Friday, April 13, 2007

History of the town of Chania

The town of Chania is built, according to archaeological searches, on the ruins of a big ancient town. The up to now evidence leads us to the ancient Kydonia that, according to Diodoros Sikeliotes, was founded by Minos and was one of the three big towns of Crete. Its name is read KY-DO-NI-JA on a Knossos tablet of Linear B Scripture.

The Kasteli Hill, east of the port, owing to the fact that it was adjacent to the sea, was an ideal position for prehistorical settlements. Architectural remains that have survived and used to belong to big buildings comes from the early Minoan period (1900 – 2200 B.C.). The settlements developed and evolved into an important center in the first middle-minoan period (2000 – 1580 B.C.), whereupon a Minoan colony was founded, beyond the Kasteli Hill. In 1450 B.C. it was destroyed by a big fire. With the Greek – Swedish excavations, that began in 1967, were found buildings of this period with many rooms, several had floors paved with flagstones, second storey and monumental entrances looking on narrow streets. About 100 clay tablets with symbols of the Minoan Linear A Scripture, which have been found, indicate possible existence of a palace. After the catastrophe of 1450 B.C., the town was rebuilt and continued to exist until the end of the Minoan years (1100 B.C.) not without intermittent minor catastrophes.

In the post-minoan III period (1400 – 1100 B.C.) the town reaches very high prosperity. Its products are reknown in Knossos, in Eastern Crete, in Thera, even in Cyprus. Its cemetery expands considerably all around the settlement. Grave jars, subterranean vaulted graves carved in rock were discovered daily on the eastern, northeastern section of the modern city.

During the first centuries of the 1st millennium e.e., in the geometric and archaic years, architectural remains have not been found till now, only abundant ceramics, that indicates that the town continued its life even during that period. Part of a frieze, now in the museum of Chania, depicts the fa├žade of a temple with the statue of the Goddess surrounded by archers. Very few finds suggest the existence of the town during the classical period (5th – 4th century B.C.). However this period must have been an era of prosperity for the area, according to the testimonies of ancient writers. The famous sculptor Krissilas, Phidias pupil, comes from Kydonia of the classical period. As far as the Hellenistic period is concerned (end of the 4th century B.C. – 69 B.C.) there is enough evidence about the flourishing of the town.

Houses with mosaic floors have been found in several parts of the town, that by the time had expanded until beyond the hill of Kasteli. Remarkable graves with rich finds of this period have survived. In 69 B.C., the Romans declared war against Kydonia, and sent Consul Cointus Concillius Metellus to seize it. The people of Kydonia, under the leadership of Lasthenes and Pavares, fought the Romans heroically, but eventually they were defeated. The town continued its life, and flourished during the Roman period. The town of Kydonia continued to flourish and in the early Byzantine period starts 324 – 823 A.D. as well.

Christianity was spreading from the 1st century, and Kydonia was chosen as “Seat of Bishop” it is often mentioned in Records of Councils and Ecclesiastical “Minutes” till the 9th century A.D. As from that period we have very few archaeological indications, which are confined to a few tomb inscriptions from the church of St. John and from the area of today’s orphanage, indicating that they were extended cemeteries of the town.

The period 821 – 961 A.D. is a dark period for Kydonia. The town falls into the hands of the Arabs after a siege. Historical sources of this period are not very clear and the archaeological indications have not been located at all. From the Legend (biography of Saints) of St Nicholas the Confessor (abbot of the monastery Stoudiou and well-known apologist of icons) who comes from Kydonia we learn that his fatherland was rich and prosperous and the memory of its glorious past is indelible. The events of the Arab attack are described in dark colours. The Arabs are ousted by the Byzantines in 961 A.D., but the town maintains its strategic significance. The Byzantines build a fortress that rests in many parts on the ancient walls, with the building materials of ancient Kydonia.

The town however begins to decline. From this period, only a few parts of the walls in Kasteli survive. In the first half of the 13th century, the Venetians endeavour to establish their sovereignity in the area of Chania. After the siege of Constantinople by the Latins (1204 A.D.), Crete is ceded to Bonifatio Marques Momferato, from whom the Venetians bought the island. Bonifatio did not have time to seize Crete before its sale to the Venetians, because the Genovian Count of Malta, Erico Piscatori, rushed and seized Chania and fortified the Acropolis of Kydonia. After the purchase by the Venetians, the latter characterized Piscatori as a pirate and after a tenacious war they exhiled him from the island. The possession, however, of the island by the Venetians did not occur immediately, but only after hard fights against the indigenous population, particularly in the borough of Chania.

