Chaniá (Greek: Χανιά, xaˈɲa, also transliterated Hania and Khania, older form Chanea and Venetian: Canea, Ottoman Turkish: خانيه Hanya) is the second largest city of Crete and the capital of the Chania Prefecture. It lies along the north coast of the island, about 70 km west of Rethymno and 145 km west of Heraklion.
The official population of the municipal area is 55,838 but around 70,000 people live in the greater area of Chania. With 4,248.1 inhabitants/km², the municipality is the most densely populated outside the Athens and Thessaloniki metropolitan areas.
Chart to the left is based on data recorded during 1958-1997. Absolute maximum temperature ever recorded was 42,5°C, while absolute minimum ever recorded was 0°C. However, the record minimum was broken on 13 February 2004 when the temperature reached -1°C at midday.
Chania is the site of the Minoan settlement the Greeks called Cydonia, Greek for quince. Some notable archaeological evidence for the existence of this Minoan city below some parts of today's Chania was found by excavations in the district of Kasteli in the Old Town. This area appears to have been inhabited since the Neolithic era. The city reemerged after the end of the Minoan period as an important city-state in Classical Greece, one whose domain extended from Hania Bay to the feet of the White Mountains. The first major wave of settlers from mainland Greece was by the Dorian Greeks who came around 1100 BC. Cydonia was constantly at war with other Cretan city-states such as Aptera, Falasarna and Polyrrinia and was important enough for the Cydonians to be mentioned in Homer's Odyssey (iii.330). In 69 BC the Roman Consul Metellus defeated the Cretans and conquered Cydonia to which he granted the privileges of an independent city-state. Cydonia reserved the right to mint its own coins until the third century AD.
The early Christian period under Byzantine rule (First Byzantine Period, 395 - 824 AD) and the rule of the Arabs, who called the settlement Chania, are not well documented. During the former, Christianity spread in the island but during the latter, the Christian population was persecuted and moved to the mountains. The Byzantine Empire retook the city in 961 AD (Second Byzantine Period, until 1204 AD). They 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.
After the Fourth Crusade (1204) and the fall of the Byzantium in the Hellenic area, Crete was given to Bonifacio, marchese 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, their rivals of Genoa, with local support, seized the city under the leadership of Enrico Pescatore, count of Malta, 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.
The Venetian rule was initially strict and oppressive but slowly the relations between the two parts improved. Contact with Venice led to close intertwining of Cretan and Venetian cultures, without, however, the Cretans losing their Greek Orthodox nature. The city's name became La Canea and fortifications were strengthened, giving Chania the form that it still has today. On the other hand, after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, many priests, monks and artists took refuge to 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 the intellectual activities (written word, music, education) were also promoted.
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. Later, 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" Turkish: Hünkar Camisi). They also built new mosques such as "Kioutsouk Hassan Tzamissi" (Turkish: Küçük Hasan Camisi) on the harbour. Public baths (hamam), and fountains were a feature of the Turkish city. 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 which were Christians though. The Bishop of Kissamos, Melhisedek Despotakis was hanged from a tree in Splantzia for participation in the revolutionary events. In 1878, the Pact of Halepa was signed and Christians were granted certain rights. This was when a big part of the local muslim population moved to Turkey. The rest of them stayed until the Population exchange between Greece and Turkey in 1922.
In 1898, during the final moves towards independence and enosis— union with Greece— the Great Powers made Chania the capital of the semi-autonomous Cretan State ("Kritiki Politeia"), with Prince George of Greece, the High Commissioner of Crete living here. During these years Crete issued its own stamps and money. This was a very important transitional period when, no longer an isolated vilayet of the Ottoman Empire, 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. The district of Halepa has many fine neoclassical embassies and consulates dating from this period.
