In prehistoric times, somewhere around 3.650B.C, this blessed land nurtured the erection of one of the three most important Minoan city/states, named Kydonia. Throughout the centuries, the name and status of the city changed many times. From Minoan Kydonia to Arabic Al Hanim, to Byzantine Chania, to Venetian LaCanea, to Ottoman Hanya and finally to liberated Greek Orthodox Chania, the rich and long history of the area of Chania is fascinating, and the testimonies are dispersed all around the wider area of Chania.
Chania city is built on the ruins of Ancient Kydonia and was considered the third most powerful city/state of the Minoan civilization in Crete, following Knossos and Phaistos. The first Kydonian residents created a settlement in the center of modern Chania, on the hill of Kasteli, based upon the ceramic findings and architectural remains that date back in 3.650 B.C. The quality and the fine details of those findings reveal the power and wealth of that first Minoan settlement. From 2.200 B.C. to 1.580 B.C. the city is financially booming and even though the settlers rely mainly on farming, however there is evidence of some commercial and maritime activity as well.
During the post Minoan years, the people of Kydonia engage more intensely with commercial and manufacturing activities, thus leading to the financial growth of the city. The “workshop of Kydonia” makes ceramics of excellent quality, exporting them across the Mediterranean territory such as Cyprus and Sardinia. Meanwhile the city imports commodities from Mycenae, Cyprus, Italy and Sardinia. During the period of 1.550 B.C – 1.450 B.C. they issue their own currency and organize a very elaborate urban planning design with residential blocks, affluent residences with light shafts and a sewage system. Two landmark fires (1.450 B.C. & 1.300 B.C ) that burned the city to the ground twice are the reason we have found the ceramic inscription plates that reveal the linear A and linear B written language that they used. In 1.200 B.C. new buildings are erected yet 50 years later all traces of Kydonian life is lost along with the end of Minoan civilization.
During the Hellenistic era, Kydonia was centered on Kasteli cliff and was gradually spreading towards the south and west. In 524 B.C. people from Samos island, fleeting their tyrant, settled in the city and founded classical Kydonia, however five years later the Cretans reclaimed their city. During the 6th and 5th century B.C. the city was reaching Rodopou in the west, Akrotiri in the east and the foot of the White Mountains in the South. In the 4th and 3rd century B.C. the relationships of Kydonia with Athens were amicable. In the 1st century B.C. the city was conquered by the Roman Empire and Emperor August declared it an autonomous city that retained the right to its own currency and witnessed a construction and cultural boom with Roman amphitheaters, among others, being built. Findings of the Hellenistic and Roman era are numerous and impressive such as the Roman theatre in the archeological site of ancient Aptera.
330 A.D was a landmark year. Crete is liberated from the Romans and joins the Byzantine Empire. It is an independent administrative district led by a Byzantine General. During the Byzantine era, Kydonia retains its significant role and in the early Christian years, a bishopric is founded on the Kasteli cliff. Piracy and invasions are long term problems thus leading to the fortification of the center by building the Byzantine Wall, digging a peripheral moat and thus creating an island on the island. The walls however weren’t enough to repel the invasion of the Saracens (Arabs) in 828 A.D. The Arabic occupation lasted for about 130 years and led to the demise of the entire island because of pirate raids and predatory attacks. 961 A.D. marks the second Byzantine era, since the Byzantines reoccupy the island. During that period the bishopric is transferred to Agya area and the Byzantine church of Assumption of the Virgin is turned into the Cathedral temple of Kydonia. The main concern of the Byzantines was to reestablish the financial, social, political and religious stability in the city, thus bringing in upper class, well-educated families from Constantinople and building many churches.
The realm of Candia (Crete) was allocated to Boniface Marquise of Monferrat following the dissolution of the Byzantine Empire. However incompetent and unable to properly manage and administrate it he sold it to the Venetians for 1000 silvers marks. In the 13th century A.D. Genoese and Venetians were fighting over who would prevail on the island. The Realm of Crete ended up in the hands of the Venetians who renamed the city La Canea, deriving from Chania, and drew an extensive strategy of how to re-build the new city on the ruins of ancient Kydonia. La Canea was built according to Venetian architectural standards. Beautiful buildings, courtyards, wells and arched narrow alleys along with the opening of the main street, il Corso (today Kanevaro Str) where noble mansions are constructed, compose the new Venetian city grid. The monasteries of St Francis of the Franciscans and St Nickolas of the Dominicans were built outside the Byzantine walls in the early 14th century thus extending the city. The real impact of the Venetian era, on the cultural, architectural and city planning aspect of the city came about in the 16th century. The construction of the Venetian shipyards (Neoria), the introduction of running water at the Fountain Square, forts in Souda, Gramvousa, Theodorou island, the bastions of St Nikolas, San Salvatore, St. Dimitrios, Sabbionara, Piatta Forma and Santa Lucia, and the infamous Lighthouse are all part of the Venetian legacy. The Venetian harbor in the making as it appears to this day. Beyond the city boarders, the Catholics, in an attempt to come together with the Orthodox population as an attempt to face the threatening Ottomans, gave away more privileges and permissions to build striking monasteries such as the Monastery of Agia Triada Tzagarolon, Gouverneto and Chryssopigi. During the same period the European renaissance influences the Cretan society with cultural and spiritual stimuli that led to the so called Cretan renaissance.