The borough of Chania was divided into 90 “Cavaleries”, that were given to the Venetian colonists, with the specific obligation to rebuild the town of Chania. It is they who repair the walls of Kasteli, and organize the planning of the town within its boundaries. The public buildings develop along the central road Corso (today’s Kanevaro Street) that crosses Kasteli. Chania develops into the second twon of the “Kingdom of Crete” and is the Seat of “Rector” and latin Bishop. The town and its port becomes the center of a wealthy agricultural area with economical and political connections with Venice. In the middle of the 16th century, the town is fortified once more, an operation that was based on designs by the Veronese mechanic Michele Sammichelli, with contemporary walls and trence. The fortification was enhanced with fortresses on the islets Thodorou, Souda and Gramvussa. Within the new boundaries, the new town-planning network develops, that remains until today.

Big public buildings were erected – temples, storerooms, shipyards – a lot of which are still remaining. The architectural character of Chania is mainly Western, with predominant the element of Venetian mannerism and some Flemish influences. Quite a few of the buildings of that period are maintained with many subsequent alterations. In August 1645, the Turks seized Chania and the town was declared as the Seat of the Turkish pasha, while an Orthodox bishop of Kydonia was settled in, with the temple of St Anargiri as his Seat. The Catholic churches are turned into mosques while new mosques are also built. The conquerors are strongly influenced by the local architectural tradition, adding only certain functional and artistic elements.
The town maintains the same structure, while the buildings assume some oriental character (wooden kiosks, wooden walls, tiled roofs, latticed windows, wide range of colours and cavities). In 1821, before the start of revolution, the population of Chania came to 10.600 inhabitants, 8.000 of them were Turks and 2.600 Christians, while in 1881 – last official census of the inhabitants of Crete during the Turkish domination – Chania had 13.812 inhabitants. 9.469 of them were Turks, 3.477 Christian Orthodox, 159 Catholics, 5 Protestants, 4 Armenians and 485 Jews. The town of Chania was divided into 9 neighbourhoods, that constituted electoral sections.

The neighbourhood of Tophana, of Yousouf Pasha, of Arab Tzamissi of Kasteli of Moussa Pasha, of Agha Djejire Kolou, Houghiar Tzamissi (Splantzia), Koum Kapissi and Topalti. Since the siege of Chania (1645) till 1830 Crete was governed by three Pashas, whose headquarters were in Chania, Rethymnon and Heraklion. From 1830 during Giritli Mustapha Pasha’s administration and till the end of the Turkish occupation, Crete was governed by a General Administrator (Vali) whose seat was in Chania. From 1645 till 1830, Chania had been governed by 196 Pashas. From 1830 and until the end of 1897, Chania and the whole of Crete had been governed by 37 Pashas and only 7 of them were Christians. Chania became officially the capital of Crete in 1849. In the middle of the 19th century, Chania became the headquarters of Administration, and after the revolution of 1847 the capital of the autonomous Cretan State.

By then, the town assumes a multinational character with the presence of Foreign Leagues, a fact with many consequences on the economical, social and cultural life. The architectural style changes according to the models of the West; houses and mansions are built inside the walls as well as outside, on the outskirts of the town. A creative spirit spreads from Chania to the whole of Crete, laying foundations of order, security and prosperity. A clamorous crowd of Turkish Cretans, Orthodox indigenous Cretans, Beduins, Jews and Europeans was giving Chania a special colour. The Cretan people however never stopped wishing and fighting for the unification of Crete with Greece. The yearning dream came true on the 1st December 1913 in the presence of King Constantine and the leader of the revolution of Therisso (1905) Eleftherios Venizelos.

During the Second World War violent battles took place on the outskirts of the town till the final fall of Chania, after a siege of 10 days. Chania gets bombed and the old town is completely destroyed. During the years of the occupation a strong resistence was organized against the conquerors, and this fact has made Chania one of the centers of organized resistance in Greece.