The city of Chania is built on the location where ancient Kidonia used to stand. The city was built during preheistoric times by Kidonas, the son of Hermes and the nymph Akakalida, daughter of King Minos – according to ancient Cretans. According to Stravon, Minos divided Crete into three sections with centers: Kidonia, Knossos and Gortina. Ancient writers like Homer considered Kidonia the "mother" of the other Cretan cities.
There are several versions and explanations for the origin of the city's name. According to one version the name Chania is a corruption of the name Chthonia that was one of Crete's ancient names. Other historians believe that in comes from the Arabic word Chani. There is also an explanation according to which Chania got its name from "Alchania Komi" an area of ancient Kidonia.
Prehistoric and Hellenistic Period (3.000 – 69 B.C.)
Ceramic archeological finds that were found on the hill of Kasteli from the 3rd-2nd millennium B.C. prove that the city of Chania's history begins from the Neolithic period. The fact that Kasteli not only neighbors with the sea but is surrounded by the lush green valley of Chania is probably why the first prehistoric civilization has founded here.
The settlement develops rapidly and forms strong commercial bonds with Kithira around 2.200 B.C. and expands to the south with the Market of Chania. In 1450 B.C. it is destroyed by a fire but is quickly rebuilt.
During the Late Minoan III period (1400-1000 B.C.) the city thrived. Its products were found in Knossos, Eastern Crete, Thira (Santorini) and even Cyprus. The settlements cemetery stretches along the area that surrounds it. Thanks to the craft industry and commerce the city gathers great power and wealth. Proof of this is the fact that it is one of the very few Cretan cities that has their own currency. During the constant civil wars between the Cretan cities Kidonia was always victorious and reached the peak of its prosperity during the roman era.
Roman Period (69 B.C. – 330 A.D.)
Romans understood the strategic importance of the island and the role that it could play in their plans to conquer the East and decided to occupy Crete. Kidonia was the first city that fought with the Romans. Even though they put up a strong fight the city was quickly subdued by the incomparably stronger forces of the enemy. The Roman general Quintus Caecilius Metellus Creticus as he has named after his victory conquered Kidonia in 69 B.C. and then continues to conquer the rest of Crete. The luxurious public and private buildings, the many sculptures that excavations have brought to light and the mosaic floors that can be found all around the city stand testament of the peaceful life during the years of the Roman era. The city's theatre stood until 1583 when it was demolished by the Venetians in order to use the materials to construct the city walls. Kidonia thrives even more after its occupation by the Romans.
First Byzantine Period (330-824 A.D.)
The city of Kidonia continues to thrive during the first Byzantine period up to the Arab occupation. Christianity has begun spreading in the 1st century. Art was not as developed as it was in eastern Crete as one can see from the quality of building and sculptures. The quality of the mosaics was much better where one can see the relation with monuments of central Crete. During this period Byzantium focused on the East and Crete, like all other provinces becomes obscure and dormant. In 330 A.D. Constantine the Great detaches Crete from Cyrenaica and attaches it to Illyria. Later Crete becomes an independent administrative county under the Byzantine general. Gortyna remains the administrative and military center of Crete. Crete's population, purely Greek, has completely embraced Christianity. The Arab invasions and the natural disasters have seriously damaged Crete. They contribute, among other things, to the decline of many cities and the deep socioeconomic changes. Crete still did not have a organized defense system and the byzantine fleet could not defend this very susceptible area.
Arab Occupancy (824-961 A.D.)
During the Arab occupancy and under the reign of emperor Michael Travlos following an outbreak in the Muslim population of Spain the leader of Cordoba, Abu Haps Omar, was forced to move his people and was seeking a new place to settle. They settled in Crete 824 A.D. The discovery of Arabic coins in some areas of Crete leads to the conclusion that the Arabs did not occupy the entire island. Their pirate ways only required coastal bases for their raids.
Crete is cut off from the Byzantine Empire and its occupation by the Arabs created a great upheaval with consequences to the social, financial and religious aspects of the locals' life. The Arab occupancy lasted from 824 A.D. to 961 A.D. - when Crete was reoccupied my the emperor of Byzantium Nikiforos Fokas – and was a dark period for Kidonia.
Second Byzantium Period (961 – 1204 A.D.)
After the recovery of Crete by Nikoforos Fokas and Crete's reattachment to the Byzantine Empire, a new era began that lasted 250 years. Byzantium's main concern was the restoration and stabilization of power on the island and to make strong efforts to reduce the consequences of the Arab occupation on a social, political and religious level.
In the context of this policy Byzantium settles colonists from various areas of the empire. During the Second Byzantine Period noble families were sent from Constantinople to become leaders of the local populations. Byzantines organizes the islands defense by creating strong forts on the coast and other strategic positions. In Kidonia that still held its strategically importance and fortress is built on the hill of Kasteli that at many points rests on the ancient wall and was built with construction material of ancient Kidonia.
Only a few sections of this wall in Kasteli still stand. Chania seems to have been named during this period.
