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Chania history during the different periods of Crete

Chania history starts as Kydonia. The city was known, from the ancient greek, as Kydonia (this means quince in Greek but the name can come  also from old tribe mentionned by Homer: the Kydones). Kydonia name can also come from mythology and king Cydon. By some legend, Kydonia was found by king Cydon  (son of Hermes, the god’s messenger, and Akakallis, daughter of King Minos of Crete).

Chania was inhabited since neolithic period. In minoan time, city was known already as Kydonia. The name of the city is first mentioned in Linear B tablets from Knossos palace as “ku-do-ni-ja”. Some excavations were made at Kastelli (castle in greek) hill, quarter that was for long the fortress of Chania harbor. There, archeologists found ceramics from the neolithic period. It seems that settlement spread from that hill (easy place to defend) to the actual city.

During Classical and Hellenistic period, Chania was attacked by the Athenians during the Peloponnesian war, in 429 B.C.E. Kydonia took part in the struggle for domination among the cities of Crete during the Hellenistic period and fighted against Knossos.

Chania history during roman times

In 69 B.C.E the Romans under Quintus Caecilius Metellus Creticus invaded Crete (after 2 failed attempst). After loosing a battle in Kydonia area,  the Cretan surrender to Romans and delivered the city to the Romans. During the Actium battle, Kydonia helped the Romans and Emperor Augustus set Kydonia free for its assistance to him.  During the roman period, the city was flourishing, as illustrated by mosaics found in villas, roman workshops, coins…  But in 365 B.C.E, city was hit by a big hearthquake that devastated many cities of Crete. After the Arab conquest of Crete in 828, Kydonia’s name changed for Al Xhanim (the “Inn”). City was nearly destroyed by Saracens and population flew away in the mountain to escape from prosecution.

Chania history is linked with famous byzantine general Nicephoros Phocas. In 960, Byzantine military genius  and future emperor Nicephoros Phocas, heading a fleet of 308 ships and 50.000 troops landed in Crete and liberated the island in one year. The Byzantines rebuilded a fortress in the Kastelli hill area (where first human settlement was in the area)

After the fourth crusade, in 1204 and the fall of Byzantium in Greece area , Crete island was given by Venetians to Boniface of Montferrat, one of the leader of fourth crusade. He didn’t want this gift and decided to sell the island to Venetians for 1000 silver marks… And Venetians settled on the island for more than 400 years. After strong resistance and insurrections from the Cretan population, Venetians achieved to rule prosperously Crete island. Chania took La Canea name (Italian name from Saracen Al Xhanim) and the city became prosperous and the the seat of the “Rector” (general administrator of the island). La Canea and Venice started close economic but also artistic cooperation. Slowly, La Canea became the “small Venice of the East”.  As economy and agriculture of La Canea were very flourishing, Venetians started to fortify the city, giving it slowly the form we still know nowadays. The Byzantine Kastelli hill was fortified and settled. Rich and important venetian families builded houses on the hill. The foot of the hill was mostly occupied by burghers and workers.

Chania town in 1664. Historical map form Ioannes Peeters

In 1335 Venetians decided to fortify the whole city by adding  wallls. but works were down quickly (in 20 years) and were to low to give a real protection to the city.  After some accomodation for 200 years, that still didn’t provide sufficient defense, Venetians sent military engineer Michele Sanmichele, who already achieved major works for Venice in Verona, Dalmatia and Corfu island.  He had some experience byplanning and building the fortifications of Verona with a new system of corner bastions. Thereupon he built in La Canea a very similar system of defense with 4 corner bastions (San Salvatore at northwest,  Sabionera at northeast, San Dimitrio at southwest and  Santa Lucia at southeast). These massive works, with a perimeter of 3kms high and strong walls in square shape, started in 1535 and  took 30 years to finish.

The fortifications  were already outdated when, in june 1645, ottoman fleet reached cretan coast and landed about 20 kms from Chania. They besieged the city for 56 days before the city fall. Even fortified and armed with more than 300 canons, Chania could not resist long and venetians surrender.

Many churches from the area were converted into mosquees. As did the venetian rector, the  ottoman ruler of Crete, Küçük Hasan Pasha decided to make choose thic city as its administrative seat. Ottomans built new mosquees and many public building, like fountains, hammams,…

As major cities of Crete, Chania was the theatre of numerous revolts to Turkish invader. After a dozen of revolts and uprise, Crete will be helped by the Greek-turkish war. Great powers will rule the conflict with Crete. France, Great Britain, Italy, Russia and Austria empire decide territorial autonomy for Crete. Crete is divide in 4 administrative areas ruled separately by grat powers. Chania is made capital of the semi-autonomous Crete and Cania  is ruled togehter by great powers, with prince Georges of Greece, as high commissionner, who seat in the city.

Cretan politician (from Chania) Eleftheros Venizelos

In 1905, a big riot start in Crete, led by cretan (from Chania) politician Eleftheros Venizelos. He denounce Prince George’s entourage corruption. Prince Georges waived his rights and the new commissionwill later declare Enosis “the cretan rattachment to Greece” that will lead to Crete freedom.

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