Chania Satellite image, Mountains in the South
Port of Chania, Photo : Jose Goncalves
Chania City Satellite image
Chania ( Greek: Χανιά, also transliterated as Hania, older form Chanea and Venetian: Canea, Godart and Olivier abbreviation: KH) 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 53,373 but some 70,000 people live in the greater area of Chania.
The city of Chania lays at the east end of the Gulf of Chania which is formed between the Akrotiri peninsula and the Spatha peninsula (also called Rodopos). It covers a significant part of the small Plain of Chania and borders with the hilly suburbs of Profitis Ilias, Agios Matthews and Kounoupidiana towards the east, with the villages of Vamvakopoulo, Nerokourou, Mournies and Perivolia towards the south and with the coastal areas of Chryssi Akti and Agioi Apostoloi towards the west.
The climate of the city is mild and typical mediterranean, with sunny dry summers and mild rainy winters. During the period April-October fine weather is almost an everyday feature with very few interruptions. Sunny days are frequent during the winter as well, but windy and rainy weather is the basic feature of that period. Snow and extreme temperatures are rare near the coast, with very few exceptions like the snowstorm of the 13th of February 2004 when some 30cm of snow were accumulated inside the urban area causing general chaos. However, especially during February and March, such cold days can be followed by much warmer weather, even by heatwaves when a Saharan dust event occurs, something quite frequent during spring.
Chania (IPA [xa'nja]) (also transliterated as Hania) (Greek Χανιά) 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 Cydonia, 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. Cydonia 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 Cydonia to which he granted the privileges of an independent city-state. Cydonia 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 colonisation. 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 harbour. 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 Ottoman Empire, 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.
Women of Chania, c. 1897
Eleftherios Venizelos, who hailed from Mournies near Chania, was the leader of the 1896-1897 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 ("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 the city became more cosmopolitan and flourishing. It basically has to do with the fact that Crete regained its role as the crossroad of civilizations, influenced by Europe as well as by the East and did not remain an isolated state of the Ottoman Empire. Many important buildings were built during this era, intellectual and artistic socities were created and a new form of local aristocracy brought a different atmosphere in the every day life of the town. The district of Halepa has many fine neoclassical embassies and consulates dating from this period.
However the main goal was the 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 the 1st of December 1913.
Another important period for the city of Chania was the invasion and occupation from the German forces during World War II. 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 generally Crete escaped the disastrous consequences of the Greek Civil War which followed the years of the second World War. 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 behind. During the 1970s Crete became a very competitive tourist destination which gave a significant boost in the city's economy and affected the every day life and the overall culture of the locals.
The capital of Crete was moved to Heraklion in 1971.
1905, Theriso, Chania. Eleftherios Venizelos declares the revolution against the monarchy of Prince George
The city today
Venetian Quarter of Chania
The city of Chania can be basically 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 (they started being built in 1538) from which the eastern and western parts have survived. From the south, the old town is continuously unified 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.
The old town
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 with its 15th century lighthouse ("Faros") . 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 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 developement 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.
Some important sites within the Old Town are:
On the harbour:
In Topanas and the Jewish quarter:
Around Halidon street:
Harbour of Chania city [Source]
The modern part of the city
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 Eftherios 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 "Sabionera", 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 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 squares of Chania are the Market Square ("Agora"), the Court House Square ("Dikastiria") and the "1866 Square".
The last two decades there is a profound movement of Chania residents towards the suberbs 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 styles of music. A number of traditional [Cretan] musicians is also active in the 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.
A major role in the city's cultural life is played by the Municipal Cultural Corporation of Chania (DI.P.E.X.)  which organizes a significant part of the events taking place throughout the year.
There is a French, a German, an Italian and a Swedish consulate in Chania.
Education / Research
Educational institutions located at the greater area of the city are:
Other research and intellectual insitutes 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 developement 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 argicultural 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 proccesing-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.).
An important centre of the economic activities in the town is the Chania Chamber of Commerce and Industry (E.B.E.X.) .
Entertainment / Night life
Chania is a family orientated town, traditionally Cretan in its charm. However, that does not stop it from boasting a fairly lively night life. The family atmosphere is more profound during the winter, something that is slowly changing with the reinforcement that the University students bring to the town. During the summer period (late April - early October) the place becomes more cosmopolitan with many tourists coming to the place from both mainland Greece and from any other part of the world. There is a selection of food choices, with plenty of greek tavernas, many of them serving traditional Cretan specialities and a decent number of foreign cuisine restaurants. A big proportion of them is gathered in the Old Town, Nea Hora and Koum Kapi, the coastal areas of the town, but there are several choices around the city as well. The Old Town is the place to find a myriad of galley bars and cafes, carved into the cliff side and the age-old Venetian buildings. Some of them are quite popular among people who look for a relaxed and cosy night out, offering a more intellectual point of view on nightlife, with good music ranging from jazz to indie and to traditional Greek. Some other ones are very popular among specific types of visitors (Scandinavian Bars, American Bars etc).
The area of Koum Kapi has developed rapidly during the last decade and nowdays 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 prefered 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.
Crete is one of the safest places to walk at night time and Chania was no different until fairly recently. In the last few years there have been some cases of women being attacked, but this is not in key with the Cretan lifestyle and mostly is blamed on tourists or visitors from the local base in Souda bay.
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 ping-pong 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.
The main health center in the city is the General Hospital "Agios Georgios" . Other institutions include the Crete Naval Hospital, the branch of the National Centre for Emergency Medical Care (E.K.A.B.)  and the Clinic of Chronic Disease. The Chania branch of the Organisation Against Drugs (Ο.ΚΑ.ΝΑ.)  opened in 2003.
There is also a number of private clinics and medical centers specializing in various areas within the town.
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.
Domestic flight schedules (http://www.cretetravel.com/To_and_from_Crete/Flights_Crete.htm)
Souda, some 7 km from Chania, is the city's port, with daily ferries to Pireaus and a NATO naval base.
Ferry schedules (http://www.cretetravel.com/To_and_from_Crete/Ferries_Crete.htm)
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 Kalives.
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 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.