Street Stories of my Chania
We are there, almost… I mean, this month marks my first six months living in Chania. Yet, looking back, I never wrote a proper article about the city. Chania is second city on Crete and one of the most beautiful towns around Greece (or so Greeks say). Let’s walk around the street stories of my Chania.
The best place to start is from the Municipal Market, or Demotiki Agora. This large building represents the beating heart of the city. It officially opened three days after the unification of Crete with Greece (1913). Probably one of the most impressive markets in the Balkans, you can read my recent post about it here.
The Muslim Quarter
If you exit the market from the back door, you will be inside the old town. On the pedestrian street Chatzimichali Daliani, you will find the Minaret of Ahmet Aga. This is one of the two surviving minarets in town, remnant of the Ottoman rule.
This area, known as Splantzia, is part of the former Muslim quarter of Chania. The quarter still bears a mysterious atmosphere containing the traits of the several civilizations that lived on the island over the centuries. It is inhabited both by Greek and migrants, as well as travelers and Bohemians. The whole street exudes a foreign air that doesn’t seem to be related to the typical Greek standards of the town.
Skridlof Street, the leather lane, used to be home of shoe and boot makers, specially stivania, or Cretan boots. Even if today almost none of these produce their own leather products, the smell of leather is pungent and attractive.
Look out for the last old workshops where it is still possible to buy made-to-measure, hand-made boots. In Crete these are worn especially in rural areas paired with wide baggy trousers known as vraka and the idiosyncratic black fringed head-scarf.
The square is in front of the Church of the Trimartyri and was built in the 1950s. it is lined by cafés and features several statues of Cretan prominent figures.
The Church of the Trimartyri is also the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Chania. One of the landmarks of the city, dating back to 1860. It was built-in on the site of a Venetian church which the Ottoman Turks later converted into a soap factory.
Legend claims that the child of the factory owner, Mustapha Naili Pasha, fell into a well behind the church and in despair, his father prayed to the Virgin to save him. In answering his prayers the Virgin saved the child and the Pasha donated the soap factory to the Christians, as well as the funds to construct a church.
The Old Turkish Hamam
On Halidon Street, next to Plateia Mitropoleos, a building features eleven small hemispherical domes and a partially obscured larger dome on its roof. It was one of public hamams the Ottomans built in town.There was a portico surrounding the structure, later on leveled during the week-long German bombardment in 1941.
Across the street is possible to see the Folklore Museum of Chania, the Archaeological Museum of Chania and the Roman Catholic Church.
Also referred to as Harbor Square, cafés, restaurants and souvenir shops dot Sintrivani Square, with the harbor opening up to the North. In the center of the square there is a small marble fountain. Until the 1950s, Sintrivani Square was the center of Chania life, used for public gatherings, where ships entered the harbor and passengers and goods disembarked.
The Old Jewish Neighborhood
Kondylaki Street, which extends from the harbor-front to Agios Dimitrius’ bastion is a relatively wide alley. Chania’s Jewish community occupied for centuries this area known as Zudecca, Chania’s Jewish ghetto.
Central to this community were its two synagogues, but only one still remains today, Etz Hayyim. The southern courtyard, the Lauder Garden, contains the tombs of four rabbis and a mikvah bath.
The fortress, now home to the Maritime Museum, dates back to 1620. It has the typical layout of Roman forts, incorporating two levels of rooms and a central courtyard. Although much abraded, the details of a finely carved doorway leading to the residence of the Venetian Provident are still discernible. This doorway still features the Venetian Lion of St. Mark.
The Turks used the building as a barracks and then as a prison for Cretan liberation fighters.
The small observation tower on one corner of the fortress is probably one of Crete’s most significant places. Here, Prime Minister Venizelos raised for the first time the Greek flag on Crete (1/12/1913). A ceremony that marked the end of successive occupations of Crete.
The Faros lighthouse is the oldest existing lighthouse in Greece. The Venetian Navy erected it to protect Chania’s harbor at the turn of the sixteenth century.
It isn’t strange that this lighthouse bares a close resemblance to a minaret. In the early nineteenth century, the lighthouse collapsed in a storm following years of neglect by the Turks. Between 1824 and 1832, Egyptian soldiers stationed around the island redesigned and rebuilt the structure.
Angelou Street, the Venetian Quarter
This narrow street features some fine examples of the Venetian mansions characteristic of the XVI and XVII centuries. Most houses in the area retain a Venetian architectural style. Still, the Ottoman Turkish influence is present in other nearby buildings, with the timber hai-arti, the projecting, second-floor wooden facades.
The Venetian Harbor
The eastern basin of the harbor was designed for boat building and repairs. Imported goods were unloaded on the west basin and then transported by donkey to warehouses.
The Venetian Navy built Chania’s harbor between 1320 and 1643, despite the fact that this location was not particularly suitable due to its exposure to the strong north winds.
By the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the importance of the harbor diminished as large ships began to use the deep, natural harbor in Souda Bay.
Mosque of the Janissaries
The Mosque of the Janissaries (also called Yali Mosque) is the oldest Islamic structure in Crete. The Janissaries were the Turkish soldiers stationed around the island to keep law and order.
Rather than being merely soldiers, they were the Christian sons captured from conquered countries. This mosque (1645) stands on the site of a small Venetian church, and it was the place of prayer for the Janissaries.
The central dome and the porticoes, as well as four of the smaller domes, are of Neoclassical design. For centuries, a fine minaret stood in one of the corners, alongside an enclosed courtyard. The German bombing in 1941 left no traces of them.
The Venetian Arsenali
Seven Venetian-built dry-docks line the main eastern basin of the harbor, originally there were seventeen. These long, vaulted arsenals (1461-1599) housed the Eastern Mediterranean Venetian fleet shipbuilding and ship repairs.
They were open on one end with the sea reaching the entrances. This way, ship could be pulled up from out of the water into the sheds.
Agias Ekaterinis Square
This square is in the middle of Kanevaro Street. For centuries, it marked the site of the Dominican Catholic Church of Santa Maria. There were also various ecclesiastical buildings around it.
The week-long German bombardment in 1941 flattened all structures in this area. The rubble was cleared away in the 1950s. Out of this rubble appeared pottery rests subsequently identified as Minoan which convinced archaeologists that this site was, in fact, Minoan Kydonia.
The structures exhibit fairly sophisticated design and construction techniques. The houses look out onto narrow, winding paved streets much like the ones in other parts of the Old Town.
Maxaradika, knives of Chania
Also known as the Street of the Knives, this is one of the places I prefer for a night walk. It has a relaxed atmosphere, tiny cafés full of color serve delicious local dishes. Few workshops selling Cretan traditional knives still remain. Blossoming bougainvillea give it a magnificent character, impossible to find in other parts of town.
Splantzia Square, also Plateia 1821, is the heart of Splantzia. Its name remembers the year of one of the largest local rebellions against the Turkish authority. I’ve written a post dedicated to Splantzia, and you can read more here.
There is also a large underground fountain for ceremonial washing when the church became a mosque. This underground chamber was a bomb shelter during WWII.
The Church of Agios Nikolaos, once converted into the main mosque of the city, still has a minaret standing on its structure.
The different tavernas and kafenia that surround the square make it a lively place during the whole year. This is the place locals choose to meet, enjoy mezes and raki, and spend long nights of animated conversation.
Local Tours of Chania
For the best insight of the city, tour it with a local.
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