Crete (Κρητη / Kriti, occasionally spelled “Krete” in English) is the largest of the Greek islands and is in the Mediterranean Sea between the Sea of Crete and the Libyan Sea, south of the Peloponnese. Crete is approximately 260 km long and 60 km wide. Crete consists of four prefectures: Chania, Rethimno,Heraklion and Lasithi. If there was a beauty contest for Greek islands, Crete would surely be among the favorites. Indeed, some say there is no place on earth like Crete. This view is strongly supported by those fortunate enough to have visited the island. Crete, with a population of approximately 650,000, is not just sun, sea and sand; it is a quite distinct place full of vitality, warmth, hospitality, culture and of course an excellent infrastructure. Crete is well known for its seas and beaches but it has a very contrasting landscape. The island goes from fertile coastal plains to rugged mountains and from busy metropolitan cities to very peaceful hillside homes. If you travel throughout Crete you can clearly see remnants of Roman and Turkish aqueducts and architecture from when these people invaded the island long ago. Crete was the center of the Minoan civilization (circa 2700-1420 BCE), the first advanced civilization in Europe.
Crete has been able to preserve much of its culture. Cretan Greek has been maintained as the spoken dialect, and Cretan wine is a traditional drink. The island is known for its music (typically performed with the lyre) and has many indigenous dances, the most noted of which is probably the Pentozali. Cretan authors have made important contributions to Greek Literature throughout the modern period; major names include Vikentios Kornaros, creator of the 17th century epic romance Erotokritos (Greek Ερωτοκριτος), and in the 20th century Nikos Kazantzakis In the Renaissance, Crete was the home of the Cretan School of icon painting, which influenced El Greco and through him subsequent European painting.
Crete is one of the most popular holiday destinations in Greece. Fifteen percent of all arrivals in Greece come through the city of Heraklion (port and airport), while charter journeys to Heraklion last year made up 20% of all charter flights in Greece. Overall, more than two million tourists visited Crete last year, and this increase in tourism is reflected on the number of hotel beds, rising by 53% in the period between 1986 to 1991, when the rest of Greece saw increases of only 25%. Today, the island’s tourism infrastructure caters to all tastes, including a very wide range of accommodation; the island’s facilities take in large luxury hotels with their complete facilities, swimming pools, sports and recreation, smaller family-owned apartments, camping facilities and others. Visitors reach the island via two international airports in Heraklion and Chania, or by boat to the main ports of Heraklion, Chania, Rethimno and Agios Nikolaos. Some of the most famous tourist attractions include the Minoan sites of Knossos andPhaistos, the classical site of Gortys, the Venetian old city and port of Chania, the Venetian castle atRethymno and the Samaria Gorge.
The Venetian fortress of Rocca al Mare (1523-1540) guards the inner harbor
Heraklion (Greek Ηρακλειον, also transliterated as Heraklio, Iraklion or Irakleio) is the major city and capital of the largest Greek island of Crete. Its Archaeological Museum holds the remains of the 3000-year oldMinoan civilization, which grew aroud the nearby legendary palace of Knossos (of Minotaur fame), as well as Byzantine churches and a well-preserved Venetian wall and fortress from the 15th century.
Heraklion is an industrialised city of around 155,000 residents. The modern city has been disfigured by a lack of any comprehensive planning or any serious commitment to preservation, which has resulted in a traffic-choked urban horror overlaying historical remains of potentially immense interest, but the knowledgeable visitor will still be able to trace the past under the ugly urban sprawl of the present. However, in recent years, things have began to change and efforts are being made to bring out the beauty of the city’s rich cultural history. The core of the city is still enclosed and defined by the Venetian wall, which includes seven outjutting bastions. In the southernmost of these, the Martinengo Bastion, is thegrave of Nikos Kazantzakis, standing on a windswept hilltop with its moving inscription, “I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.”
The snake goddess (c.1600 BCE) in Heraklion Archaeological Museum.
Heraklion is close to the ruins of the palace of Knossos, which in Minoan times was the largest centre of population on Crete. Though there is no archaeological evidence of it, Knossos may well have had a port at the site of Heraklion as long ago as 2000 BC.
The present city of Heraklion was founded in 824 AD by the Saracens who had been expelled from Al-Andalus by Emir Al-Hakam I and had taken over the island from the Byzantine Empire. They built a moat around the city for protection, and named the city “Castle of the Moat.” The Saracens allowed the port to be used as a safe haven for pirates who operated against Byzantine shipping and raided Byzantine territory around the Aegean.
In 961, the Byzantines, under the command of Nikephoros Phokas, later to become Byzantine Emperor, landed in Crete and attacked the city. After a prolonged siege, the city fell. The Saracen inhabitants were slaughtered, the city looted and burned to the ground. Soon rebuilt, the town of Chandax remained under Byzantine control for the next 243 years.
The Venetian loggia (1626-28)
In 1204, the city was bought by the Republic of Venice as part of a complicated political deal which involved among other things, the Crusaders of the Fourth Crusade restoring the deposed Byzantine emperor Isaac II Angelus to his throne. The Venetians improved on the ditch by building enormous fortifications, most of which are still in place, including a giant wall, in places up to 40 m thick, with 7 bastions, and a fortress in the harbour. Chandax was renamed to Candia in Italian and became the seat of the Duke of Candia. As a result, the Venetian administrative district of Crete became known as “Regno di Candia” (Kingdom of Candia). The city retained the name of Candia for centuries and the same name was often used to refer to the whole island of Crete as well. To secure their rule, Venetians began in 1212 to resettle families from Venice on Crete. The coexistence of two different cultures and the influence of Italian Renaissance lead to a flourishing of letters and the arts in Candia and Crete in general, that is today known as the Cretan Renaissance.
The Ottoman Vezir Mosque (1856), built on the site of the Byzantine St Titus, and now the basilica of St Titus.
After the Venetians came the Ottoman Empire. During the Cretan War (1645-1669), the Ottomans besieged the city for 24 years, from 1648 to 1669, the longest siege in history. In its final phase, which lasted for 22 months, 70,000 Turks, 38,000 Cretans and slaves and 29,088 of the city’s Christian defenders perished. The Ottoman army under an Albanian grand vizier, Köprülü FazIl Ahmed Pasha conquered the city in 1669. Under the Ottomans, the city was known officially as Kandiye (again also applied to the whole island of Crete) but informally in Greek as Megalo Kastro (Μεγαλο Καστρο; “Big Castle”). During the Ottoman period, the harbour silted up, so most shipping shifted to Hania in the west of the island.
In 1898 the autonomous Cretan State was created, under Ottoman suzerainty, with Prince George of Greece as its High Commissioner and under international supervision. During the period of direct occupation of the island by the Great Powers (1898-1908), Candia was part of the British zone. At this time the city was renamed “Heraklion”, after the Roman port of Heracleum (“Heracles’ city”), whose exact location is unknown.
With the rest of Crete, Heraklion was incorporated into the Kingdom of Greece in 1913.
Located in the middle of the island, all roads lead to Heraklion. Heraklion has a busy harbour and very busy airport and usually is the starting point of travels to Crete and nearby islands.
Heraklion International Airport, or Nikos Kazantzakis Airport is located about 5 km east of the city. The airport is named after Herkalion native Nikos Kazantzakis, a Greek writer and philosopher. It is the second busiest airport of Greece, mostly due to the fact that Crete is a major destination for tourists during summer. There are regular domestic flights to and from Athens, Thessaloniki and Rhodes with Aegean Airlines and Olympic Air. Also flying to and from Athens is Athens Airways, whereas Cyprus Airways and Aegean Airlines fly to Larnaca, Cyprus. Furthermore, Sky Express operates direct flights to Aegean islands such as Rhodes, Santorini, Samos, Kos, Mytilini and Ikaria. During the summer period, traffic is intense and the flight destinations are from all over Europe (mostly Germany, UK, Italy and Russia). The airfield is shared with the 126 Combat Group of the Hellenic Air Force. Take-offs in a westerly direction pass directly over the town of Heraklion, making it a very noisy city.
