If Crete is on your Bucketlist, make sure to add a visit to old town Chania (pronounced Hania). Chania is the second largest city on Crete. It is located on the Northwest side of the island, just west of Souda Bay. Old town is the heart of Chania and hugs the coast. A cab ride is 15 minutes and about €10 from the airport to old town.
If you are looking for a place to stay, try the Belmondo. The Belmondo is small (more like a B & B), but inexpensive and serves a hearty breakfast. The sea view rooms have breathtaking views of the Venetian harbor. It reflects the character of the town and the charm of the local people. Maria and her staff are fantastic. The clean rooms are simply and tastefully furnished.
Maria is happy to recommend some delicious restaurants within walking distance. The Belmondo balcony overlooks the charming iron-gated patio of the Italian restaurant, Veneto. They are well known for their tasty soups, from minestrone soup made with fresh vegetables to Mediterranean soup. The chef’s fresh pasta is also worth trying.
No matter what direction you step off to, there is something interesting to discover. Wind your way down the narrow streets to the waterfront cafes or historical monuments.
Old Town Chania is saturated with ancient history. As you walk down the cobblestones and breathe in the salty sea air, you can sense the depth of the generations that have gone before. The romantic landscape, impressive architecture, and fascinating sculptures will captivate you. It is a town ravaged and plundered by wars. Then like a phoenix, it reinvented itself, again and again, each time rising from the ashes of destruction. The Minoans and Byzantine both left their mark on old town Chania, as did the Venetians and Ottomans. It is a city mashed up of ancient cultures vying for a strategic position in the Mediterranean sea.
It’s easy to walk to just about anywhere in old town within 15 minutes. Old town Chania is made up of plazas, historic districts, and churches. One of the plazas is the Platia 1821, the main square, named for the year the town fought back against the Turks. You can also check out the Chania Municipal Market, dating back to 1913. It is home to more than 75 vendors. Tea enthusiasts will be thrilled to find a tea vendor selling a local staple, Greek mountain tea called Sideritis. In ancient times Sideritis was a general term for medicinal plants used for healing wounds caused by iron weapons during battles.
As you explore old town Chania, you’ll discover it’s composed of a number historical districts. Each area has its own charm and peculiarities. The Old Jewish Quarter (made up of Kondilaki, Zambeliou, and Evraiki streets) is a shadow of its former self. In my grandparent’s time Ovaraiki, the Jewish Quarter, would have been bustling with Jewish restaurants and shops. Jews would have been excitedly debating with their Greek Orthodox neighbors. Most of temples and synagogues are long gone.
Many of the old churches have been converted into shops and museums. However, you can visit the Neoclassical Church of the Trimartyri. It is one of Chiana’s most famous landmarks. It’s planted right in front of the Plateia Mitropoleos. The church is dedicated to the Virgin of the Three Martyrs, the patron saint of Chania. Build in the late 1850s on the site of a Venetian church.
The Splatzia district is situated southeast of the Kasteli hill. During the Ottoman occupation, this was the Turkish district of the town of Chania. The Platia 1821 now stands at the heart of the old district. It was the center of the Turkish community, a place to gather, shop and eat. Venetian architecture gives way to the Turkish influence. For example, the Venetian Dominican monastery, St. Nicholas, was converted into the city’s central mosque. Later, in 1919, the Hiougar Tzamissi transformed into an Orthodox Church of Agios Nikolaos, but it retains the fingerprints of Turkish architecture.
Another district called, Tabakaria, on the outside eastern edge of Chania, was once home to more than 80 tanneries. The shallow sea and brackish waters made it an ideal location for treating leather. The old buildings are still standing like weary sentinels of days gone by. Some of the warehouses are well-preserved, while others are empty shells. The Tabakaria district extends from the seaside part of Vivilaki street to the east, to the area of Agia Kyriaki.
The Venetian Harbor is picturesque and borders water so clear you can see to the bottom. The photo opportunities are abundant. Many of the seaside cafes are oriented to look out over the Venetian Harbor. It is a landing of historical remnants. If you wander down to the northwest side of the port, you can explore Revellino del Porto, a Firka Fortress (Maritime Museum of Crete) from the 17th century. Created to protect the city is a heavy stone wall built with arched cannon openings. At the end of the point, you can’t miss the oldest lighthouse in Greece. This beauty was made by the Venetian Navy in the 14th century and stands 21-meters tall. It’s this lighthouse you can see from the Belmondo hotel window in the first picture.
On the east end of the harbor, you will find Moro Docks and an annexed part of the Maritime Museum of Crete. Inside is the Minoa, a replication of a 15th-century Minoan ship. It was built as a part of an exhibition on ancient navigation. The museum is small but has several displays of ancient naval artifacts. Built in the 17th-century, the Moro Docks also have a history of their own. They were once used for Italian prisoners of war. The German’s left them untouched when they bombed Chania in 1941.
After a long day of exploration and discovery, get off your feet and enjoy dinner at one of the seaside restaurants like Michalis, overlooking the bay. Savor the delicious fresh caught shrimp and pasta. But let’s be honest, what trip to Greece would be complete without ouzo? What a great way to end a day.