History - Chania

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  • Reproduction of the  Great S-spiral frieze  fresco  from the forecourt of Tiryns palace  c 1400-1200BC  Met
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La Maison Ottomane is situated at the crest of the hill of Kastelli in the centre of Chania's old town. It stands on ground inhabited since Neolithic times, the new stone age, as far back as 12,000 years ago.  Some 5,000 years ago Kastelli hill was the site of the important Minoan city of Kydonia (remains of which are visible 50 metres from the la Maison), which retained an important regional  presence through Classical Greek and Roman times.

From the early days of the Byzantine period, around 400 AD and onwards, Chania suffered a similar fate to the rest of Crete and much of the Eastern Mediterranean, changing hands from one adventuring power to another until Boniface of Montferrat, the leader of the fourth Crusade, sold the island to the Venetians in the 13th Century.  Genoa slipped in for 22 years but otherwise Venice enjoyed control for some 400 years.  Venice's primary interest appears to have been tax revenues and it relations with its Cretan subjects fluctuated according to the needs of Venice's treasury:  in general, periods of increased taxation brought unrest.  All in all it was a period of artistic and intellectual development, boosted by the arrival of refugees from Constantinople around the time of its fall to the Turks in 1453.

Of course Turkish rule came to Chania as well, in 1645 after a costly siege (costly enough to cost the Turkish commander his head on is return to Constantinople).  And so the Turks settled in for the next 250 years.  In Chania they lived mainly in the Eastern side of the city in Splanzia and, for grander Ottoman souls, on Kastelli hill.  On Splanzia's leafy square the church of St Nicholas became the Sultan's main mosque in Crete.  Indeed, Chania was the centre of Ottoman rule in Crete.

As with Venetian rule, relations often followed the changes in taxation levels though as the Ottoman Empire weakened and the Greek desire for independence increased, relations deteriorated and atrocities were committed by Turks and Greeks alike.

The Peace of Halepa (the westernmost region of Chania) in 1878 effectively signalled the end of Turkish rule though Crete did not achieve union with Greece without further outbreaks of serious conflict and the complexities of multinational protectorates, and even a revolution against the Greek Prince George sent to Chania to rule over Crete as High Commissioner.   In any case,Eleftherios Venizelos, Greece's most celebrated statesman, led Crete into union and the Greek flag was hoisted above the Firka Fort in Chania on 1st December 1913.

Crete off course returned to the world's historical map during WWII with much of the battle for Crete taking place in and around Chania, notably at Souda Bay and nearby Galata.  Kastelli Hill to some extent owes its tranquility to the bombing which reduced Kanevaro Street from Chania's main commercial thoroughfare to rubble, though most surrounding buildings fron Venetian and Ottoman periods remained unscathed.  It is perhaps during this period that la Maison Ottomane lost the upper floor of which traces can still be seen.

Modern times have brought prosperity to Crete and to Chania based on agriculture and tourism.  The effects of economic crisis are certainly felt by many residents of Chania but they are not easily visible - we tend to celebrate the visitors that bring us not only prosperity but also diversity, colour, a sop to our curiosity and the chance to practice the hospitality that is part of our nature.