Heraklion is connected with the rest of Crete by regular bus lines operated by two KTEL companies. The coaches are modern, comfortable and air-conditioned. Fare is reasonable.
There are two bus stations in Heraklion:
Bus station A (ammoudara), (near the Heraklion port), Tel: +30-2810-245020. The main station used by lines to/from other prefectures (Chania, Rethymno, Lasithi) and lines to the eastern part of Heraklion prefecture. (35.341179,25.139326)
Bus station B (ammudara), (at the Chania Gate (Chanioporta) at the west border of old city), Tel:+30-2810-255965. Used mainly by lines to/from the southern part of Heraklion prefecture. (35.336886,25.123394)
There are ferries from Athens (Piraeus) to Heraklion, Minoan Lines , Anek Lines and Superfast Ferries – and also there are normal ferries from Thessaloniki and Dodecanese – G.A. Ferries , and Highspeed Catamarans and normal ferries from Cyclades to Heraklion. G.A. Ferries , Sea Jets , Santorini Maritime and Hellenic Seaways. The frequency is reduced in the winter.
The only solution is to arrive to one of the big Ports of Crete (Heraklion, Chania, Sitia or Rethymnon). Then you have to hire a car, if you have not done it yet. Remember that you need a written authorization of the car rental company to travel with the car in a ferry.
There are Highspeed Catamaran and normal ferries from/to Heraklion, Athens (Piraeus) to Heraklion, Minoan Lines , Anek Lines and Superfast Ferries – and also from Thessaloniki, Cyclades and Dodecaneseto Heraklion. G.A. Ferries , Sea Jets Santorini Maritime and Hellenic Seaways. The frequency is reduced in the winter. Also every summer there is One Day Cruise from Heraklion to Santorini by cruise boat or highspeed catamarans
You can use public city bus network to get around Heraklion but you have to figure out the line to your destination. There are usually no routes or schedules posted at the bus stops. Buses do not stop at bus stops, unless you signal the driver by raising your arm. Basic ticket costs 0,90 €.
The Koules (Greek: Κουλές, from Turkish: Kule, “Tower, Fort”) is an isolated Venetian-era fortress at the entrance to the Old Port of Heraklion. It was completed around 1540.
Museum of Natural History
Address: University of Crete, S. Venizelou Ave., Tel: +30 2810 324366
Museum of the Battle for Crete and National Resistance
Address: Doukos Beaufort & Merambelou Sts Heraklion, Crete, Greece (Just around the corner from the Archaeological Museum in Heraklion)
Tel: +30 2810 246 554.
The museum recounts the tale of Cretan and Allied resistance against Nazi invaders in World War II.
Located about nine miles east of Heraklion on the National Road (signposted) or by Cretan Intercity Bus (Tel: +30 2810 246530)
Reception: +30 2810-337788 Bookings: +30 2810-337888
Open: June to September; 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., October to May, 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
The biggest aquarium in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Nikos Kazantzakis Museum
Located in the village of Myrtia (Varvari) 15 km. south of Heraklion; Tel: +30 2810-741689.
Open: Monday to Sunday, 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. (March to October); 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. (November to February)
Admission: € 3
The museum focuses on Nikos Kazantzakis, Crete’s most prominent modern intellectual figure.
The Heraklion Archaeological Museum is one the great museums of Greece and the best in the world regarding the Minoan art as it contains the most notable and complete collection of artifacts of theMinoan civilization of Crete. Highlights include statues of the Snake Goddess, the famous Bull-Leaping Fresco, the enigmatic and mysterious Phaistos Disk, and Minoan seals and jewelery. Also includes a number of finds from Classical Greek and Roman periods. The Heraklion Archaeological Museum is one of the world’s great museums, embodying a whole splendid vanished culture. At least two hours should be allowed to see it, and it could easily take longer. For those seriously interested in that culture, it will be worth while to make two visits to the museum, one before, and one after, visiting Knossos and other Minoan sites: seeing the museum first will enhance your understanding of the sites, and after seeing the sites, you’ll be better able to understand the artifacts in the museum when you return.
The museum began in 1883 as a simple collection of antiquities. A dedicated building was constructed from 1904 to 1912 at the instigation of two Cretan archaeologists, Iosif Hatzidakis and Stefanos Xanthoudidis. From 1937, work began on the present earthquake-proof building, designed by the renowned Greek architect Patroklos Karantinos. The museum was damaged during World War II, but the collection survived intact and was again accessible to the public from 1952. A new wing was added in 1964.
Besides the Minoan collection, other periods of Cretan history are covered, from the Neolithic to the Greco-Roman period. The Archaeological Museum at Heraklion is dedicated to Minoan art and artefacts, with a smaller section for post-Minoan art and artefacts. (The Museum is currently being renovated but a temporary exhibition is open in the main building.)
Historical Museum of Crete
The Modena Triptych by El Greco
Address: 27, Sofokli Venizelou Ave. /7, Lysimachou Kalokerinou St., Tel: +30 2810 283219, 288708.
Open: (April – October) Mon – Sat 9am-5pm; (November – March) Mon – Sat 9am-3:30pm;
Closed: Sun & Public Holidays
Admission: € 5,00; Children 12 and under- free
The Historical Museum of Crete in Heraklion presents a comprehensive view of Cretan history from early Christian times to the present day. It was founded in 1953 by the Society of Cretan Historical Studies, which had been established two years earlier. The founders’ goal was to collect and preserve valuable archaeological, ethnographic and historical material deriving from the medieval and modern periods in Cretan history. The museum is housed in a two-storey neoclassical building, which was constructed in 1903 on the site of an earlier mansion.
The Museum exhibits a number of notable works of art, such as the Modena Triptych, a 1568 painting by the artist El Greco, who was also known as Doménikos Theotokópoulos.
A portion of Arthur Evans’ reconstruction of the Minoan palace at Knossos. This is Bastion A at the North Entrance, noted for the Bull Fresco above it
Address: The Minoan Palace of Knossos, Crete (5 km south of Heraklion)
Tel: +30 2810 231940. Tel: +30 2810 226470. Tel: +30 2810 226092. Tel: +30 2810 224630.
Open: Monday to Sunday: Summer: 8:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.; Winter: 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Admission: Full ticket: €6, Reduced: €3; Special ticket package: Full: €10, Reduced: €5, valid for: HeraklionArchaeological Museum and Knossos Site
Knossos (alternative spellings Knossus, Cnossus, Greek Κνωσος, also known as Labyrinth, or Knossos Palace, is the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete and probably the ceremonial and political centre of the Minoan civilization and culture. It is the site of the most important and best known Minoan palace complex in Crete. According to tradition, Knossos was the seat of the legendary Cretan king Minos. The Palace is also connected with further legends, such as the myth of the Labyrinth and the Minotaur, as well as the story of Daidalos and Ikaros. The palace appears as a maze of workrooms, living spaces, and store rooms close to a central square. Detailed images of Cretan life in the late Bronze Age are provided by images on the walls of this palace. It is located some 5 km (3 mi) south of Heraklion and is a major tourist destination today. It has been substantially restored by archaeologist Arthur Evans.
Excavation has revealed that the site was continuously inhabited from the Neolithic period (7000-3000 B.C.) until Roman times, but its population shifted to the new town of Handaq (modern Heraklion) during the 9th century AD. By the 13th century, it was called Makryteikhos ‘Long Wall’; the bishops of Gortyncontinued to call themselves Bishops of Knossos until the 19th century. Today, the name is used only for the archaeological site situated in the suburbs of Heraklion.
Lychnostatis Open Air Museum
Address: Hersonissos, Crete; Tel: +3028970-23660.
