Charismatic and elegant, picturesque and evocative, Chania is the brightest diamond in the crown of Cretan cities, where history is keen to tell its many stories; the iconic Venetian harbour divided by a centuries old sea wall where fishing boats dock beside weapons stores and warehouses. Behind the moorings, narrow contorted lanes and alleys hosted a large Jewish community centred on the Etz Hayyim Synagogue.
A minaret pierces the sky in Splatzia, the Turkish quarter while Halepa was the aristocratic neighbourhood of wealthy merchants and diplomats. Nea Chora hosted the working classes outside the city walls, and today the modern city expands around the historic Old Town. At the crossroads of three continents, the footprints of many civilisations are evident in the wealth of treasures at every turn.
One of the four regional prefectures of Crete, Chania covers the westernmost corner of the island, bordering Rethymno to the east. The capital of the region is the municipality of Chania, one of the oldest cities in Greece as the modern settlement now stands upon the ancient city of Kydonia, one of the major sites of Minoan Crete. The capital of Crete from 1851 to 1971, it was here that the Greek flag was raised in 1913 to mark the unification of Crete with Greece and freedom from foreign forces.
The towns turbulent past is reflected in the intense character of its streets; Roman ruins gaze down upon eucalyptus-lined avenues, lengthy seafront promenades, and thick fortress walls. Byzantine churches and Ottoman mansions dot the skyline, while shady, cobbled alleyways are lined with wooden-balconied dwellings and handsome Venetian townhouses. Chania is one of the most beautiful of Greek cities and it is close to the heart of many Cretans.
The greater area is a dramatic landscape of long beaches and remote coastal villages dominated by the White Mountains, Lefka Ori, limestone peaks cut through by deep gorges and valleys. Akrotiri, Rodopos and Gramvousa are three headlands that jut out into the Cretan Sea to the north, while Sfakia is a rugged terrain of spectacular mountains peaks that tumble into the Libyan Sea on the south coast, home to the island of Gavdos, the southernmost point in Europe.