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A few words about Chania:
Chania (ΧΑΝΙΑ in Greek) is the second city of Crete and the capital of the
prefecture of the same name. It lies along the North coast of Crete, about 70
km west of Rethymno and 145 km west of Heraklion.
Chania is the site of the Minoan settlement of Kydonia, the
Greek for "quince". The city reemerged after the end of the Minoan period as
an important city-state in Classical Greece whose domain extended from Hania
Bay to the feet of the White Mountains. Kydonia was constantly at war with
other city-states such as Aptera, Falasarna and Polyrrinia and was important
enough to be mentioned in Homer's Odyssey. In 69 BC the Roman Consul Metellus
defeated the Cretans and conquered Kydonia to which he granted the privileges
of an independent city-state. Kydonia reserved the right to mint its own coins
until the 3rd century AD.
The early Christian period under Byzantine rule is not well-documented. The
Arabs overtook the island by 824 and first called the settlement Chania. Again
there is little from this period which was largely an enslavement of the
people rather than a colonization. The Byzantine Empire retook the city in
961. They began to fortify the city to prevent another Arab invasion.
After the Fourth Crusade and the dismantling of the Byzantine empire, in 1204,
Crete was given to Bonifacio, Marquis de Montferrat. He, in turn, chose to
sell it to the Venetians for 100 silver marks. In 1252 the Venetians managed
to subdue the Cretans but in 1263, the Genoans, with local support, seized the
city under the leadership of the Count of Malta, Henrico Pescatore, and held
it until 1285 when the Venetians returned. 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. Contact with
Venice led to close intertwining of Cretan and Venetian cultures. The city's
name became La Canea and fortifications were built around the city, against
invaders and pirates, giving Chania the form that it still has today.
However the walls did not prevent the Turkish army overrunning the city in
1645 after just two months siege. The Turks landed near the Monastery of "Gonia"
in Kissamos, which they plundered and burnt. They seized Chania itself on 2
August 1645. Huge numbers died in the siege, particularly Turks. The Turkish
commander was executed on returning home for losing up to 40,000 men.
Most churches were turned into mosques and the riches of the city were taken.
The Turks resided mainly in the eastern quarters, Kastelli and Splantzia,
where they converted the Dominican church of St Nicholas into the central
Sovereign's Mosque ("Houghiar Tzamissi"). They also built new mosqies such as
"Kioutsouk Hassan Tzamissi" on the harbor. Public baths - Hamam, and fountains
were a feature of the Turkish city. The pasha of the island resided in Chania.
In 1821, as Greece rose against the Ottomans, many Christians were slaughtered
and the Bishop of Kissamos, Melhisethek Thespotakis was hanged from a tree in
Splantzia. In 1878, the Treaty of Halepa was signed and Christians were
granted certain rights.
Eleftherios Venizelos, who hailed from Mournies near Chania, was a leader of
the 1896 uprising against Ottoman rule and went on to be Prime Minister of
Greece and a great statesman. His tomb is on a hill overlooking Chania. In
1898, during the final moves towards independence and enosis with Greece, the
Great Powers made Chania the capital of the semi-autonomous "Cretan State",
with Prince George of Greece, the High Commissioner of Crete living here. The
district of Halepa has many fine neoclassical embassies and consulates dating
from this period. Crete issued its own stamps and money. The capital was moved
to Heraklion in 1971.
The city today
Despite being heavily bombed in World War II, Chania's old city is considered
Crete's most beautiful town, especially the crumbling Venetian harbour with
its 15th century lighthouse and the Mosque of the Janissaries. Many of the old
buildings have been restored as hotels, shops and bars, although the Splantzia
quarter behind the inner harbor and Venetian Arsenals is still largely
untouched and very atmospheric. The 1860 Greek Orthodox Cathedral is located
in a square facing the entrance to the 1879 Roman Catholic cathedral across
Halidhon street. The Synagogue - Etz Hayyim in the Topanas District, has been
restored in recent years after falling into disrepair when the Jewish
community of Chania was transported off the island by the Nazi occupiers in
1944. Tragically a British torpedo sank the ship Tanais carrying most of the
Jewish prisoners, killing the island's pre-war community.
The city boasts archaeological, naval history and folklore museums, art
galleries and many stores and taverns in the old town. The 1913 indoor market,
a large building based on the market of Marseilles, is on the edge of the old
town and is popular with tourists and locals alike. In the new town that
spreads out some distance there are popular boutiques and cafés as well as the
University, Town Hall and Hospital. Some 60,000 people live in Chania.
The city has an international airport (code CHQ) on the
Akrotiri Peninsula named after Daskalogiannis, a Sfakiot hero who was skinned
by the Turks in the 18th century. There are several flights a day from Athens
to Chania, with Aegean Airlines or Olympic Airlines. From April to early
November, there are many direct charter flights to Chania from the UK,
Germany, Scandinavia and other European countries.
Chania prefecture is one of the four prefectures of Crete and
covers the Westernmost quarter of the island. Districts include the verdant
Apokoronas, the mountainous Sfakia and Selino in the far South West corner.
Some notable towns in the Chania prefecture are: Hóra Sfakíon,
Kastelli-Kissamos, Paleohora, Maleme, Vrisses, Vamos, Georgioupolis and
The natural park of Samaria Gorge, a major tourist attraction and a refuge for
the rare Cretan wild goat or kri kri, is in the South of the prefecture of
Chania. The White Mountains or Lefka Ori, through which the Samaria, Aradena,
Imbros and other gorges run, are the limestone peaks topped by snow until May
that occupy much of Chania prefecture. They contain more than 40 peaks over
2,000 meters high. The highest peak in this area is Pahnes, at 2,452 meters
above sea level.
Western Crete is popular with tourists for its spring flowers that linger on
into early May in the mountains. Birdwatching is also popular, with the
lammergeier and golden eagle especially sought for. As an island, Crete has
many endemic species of plant and animal.
Crete's only freshwater lake, Lake Kournas, is in the prefecture close to the
border with Rethimnon prefecture, 47 km from Chania. It is relatively large,
with a perimeter of 3.5 km. The lake used to be called 'Korisia' after ancient
'Korion', a city thought to be in the area with a temple to Athena. The lake
used to be reportedly full of eels but now is better known for its terrapins
and tourists. Tavernas and pedalo rental shops line part of the shore.
Overall, however, the lake retains its beauty, the White Mountains reflected
in the mirror-like waters.
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