Open: 09:00 to 2:00p.m., Closed on Saturdays
Admission: Adults: 5 €, Students: 3 €, Children (till 12 years’ old): 2 €
Lychnostatis Open Air Museum contains a variety of artifacts and structures related to Cretan folk tradition and ethnology, economic activity and culture, nature and the environment. Notable assets include traditional Cretan farmer and merchant houses, wine and olive presses, a distillery, weaving and ceramic workshops, a herbarium and fruit and cactus gardens, a folk art gallery, library, a mineral and stone exhibition, a 150 seat auditorium and a 250 seats theatre as well as a cafe and shop. A number of performances are put on in the auditoriums includuing the “Traditional September” annual event as well as Greek dancing performances, and grape and wine-tasting events.
Inheritance regulations, fragment of the 11th column of the Law Code of Gortyn, Louvre
Gortyn or Gortyna (Greek: Γορτυνα, Γορτυς, or Γορτυν) is an archaeological site on the Mediterranean island of Crete, 45 km away from the modern capital Heraklion. Gortyn, the Roman capital of Crete, was first inhabited around 3200 BC, and was a flourishing Minoan town between 1600-1100 BC. Placed in the valley of Messara in the north of the Psiloritis mountain in the current position of the settlements of Metropolis and Ten Saints (Hagioi Deka), and near the Libyan Sea.
Entryway to the palace
Phaistos (Greek: Φαιστος), also transliterated as Phaestos, Festos and Phaestus is an ancient city on the island of Crete. Phaistos was located in the south-central portion of the island, about 5.6 kilometers from the Mediterranean Sea. It was inhabited from about 4000 BC. A palace, dating from the Middle Bronze Age, was destroyed by an earthquake during the Late Bronze Age. Knossos along with other Minoan sites was destroyed at that time. The palace was rebuilt toward the end of the Late Bronze Age.
Hagia Triada (also Ayia Triada, Agia Triada, Agia Trias), “ahyuh treeahdhuh”, is the archaeological site of an ancient Minoan settlement. Hagia Triada is situated on a prominent coastal ridge, with the Mesara Plain below. Hagia triada sits at the western end of the ridge, while Phaistos is at the eastern end. Hagia Triada means holy trinity in Greek.
Matala caves are located 75 km south-west of Heraklion. The artificial caves in the cliff of the Matala bay located to the north of the coast were created and inhabited in the Neolithic Age.
Matala was the port of Phaistos during the Minoan period. In the year 220 BC Matala was occupied by the Gortynians. During the Roman period Matala became the port of Gortys. In the 1st and 2nd centuries the caves were used as tombs. One of the caves is called “Brutospeliana” because according to the legend it was frequented by the Roman general Brutus. Matala was then a fishing village. In the 1960s the caves were occupied by hippies who were later driven out by the church and the military junta.
In Greek Mythology, when Zeus seduced the princess Europa in the form of a white bull, he crossed the sea and brought her to the beach of Matala. There he changed into an eagle and flew her to Gortys where he had sex with her.
The Eileithyia Cave
The Eileithyia Cave was in use from the Neolithic period until 400BCE. The archaeological finds of the cave are on display today at the Iraklion Museum and the Archaeological Museum of Iraklion. For Minoan and Mycenaean the cave was sacred dedicated to the goddess of childbirth.
The Cave of Skoteino is about 22 km from Heraklion city. It is one of the three largest caves of Heraklion.
Koudoumas Monastery is located 80 km from Heraklion. The last 24 kilometers have to be made by a dirt road.
Kaliviani monastery is about 60km from Heraklion. The monastery was built during the second Byzantine period.
The Vrontisiou Monastery is about 50 kilometers from Heraklion.
Heraklion Summer Arts Festival – from June to September
Amoudara the city’s beach area; a three kilometer strip of sandy beach, lots of cafes, bars and hotels and the site of “Technopolis”, a modern multiplex cinema and open-air theatre.
Horseback riding, experienced and amateur riders can ride at the beach of Karteros, or take riding lessons at Ippikos Omilos
Horseback riding at the sandy beach of Karteros -6km east of Heraklion
Rock Climbing, visitors can climb a 50 foot rock at the suburb of Karteros, east of Heraklion. Safety equipment can be rented.
Water fun at the nearby Water City and Aqua Plus water parks.
Chania (Greek: Χανια, also transliterated as Hania, older form Chanea and Venetian: Canea, Hanya) is the second largest city of Crete and the capital of the Chania Prefecture. It lies along the north coast of the island, about 70 km west of Rethymno and 145 km west of Heraklion.
The official population of the municipal area is 53,373 but some 70,000 people live in the greater area of Chania. With 4,248.1 inhabitants/km², the municipality is the most densely populated outside the Athens and Thessaloniki metropolitan areas.
The city of Chania lies at the east end of the Gulf of Chania, a wide embayment between the Akrotiripeninsula in the east and the Spatha peninsula (also called Rodopos) in the west. It covers a significant part of the small Plain of Chania and borders with the hilly suburbs of Profitis Ilias, Agios Mattheos and Kounoupidiana towards the east, with the villages of Vamvakopoulo, Nerokourou, Mournies and Perivolia towards the south and with the coastal areas of Chryssi Akti and Agioi Apostoloi towards the west.
The city enjoys a typical Mediterranean climate, with sunny dry summers and mild rainy winters. During the period between April and October, clear-sky weather is almost an everyday feature. The atmosphere is always warm, but fierce heatwaves (temperatures above 38°C) are not very common, since the prevailing Etesian winds (“Meltemia”) blow from northern directions and pleasantly moderate the conditions. Intervals of sunny days are frequent during the windy and rainy winter as well. Snow and frost are rare near the coast, with very few exceptions, like the snowstorm on the 13 February 2004, when some 30 cm of snow accumulated in the urban area, causing general chaos. However, such cold days can be followed by much warmer and sunny weather. Even minor early heatwaves can occur in March or April, during a Saharan dust event, whose main feature is the strong and hot katabatic southerly wind, which is a type of Sirokos (σιροκος) and is called “Livas” (i.e. the wind from Libya) by the Greeks. Such events happen only a couple of times a year, and their duration is never more than 1 or 2 days.
Chania is the site of the Minoan settlement the Greeks called Cydonia, Greek for quince. Some notable archaeological evidence for the existence of this Minoan city below some parts of today’s Chania was found by excavations in the district of Kasteli in the Old Town. This area appears to have been inhabited since the Neolithic era. The city reemerged after the end of the Minoan period as an important city-state in Classical Greece, one whose domain extended from Hania Bay to the feet of the White Mountains. The first major wave of settlers from mainland Greece was by the Dorian Greeks who came around 1100 BC. Cydonia was constantly at war with other Cretan city-states such as Aptera, Phalasarna and Polyrrinia and was important enough for the Cydonians to be mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey (iii.330). In 69 BC the Roman consul Caecilius Metellus defeated the Cretans and conquered Cydonia to which he granted the privileges of an independent city-state. Cydonia reserved the right to mint its own coins until the third century AD.
The early Christian period under Byzantine rule (First Byzantine Period, 395-824 AD) and the rule of the Arabs, who called the settlement Al Hanim (“the Inn”), are not well documented. Under the Arabs the Christian population was persecuted and moved to the mountains. The Byzantine Empire retook the city in 961 AD (Second Byzantine Period, until 1204 AD). In this period the Arabic name of the city was changed into Greek Chania. Byzantines began to strongly fortify the city in order to prevent another Arab invasion, using materials from the ancient buildings of the area. By this time Chania was the seat of a bishop.
The Venetian era
The old harbour during the Venetian era.
After the Fourth Crusade (1204) and the fall of Byzantium in the Hellenic area, Crete was given to Bonifacio, Marquess of Montferrat. He in turn chose to sell it to the Venetians for 100 silver marks. In 1252 the Venetians managed to subdue the Cretans but in 1263, their rivals of Genoa, with local support, seized the city under the leadership of Enrico Pescatore, count of Malta, and held it until 1285, when the Venetians returned. Chania was chosen as the seat of the Rector (Administrator General) of the region and flourished as a significant commercial centre of a fertile agricultural region.
