Chania Old Town sits on the North-West coast of Crete about 90 miles from the island capital, Heraklion, and offers serene surroundings and notable Venitian and Ottoman architecture.
The hub of Chania is the Old Venetian Harbour in Splantzia and the neighboring Jewish Quarter, which offer an array of restaurants, bars, and sightseeing tours.
The harbor provides a relaxing view of the Sea of Crete and a reminder of the country’s varied past. The Lighthouse of Chania is visible from around the harbor edge and accessible by foot for a closer look.
In the 16th century, the lighthouse, and Bastion St. Nicholas, were built to protect Crete from the Ottoman invasion. During the island’s subsequent occupation, the lighthouse was neglected until the 1800s until it was restored to what we see today.
Another legacy of the Ottoman Empire in Crete is the Küçük Hasan Pasha mosque just across the harbor from the lighthouse. The mosque hasn’t been an active place of worship for over one hundred years but is still open to the public as a museum and hosts art exhibitions.
Crete is an island where many cultures collide, and Chania is a microcosm of this. As you venture away from the harbor edge and into the town, you’ll find the thriving Jewish Quarter.
Walking through Chania’s winding streets, the city feels almost on top of you; with shop fronts and outdoor seating lining the route and small balconies with foliage overhead, you can’t help but feel absorbed by the area.
During the Second World War, Chania’s Etz Hayyim Synagogue was deliberately obliterated and wiped over 2,000 years of worship by Cretan Jews.
After earthquakes in 1992 and 1995, Etz Hayyim has was listed as an “endangered site” by the World Monuments Fund. A successful restoration project took place from 1996-1999, and the synagogue is once again fully functioning and even as an app, bringing it all the way into the 21st century.
The nearby Argo Cafe Tavern affords you a relaxed, family-run dining experience with large portions and a varied menu. Tucked down a narrow walkway of the main street Portou, the brightly colored cafe has outdoor seating among flowering vines and potted plants.
Chania seamlessly blends the Old Town with the busier, modern section of the city; walking towards the Municipal Market Place, you see the tight streets give way to smaller, well-maintained roads and wider pavements.
The more extensive array of shops are noticeable too, with branded footwear, clothing, and jewelry making up some of the businesses along the way.
The market is an indoor maze of fresh local produce, including bread, cheese, meats, and fishes. With it being a 5-10 minute walk from Chania Old Town, it’s quick and easy to go back-and-forth and ideal for those self-catering holidays.
The Venetian building is partially covered, which provides shelter from the heat but is “airy” enough that you don’t feel suffocated.
The market has stood since 1913 and survived the 1941 Battle of Crete; the air raid shelter used to keep the German Army at bay was then usurped by the enemy forces who occupied the city.
Today, the bustling marketplace, known as the “Agora”, hosts over 70 businesses, and visitors can spend the day in and around the area, which closes at 21:00 on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday nights.
Crete has witnessed a lot over the years, but its current blissful nature belies its turbulent past. Whether traveling to Chania Old Town as a family, couple, or solo, the city has everything you could ask for from a Mediterranian island holiday.
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