However the main goal was enosis with Greece which came after Venizelos's constant opposition to Prince George's rule over Crete. The series of conflicts includes the Revolution of Therissos in 1905, which overthrew Prince George and brought Alexandros Zaimis to rule Crete. Finally in 1908 Venizelos managed to establish a revolutionary government, recognized by the Great Powers. His later election as the prime minister of Greece (1910) was the last step before Crete was united with Greece on 1 December 1913. The Greek flag was raised for the first time at Fort Firca in the Old Harbour in the presence of Eleftherios Venizelos and King Constantine.
Eleftherios Venizelos, who hailed from Mournies near Chania, was the leader of the 1896-97 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 (Profitis Ilias, ).
Another important period for the city of Chania was the invasion and occupation by German 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 of Dexameni in the south of the city. These elements bombed the German forces in the Maleme airfield undetected, until they ran out of ammunition.George II of Greece also, stayed in a villa near the village of Perivolia, outside Chania before he escaped to Egypt. Part of the city was bombed, progress in several aspects of life was halted and a significant proportion of the area's human potential was either executed or imprisoned due to 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 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.
Fortunately, Chania and Crete in general escaped the disastrous consequences of the Greek Civil War of the postwar years. The city of Chania was slowly regaining its normal pace of development during the 1950s, trying to overcome the difficulties that the war had left as an aftermath. 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 of the locals. The capital of Crete was moved to Heraklion in 1971.
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 harbour 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. From the south, the old town is continuous with the new, and from the north the physical border is the sea. The centre of the modern city is the area extending next to the old town and especially towards the south.
Despite being heavily bombed during World War II Chania's Old Town is considered the most beautiful urban district on Crete, especially the crumbling Venetian harbour. The borders of the Old Town are the mostly destroyed old Venetian wall (and bulwarks) and this has been the cradle of all the civilizations which were developed in the area. The central part of the old town is named Kasteli and has been inhabited since Neolithic times. It is located on a small hill right next to the seafront and has always been the ideal place for a settlement due to its secure position, its location next to the harbour and its proximity to the fertile valley in the south. Nowadays it is a bit more quiet than the neighbouring areas of the west part of the district. The Splantzia quarter (next to the east part of Kasteli) is also largely untouched and very atmospheric. A plan for its future development is now being under consideration.
The main square of the Old Town (next to the west end of Kasteli) is the Eleftherios Venizelos Square ("Syntrivani"). It is the heart of the touristic activities in the area. Next to this (on the west side) lies the Topanas district, which used to be the Christian part of the city during the Turkish occupation. Its name comes from the Venetian ammunition warehouse (Top-Hane in Turkish), which was located there. The Jewish quarter ("Evraiki" or "Ovraiki") was located at the north-west of the Old Town, behind the harbour and within the borders of Topanas. The whole Topanas area is generally very picturesque, with many narrow alleys and old charming buildings, some of which have been restored as hotels, restaurants, shops and bars. This makes it a lively and colourful place especially during the warm period (April-October). In the winter, it still remains a center of activities (especially for nightlife) but in a more quiet and atmospheric way.
Finally, a very distinctive area of the Old Town is the harbour itself and generally the seafront ("akti"). Akti Tompazi, Akti Kountouriotou and Akti Enoseos (marina) all feature several historical buildings and a thriving nightlife. The main street that combines the modern town with the old town is Halidon Str.
In Topanas and the Jewish quarter:
On the harbour:
The modern part of Chania is where most locals live and work. It is less traditional than the old town, but there are still areas of charming beauty or of some historical interest. The oldest district (early 18th century) of the modern city is Nea Hora (meaning "New Town") which is located beyond the west end of the old town. It is a developing area, but also a very picturesque one, with narrow old lanes leading to a small fishing harbour. During the same era the district of Halepa begun to grow to the east of the city and used to be home for the local aristocracy. Some of the historical buildings of the area (including old embassies of foreign countries) had been destroyed or abandoned during the later decades of the 20th century, and it was only recently when some interest was shown for the restoration of the remaining ones.