Venetian Period (1204-1669)
With the 4th Crusade in 1204 and the fall of Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire Crete is given to Boniface Monferrato and then sold to the Venetians. Before the sale was completed in 1266 the Genoese Earl of Malta Erico Perscatore occupies Crete and the Genoese, that were enemies with the Venetians, pillaged and burned the city.
It took 8 years for Venice to evict the Genoese from the island. From 1210 to 1252 Venice tries to establish its power in Western Crete where the local leaders restisted. In 1252 the city and the prefecture are divided into 90 "cavallerias" and are given to Venetian settlers with the explicit instructions to rebuild the city of Chania.
They repaired the wall of Kasteli and implemented city urban planning within the city limits. Venetians built the city following Venetian architectural standards. Within the repaired fortified wall a new city is built with modern street planning, beautiful public and private buildings, the Cathedral of the Virgin Mary, the Rectors palace and the residences of the higher ranking officers. The public buildings are built along the main street (presently names Kanavero Street) that runs through Kasteli from the east. The impressive doorways of the palaces and the Venetian mansions still stood until the beginning of the 20th century and gothic architecture was dominant. Around Kasteli a residential area was developed called " vourgi", which means suburbs.
Outside the walls, in the beginning of the 14th century, the monastery of Aghios Fragkiskos (St. Francesco) of the Franciscans was built, as well as the monastery of Aghios Nikolaos of the Dominican monks. Catholic elements are dominant, in contrast with the rural areas where Orthodox elements were predominant.
The city and the port of Chania become the center of a wealthy agricultural area with economic and cultural ties to Venice. Gradually the city expands outside of the old fort and so a newer and more modern fortification is deemed necessary.
This "new" city with a very good urban plan is built, churches were built or renovated, as were large public and private buildings, in line with the doctrines of the Venetian mannerism.
A new aqueduct was constructed, as well as several military buildings. The 22 dockyards were also constructed, which were used to shelter and repair the Venetian ships during the winter months. The islands of Theodorou, Souda and Gramvousa were also fortified.
However, the local population remained loyal to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Greek Empire resisted the Venetian settlers. From 1212 up to the end of the Venetian period, the Cretans organized 27 revolutions. The leaders of these revolutions came from noble families that had maintained their privileges from the Byzantine period and were distinguished by their material and intellectual wealth, as well as by their loyalty to the Orthodox dogma and the overthrow of the foreign occupiers.
Western influence is practically non-existent, despite the efforts for cultural submission. However the ground work for the "Cretan Renaissance" was set in areas like literature, architecture and painting.
Early Turkish Period (1645-1831)
Despite the Venetians' efforts to reinforce the defense of the island to withstand a possible Turkish attack, the occupation of Crete by the Turks finally started in 1645.
In June 1645, Gioushouf Pasha and his army disembarked in Kissamos and Kolympari and attacked the fortress of the Theodorou islet. On June 15 of the same year, the siege of the city of Chania begins and the city falls after 57 days. The entire island of Crete is occupied by the Truks in 1669, after 25 years of war.
After the occupation of the city, in an effort to gain the support of the local population, the new conquerors brought back the orthodox Bishop of Kidonia in his ancient Episcopal seat, thus restoring ecclesiastic order. In addition to converting Catholic Churches into Mosques the new conquerors also constructed new Mosques. They also founded public baths, of which three are preserved today, as well as public fountains, usually located next to the Mosques.
Other public buildings were also constructed, such as baracks, hospitals and other military buildings.
With the occupation of Chania, the sociopolitical conditions change dramatically in the city of Chania. Muslim culture becomes the new upper class in a feudal fasion. The new living conditions are created and are closely connected to the religion and social organization of the conquerors. The city of Chania becomes the headquarters of the Turkish Pasha.
Many revolutions took place during that period the most well known being the 1770 revolution led by Daskalogiannis-Vlachos from Sfakia, who was heinously executed (he was flayed alive).
The great 1821 national revolution shattered the relations between the Turkish and the Greek populations. In the city of Chania where almost all the muslim population had gathered, large massacres of Christians occur.
Egyptian Period (1831 - 1841)
After the end of the revolution of 1821, Crete was assigned to the Regent of Egypt, Mehmet Ali, until 1841. During the Egyptian occupation, the breakwaters and the famous Egyptian lighthouse were constructed in the port of Chania. The Egyptian administration published the first Cretan newspaper in Chania, "Vakai Girit" ("The Voice of Crete"), in both languages, Greek and Arabic.
Late Turkish Period (1841 - 1898)
The 2nd Turkish period begins with the reclamation of Crete by the Turks. In the mid-19th century, the city of Chania is declared the capital of the island, because of the frequent revolutions in the region of Western Crete. This fact greatly influenced the development of the city, mainly with the predominance of more tolerant policy, along with a thriving economy. New public and private buildings are constructed that follow the modern neoclassic styles and the city gradually acquires a European character and was extended outside the city walls. New churches were built, such as the Cathedral church of "Trimartyris", etc.