The Venetian rule was initially strict and oppressive but slowly the relations between the two parts improved. Contact with Venice led to close intertwining of Cretan and Venetian cultures, without, however, the Cretans losing their Greek Orthodox nature. The city’s name became La Canea and fortifications were strengthened, giving Chania the form that it still has today. On the other hand, after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, many priests, monks and artists took refuge in Crete and reinforced the Byzantine religion and culture on the island. The city of Chania during the period that followed was a blend of Byzantine, Venetian and Classical Greek cultural elements. Many of the important buildings of the town were built during this era and the intellectual activities (written word, music, education) were also promoted.
The old harbour during the Ottoman era.
However the walls did not prevent the Turkish army overrunning the city in 1645 after just two months’ siege. The Turks landed near the Monastery of Gonia in Kissamos, which they plundered and burnt. They seized Chania itself on 2 August 1645. Huge numbers died in the siege, particularly Turks. The Turkish commander was executed on returning home for losing up to 40,000 men. Later, most churches were turned into mosques and the riches of the city were taken. The Turks resided mainly in the eastern quarters, Kastelli and Splantzia, where they converted the Dominican church of St Nicholas into the central Sovereign’s Mosque (“Houghiar Tzamissi” Turkish: Hünkar Camisi). They also built new mosques such as “Kioutsouk Hassan Tzamissi” (Turkish: Küçük Hasan Camisi) on the harbour. Public baths (hamam), and fountains were a feature of the Turkish city. The pasha of Crete resided in Chania.
In 1821, as Greece rose against the Ottoman Empire, there were conflicts between Greeks and Turks in Chania, leading to casualties from both sides, most of whom were Muslims. The Bishop of Kissamos, Melhisedek Despotakis was hanged from a tree in Splantzia for participation in the revolutionary events. In 1878, the Pact of Halepa was signed. This was when a big part of the local Muslim population was killed or moved to Turkey. There was no Turkish population left before Population exchange between Greece and Turkey in 1922.
Modern Greek Era
Eleftherios Venizelos (1864-1936), the greatest Greek political figure of 20th century, was born in Chania.
In 1898, during the final moves towards independence and enosis– union with Greece- the Great Powers made Chania the capital of the semi-autonomous Cretan State (“Kritiki Politeia”), with Prince George of Greece, the High Commissioner of Crete living here. During these years Crete issued its own stamps and money. This was a very important transitional period when, no longer an isolated vilayet of the Ottoman Empire, the city became more cosmopolitan and flourishing, regaining its role as the crossroad of civilizations, influenced by Europe as well as by the East. Many important buildings were built during this era, intellectual and artistic societies were created and a new class of local aristocracy brought a different atmosphere to the everyday life of the town. The district of Halepa has many fine neoclassical embassies and consulates dating from this period.
However the main goal was enosis with Greece which came after Venizelos’s constant opposition to Prince George’s rule over Crete. The series of conflicts includes the Revolution of Therissos in 1905, which overthrew Prince George and brought Alexandros Zaimis to rule Crete. Finally in 1908 Venizelos managed to establish a revolutionary government, recognized by the Great Powers. His later election as the prime minister of Greece (1910) was the last step before Crete was united with Greece on 1 December 1913. The Greek flag was raised for the first time at Fort Firca in the Old Harbour in the presence of Eleftherios Venizelos and King Constantine.
Eleftherios Venizelos, who hailed from Mournies near Chania, was the leader of the 1896-97 uprising against Ottoman rule and went on to be Prime Minister of Greece and a great statesman. His tomb is on a hill overlooking Chania (Profitis Ilias, 35°31’29.5”N 24°03’22.2”E / 35.524861°N 24.056167°E (Tomb of E. & S. Venizelos)).
Chania in World WarII
Another important period for the city of Chania was the invasion and occupation by German forces during World War II. The British force that faced the German paratroopers during the Battle Of Crete in 1941, had artillery elements over the hill of Dexameni in the south of the city. These elements bombed the German forces in the Maleme airfield undetected, until they ran out of ammunition. George II of Greece stayed in a villa near the village of Perivolia outside Chania before escaping to Egypt. Part of the city was bombed and a significant proportion of the area’s population was either executed or imprisoned due to participation in the resistance against the German rule. The Jewish community of Chania was also eliminated during the German occupation. Most of them were transported off the island by the Nazi occupiers in 1944. Tragically a British torpedo sank the ship “Tanais” carrying most of the Jewish prisoners.
Fortunately, Chania and Crete in general escaped the disastrous consequences of the Greek Civil War of the postwar years. The city of Chania was slowly regaining its normal pace of development during the 1950s, trying to overcome the difficulties that the war had left as an aftermath. During the 1970s Cretebecame a major tourist destination for Greek and international tourists, something that gave a significant boost to the city’s economy and affected the everyday life and the overall culture of the locals. The capital of Crete was moved to Heraklion in 1971.
The city is served by Chania International Airport (IATA code: CHQ) on the Akrotiri Peninsula a bit north-east of the city. The airport is named after Daskalogiannis, a Sfakiot hero who was skinned by the Turks in the 18th century. It is rather small with six gates. Tel: +30 28210 83800.
There are several flights a day from Athens to Chania, with Aegean Airlines and Olympic Airlines. From April to early November, there are many direct charter flights to Chania from the UK, Germany, Scandinavia and other European countries.
Ferry services from Athens (Piraeus port) to Chania (Hania) anchor at the nearby port of Souda. Daily ferries, one ordinary with ANEK and one fast catamaran with Hellenic Seaways.
Chania is connected with the rest of Crete by regular bus lines operated the KTEL company. The coaches are modern, comfortable and air-conditioned. Fare is reasonable. Public transportation is fairly frequent and timetables quite trustworthy. Bus services along the north coast and towards the south coast are excellent, reliable, frequent and cheap.
Highway E75 (A90) goes along the North coast of Crete from Heraklion to Kissamos, it goes by the southern outskirts of the town. The old road, that still has the name 90, is parallel to the new highway and is the main road through all the small resorts west of Chania.
If you are on Crete to see the ‘real Crete‘, as opposed to the night clubs for tourists, then visiting the villages of the island is a must. All Cretan culture can be seen, heard and tasted in the villages. The Cretans at work or at leisure will always welcome visitors and show you how to do things the correct way. All villages have a central kafenion (coffee shop) which is where all people eventually end up. The kafenion, apart from being a place to meet friends for a coffee or a game of tavli, is used as the main information centre of the village. Be aware, however, that the kafenion is still very much a male dominion and women are generally not welcome inside (as opposed to a kafeteria or regular cafe). Most villages have war memorials and the locals will willingly fill in any missing information. Gavalohori has a wonderful Folklore Museum where much about village life can be learned.
The old town
The city of Chania can be divided in two parts: the old town and the modern city which is the larger one. The old town is situated next to the old harbour and is the matrix around which the whole urban area was developed. It used to be surrounded by the old Venetian fortifications that started to be built in 1538; of them the eastern and western parts have survived. From the south, the old town is continuous with the new, and from the north the physical border is the sea. The centre of the modern city is the area extending next to the old town and especially towards the south.
Despite being heavily bombed during World War II Chania’s Old Town is considered the most beautiful urban district on Crete, especially the crumbling Venetian harbour. The borders of the Old Town are the mostly destroyed old Venetian wall (and bulwarks) and this has been the cradle of all the civilizations which were developed in the area. The central part of the old town is named Kasteli and has been inhabited since Neolithic times. It is located on a small hill right next to the seafront and has always been the ideal place for a settlement due to its secure position, its location next to the harbour and its proximity to the fertile valley in the south. Nowadays it is a bit more quiet than the neighbouring areas of the west part of the district. The Splantzia quarter (next to the east part of Kasteli) is also largely untouched and very atmospheric. A plan for its future development is now under consideration.