Other historical buildings in the area include Eleftherios Venizelos’s House (built 1876–1880), the old French school (now property of the Technical University of Crete, housing the Department of Architecture), the Church of Agia Magdalini (built 1901–1903) , The “Palace” (built 1882, house of Prince George during the period of the Cretan independence) and The Church of Evangelistria (built 1908–1923). Part of the marine area of Halepa is called Tabakaria, where a unique architectural complex of old leather processing houses is situated. The district of Koum Kapi (the Venetians had first named it "Sabbionara", which means "the Gate of the Sand", the same as "Koum Kapi") situated beyond the walls at the eastern part of the old town, was also one of the first places to be inhabited outside the fortification walls. Initially, it was home for the "Halikoutes", a group of bedouins from North Africa who had actually settled there since the last years of the Turkish occupation. Nowadays it is a developing area with many trendy cafes, bars and restaurants on its picturesque beach.
Apart from the previously mentioned older districts of the modern part of the town, several new residential areas have been developed during the 20th century, like Agios Ioannis, Koumbes, Lentariana etc. Some part -but not the biggest- of the city centre is dominated by colourless medium-height block buildings, typical of the urbanization period of Greece (1950–1970). However, there are still some beautiful neoclassical houses especially at the eastern part of Chania and some of the neighbourhoods surrounding the centre are quite picturesque. The plan of the central area is very good, there are some nice parks and several sports grounds, the most important being the Venizeleio Stadium of Chania and the Swimming Pool at Nea Hora. The 1913 indoor market ("Agora"), a large building based on the market of Marseille, is on the edge of the old town and is popular with tourists and locals alike. Some other important sites of the newer urban area are The Court House ("Dikastiria", built late 19th century), The Public Gardens ("Kipos", created 1870), The Garden Clock-Tower ("Roloi", built 1924–1927), The Episcopal Residence (Bishop's residence, "Despotiko", built early 19th century) and the House of Manousos Koundouros (built 1909), the Cultural Centre ("Pnevmatiko Kentro"). The central largest squares in Chania are the Market Square ("Agora"), the Court House Square ("Dikastiria") and the "1866 Square".
In the last two decades there has been a profound movement of Chania residents towards the suburbs, as well as towards areas around the city which used to be rural, mainly the Akrotiri Peninsula.
The cultural background of Chania is very rich, first of all due to the town's long history and its interaction with many diverse civilizations in the past. Furthermore the location of Crete (immediately connected to Athens, situated between Europe, Asia and Africa) as well as the cosmopolitan atmosphere that tourism creates, have generally kept the town up-to-date with modern advances in art and knowledge. Currently, there are several museums, art galleries, theatre and music groups, educational and research institutions within the city.
The most important museums in Chania are:
Several theatre groups are active in Chania with the most important being the Municipal and Regional Theatre of Crete (DI.PE.THE.K) The repertoire includes old and contemporary plays from Greek and foreign writers. The Venizelian Conservatory of Music ("Odeion", established 1931) is also one of the most important cultural societies in Crete. A recent attempt from the municipality to create a chamber music group named "Sinfonietta" has been successful and its performances throughout the year have enriched the cultural event calendar of the city. There is also a significant community of people who focus on alternative/indie music as well as jazz and some interesting bands performing modern musical styles. A number of traditional [Cretan] musicians are also active in town.
The city is also quite cinephile. There are five cinemas (two of them open-air), concentrating both in commercial and independent movies and occasionally organizing small festivals.
During the summer period a variety of cultural events take place on a daily basis. Theatrical plays, concerts and several exhibitions from Greek and foreign artists are organized either by the municipality or by individuals. A venue which hosts many of these events is a theater located in the east bulwark of the Old Town ("Anatoliki Tafros"). Also, several festivals, conferences or sport events take place in Chania especially between May and September. The Venizeleia athletics competition is one of the most noteworthy events of the year.
Cultural life throughout the wintry period of the year (November-March) is not as rich as in the summer, but it is certainly maintained to a good standard. During the last years there has been a substantial effort by both the city councils and by the locals to create the background for the city to be in the centre of interest throughout the year. Towards this direction, the increasing number of students moving to Chania for their studies has proved to be helpful. There is also some effort to promote Crete as a tourist destination for all seasons - a role that the island could easily hold - which would also support both the local economy and culture.
