Chania. Venetian finesse under the sounds of the Cretan lyre
Chania. Studying an old Venetian map
The time has come to show you a place of particular emotional value to me for many reasons. Fortunately, it’s objectively one of the most beautiful cities in Greece, so I don’t risk being biased.
Chania is an ancient city since the Minoan town of Kydonia was here. But the visitor’s view is mainly due to the long period of Venetian domination (1210-1645 for Chania). Therefore, in order to understand what you see, this Venetian map of 1625, stored in the Marcian Library of Venice , is useful.
Venetian map of 1625, to understand Chania. The 16th-century walls surround the city. The triangular projections (A) are the bastions. The cannons were placed on them.
The deep bay in the West (B) is the Venetian Harbour. The elongated buildings with the red roofs next to the water (C) are the arsenals, where the ships were protected and repaired. More to the East (D) we distinguish the Great Arsenal standing alone.
Behind the arsenals is the Kastelli district (E). Here was the ancient city of Kydonia. Later the Venetians lived here. Here were the aristocracy mansions, their cathedral and the palace of the governor. Unfortunately, Kastelli was bombed in the last war and everything was destroyed.
In Chalidon Street leading to the Venetian Harbour is the former Franciscan monastery (F), with the church of Saint Francis. Today it houses the Archaeological Museum.
To the East is the Splantzia district, with the other great Venetian monument: the Dominican monastery (G) with the church of Saint Nicholas. Franciscans and Dominicans were always at odds, therefore their monasteries are always on opposite sides in each city.
The southern part of the walls (at the bottom of the map) was demolished in the 20th century and the modern city is spreading there.
We begin touring Chania with the trademark: the Venetian Harbour
A tour of Chania could only start from the Venetian Harbour, the city’s most picturesque part.
The red building on the left is the Maritime Museum and on the right the Firka Fortress. It was built by the Venetians in the 16th century, along with the walls, as the Turkish danger was now great. It was thus named by the Turks when they occupied the city in 1645 since firka means barracks.
On the right is the Maritime Museum
On the left is the mosque of Kuchuk Hassan
The 17th-century mosque of Kuchuk Hassan
The mosque of Kuchuk Hassan. Its architecture is clearly influenced by the Venetian one (Renaissance)
The 15th-century arsenals are unique in Greece and rarely internationally. Here the Venetians protected their ships. At that time there was neither the quay nor the front walls. The arsenals were communicating directly with the sea and the ships were coming in through
In the middle, we see the Great Arsenal
The Great Arsenal. Today it houses the Centre of Mediterranean Architecture and hosts major events
The lighthouse of the Venetian Harbour. It was built by the Venetians around 1600 but was restored by Mehmet Ali, the regent of Egypt, in 1839
In the streets of Topanas
Topanas is the best preserved quarter of Chania, west of the Venetian Harbour. It’s named after the Venetian powder storehouse located here (tophane in Turkish). But before you get lost in its narrow streets, don’t omit to visit the Archaeological Museum in Chalidon Street. It’s the church of Saint Francis of the former Franciscan monastery (probably of the 16th century) and is also interesting as a building.
Archaeological Museum (church of Saint Francis of the former Franciscan monastery)
Venetian Renaissance Architecture in Topanas
Wooden sahnisin (closed balcony) of the Ottoman domination, in a building of the Venetian domination
All wooden constructions were added during the Ottoman domination
Fireplace of Venetian times, another characteristic image of Western Europe
The double arched balcony doors (and windows) with a pillar between are very typical Venetian. In Venice, most palazzi are like this
Round windows are typical of the Renaissance, where there is a worship of the circle as a perfect shape symbolising God. Another Venetian note in the streets of Topanas
A note of Istanbul and Pontus with the entirely wooden upper floors
The Venetian powder store (tophane in Turkish), which gave to the district of Topanas its name
Behind the Firka fortress, you’ll see the San Salvatore bastion. On it is the Franciscan monastery of the same name, probably from the 15th century. Today it houses the Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Collection of Chania.
Former Franciscan monastery of San Salvatore (Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Collection of Chania)
In Splantzia, east of the Venetian Harbour, you’ll see less than in Topanas. Nevertheless, there are some very important monuments. Saint Roch is a very beautiful Venetian church in Splantzia Square. It was built in 1630, after Chania overcame a plague epidemic, as this saint is considered to protect against the plague.
The church of Saint Roch. It has now been repaired
Opposite Saint Roch is the great church of Saint Nicholas. It was part of the Dominican monastery and was built in the 14th century. In 1645, with the Turkish conquest, it was transformed into the Hugar camii (Mosque of the Sovereign). Then an impressive minaret with two balconies was built. It was the city’s main mosque. In 1918 it was converted into an orthodox church.
Saint Nicholas of Splantzia, of the former Dominican monastery. The side wall is from Venetian times, while the façade is much more recent
At a short distance, you’ll find Ahmet Aga’s minaret, all which is preserved from the homonymous mosque.
The minaret of Ahmet Aga
Of course, this is just a little taste of what Chania has to offer to the visitor. And of course, we still have a great future with Crete…
If you don’t find it too difficult to leave the hotel before breakfast, I recommend that you book a room without breakfast and eat at the Venetian Harbour. It’s a wonderful experience.
A personal favourite for eating is ‘Kalderimi’, in Theotokopoulou Street, because apart from nice appetisers, there is also very nice Cretan music with lyre players. Also ‘Tamam’, in Zambeliou Street, for the delicious hünkar beğendi (sultan’s delight) and many other amazing dishes. Both in Topanas.
About the author
Hello! I am Denis, an architect based in Athens, Greece. I teach history of art and architecture in higher education. That’s one passion of mine. The other one is hiking, in and out of town. If you follow me, I’ll share my discoveries with you.
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