Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Chania Prefecture

The Prefecture of Chania covers the Western part of Crete; its extent is 2.376 square kilometres, the coast line 250 kilometres approximately, and it counts circa 150.000 permanent residents. It is divided in five provinces: Apokoronou, Kissamou, Kydonias, Selinou and Sfakion. Chania is the capital city of the prefecture.

Most of the territory is mountainous, with the mountain chain of Lefka Ori ("White mountains", named so because of the snow covering the tops all year round), to be the highest mountain (2.453 metres); at the intervals there are small plains and valleys very fertile, and well watered, due to the various small rivers and brooks flowing through them, which, unlike to the rest of the Greek islands, do have enough water even in summer.

The area has a magnificent natural environment; apart from the small rivers and brooks here and there, there are lakes and lagoons, caves and rocks, as well as several gorges both at the North and at the South, the most well known among them being the Samaria gorge, the longer in Europe, declared as a National Park and protected by the Greek State.

Visiting the villages of the inland is a fascinating experience, both for the landscape and for their character: most of them are not affected by tourism, they maintain their traditional features in what concerns the architecture and their residents proudly maintain their traditional way of life. It is in those villages that the visitor can understand the special characteristics of the Cretan people, experience the hospitality and taste and smell the scents of the area.

The routes from one village to another in most cases are one of the attractions of the place, since the secondary roads pass through sites extremely scenic and beautiful and driving there is an unforgettable experience.

Chania prefecture has coasts at the North, at the South and at the West; the northern coasts form three large bays: the Kissamos bay, the Chania bay and the Souda bay, the latter being the best protected from the winds. Souda is one of the bigger natural ports in the Mediterranean Sea. The beaches at the North and West are in their majority sandy and very much affected by the northern winds, as the small islets around cannot prevent them from arriving to the coast at all their strength.

The southern coasts are open to the South, with no considerable bays. Partly sandy and some of them pebbly, the beaches have crystal clear blue water and very interesting seabed, for the fans of snorkelling and underwater activities. Swimming starts earlier in the South, where the weather is a bit warmer.

In the territory of the prefecture it is found the last part of the European path E4, which passes through the whole of Europe and Greece and ends up at Crete; in the island the path starts from Kissamos (Kastelli) and ends up at Siteia in the Eastern part.

The place is wealthy enough. Traditionally, one of the main sources of wealth used to be, and still is, agriculture and cattle breeding. However, the attractions of the place, the magnificent nature, the development of facilities and the hospitality of the locals have made of tourism one of the main economic resources for the prefecture. The area is one of the main destinations both of the Greeks, for vacation, excursions and business, but also of tourists from all over the world.
The history of the place goes back to the Neolithic times; it flourished in the Minoan period and was very important during the Venetian domination of the island, mainly due to the excellent port of Souda; it has been the centre of numerous revolts during the Ottoman domination, as the independent character of the people could not stand being under the yoke of any foreigner. During the World War II, it has been one of the most important places of resistance, as the Battle of Crete has taken place in the territory of Chania, due to the interest of the Germans for the airport of Maleme, one of the two main military targets on the island.