The area of Koum Kapi has developed rapidly during the last decade and nowadays offers a variety of nice choices for mainstream cafes and some restaurants. The ratio of Greek people going there (either locals or visitors) is much higher than in the Old Town, where the atmosphere is more cosmopolitan (not meaning that it is not preferred by Greeks as well). There are also some clubs in town, which are usually closing in the summer, since people prefer to party closer to the beach resorts of Agia Marina and Platanias where the major clubs are located. During the summer, a main way of entertainment is the everyday swimming, which is often a kind of social outing especially for the locals, since it replaces the afternoon coffee that many Greeks fancy.
Cinema, theater and concerts are, among the already mentioned ones, some very common activities for entertainment in Chania, with a fair amount of choices offered and repertoires varying from independent to commercial. Some venues for live music focus on Greek traditional and perhaps Cretan artists. The outdoor evening feasts in the villages, usually related to religious celebrations, are quite popular during the summer.
Water sports are very popular in Chania and especially the local water polo team (Nautical Club of Chania, N.O.X. ) has managed to be a protagonist in the primary league of the Greek national championship for years. Several athletes of this team have also played extensively for the Greek national team which has achieved major international successes.
Football and basketball are also very popular in the town, however not as successful. The main football teams are "A.E.X" (Sports Club of Chania). and "Ionia". The main clubs for athletics are "Eleftherios Venizelos" and "Kydon". The "Antisfairisi" club is specialized in tennis and table tennis and has also a significant tradition in chess. Many of the above sports are being practiced in the National Stadium of Chania, constructed in 1935 with the financial support of Elena Venizelou, then wife of Eleftherios Venizelos. There is also an open swimming pool for water sports in Nea Chora and a new indoor one which is being built in the area of Akrotiri. A modern indoor stadium for basketball / volleyball etc has also been built (2002-2005) near Nea Chora (Kladisos area).
It also has to be mentioned that there is a very active climbing / mountain walking club (Greek Mountaineering Club of Chania, E.O.S. Chanion ) organizing weekly excursions of varying difficulty on the mountains of Crete and several other longer term missions in mainland Greece and abroad.
Educational institutions located at the greater area of the city are:
Other research and intellectual institutes and societies in Chania are:
Primary and secondary schools are mainly public in Chania (as in all cities in Greece). However there has been a slow development of some private high schools recently. Among the "Eniaia Lykeia" (Unified Upper Secondary Schools) of the town there is an autonomus Ecclesiastical Lyceum in Agios Mattheos.
Two main sources of wealth in Chania are agriculture and tourism. A big portion of the city's residents (not necessarily farmers) own from few to many decares of agricultural land where several plants are being cultivated, the most popular ones being olive trees and citrus. Other important products include wine, avocados, dairy etc. Apart from the traditional ways of cultivation, some of the producers have concentrated on practicing new methods in order to promote organic food. The organization of the Agricultural August has been a recent attempt to promote local quality products including a series of activities organised by the Perfecture of Chania since 1999 and has proved very successful.
On the other hand, tourism has developed rapidly during the last decades, starting from the early 1970s. Nowadays the tertiary sector is becoming more and more important for the locals, since an increasing number of them are participating in the business. Agrotourism and ecotourism are forms of tourism which are significantly developing lately.
There is also some secondary industry with focus on the processing-packaging of the agricultural products (some of them export oriented) or manufacture products that support the agricultural production. On the other hand, the growth and development of academic/research institutions in Chania is a challenge for future economic activities by taking advantage of the specialised knowledge of scientists and technicians and by also reinforcing quality tourism (conferences etc.).
There is also a number of private clinics and medical centers specializing in various areas within the town.
There are several flights a day from Athens to Chania, with Aegean Airlines and Olympic Airlines. From April to early November, there are many direct charter flights to Chania from the UK, Germany, Scandinavia and other European countries. See Domestic flight schedules