In 1841, the movement lead by Hairetis begins, followed by the movement lead by Mavrogenis in 1859 during which the Cretans achieve carrying guns freely, practicing their religion and establishing a Christian committee, which was responsible for the supervision of education issues, social welfare, inheritance and family rights.
A three year revolution follows from 1877 - 1878, which brings about in the famous "Halepa" Agreement. According to the Agreement, Crete is detached from the rest Ottoman Empire and continues to be governed by the General Cretan Administration and are granted several privileges among which is the foundation of educational associations and newspaper publications.
In 1889, however, Turkey started to significantly repress the rights of the Cretan people and the 1889 revolution followed as a reaction that was suppressed 8 months later. In 1896, the city of Chania witnessed a great slaughter of its people and another one followed the next year, when the Municipal Departments, including the Episcopal mansion and a school - across from the Cathedral - were burned down.
The Great Powers that were always interested in Crete due to its strategic geographical position, decided the international occupation of the island, while Greece sent an army of 1500 men under the command of Colonel Timoleon Vassos.
Cretan Republic (1898 - 1913)
On December 9th, 1898, Prince George of Greece arrived in Souda and became the governor and the ambassador of the newly born Cretan State. After the foundation of the "Cretan Republic", the city of Chania reaches the peak of its flourishment as the capital of Crete. Chania became a great administrative, intellectual, commercial and industrial center. The new Cretan Republic had its own flag and currency -the Cretan drachma-, the Bank of Crete was founded, as well as the Constitution of the Cretan State, the Cretan police, the official newspaper of the Cretan Republic and the elections for the selection of state representatives. A council was formed made up of five divisions like today's ministries of Finance, Internal Affairs, Public Education and Religion, Security and Justice (with Eleftherios Venizelos as the council – minister).
In the beginning of the 20th century, the city of Chania has a population of about 21,000 residents, according to the 1900 census. The city has narrow streets, small squares and Venetian, Turkish and Greek inspired buildings It becomes a multicultural city with many foreign influences due to its past conquerors and the presence of the troops of the Great Powers.
New districts developed outside the city walls that defined the boundaries of a tight knit medieval city. Beautiful neoclassic buildings begin rising constructed by skilled engineers and contractors and the trenches around the walls being used to cultivate fruit and vegetables to cover the city's needs.
During the years of the Cretan Republic many reconstruction works took place like street widening, sewage works and the famous Municipal Market was built. The cultural and intellectual level of its resident was increased significantly, as new schools were founded and the percentage of illiteracy decreases. The phonograph and the cinema were introduced in the city of Chania during the same period, and many newspapers and magazines are published with valuable material. In 1901, the city of Chania pioneers in the women's movement, as the minister Georgios Daskalogiannis from Sfakia submits a proposal for the emancipation of women.
The commissioner's with the councilman of Justice Eleftherios Venizelos brings about the dismissal of the later and lead to the Therissos Movement in 1905 and the withdrawal of George in 1906. Alexandros Zaimis becomes the new commissioner.
On the 25th of September 1908 the members of the Cretan government are sworn in by the Bishop of Kidonia and Apokoronas in the name of the King of Greece. The Cretan parliament in Chania validates the Unions votes and issued its own vote that abrogated the Commission. The Cretan constitution was replaced by the Greek constitution. The Greek government told the commissioner Alexandros Zaimis that was not on the island and the time not to return to Crete and a new bipartisan government is formed by Eleftherios Venizelos, M. Petichakis, Emm. Logarides, Ch. Pologeorges and President Ant. Michelidakes. The Greek government however in order to avoid reactions from Turkey and international complications did not proceed with an official acknowledgement of the Union.
After the successful ending of the Balkan wars the Cretan issue was resolved. The union with Greece was already underway when on the 14th of February 1913 the flags of Turkey and the Great Powers were removed from the fortress of Souda. With article 4 of the Treaty of London (30/05/1913) the Sultan resigned his rights over Crete and signed them over to the Great Powers and with a special treaty between Greece and Turkey he also resigned of any sovereignty rights on the island.
On December 1st 1913 at the fort of "Firka" the Greek flag was raised in the presence of the King of Greece Constantine and the Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos. In an atmosphere of indescribable joy and enthusiasm the union of Greece and Crete had finally been made official.
Chania continued to be the capital of Crete and administrative center for the next decades. Many reconstruction works were realized for the "modernization" of the old city, slowly altering its traditional character.
The 1938 movement against the dictatorship of Metaxas was strong in Chania, the city where democracy and freedom was always a vision. The role of Chania in the Battle of Crete was also significant. This is where the Stoukas invasion started and the city was constantly bombarded and the first troops with parachutes land here and meet strong resistance from the Cretans. The resistance lasted well beyond the 10 days of the battle. After the first days of Crete's occupation the first resistance groups began forming in the area of Chania.
In 1964, the old city of Chania was declared a historical monument by the Greek state and great efforts started for the preservation and projection of its historical monuments.