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.
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).
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
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
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
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.
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
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
By eleven o’ clock the cafeterias in
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.
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
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.
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
of the information on this page : “Unexplored
Crete”, Road Editions. For more
guidebooks and maps of Greece, click here.