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Hania
Hania or Chania Hania or Chania Hania or Chania

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When you board a ship at Piraeus you probably expect that it docks at the port of Hania. Where you actually get off, though, is the port of Souda about seven kilometres away. To get to Hania simply follow the signs (Gr/E) and you will soon be at the heart of the town.
Chania ou Hania Crete

The road you are on as you come from Souda (or Iraklio) at some point intersects with Hatzimichali Giannari street in front of the town market (you will also see the street lights). Here you turn left and drive for a couple of blocks, and at the third intersection you turn right. You are now on Halidon street, which takes you straight to the Venetian harbour at the heart of the town (see city map). Halidon street can be recognised by the Gr/E signs pointing you to EOT / GNTO (the Greek National Tourist Organisation) and to the Museum.

If you are coming from Kasteli Kissamou, you will enter the town from the west, driving on Kissamou street which then becomes Kidonias. Right after Square 1866 you will see Gr/E signs directing you to the Old Town, the Museum and the City Hall. Here you must turn left in order to get to the beginning of Halidon street which, in turn, takes you to the Venetian harbour (see city map).

 

History

As you stand in Santrivani Square facing the sea, there is a hill to your right which was once crowned with the citadel of ancient Kidonia (the Kidonia Akròpolis). The first inhabitants of the place, who arrived here sometime during the Neolithic age, chose to build their homes on this hill, not only because of the security it provided, but also because of the great view! (Climb the hill and check it out for yourself!) There was no harbour here at the time, but then again these people had no boats, so they didn’t care! The need for a harbour arose later, toward the end of the period of the first palaces (ca. 17th century BC), when an important Minoan settlement was formed in this place, the most important in Western Crete. It was then that the first harbour was built, a harbour, it is true, that lacked the sophisticated design of later times. After that, the ancient town developed rapidly, and thanks to its artisanship and trade it soon acquired great wealth and power. It became so important among Cretan towns that it even minted its own coins.

Kidonia reached the height of its prosperity during the Roman period. In the year 30 BC the Roman emperor August Caesar granted it a status of autonomy under which the town really flourished. The good times continued for many more centuries, until one day in 824 AD, when an Arabian fleet appeared in the Libyan Sea, driven away from Spain and looking for new victims. Like so many other Cretan towns, Kidonia was reduced to ruins...

In 961 AD the Byzantines drove away the Arabs and rebuilt the town. To do this they used anything they could get their hands on, including stones from ruined buildings. They also decided to fortify the town and surrounded it with a large fortress which they named Kasteli. The only remnant of the Arabian rule is - according to one theory - the change of the town’s name from Kidonia to Al Chanea, Chanea, and finally Hania.

But the story does not end here. In 1204 the island was conquered again, this time by the Venetians. The new rulers reinforced the walls of Kasteli and rebuilt the town, which had suffered once again from armed conflict. As you may guess, they used the same materials again, taking stones from ruined buildings and incorporating them in the new ones they built in their place.

The Venetians came to stay, and indeed they did stay for an awfully long time; the 400 years of their rule was the longest occupation Crete has ever known. Since they had such plans, they started building and building, and pretty soon the area inside the fortress had changed considerably. They put up many luxurious houses - among them the Commander’s beautiful mansion - and a Cathedral, and when they were done they lay back comfortably to enjoy the lovely sunsets they could see from their porch. They thought that their strong navy and many soldiers would protect them from any danger, but they were fatally wrong. One dreadful evening in 1263, as they were preparing to watch the sunset, they saw something that made their blood freeze; their sworn enemies, the Genoans, were almost outside their door... Now, the Venetian army was nowhere near - it was based in Handakas, the modern Iraklio - and the Venetians were totally off their guard. They were violently attacked before they had time to organise their defence and were consequently defeated. The Genoans stayed on for a while, and then they took whatever interested them and returned home. As a farewell present, they burned down the city.

 

The Venetians came back with their wings clipped and once again they rebuilt the town. They decided that they were not going to be in that position again, and they realised - somewhat late, it is true - that one fortress around the small hill of Hania was not enough to defend the town from a serious attack. Some years later they built a second wall, and this time they surrounded with it all the houses built outside Kasteli. It was a large square wall that took some twenty years to be completed, but when it was finally over in 1356 they felt that it was too low to protect the town and not well designed. For this reason Venice dispatched its best engineer, Michele Sanmicheli, to remedy the situation. Sanmicheli built a much stronger wall and in the process used any building materials from ancient buildings that could serve his purpose. The ancient theatre of Kidonia, which had survived so many wars, was sacrificed for this wall, and so were many other public buildings and temples. It seems that the stones of these buildings had become like dominoes in the hands of fate, thrown down from time to time and always set up in a new formation...

