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The monuments of the Venecian Harbor of Chania

Zaneka Stergiani

Phd, ΜΑ of philology, Teacher of 1st Lyceum of Chania, Crete, Greece

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.
One of the best preserved medieval harbors in the Mediterranean, it has a
long and complicated history. It was originally built between 1320 and 1356 by the
Venetians to protect the city. After the Turks conquered the city in 1645 it was left in
ruins. It was rebuilt much later, when Crete was handed over to the viceroy of Egypt
Mohammad Ali (1830-1840) as a fee for the help he provided during the Greek revolt
in Crete and the Peloponese. It was completely restored and a new lighthouse was
built in the place of the Venetian one. It’s the one that still stands there today.
The Venetian "Neoria"
During the Venetian occupation (1204 - 1669), the need for the closer presence
of Venetian navy in Crete obliged Venice to construct the "Neoria" (arsenal), a
dockyard where the ships would be maintained during the winter.
In 1467, Venice ordered the construction of a number of "Neoria", two per city
(Chania and Rethymno). The construction of the first two "Neoria" in Chania was
completed in 1526. In 1593, sixteen "Neoria" had been constructed. In 1599, the south
"Neoria" complex was completed with the construction of the 17th "Neorio". In 1607,
at the same time when the northeast rampart was extended, the construction of 5
more "Neoria" at the heart of the port begins, which are commonly known as "the
Neoria of Moro", named after the General Intendant who suggested their
construction. Two of the five "Neoria" were completed, and walls were also
During the Turkish period, the lack of maintenance works in the port and the
degradation of its role also resulted in the degradation of the "Neoria", which were
now used as military storage spaces. From the initial "Neoria" complex with 17
"Neoria", nine were demolished. Nowadays, a group of 7 continuous domes is
preserved-along with another one further to the west, the "Grand Arsenal" (today,
the Center of Mediterranean Architecture). From the "Moro" complex, only two
"Neoria" are preserved intact, at the heart of the port.
In their initial formation, the "Neoria" were open to the sea which covered a
part of the interior, so that the ships could be transferred easily. They were covered
with domes and were connected through arched openings on the walls. The entrance
to "Neoria" was possible through 2 gates: one on the south side of the 9th "neorio"
and another on the west side of the 17th "neorio". The "Neoria" were 500 m. long,

9m. wide and had an average height of 10 m. On its south side there are the only light
openings- a round sky light and two large windows. The main entrance was in about
the middle of the complex, at the end of today's street "Daskalogianni", where the
west half part of the majestic gate is still preserved. After the demolition of the west
"neoria", the gate leads to the plateau that was created.
In the position of the demolished "Neoria", the stone building of the customs
of Chania was constructed, which is today surrounded by two plateaus.
The impressive arsenali
The Grand Arsenal is the last of the 17 "Neoria" (Venetian Dockyard) to the
west. Its construction started by the Intendant Alvise Grimani. The thickness of its
walls, its isolation from the rest of the "Neoria" and the public services it hosted
through time assign the importance of this building and might explain why it is called
With the addition of a second floor in 1872, during the Turkish period, a new
era began for the "Grand Arsenal". Since then, the building has hosted several
important public services and activities. For example, here is where the school of the
Christian Community was hosted. Since 1892, it has also hosted several theatrical
performances in the large chamber. It was also used as a public hospital in 1923, and
as a City Hall from 1828 until 1941.
Nowadays, it has been transformed into an impressive building that hosts
various exhibitions and events. It also hosts the Center of Mediterranean Architecture
and important Greek and and International events related to architecture.
On the walls
The main reason that forced the Venetians to strengthen the fortification of
Chania’s harbor was the discovery of gunpowder. Veronese engineer Michele
Sammichieli designed the new walls and oversaw the construction that began in 1538.
The wall was square-shaped and each of the four corners was fortified by a heart-
shaped rampart. A trench was dug outside the walls. Three gates were built: The Porta
Retimiotta, which was the main gate, the Porta Sabbionara to the east and a smaller
one through the San Salvatore rampart. Guarding the port the fort, that still retains its
Turkish name, Firka (means “barracks”), was built to guard the entrance to the harbor.
In case of a siege, a chain linked to the base of the lighthouse closed off the harbor
entrance. The fort was the headquarters of the city’s Military Commander and was
designed to be used as barracks and weapon storage. During the Turkish occupation
and up until recently Firkas was used as barracks and a prison. On its corner tower,
the flag of the Union of Crete with Greece flew for the first time on December 1st
The Byzantine Wall
The initial fortification of the old city of Chania, the "Byzantine" wall of the
acropolis of Kasteli was probably built during Roman period (69 B.C - 330 A.D), and is
founded over the remains of an older fortification of the Hellenistic period.
The larger part of the Byzantine wall was constructed by the ruins of ancient
Kydonia, which were used as building material. Its outline is irregular and consists of
rectilinear parts interrupted by small oblong or polygonal towers. In some parts, the
wall simply complements the natural fort created by the rock. The wall had four gates,
from which none preserved its initial formation to our days.