The Cretan War refers to the battles between the Venetians and the Ottomans as to who will prevail on the island. It was signaled by the landing of the Ottomans on the northwestern coasts of Chania in the summer of 1645 A.D. and ended in 1669 A.D. with the surrender of Handaka (Herakleion). The Ottomans had prioritized to transform the Christian Orthodox landmarks and churches to Muslim ones. The Cathedral of Assumption became a mosque, so did St Nickolas, renamed to Hugar Tzamisi (its minaret is still standing) and all the Catholic monasteries. The most emblematic of them all is the Yali Tzamii mosque on the Venetian Harbor facing the lighthouse. The Turks that constituted the upper class, settled around the east quarters, in Kasteli and Splantzia now called Turkish quarters. The Christians and Jews had settled in the western quarters named Topana and Jewish accordingly. The Turks seemed less oppressive than the Venetians and gave back to the Christian population some of their lost autonomy and privileges. This religious mix coexisted amicably until 1770 when the revolt of Daskalogiannis put a considerate strain on the relationship between oppressors and the enslaved population. The revolution of 1821 led to more Christian slaughtering and by 1841 the island is back in the Ottoman hands. Strangely enough, Chania witnesses a new economic and construction rise with many new private and public buildings being built outside the Venetian walls according to the Neoclassical trends that prevail in Europe. In 1851 Chania becomes the Capital of Crete, however there is a social unrest that results in many minor and more crucial rebellions that lead up to the Cretan Revolution of 1866-1869. The consecutive revolution of 1877-1878 results in the signing of the Chalepa Treaty. In 1896 the Greek Government declares war against the Ottoman occupation in Crete and sends Timoleon Vasso to initiate a new rebellion that could lead to the unification of Crete with the rest of Greece. The Great Forces initially acted against the Greeks by stifling the rebellion with bombardments until the heroic act of Spyros Kagiales on the cliff of Profitis Elias, who replaced the broken pole of the Greek flag with his torso, inspired the Generals and ordered cease of fire. Greek liberation was on its way.
In 1898, Prince George arrives at Chania as the High Commissioner of Crete, to rule over the newly established Cretan State. Chania is the capital city of Crete as well as the cultural, administrative and industrial center. The city requires new buildings to house the population boom, the administrative services and the cultural hubs. Extending beyond the walls was of outmost importance. New boulevards are drawn such as Iroon Polytechniou St., Tzanakaki St., Andrea Papandreou St. where houses of prominent residents of the city are being built. Part of the moat is filled in order to build the ambitious project of the Municipal Market. The most prestigious neighborhood of Chania is now Chalepa where historical figures such as Prince George and Eleftherios Venizelos own their residences. Prince George builds the Russian Orthodox church of St Magdalene and the foundations of Evangelistria Church are being laid, where the Ottoman Cavalier’s stables were once. The Cretan State has its own currency in drachmas and in 1899 the first Cretan Government was formed with five superior administrations, the equivalent of cabinets. Frictions between Prince George and Eleftherios Venizelos, his then Minister, led up to the revolution of Therisos, which resulted in the fleeting of the Prince and the formation of a temporary Government with Alexandros Zaimis as the Prime Minister. In 1908, the Cretan parliament declares its intention to unite with Greece, even though Greece was hesitant due to possible reactions coming from the Great Forces and Turkey. Finally in 1913, the victorious outcome of the Balkan wars brought about the Treaty of London (20/5/1913) and the Treaty between Greece and Turkey according to which the Sultan gave up his claims over the Cretan territory. Crete was finally united with Greece on the 1st of December 1913 in the presence of King of Greece Konstantinos and Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos.
In the 20th century, rises a new liberated era for Chania after so many centuries of enslavement and tyranny. The city expands and population grows exponentially. Cretans show a righteous and heroic stance in every chapter of history. During the dictatorship of Metaxa in 1938, prominent men of Chania such as Aristomenis Mitsotakis, Manousos Voloudakis and General Mantakas attempted to create an anti-dictatorship movement however failed. However the circumstances that high lightened the high moral and ethos of the people of Chania was during the Battle of Crete. On the 20th of May 1941, the German forces bombarded Western Crete and thousands of paratroopers begun falling from the sky with their highly advanced firearms, military equipment and artillery. Unskilled and unarmed Cretans suffered greatly yet their fierce resistance and courage was acknowledged by the entire world. There are still memorial landmarks as a reminder of the bravery, men, women and children showed during WWII. Post war Chania was wounded and had suffered many losses in all aspects. The need for yet another reconstruction of the city was a given. Monuments, landmarks and architectural treasures were restored while others due to great restoration costs were left to their own demise. In 1965, the city’s Old Town was declared a historical, preserved monument and as such every effort was made in order to salvage and demonstrate the cultural and historical wealth of Chanias’ legacy.