The main square of the Old Town (next to the west end of Kasteli) is the Eleftherios Venizelos Square (“Syntrivani”). It is the heart of the touristic activities in the area. Next to this (on the west side) lies the Topanas district, which used to be the Christian part of the city during the Turkish occupation. Its name comes from the Venetian ammunition warehouse (Top-Hane in Turkish), which was located there. The Jewish quarter (“Evraiki” or “Ovraiki”) was located at the north-west of the Old Town, behind the harbour and within the borders of Topanas. The whole Topanas area is generally very picturesque, with many narrow alleys and old charming buildings, some of which have been restored as hotels, restaurants, shops and bars. This makes it a lively and colourful place especially during the warm period (April-October). In the winter, it still remains a center of activities (especially for nightlife) but in a more quiet and atmospheric way.
Finally, a very distinctive area of the Old Town is the harbour itself and generally the seafront (“akti”). Akti Tompazi, Akti Kountouriotou and Akti Enoseos (marina) all feature several historical buildings and a thriving nightlife. The main street that combines the modern town with the old town is Halidon Str.
The Archaeological Museum of Chania
Address: The Archaeological Museum of Chania (Greek: Αρχαιολογικο Μουσειο Χανιων) is located in the former Venetian Monastery of Saint Francis at 25 Chalidon Street, Chania, Crete. Tel: +30 28210-90334.
Open: Mon 12:30pm-7pm; Tue-Sat 8am-7pm; Sun 8am-2:30pm
The museum contains a substantial collection of Minoan and Roman artifacts excavated from around the city of Chania and the surrounding prefecture, including pieces from the ancient cities of Kydonia, Idramia, Aptera, Polyrinia, Kissamos, Elyros, Irtakina, Syia and Lissos, and also from Axos and Lappas inRethymno Prefecture.
The museum contains a wide range of coins, jewellery, vases, sculpture, clay tablets with inscriptions, stelae and mosaics. The collection includes a clay sealing from Kasteli, with a representation of a Minoan city and its patron deity dated to the second half of the 15th century BC. There is a clay pyxis with a representation of a kithara player excavated from a chamber tomb in the area of Koiliaris in Kalyves-Aptera dated to 1300-1200 BC. There is also a clay tablet inscribed with Linear A script from Kasteli, dated to 1450 BC and small clay tablets with texts in Linear B script dated to 1300.
The museum has a Roman floor mosaic, depicting Dionysos and Ariadne. The Archaeological Museum of Chania also has an ancient Cycladic style vessel from Episkopi, Kissamos and a number of busts including one of Roman emperor Hadrian, found at the Dictynaion sanctuary in 1913 and a late Minoan sarcophagus from the necropolis of Armeni, dated to 1400-1200 BC. There is also a spherical flask, noted for its unusual ceramic type, dated to the Late Minoan III period.
Admission: Adults 2.50 € Students 1.50 € Children up to 6 years free
The Venetian lighthouse (“Faros”) was built in the 15th century.
Other attractions in the harbour:
The Mosque of the Janissaries (“Yiali Tzamissi”, 17th century)
The Venetian Shipyards (“Neoria”, late 16th century)
The Great Shipyard (“Megalo Arsenali”, late 16th century)
The Fort Firca (early 17th century)
The Bulwark of St. Nicholas of Molos
Etz Hayyim Synagogue
Address: Parados Kondylaki, 730 11, Hania, Crete, Hellas (GR); Tel: +30 28210 862 86.
Open: 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Directions: The synagogue can be reached by walking up Kondylaki Street from the harbour and taking the second turn to the right; please check also the map icon bellow. This street is only about 25 meters long and leads to a cross street with no other exits. On reaching that intersection, the stone wall and entrance to the courtyard of the synagogue are directly in front of you.
Until 1999 Etz Hayyim was a desecrated house of prayer that remained the sole Jewish monument on the Island of Crete after the destruction of Crete‘s Jewish community in 1944. Essentially it stood as a monument to the success of the Nazis in obliterating 2300 years of Jewish life on the Island of Crete. Between 1996 and the year of its re-dedication in 1999, the structure was painstakingly restored. The philosophy that directed this work is summed up in the Hebrew Am Israel Hayy:’The people of Israel Live’. Today it stands as a vibrant statement of Jewish life, vitality and values, whereas until recently it was still mentioned on the World Monument Fund’s list of most endangered sites.
Other attractions in Topanas and the Jewish quarter:
The Renier building complex (Venetian, late 16th century)
The church of San Salvatore (started 15th century)
The Turkish Bath (Hamam) on Zambeliou Str.
Other attractions in Splantzia:
The Dominican Monastery of St. Nicholas (Now “Agios Nikolaos” church, early 14th century)
The church of St. Rocco (early 17th century)
The church of Saint Catherine (Agia Aikaterini, late 16th century)
The Minaret of St. Nicholas (“Hioughar Tzamissi”)
The Turkish Subterranean Fountain (18th century)
Other attractions in Halidon street:
The Greek Orthodox cathedral (“Trimartyri”, 1860)
The Roman Catholic cathedral (1879)
The Franciscan Monastery of St. Francis (now archaeological museum)
The Turkish Bath (Hamam) on Halidon Str.
“Stivanadika” (traditional leather stores) on Skridloff Str.
Turkish Bath (Hamam)
Address: Katre Str.
Other attractions in Kasteli:
The Kasteli Archaeological Area “Kanevaro” (Minoan)
Part of the Byzantine walls
The part of the Venetian wall close to the seafront
The remains of the Government House (“Palazzo”) of the Venetians (17th century)
The former Santa Maria de Miracoli Monastery (1615)
The house of the rectorate of the Technical University of Crete
Agia Triada Monastery
Agia Triada Greek Orthodox Monastery or the Monastery of Agia Triada Tsangarolon was built in the 17th century by two brothers of the Venetian Zangaroli family on the site of a pre-existing church. The church is built in the Byzantine architectural cruciform style with three domes. The main church is flanked by two smaller domed chapels, one of which is dedicated to the Life-Giving Spring (Soodochos Pigi) and the other to Saint John the Theologian. The main church is dedicated to the Holy Trinity and the church has a narthex at the front set at right angles to the main aisle. There are two large Doric-style columns and one smaller, Corinthian-style column on either side of the main entrance.
The facade of the church has double columns of Ionian and Corinthian style and bears an inscription in Greek, which is dated to 1631. The monastery’s cellar door is dated to 1613. In the 19th century the monastery was established as an important theological school from 1833, and the belfry is dated to 1864. The monastery was later extensively damaged during conflicts with the Turks and in 1892, a seminary was established.
The monastery also has a library which contains some rare books, and a museum which contains a collection of icons and a collection of codices. Important exhibits include a portable icon of St John the Theologian dated to around 1500, The Last Judgment, work of Emmanuel Skordiles from 17th century, St John the Precursor (1846), The Tree of Jesse (1853), The Hospitality of Abraham and The Descent into Hades (1855), The Story of Beauteaus Joseph (1858) and a manuscript on a parchment roll with the mass of St Basil.
Gouverneto Monastery or Our Lady of the Angels is located about 5 kilometers north of the Agia Triada Monastery. Dated to 1537 (although other sources say 1548), the monastery is a Venetian style fortress with towers at each end with some Baroque influences added later. It measures roughly 40 meters by 50 meters and contains some 50 monks’ cells on two floors. It is reputed to be one of the oldest monasteries in Crete, and a 1637 census, recorded shortly before the Turkish invasion, revealed that at the time there were 60 monks living in Gouverneto Monastery, also making it one of the largest in Crete at the time. The courtyard is rectangular shaped and is dominated by a dome church dedicated to the virgin and has an ornate Venetian facade. The chapel in the courtyard is reported to have some of the oldest frescoes in Crete.
To the west side of the monastery is the narthex, and contains chapels dedicated to St John the Hermit and the Ten Holy Martyrs. There are some notable monsters carved in relief on the front of the church. A cave called Arkouditissa or Arkoudia, is also located in the vicinity where the goddess Artemis was once worshiped.