The fort was equipped with 300 cannons and 30,000 cannon-balls and pretty soon more forts were built on the nearby islands of Thodorou, Souda and Gramvoussa. The Venetians were finally in control again, and western Crete was well fortified. It withstood all pirate attacks for many years to come, and even the legendary Barbarossa was unable to raid Hania.

 

After that Hania had a new period of prosperity. Many imposing public buildings were built, along with some equally imposing houses, and the town was planned according to the Venetian tradition which gave it a “European” character. The Venetian traders and battleships became a typical sight at the harbour and the bottom of the harbour was dug to accommodate them. In addition, seventeen dockyards were made (49) and ships were built or repaired in them. Seven of these dockyards survive to this day.
However, even the strongest fort cannot hold for ever. In August, 1645, hordes of ferocious Turks appeared before the town, determined to take it at any cost. And when the Turks say “any cost,” they mean it. After two months of merciless siege and 40,000 dead, the ammunition and the strength of the attacked were exhausted and the 10,000 Turks who survived managed to get in.

The town was destroyed and built from the start according to the tastes and tradition of its new occupants. The Turks repaired the damaged wall and made it even stronger. Hania was now so well fortified that the Turks made it the seat of their administration of Crete.
Mosque in Hania


In the two centuries of the Turkish rule of the island, the Greeks rebelled several times, but each time the fort provided protection to the Turks living in Hania and the surrounding area. But the revolution of 1897 was the last straw. The Great Powers of the time, England, France, Russia and Italy, decided that the Ottoman occupation of Crete could not go on any longer, and they intervened to have Crete declared an autonomous state. Sixteen years later, in December of 1913, Crete was united with Greece and the Greek flag was raised at the fortress, on the western bastion at the entrance of the harbour where it can still be seen.

The extensive damage caused by so many wars and the endless recycling of building materials have wiped out the traces of the earlier periods of the town’s history. From the Minoan Kidonia we have nothing but the scant ruins of a few houses and some clay tablets with writing in Linear A and Linear B. But the Minoan palace that undoubtedly stood in this place has not yet been found. The buildings and artefacts of the Minoan culture lie deep within the ground, below the foundations of modern-day homes, and they are inaccessible to the archaeologists. As for the priceless treasures of the Minoan palace, they may be right under your feet or the bed you are sleeping on...

 

The town’s recent history, however, has yielded a lot more, and that, despite the extensive damages the town suffered. And even though it was bombarded by the Nazis in the second world war and the largest part of the old town was destroyed, there are still many buildings from the Venetian and Turkish occupation that have survived. Most of these buildings were maintained in very good condition, and today they house museums, bars, restaurants, hotels and public services. On the other hand, many old homes are still lived in. The Venetian harbour and the old town behind it, the narrow streets and the tall mansions, all create a feeling of nostalgia that takes the visitor many centuries back.

 

Due to its strategic location, Hania was often claimed by many peoples and became a crossroads where different nations and cultures came in contact. It also was - and still is - an ideal base for the Great Powers, which wanted a strong presence in the Mediterranean. The streets and squares of the town were once filled with English, French, Italian and Russian sailors as well as with locals, foreign merchants, and travellers from all over the world. Today, in these same streets and squares walk thousands of tourists, who mingle with the locals and with the American pilots and marines of the Akrotiri NATO base. As for the corsairs (the blood-thirsty pirates), they have long disappeared from the Cretan seas. The only corsairs to be seen nowdays are the invincible A7-Corsairs of the Greek Air Force. They take off from the Souda airport, and as you lie on the beach you may suddenly see them flying just above your head...

 
Lighthouse in Hania

The boat arrives at Hania - or rather, Souda - at 6:00 a.m. This gives you the chance to see the old town and its Venetian harbour at the best possible moment, when the sun rises over the hill, dyeing the proud mansions and the tranquil sea with a deep red colour.
Until about 10:00 or 11:00 a.m., the time that tourists begin to wake, the town has an enchanting, serene feeling about it. This is your best chance to get a taste of the daily life of the locals. For the best taste - metaphorically as well as literally - go to the Town Market.