The Egyptian Lighthouse
The Egyptian Lighthouse, which is one of the oldest in the world, prevails in
the old Port of Chania. The sea-tossed stone lighthouse that is located at the edge of
the breakwater is not only the “guard” of the old Venetian port, but also its most
famous jewel. The lighthouse has a height of 21m, height from sea surface 26m, and
its light reaches a distance of 7 miles. Its base is octagonal; the middle part has 16
angles, while the top part is circular. Today, it has been transformed from a roofless
ruin into an impressive building that hosts various events and exhibitions. Since 2002,
after its reformation, it hosts the Center of Mediterranean Architecture, important
cultural events, artistic exhibitions and international events related to architecture.
The Küçük Hasan Pasha Mosque or Gialisi Tzami
The Küçük Hasan Pasha Mosque or Gialisi Tzami (mosque of the sea) is actually
the only preserved mosque of the city of Chania. It was built on the site of a preexisting
Christian temple after the conquest of Chania by the Ottomans in 1645, honoring
Küçük Hasan Pasha. The mosque bears a large semispherical dome supported by stone
arches. The north and west sides house a gallery that is topped by six small domes.
This gallery was initially open, as used in the mosques, but in the late 19th century it
was closed by arched openings. The mosque was a project of the same Armenian
architect that built the mosque of Spaniakos, near Paleochora. The mosque was
surrounded by a nice yard with tall palm trees, which hosted the graves of the
Ottoman rulers. It ceased its opetation in 1923 and its minaret was demolished in
1939. During the 2nd World War it housed the Archaeological Museum of Chania.
Afterwards it was used as a storehouse, folklore museum, tourist information point
and exhibition venue.
The Cathedral of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary (Trimartiri)
The present Cathedral temple of "Eisodion" was built on the place of an older
temple of "Theotokos" (Virgin Mary), dating back to the 14th century. When the city
of Chania was occupied by the Turks in 1645, the temple was converted into a soap-
factory without altering its initial design. Until 1868, the temple functioned as a soap-
factory and belonged to the Turkish dignitary Moustafa Pasha Giritli (=the Cretan). In
the area of the olive storage room, Moustafa had ordered the protection of the icon
of Virgin Mary with a vigil candle.
According to tradition, the soap-factory business failed and was abandoned,
and the icon of Virgin Mary was taken by the last technician. When Moustafa became
Prime Minister, during the reign of the Sultan Metzit, the Christian Community
requested the re-construction of the temple in the place of the soap-factory. Moustafa
assigned the area for this purpose and the Sultan and Veli Pasha (the Commander of
Crete) provided monetary support. Despite the hostility between the Christians and
the Ottomans, this contribution was appreciated and the church was finally re-built.
The construction of the church was completed in 1860 in the style of a three
aisle Basilica. The middle aisle is higher and covered by a pointed arch. The other aisles
are covered by cross-ribbed vaults and are divided vertically by the women's balcony.
On the northeast side of the temple there is the high bell-tower. The architectural
elements of the temple are associated more with the tradition developed in the period
of the Venetian occupation: sculptured pseudo-pillars, cornices and arched openings.
The east wall is decorated with large and impressive religious paintings, the works of

G. Kalliterakis, G. Stravrakis, E. Tripolitakis and D. Kokotsis. The icon of the Virgin Mary
("Eisodion tis Theotokou") was also returned to the temple.
The temple is closely connected to the historical events in the city and it was
an asylum and shelter during war time and revolutions. It was severely damaged in
May 1941 by the bombs dropped by the Germans.
Franciscan Monastery of Aghios Fragkiskos
This building complex is located on the street "Halidon" and hosts
the Archeological Museum of the city. The building is preserved but most of its part
have been renovated with many modern interventions. On its southern side there was
a double arcade (chiostro) with the rooms of the monks and other
buildings. Nowadays, the larger part of the arcade is incorporated and occupied by the
houses and stores that extend until the entrance of the newer Catholic Temple.
On the northern side of the church of Aghios Fragkiskos, the existence of a
beautiful garden is recorded on a map of the time, similar to the one preserved today
from the time the church was converted to a mosque. The recent renovation works
have revealed the different construction phases of the temple, some of which are in
line with the urban development and reconstructions of the city through time. A part
of the initial design of the temple is still visible in the middle of today's temple.
Later interventions include the construction of three chapels on the northern
side, covered by cross-ribbed vaults bearing the gothic monogram of Christ in their
center, and the re-modeling of northern front of the temple. In 1605, the extension of
the temple to the east probably took place, which is obviously connected to the
creation of Ruga Magistra (Halidon Street) during the city's reconstruction and the
construction of the new fortification walls. Another extension of the temple was
probably realized during the Turkish period, with a construction to west. The base of
the bell tower is preserved on the eastern side of the monument.
During the Turkish period, the temple of Aghios Fragkiskos was converted into
a mosque, the "Giousouf Pasha Tzamisi". Then, the minaret and the octagonal
fountain were added in the courtyard. In the later years, it was again converted into a
cinema and an entertainment center.
Many of the important buildings of the town were built during the Venetian
era and the intellectual activities (written word, music, education) were also
promoted. The harbour of Chania has its own interesting story which is worth knowing
by anyone who visits it.

Ιστορία των Ελλήνων, «Υστεροβυζαντινοί χρόνοι» (συλλογικός τόμος 7), «Ο
ελληνισμός υπό ξένη κυριαρχία 1453-1821 (συλλογικός τόμος 8), εκδόσεις Δομή,
εκδότες: Ηλίας Μανιατέας, Ιωάννης Τεγόπουλος, Αθήνα