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Chania (IPA ) (also transliterated as Hania) (Greek Χανιά) is the second city of Crete and the capital of the prefecture of the same name. It lies along the North coast of Crete, about 70 km west of Rethymno and 145 km west of Heraklion.
Chania is the site of the Minoan settlement of Kydonia, the Greek for "quince". The city reemerged after the end of the Minoan period as an important city-state in Classical Greece whose domain extended from Hania Bay to the feet of the White Mountains. Kydonia was constantly at war with other city-states such as Aptera , Falasarna and Polyrrinia and was important enough to be mentioned in Homer's Odyssey. In 69 BC the Roman Consul Metellus defeated the Cretans and conquered Kydonia to which he granted the privileges of an independent city-state. Kydonia reserved the right to mint its own coins until the 3rd century AD.
The early Christian period under Byzantine rule is not well-documented. The Arabs overtook the island by 824 and first called the settlement Chania. Again there is little from this period which was largely an enslavement of the people rather than a colonisation. The Byzantine Empire retook the city in 961. They began to fortify the city to prevent another Arab invasion.
After the Fourth Crusade and the dismantling of the Byzantine empire, in 1204, Crete was given to Bonifacio, Marquis de 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, the Genoans, with local support, seized the city under the leadership of the Count of Malta, Henrico Pescatore, 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. Contact with Venice led to close intertwining of Cretan and Venetian cultures. The city's name became La Canea and fortifications were built around the city, against invaders and pirates, giving Chania the form that it still has today.
However the walls did not prevent the Turkish army overrunning the ciy 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.
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"). They also built new mosqies such as "Kioutsouk Hassan Tzamissi" on the harbour. Public baths - Hamam, and fountains were a feature of the Turkish city. The pasha of the island resided in Chania.
In 1821, as Greece rose against the Ottomans, many Christians were slaughtered and the Bishop of Kissamos, Melhisethek Thespotakis was hanged from a tree in Splantzia. In 1878, the Treaty of Halepa was signed and Christians were granted certain rights.
Eleftherios Venizelos, who hailed from Mournies near Chania, was a leader of the 1896 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. In 1898, during the final moves towards independence and enosis with Greece, the Great Powers made Chania the capital of the semi-autonomous "Cretan State", with Prince George of Greece, the High Commissioner of Crete living here. The district of Halepa has many fine neoclassical embassies and consulates dating from this period. Crete issued its own stamps and money. The capital was moved to Heraklion in 1971.
The city today
Despite being heavily bombed in World War II, Chania's old city is considered Crete's most beautiful town, especially the crumbling Venetian harbour with its 15th century lighthouse and the Mosque of the Janissaries. Many of the old buildings have been restored as hotels, shops and bars, although the Splantzia quarter behind the inner harbour and Venetian Arsenals is still largely untouched and very atmospheric. The 1860 Greek Orthodox Cathedral is located in a square facing the entrance to the 1879 Roman Catholic cathedral across Halidhon street. The Synagogue - Etz Hayyim in the Topanas District, has been restored in recent years after falling into disrepair when the Jewish community of Chania was transported off the island by the Nazi occupiers in 1944. Tragically a British torpedo sank the ship Tanais carrying most of the Jewish prisoners, killing the island's pre-war community.
The city boasts archaeological, naval history and folklore museums, art galleries and many stores and tavernas in the old town. The 1913 indoor market, a large building based on the market of Marseilles, is on the edge of the old town and is popular with tourists and locals alike. In the new town that spreads out some distance there are popular boutiques and cafés as well as the University, Town Hall and Hospital. Some 60,000 people live in Chania.
The city has an international airport (code CHQ) on the Akrotiri Peninsula named after Daskalogiannis, a Sfakiot hero who was skinned by the Turks in the 18th century. Souda , some 7 km from Chania, is the city's port, with daily ferries to Pireaus and a NATO naval base.
Chania prefecture is one of the four prefectures of Crete and covers the Westernmost quarter of the island. Districts include the verdant Apokoronas , the mountainous Sfakia and Selino in the far South West corner. Some notable towns in the Chania prefecture are: Hóra Sfakíon, Kastelli-Kissamos , Paleohora , Maleme, Vrisses , Vamos , Georgioupolis and Kalives.
The natural park of Samaria Gorge, a major tourist attraction and a refuge for the rare Cretan wild goat or kri kri, is in the South of the prefecture of Chania. The White Mountains or Lefka Ori, through which the Samaria, Aradena, Imbros and other gorges run, are the limestone peaks topped by snow until May that occupy much of Chania prefecture. They contain more than 40 peaks over 2,000 meters high. The highest peak in this area is Pahnes, at 2,452 meters above sea level.
Western Crete is popular with tourists for its spring flowers that linger on into early May in the mountains. Birdwatching is also popular, with the lammergeier and golden eagle especially sought for. As an island, Crete has many endemic species of plant and animal.
Crete's only freshwater lake, Lake Kournas , is in the prefecture close to the border with Rethimnon prefecture, 47 km from Chania. It is relatively large, with a perimeter of 3.5 km. 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 used to be reportedly full of eels but now is better known for its terrapins and tourists. 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.
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