During World War II, the Germans established a guardhouse in the monastery to regulate the area and since 2005 it has undergone restoration work by the monks. The monastery has strict rules, and forbids smoking and photography insde the monastery and is officially closed on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Souda Fortress is located on the island of Souda 6.5 km to the east of central Chania. The construction of the fortress started in 1573 by the Venetians, in order to reinforce the defense of the port.
Fortress of Itzedin
Across the bay from Souda Fortress, the Fortress of Itzedin was constructed by the Turks in 1872 on a hill overlooking the sea.
Located 47 km from the town of Chania.
Crete’s only freshwater lake, Lake Kournas, is relatively large, with a perimeter of 3.5 km. It is possible to walk around the lake. There is a nature preserve on the Southwest of the lake. But there is a rustic road from the North of the lake to the Hills on the West of the lake too. The lake used to be called ‘Korisia’ after ancient ‘Korion’, a city thought to be in the area with a temple to Athena. The lake reportedly used to be full of eels but now is better known for its terrapins and tourism. Tavernas and pedalo rental shops line part of the shore. Overall, however, the lake retains its beauty, the White Mountains reflected in the mirror-like waters. The width, at the point where the landing stage is built, is about 800 m and the water is of a quality to have caused no ill effects to the writer when he swam across. Kournas village is perched on a hill overlooking the lake. Kournas is known for its pottery and many popular taverns. The taverna’s seats are largely in the road – it is popular for its specialties of ‘kokoretsi’ (grilled offal) and ‘galaktoboureko’ (custard and orange tart).
War Museum of Chania
Tel: +30 28210 44156.
War Museum of Chania is an annex of the War Museum of Athens. It was founded on July 1995. The museum exhibits photographs, war artifacts and other items from the national wars and revolutions of the Greek History. It is housed in a building, built in 1870 and designed by the Italian architect Makouzo, which in the past has been used as barracks by the Italian Army during World War II.
Frangokastello (Greek: Φραγκοκαστελλο) is the location of a castle and scattered settlement on the south coast of Crete, about 12 km east of Chora Sfakion and within the prefecture of Chania.
The castle was built by the Venetians in 1371-74 as a garrison to impose order on the rebellious Sfakia region, to deter pirates, and to protect Venetian nobles and their properties. The Venetians named it the Castle of St. Nikitas after the nearby church. The locals, however, who never saw it in a positive light, contemptuously dubbed it Frangokastello, meaning the Castle of the Franks (i.e. Catholic foreigners), Castelfranco or Franco Castello. The name eventually stuck and was adopted by the Venetians as well. According to local lore, when soldiers and builders arrived on the fertile plain to begin construction of the castle, the local Sfakians, led by six Patsos brothers from the nearby settlement of Patsianos, would destroy every night what the Venetians built during the day. Eventually, the Venetians were forced to bring in additional troops and the Patsos brothers were betrayed, arrested and hanged.
The castle has a simple rectangular shape, with a tower at each corner and the remains of a Venetian coat of arms above the main gate. The buildings within the walls, as well as the battlements, were constructed during the Ottoman Turkish occupation.
In 1770, the Cretan rebel Ioannis Vlachos, otherwise known as Daskalogiannis, was captured at Frangokastello by Turkish forces. He was later tortured and executed at Heraklion.
On 17 May 1828 a celebrated battle was fought at Frangokastello. Hundreds of Sfakiots and Epirotes led by Hatzimichalis Dalianis, a Greek patriot from Epirus attempting to spread the Greek War of Independence from the mainland to Crete, occupied the castle, but were besieged by the Turks and massacred. However, many of the Turks were then themselves killed by rebel ambushes launched from the local gorges. According to tradition, around the anniversary of the battle each May, shadows of the armed Cretan and Epirote soldiers who lost their lives there seem to march towards the fortress around dawn. These are called Drosoulites (Greek: Δροσουλιτες), or dew-men, and have been explained as a meteorological phenomenon.
Frangokastello has an extensive, sheltered and gently shelving sandy beach, which has provided the basis for a low key tourist industry in recent years. Tourist accommodation is scattered over the flat plain around the castle, but the area’s relative remoteness has discouraged major development.
The Samariá Gorge (Greek: Φαραγγι Σαµαριας or just Φαραγγας) is a national park on the island of Crete, and a major tourist attraction of the island.
The gorge is in the prefecture of Chania in southwest Crete. It was created by a small river running between the White Mountains (Lefká Óri) and Mt. Volakias. There are a number of other gorges in the White Mountains. While some say that the gorge is 18 km long, this distance refers to the distance between the settlement of Omalos on the northern side of the plateau and the village of Agia Roumeli. In fact, the gorge is 16 km long, starting at an altitude of 1,250 m at the northern entrance, and ending at the shores of the Libyan Sea in Agia Roumeli. The walk through Samaria National Park is 13 km long, but you have to walk another three km to Agia Roumeli from the park exit, making the hike 16 km. The most famous part of the gorge is the stretch known as the Iron Gates, where the sides of the gorge close in to a width of only four meters and soar up to a height of 500 m.
Entrance to the Gorge
The gorge became a national park in 1962, particularly as a refuge for the rare kri-kri (Cretan goat), which is largely restricted to the park and an island just off the shore of Agia Marina. There are several other endemic species in the gorge and surrounding area, as well as many other species of flowers and birds.
The village of Samariá lies just inside the gorge. It was finally abandoned by the last remaining inhabitants in 1962 to make way for the park. The village and the gorge take their names from the village’s ancient church, Óssia María [“Saint Mary”].
A “must” for visitors to Crete is to complete the walk down the gorge from the Omalos plateau to Agia Roumeli on the Libyan Sea, at which point tourists sail to the nearby village of Hora Sfakion and catch a coach back to Chania. The walk takes 4-7 hours and can be strenuous, especially at the height of summer.
Local tourist operators provide organized tours to the Gorge. These include bus transportation from your hotel to the entrance (near Omalos village), and the bus will be waiting for you to disembark the ferry in Sfakia (Hora Sfakeon) to take you back. If you are on your own, you can make a one-day round trip fromChania (see below) or from Sogia or Paleochora. Note that the morning buses from Sogia and Paleochora do not operate on Sunday. The ferries leave Agia Roumeli to Chora Sfakeon (East-bound) and to Sogia/Paleochora (West-bound) at 18:00.
There also exists a “lazy way” – from Agia Roumeli to the Iron Gates (more or less an hour of non-challenging terrain) and back.
Gramvousa, also Grambousa, Grampousa or Krampouza, further names include Akra and Cavo Buso orCavo Bouza, is a small island with the remains of a Venetian fort close to the coast of north-westernCrete. The fort at Gramvousa used to be one of three important forts located on the coast of Crete and despite being subject to Venetian and Ottoman rule was regularly used by Cretan insurgents.
There are two Gramvousa islands. This island with the fort is also known as Imeri Gramvousa (“Tame Gramvousa”) and the other is known as Agria Gramvousa (“Wild Gramvousa”), since its rugged surface makes it less hospitable.
Today, Gramvousa, in common with all the Venetian forts, is a popular tourist attraction that can be viewed and visited from the coast or the sea. There is no accommodation on the island itself.
Monastery of Panagia Chrissoskalitissa
The Monastery of Panagia Chrissoskalitissa is located on top of a cliff. Its location provides a breathtaking view to the sea. The monastery is open for visit and has an interesting folklore museum inside.
Moni Gonia Monastery
Moni Gonia Monastery, Monastery of Our Lady of Gonia or Monastery of Panaghia Odigitria is an orthodox monastery located 1 km north of Kolymvari and some 26 km from Chania, on the coast of the south-east Rodopos peninsula in Crete. The monastery was originally founded in the 9th century and was originally dedicated to Aghios Georghios (St. George). It was originally situated at Menies on the ruins of the ancient temple of Artemis Britomartis (Diktynna). The monastery was built in the 13th century adjacent to a cemetery, but it was rebuilt between 1618 and 1634 in its present location, with Venetian influences in its architectural design and adornment. The distinctive fountain in front of the monastery’s entrance was built in 1708 and the belfry in 1849.
