History

The prefecture of Chania is one from the 4 prefectures of Crete and it occupies the Western department of it while it borders in Eastern on the prefecture of Rethymnon. The total extent of prefecture amounts in 2.376 Km2, which represents about 2.5% of our homeland. The population of prefecture amounts in 133.774 residents, according to the 1991 census, from which roughly 60.000 are residents of city of Chania. Administratively the prefecture of Chania is separated in five provinces: Chania, Kisamos, Apokoronas, Selino and Sfakia.

In the old town of Chania lie the ruins of the ancient city-state of Kydonia, which was founded in prehistoric times (around 3000 BC). It is referred, since the time of Homer, as one of the strongest cities in Crete. On the renaming of Kydonia to Chania there are many arguments. The prevailing one is of Professor Nicholas Platonas who connects the ‘AlChanias hairdress’ in the wider region of Kydonia, taken from the name of god Velchanou (Hephaestus – Vulcanus).

The Saracen Arabs retained the name and confused it with theirs ‘Al Hanim’ (Chani = guesthouse/inn). When Arabs left in 961 AD, the syllable/article Al was translated to ‘Ta’ (or ‘The’) and to Latin (‘La’) Canea.

After the fourth crusade and the distribution of the Byzantine Empire territories in 1204, Crete is given to Boniface, the Momfera Marquis, who then sells it to the Venetians for 1000 silver Marks. The conquerors exert strong repression in the local population, which revolts, but in 1252 the Venetians settlers manage to impose their rule in Chania. A series of socio-economic-cultural changes took place during the Venitian occupation: The development of commerce, investments, flourishing of Baroque art, the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453, the growing threat of Ottoman conquest and long-term contacts between the Cretans with Venice, created the preconditions for reconciliation between the two peoples and the prosperity of Crete as a Venitian colony. The city of Chania grew its power and strategic importance due to its position. From the first half of  the 16th century Venice strengthened the fortifications of cities and other important  positions in Crete, in order to cope with a possible Ottoman attack. Despite the efforts of Venetians to strengthen the defence of the island, the Ottomans occupied Chania after a short siege on 22 August, 1654 and in 1669 Candia, the modern city of Heraklion.

With the capture of Chania by the Ottomans, the city developed following the Eastern traditions and was cut off from the enlightment ideas of the west. At that time, the cultural and economic prosperity came to a hault. Almost 250 years later, in 1898, the gradual demise of the Ottoman empire led the major powers (France, Britain, Russia, and Italy), to declare Crete independent. Then with the establishment of the semi-autonomous ‘Cretan State’ with Prince George, Chania prospered once again as the capital of Crete. Nevertheless, the desire to unite with the mainland caused  riots and clashes. The famous Cretan politician Eleftherios Venizelos was the leader in the fight for the union. Crete united with Greece in 1st December 1913, when the Greek flag was hoisted in Firkas fort in Chania old town. Venizelos was later to become the Prime minister of Greece and managed to double the size of Greece, by uniting occupied lands.

The final chapter of Cretan struggle started in 21st May 1941, when German paratroopers landed on Crete and a fierce battle commenced between the ally troops and axis forces. The biggest battle took place in Maleme airport, west of Chania. Cretans were involved in the resistance and by sheltering allied troops who didn’t surrender to the Germans. Many Cretans were shot
and villages burned down. 6500 Germans are buried in the German cemetery at Maleme, and 3000 allied troops in Souda bay cemetery. Around 10000 Cretans were killed during WW2.