The town market in Hania

It is a closed cross-shaped gallery that houses over 70 food stores, among them many with fresh fruit produced locally. You will also find meat, dairy products, bread, legumes, and anything else you need. The Town Market was built in the beginning of the century, following the demolition of the main rampart at the south of the city wall and the filling of the moat before it with rubble. Behind it is a park with benches and some coffee shops favoured by the locals. After you are through with the market, you could come here and take a rest.

If you continue your walk to the east, you will find yourself in Splatzia. This was the Turkish quarter of the town and it still has many old homes. Its alleys have been turned into pedestrian zones, so you can take a good long stroll. Here you will also see a couple of Venetian churches, the one dedicated to St. Rokkos and the other to St. Nicholas. The latter was converted to a mosque, but from that mosque only the minaret survives - and not for long! It has a quite dangerous inclination, and it is bound to come down with the first strong earthquake, possibly on the head of an unsuspecting passer-by...

 

By eleven o’ clock the cafeterias in Santrivani Square

Picture from  Santrivani Square

and all around the Venetian harbour are full of tourists who have just woken up and are having their breakfast. The harbour cafeterias are the best place to enjoy a good breakfast and to watch some action. Their prices, though, are quite high. If you are looking for something tasty and inexpensive, try Iordanis’ cream-filled pastries (boughàtsa). They are always fresh - if you are lucky you’ll buy them right out of the oven - and you can find them in any of Jordan’s three bougatsa shops from 6:00 a.m. to 1:00 or 2:00 p.m. As for sandwiches, the best place to go is the Cafe Chiao, opposite the Archaeological Museum on Halidon street. They have great baguettes with fresh vegetables, and their outdoor tables will certainly invite you to watch the crowds while sipping a fresh juice or coffee.

 

By noon, the market looks very lively, especially on Halidon street and in the area around the Metropolis Square . Try walking on Skrindlof street; it is very colourful and it has many small, inexpensive shops selling quality leather goods that are produced locally. Most merchants and small-time manufacturers in this area sell some very good things, but the “modern” and “tourist-catering” image which they try to project may end up working against them. Ignore the fancy display of goods and the tourist signs and look carefully on their shelves for the truly good folk art they produce. One of the interesting places is the knife shop of Apostolos Pahtikos on 14 Sifaka street.
Apostolos Pahtikos

Between 2:00 and 6:00 p.m. most tourists are at the beach, while many of the locals enjoy a good nap. The humming in the streets subsides for a few hours and everything seems peaceful. If you don’t take a nap yourself or go to the beach, you can spend these hours visiting the town’s museums; they are less crowded at this time and they also protect you from the scorching heat outside.

 

The Archaeological Museum of Hania is closed on Monday and open Tuesday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The building where it’s housed is a sight in itself! It is an old Franciscan monastery, possibly built in the beginning of the 16th century, but it is the most important religious edifice to this day. In the course of the last few centuries this monastery had a history that was anything but dull! In 1645, the Turks converted it to a mosque (one can still see the foundations of the minaret and the beautiful Turkish fountain in the inner courtyard). In 1913 the Greeks converted it to a theatre and a movie house! In 1941 the Germans converted it to an ordnance depot (which they fortunately spared when they left the town). Then the building was left to its fate until 1968, when it was finally turned into a museum after undergoing extensive maintenance work. The museum houses a rich collection of archaeological findings from the area, dating from the Neolithic age to the Roman times. The most impressive exhibits are the Roman mosaic floors of the 3rd century AD, some classical statues, samples of Minoan pottery, and clay tablets with writing in Linear A and Linear B. Inside the museum you will find some very informative material including photographs of exhibits.

 

Just opposite the archaeological museum is a “live museum” where a rare, age-old tradition is practised. It is
Ethnologic museum

the church-bell foundry of the Papadakis family, housed - for a short while yet - in a building that once was a Turkish Bath.

The Maritime Museum is open daily from 10:00 a.m. till 4:00 p.m. It is a small but interesting museum at the Venetian harbour and it has a rich collection of exhibits. You will see miniatures of warships, old navigation instruments, old pictures, an interesting representation of the Venetian town, and a sizeable collection of sea shells.

Behind the Koundourioti Coast (Aktì Koundouriòti) is the heart of the old town. It is here that people come in the early evening, when they want to take a walk or eat something after a day at the beach. Zambeliou, Theotokopoulou, Angelou and Kondylaki are the nicest streets in the area, lined with old houses that have been turned into hotels, bars and restaurants. Of these, the Renier Mansion on Moschon street is the most interesting example. It was built in the early 15th century to house a Venetian family and today its surviving inner courtyard has been turned into a restaurant (SULTANA’S), where you can enjoy a delicious meal. Also surviving is the door with the Latin inscription and the Renier coat of arms as well as the family chapel which is dedicated to St. Nicholas.