According to monks the present location at Kolymvari was considered a safer from attack. Despite this, the monastery was heavily damaged by Ottoman bombardment on many occasions throughout its history including in 1645, 1652, 1822, 1841, and finally during the Cretan Revolt (1866-1869) against the Ottoman Empire in 1867, evidence of which can be seen today by the remaining cannon ball lodged in the monastery wall. During World War II the monastery was partly destroyed by German bombing and it became one of the most important areas of Cretan resistance to Nazi Germany.
Today the Orthodox Academy of Crete, an important religious and spiritual academy in Crete was established by the archdiocese of the island.
Moni Gonia is a Venetian style fortress monastery. Its main church has a narthex, a dome, and a number of chapels surrounded by a courtyard. The courtyard area is also where the quarters of the abbot and monks of the monastery are situated along with the refectory and storehouses.
Today, the monastery contains numerous Byzantine artifacts from the 15th and 17th century including Cretan icons by Parfenios, Ritzos, and Neilos. It also has numerous relics and other rare religious treasures from the Byzantine period and ancient inscriptions on the walls.
Other museums in Chania are:
Folklore Museum (Old Town) Tel: +30 28210 90816.
Historical Archive (the second most important in Greece) Tel: +30 28210 52606.
Ancient Lissos: Tel: +30 28210 44418. Tel: +30 28210 94487 / Open: all year round and at all times
Ancient Anopolis: Tel: +30 28210 44418.
Ancient Polyrinia: Tel: +30 28210 44418. Tel: +30 28210 94487
Ancient Elyros: Tel: +30 28210 44418 / Open: all year round and at all times
Ancient Falasarna: Tel: +30 28210 44418. Tel: +30 28210 94487/ Open: all year round and at all times
Greco-Roman Ruins in Kastelli-Kissamos: Tel: +30 28210 44418 / Open: all year round and at all times
Do in Chania
Several theatre groups are active in Chania with the most important being the Municipal and Regional Theatre of Crete (DI.PE.THE.K). The repertoire includes old and contemporary plays from Greek and foreign writers. The Venizelian Conservatory of Music (“Odeion”, established 1931) is also one of the most important cultural societies in Crete. A recent attempt from the municipality to create a chamber music group named “Sinfonietta” has been successful and its performances throughout the year have enriched the cultural event calendar of the city. There is also a significant community of people who focus on alternative/indie music as well as jazz and some interesting bands performing modern musical styles. A number of traditional [Cretan] musicians are also active in town.
The city is also quite cinephile. There are five cinemas (two of them open-air), concentrating both in commercial and independent movies and occasionally organizing small festivals.
During the summer period a variety of cultural events take place on a daily basis. Theatrical plays, concerts and several exhibitions from Greek and foreign artists are organized either by the municipality or by individuals. A venue which hosts many of these events is a theater located in the east bulwark of the Old Town (“Anatoliki Tafros”). Also, several festivals, conferences or sport events take place in Chania especially between May and September. The Venizeleia athletics competition is one of the most noteworthy events of the year.
Cultural life throughout the wintry period of the year (November-March) is not as rich as in the summer, but it is certainly maintained to a good standard. During the last years there has been a substantial effort by both the city councils and by the locals to create the background for the city to be in the centre of interest throughout the year. Towards this direction, the increasing number of students moving to Chania for their studies has proved to be helpful. There is also some effort to promote Crete as a tourist destination for all seasons – a role that the island could easily hold – which would also support both the local economy and culture.
A major role in the city’s cultural life is played by the Municipal Cultural Corporation of Chania (DI.P.E.X.) which organizes a significant part of the events taking place throughout the year.
Chania is a family orientated town, traditionally Cretan in its charm. However, that does not stop it from boasting a fairly lively night life. The family atmosphere is more profound during the winter, something that is slowly changing with the reinforcement that the University students bring to the town. During the summer period (late April – early October) the place becomes more cosmopolitan with many tourists coming to the place from both mainland Greece and from any other part of the world. There is a selection of food choices, with plenty of Greek tavernas, many of them serving traditional Cretan specialities and a decent number of foreign cuisine restaurants. A big proportion of them is gathered in the Old Town, Nea Hora and Koum Kapi, the coastal areas of the town, but there are several choices around the city as well. The Old Town is the place to find a myriad of galley bars and cafes, carved into the cliff side and the age-old Venetian buildings. Some of them are quite popular among people who look for a relaxed and cosy night out, offering a more intellectual point of view on nightlife, with good music ranging from jazz to indie and to traditional Greece. Some other ones are very popular among specific types of visitors (Scandinavian Bars, American Bars etc).
The area of Koum Kapi has developed rapidly during the last decade and nowadays offers a variety of nice choices for mainstream cafes and some restaurants. The ratio of Greek people going there (either locals or visitors) is much higher than in the Old Town, where the atmosphere is more cosmopolitan (not meaning that it is not preferred by Greeks as well). There are also some clubs in town, which are usually closing in the summer, since people prefer to party closer to the beach resorts of Agia Marina and Platanias where the major clubs are located. During the summer, a main way of entertainment is the everyday swimming, which is often a kind of social outing especially for the locals, since it replaces the afternoon coffee that many Greeks fancy.
Cinema, theater and concerts are, among the already mentioned ones, some very common activities for entertainment in Chania, with a fair amount of choices offered and repertoires varying from independent to commercial. Some venues for live music focus on Greek traditional and perhaps Cretan artists. The outdoor evening feasts in the villages, usually related to religious celebrations, are quite popular during the summer.
Water sports are very popular in Chania and especially the local water polo team (Nautical Club of Chania, N.O.X.) has managed to be a protagonist in the primary league of the Greek national championship for years. Several athletes of this team have also played extensively for the Greek national team which has achieved major international successes.
Football and basketball are also very popular in the town, however not as successful. The main football teams are “A.E.X” (Sports Club of Chania). and “Ionia.” The main clubs for athletics are “Eleftherios Venizelos” and “Kydon.” The “Antisfairisi” club is specialized in tennis and ping-pong and has also a significant tradition in chess. Many of the above sports are being practiced in the National Stadium of Chania, constructed in 1935 with the financial support of Elena Venizelou, then wife of Eleftherios Venizelos. There is also an open swimming pool for water sports in Nea Chora and a new indoor one which is being built in the area of Akrotiri. A modern indoor stadium for basketball / volleyball etc has also been built (2002-2005) near Nea Chora (Kladisos area).
It also has to be mentioned that there is a very active climbing / mountain walking club (Greek Mountaineering Club of Chania, E.O.S. Chanion) organizing weekly excursions of varying difficulty on the mountains of Crete and several other longer term missions in mainland Greece and abroad.
Rethymno (also Rethimno or Rethymnon, Réthymnon, and Rhithymnos, Italian: Retimo), a city of approximately 40,000 people in the island of Crete. It was built in antiquity (ancient Rhithymna and Arsinoe), even though it has never been a competitive Minoan center. It was, however, strong enough to mint its own coins and maintain a mild urban growth. One of these coins is today depicted as the crest of the town with two dolphins in a circle.
Oropedio Lasithiou or Lasithi Plateau (Greek: Οροπεδιο Λασιθιου) is a large (11 km in the E-W direction and 6 km in the N-S, approx. 25 km²), scenic plain located in the Lasithi prefecture in eastern Crete. It is approximately 70 km from Heraklion and lies at an average altitude of 840 m, which makes it one of the few permanently inhabited areas of such altitude around the Mediterranean. Winters can be very harsh and snow on the plain and surrounding mountains often persists until mid-spring.
