

Chania Crete Greece, Venetian PortAnd the Long Prevalence of History and Venetian Architecture

The city's hallmark is above all Venetian, something that is surprising if we take into account the way in which the Venetians took over it.

The story goes that, after the fourth Crusade in which the Christians managed to seize Constantinople, as a reward, Boniface de Montferrat, the leader of the Crusade, was gifted with the island of Crete.

Now, the result of a complicated dispute between the Byzantines and the Venetians, this marquis found himself removed from the title of first emperor of the Latin Empire.

In order to make up for the slight, he invested in the conquest of Salonica. Seeing himself the owner and lord of the second largest Byzantine city, he despised Crete. It is said that he sold it to the Venetians for a mere hundred marks of silver.

These were not asked. They submitted the Cretans to their yoke and built the city in order to serve the mercantile purposes that had driven them for a long time, the trade in spices, cereals, silks and other fabrics, porcelain, salt and slaves.

Today, with its evenly shuttered windows opening onto wrought-iron rather than Greek balconies, the Venetian capital of Crete has an Italian look.

Coming from the northern islands, from Santorini, Mykonos and neighbors, most European visitors are not fooled.

Chania Crete Greece, Porto Venetian buildings

The Imposition of the Ottomans and the Legacy of the Mosque of the Janissaries

The sun would soon fall on the western walls as, in 1646, it dictated the end of the Venetian golden period. Driven by the expansion of their empire throughout the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, the Ottomans they faced decent resistance.

After two months of siege, frustrated by the sacrifice and the cost to which they were forced, they broke through the city without mercy, slaughtered the Venetians they managed to capture, and rushed to convert the local churches into mosques.

On the last time that day that we passed by the Janízaros, the cellist continued to play, resigned to the intermittent theft of her earnings.

Chania Crete Greece, Venetian Port, twilightFinally, the landing of the sun east of Crete ignited the atmosphere north of the lighthouse and the fortress of Firka. We sat down a short distance from the instrumentalist.

With our feet almost in the smooth water, we let ourselves be hypnotized by the movements of the little black figures on the sea wall and around the lighthouse.

Once dark is confirmed, we see Chania surrender to the nightly international invasion. And we enjoyed the celebration of guests from the most Italian city in the Greek bastion of Crete.

Chania Crete Greece, Venetian Port

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