 

A little later in the evening people begin to gather around the paved Koundourioti Coast and the Tombazi Coast (Aktì Tombàzi). As they stroll along the waterfront, they meet each other and exchange ideas for the night, then groups are formed and the evening plans are fixed. The action continues until the early morning hours, concentrated mainly around the western part of Koundourioti Coast with its many bars and discos and around Enosseos Coast at the eastern side of the harbour.

The town’s beaches are all to the west. Most of them are sandy and clean, but of course you must not expect to find any isolated spots. They are literally covered with deck chairs and umbrellas and surrounded by countless hotels and restaurants and many businesses involving sea sports. If you are not bothered by crowds and development, you can enjoy a cool and clean sea and try your hand at canoeing, skiing or surfing.

Hania, lighthouse

The municipal beach of Hania is about a ten-minute walk to the west of the town (just take the street that starts behind the Maritime Museum). It has showers, cafeterias and restaurants, and of course it is the first beach to be filled with people. No time is too early to find it packed.

 

A little further lies the beach of Aghii Apostoli, which is also sandy and nice. However, it, too, is full of people, and you may feel as crowded as if you’d taken the bus during rush hour!

 

Your best choice is Chrissi Akti (Golden Coast), located 3.2 miles to the right of Square 1866, right after the EKO gas station. It is a beautiful sandy beach and large enough to accommodate the crowds.
The sea in the Hania area hides some impressive reefs with very interesting marine life. If you would like to explore it together with the most experienced guides in Hania, contact Blue Adventures Diving and ask for Spyros Papakastrissios.

 

Contrary to what you will see in most maps and guides, the EOT (GNTO) information centre is not at the old Turkish Baths of the Venetian harbour. Since 1992, it is on Kriari street, next to Square 1866. Here you can be advised on where to stay and what to see and you can pick up information on the schedules of boats, planes and buses.

 

If you are more interested in the town of Hania, though, we suggest you contact the Town Information Centre . Irini Michailakaki, who is there to help you, is also a member of the Hania Mountain Climbing Club (EOS Hanion), and she can provide you with info on hiking and mountain climbing expeditions as well.

 

EOS Hanion is a very active club with 500 members and three refuges at the most beautiful sites of the White Mountain range. The members are very knowledgeable on the Cretan peaks and gorges and they can give you all the information you need. Offices are open from 8:30 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. and anyone who is a member of the international mountain-climbing family is very welcome. If you wish to participate in one of the club’s organised expeditions ask for the schedule they publish every three months and let them know in advance. Information on the European Walk Path can be obtained from Stavros Badogiannis, who helped to mark it and knows it like his backyard.


 

THE ROUTES THE ROUTES

Routes starting from Hania

Hania
1. Hania - Akrotiri
2. Hania - Paleochora
3. Hania - Sameria
4. Hania - Hora Sfakion (Sfakia)
5. Hania - Kissamos (Kasteli)

Routes starting from Kissamos
Kissamos (Kasteli)
6. Kissamos - Gramvoussa
7. Kissamos - Elafonissos
8. Kissamos - Paleochora (through the Topolian Gorge)
9. Kissamos - Paleochora (through Episkopi)
10. Kissamos - Sirikari

Routes starting from Hora Sfakion (Sfakia)
11. Hora Sfakion - Rethimno (Rethymnon) (travelling inland)
12. Hora Sfakion - Rethimno (Rethymnon) (following the coast)

Routes starting from Rethimno (Rethymnon)
Rethimno (Rethymnon)
13. Rethimno - Ierapetra (following the south coast)
14. Rethimno - Ierapetra (travelling inland)

Routes starting from Ierapetra
Ierapetra
15. Ierapetra - Zakros (coastal road)
16. Ierapetra - Zakros (inland route)

Routes starting from Iraklio (Heraklion)
Iraklio (Heraklion)
17. Heraklion - Rethymnon (coastal road)
18. Heraklion - Rethymnon (travelling inland)
19.Heraklioon - Agios Nikolaos (coastal road)
20. Heraklioon - Agios Nikolaos (travelling inland)

Routes starting from Agios Nikolaos
Agios Nikolaos
21. Agios Nikolaos - Zakros


Source of the information on this page : “Unexplored Crete”, Road Editions. For more guidebooks and maps of Greece, click here.

 

 

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