The promenade of the city
Agios Nikolaos (or Aghios Nikolaos, Greek: Αγιος Νικολαος) is a coastal town on the Greek island ofCrete, lying east of the island’s capital Heraklion, north of the town of Ierapetra and west of the town ofSitia. In the year 2000, the Municipality of Agios Nikolaos, which takes in part of the surrounding villages, claimed around 19,000 inhabitants. The town is the capital of the nomos (province) of Lasithi, and sits partially upon the ruins of the ancient city of Lato pros Kamara.
Agios Nikolaos was settled in the late Bronze Age by Dorian occupants of Lato, at a time when the security of the Lato hillfort became a lesser concern and access to the harbour at Agios Nikolaos became sufficiently attractive.
The name Agios Nikolaos means Saint Nicholas, and its stress lies on the second syllable of the word “Nikolaos.” Agios Nikolaos or Ayios Nikolaos (alternative transliterations of the Greek Αγιος Νικολαος) is observably a common placename in Greece and Cyprus, since Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors and of all of Greece.
Agios Nikolaos is probably best known as a tourist town that serves as a hub to the twenty or so small villages and farms that make up that part of Lassithi. Tourist attractions include the small lagoon Lake Voulismeni, small beaches in the town, the tiny island Agioi Pantes, the archaeological museum, the local flora exhibition “Iris” and numerous fairs. Tourism is mainly West European with Greek tourism concentrating in mid August. The lagoon features a small park with a trail, traditional fishing boats, ducks, pigeons, an amphitheatre and many cafès.
Agios Nikolaos is accessible from the mainland and the whole of Europe through Nikos Kazantzakisairport, and the many daily ferry services in Heraklion. Agios Nikolaos (Crete) is about 40 miles from Herakleion Airport (HER). The journey time is 45 – 60 minutes by car or taxi.
Local bus service with modern air conditioned buses.
Ferry services run to Agios Nikolaos from Athens (Piraeusport), Rhodes, Chalki, Karpathos and Kassos.
Major ferry lines operate to the port of Herakleion, connecting with bus services at the main bus station near to the port. Ferries run directly to the town via LANE lines from Pireaus and Rhodes.
By Bus: Local bus service with modern air conditioned buses.
Elounda, Kritsa, Sitia, Heraklion (and from there, Knossos), Malia and Hersonnisos are easily accessed with a regular bus service which is very good value.
Scooters: Readily available. Wearing of crash helmets is compulsory. Do not ruin your holiday by receiving a large fine.
Quads: Not designed for use on road. Cause traffic congestion and impatience leading to many accidents and occasional deaths. Think very carefully before hiring one and using it on the roads.
Car Hire: You will not normally need a 4 x 4 to negotiate the roads, most of which are sealed. Some places and rental properties are less accessible. Beware of damage to the underside of the hire car on rough tracks.
Taxis: Excellent value. Invariably will be a large, clean and air-conditioned Mercedes. Most drivers speak basic English and have none of the bad habits of many Med taxi drivers (loud local music, smoking en route etc).
There are boat trips up the coast to see Barbarossa’s cave and the old leper colony (formerly a Venetian fortress) of Spinalonga, which are fascinating and amazing value (do not spend more than 10 €, there is no need) and usually include an ocean swim.
Go to Almyros beach, a long sandy beach with a cold water stream entering the sea at the southern end. Perfect for a cooling paddle if the heat gets too much. About a 20 minute walk from the town center but worth every step! Alternatively, a taxi from the town center will only cost you about €8.
If it is windy, consider a pebble beach rather than a sand beach, of which there is no shortage.
Lake Voulismeni (Greek: Λιï¿½νη Βουλισï¿½ενη, Límni Voulisméni) is a former sweetwater small lake, later connected to the sea, located at the centre of the town of Agios Nikolaos on the Greek island ofCrete It has a circular shape of a diameter of 137 m and depth 64 m. The locals refer to it as just “the lake”. The lake connects to the harbour of the town by a channel dug in 1870. A panoramic view of the lake can be seen from a small park situated above it.
According to legend, the goddess Athena bathed in it. Every year at midnight turning to Orthodox Christian Easter day, the majority of the population of the town gathers around the lake to celebrate with fireworks, and firecrackers thrown by the people attending that highlight event.
It was reported that the German army during their withdrawal from the area at WW2, disposed parts of their weaponry and/or vehicles into the deep lake.
A local urban legend has it that the lake is bottomless. That notion is potentially based on its impressively disproportional high depth compared to its width (64m depth on only 134m width) or/and on locals noticing disturbances at the surface or also the level of the water during the Santorini (Thera) earthquake of 1956. Because of the latter, many assume a possible geological relation of the two locations, but this claim has not been substantiated by known scientific surveys to date.
The island of Spinalonga (official name: Kalidon) is located at the eastern section of Crete, near the town of Elounda, 80 km from Heraklion (60 – 75 minutes by car). There is no accommodation on Spinalonga, meaning all tours last only a few hours. The island can easily be accessed from Elounda and Agios Nikolaos. Boat trips from Elounda takes approximately fifteen minutes while trips departing Agios Nikolaos can take nearly one hour.
The island of Spinalonga has captured the imagination of many throughout its long history. Since millenia past, artists, musicians and authors have romanticised and wrote about this island. The island fortress is one of the most visited tourist attractions on Crete, and thousands of visitors walk along the narrow streets through the village on Spinalonga each year.
The name of the island, Spinalonga, is Venetian, meaning “long thorn”, and has roots in the period of Venetian occupation. The official name is Kalidon, but so well known is its former name that even the sign posts and the boats that take you to the the island will call it only by its Venetian name.
In 1579, the Venetians built a mighty fortress on the island on the ruins of an ancient acropolis. The Venetians kept control of the island even after the rest of Crete fell to the Ottoman Empire in 1669 and it remained under their control for almost another half a century until its capitulation in 1715. Spinalonga island is notable for being the last active leper colony from 1903 until 1957. Today, it is unoccupied and is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the area. This location is also the setting for Victoria Hislop’s bestselling novel The Island and Werner Herzog’s experimental short film Last Words.
Venetian baroque church at Moni Arkadiou
The monastery of Arkadi (in Greek: / Moní Arkadhíou) is an Eastern Orthodox monastery, situated on a fertile plateau 14 mi (23 km) to the southeast of Rethymnon on the island of Crete.
The current catholicon (church) dates back to the 16th century and is marked by the influence of the Renaissance. This influence is visible in the architecture, which mixes both Roman and baroque elements. As early as the 16th century, the monastery was a place for science and art and had a school and a rich library. Situated on a plateau, and surrounded by a thick and high wall, the monastery is also built like a fortress.
The monastery played an active role in the Cretan resistance of Ottoman rule during the Cretan revolt in 1866. 943 Greeks, mostly women and children, sought refuge in the monastery. After three days of battle and under orders from the hegumen (abbot) of the monastery, the Cretans blew up barrels of gunpowder, choosing to sacrifice themselves rather than surrender.
The monastery became a national sanctuary in honor of the Cretan resistance. November 8 is a day of commemorative parties in Arkadi and Rethymno. The explosion did not end the Cretan insurrection, but it attracted the attention of the rest of the world.
Palace of Zakros ruins
Zakros (Greek: Ζακρος) is a site on the eastern coast of Crete containing ruins from the Minoan civilization. The site is often known to archaeologists as Zakro or Kato Zakro. It is believed to have been one of the four main administrative centers of the Minoans, and its protected harbor and strategic location made it an important commercial hub for trade to the east.
The town was dominated by the Palace of Zakro, originally built around 1900 BC, rebuilt around 1600 BC, and destroyed around 1450 BC along with the other major centers of Minoan civilization. Extensive ruins of the palace remain, and are a popular tourist destination.
Within a short distance from the village of Zakros, starts the Gorge, which ends at the bay of Kato Zakros, almost near the Palace area. This gorge is of outstanding beauty, with large caves in its walls.