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All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to romapip@quipo.it. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page revised in February 2012.

La Canea (Xania) - page two: the Old Town

Because of its shallow waters the port of La Canea is not suited for today's ships: ferries from Piraeus and cruise ships call at a modern harbour in Souda Bay. This has helped in retaining the historical aspect of the town inside the walls with the exception of Castel Vecchio (Kasteli) which was bombed during WWII.

(above) Details of Castel Vecchio, the oldest part of the town; (below) 1624 inscription above the entrance to the Venetian archives

Venetian magistrates and officers resided in Castel Vecchio which was also the heart of the Ottoman administration; Corso (see engraving in page one) was its main street where probably Carnival was celebrated. Today Corso is called Odos Kanevaro, after Italian admiral Napoleone Canevaro who ruled La Canea during the 1897 crisis which led to the establishment of the Cretan State (1898-1913).

S. Maria dei Miracoli (1615): (left) monastery; (right) church

Castel Vecchio housed S. Maria dei Miracoli one of the main churches of La Canea; the same name as a fine church in Venice. The bombs spared a section of the adjoining monastery which today houses a small hotel. Overall Castel Vecchio has completely lost its former importance and some of the empty spaces caused by bombings have become parking lots.

(left) Customs House seen from the harbour; (right) entrance on one side

The finest remaining building of the Venetian era is located at the foot of Castel Vecchio along the harbour; it is known as the customs house but in origin it was a very large shipyard hall and probably a storehouse too. After having housed for some time the Town Hall it is now a conference centre/exhibition hall.

(left) S. Francesco; (right) S. Rocco

S. Francesco and the adjoining Franciscan monastery were built in the XVIth century along the main street of La Canea outside Castel Vecchio. The church was turned into a mosque and later on into a cinema; today it houses a small archaeological museum.
The inscription on the side cornice of S. Rocco indicates that this small church was built in 1630, probably to thank St. Roch for his intercession during a plague. After the Ottoman conquest, a large part of the Greek population of La Canea converted to Islam, mainly to acquire some practical advantages; these new Muslims were all but zealots and foreign travellers reported that they customarily drank wine. Christian inscriptions such as that of S. Rocco were not erased.

(left) S. Nicola; (centre) the minaret seen from the walls; (right) portico of the Dominican monastery

The Dominicans had a large monastery in Splantzia, a quarter mainly inhabited by Muslims during the Ottoman rule. The church was converted into a mosque and a very tall minaret was erected at its side. The building became a Greek Orthodox church after the Muslims left the town; a bell tower was built on the other side of the fašade giving the whole building an almost ecumenical appearance. The large courtyard of the monastery is still identifiable although the cells of the monks have been turned into houses.

Venetian houses in the harbour

After the Ottoman conquest merchants went to live on the side of the harbour opposite Castel Vecchio in the houses abandoned by the Venetian families. The quarter eventually became the residence of the European consuls and in general of the foreigners living at La Canea. The waterfront buildings retain the charm of the past (but only very early in the morning).

(left/centre) Details of Venetian buildings; (right-above) Venetian coat of arms and a Latin saying by St. Anselm of Canterbury (never is poor he who has a great heart); (right-below) rose window of Etz Hayyim Synagogue

Topanas and Evraiki, the two quarters between the harbour and the western walls are the heart of the tourist shopping district with plenty of small restaurants and souvenir shops, but it is worthwhile paying some attention to the design of the buildings. Topanas is a reference to the cannon which the Ottomans placed in a small fortress at the entrance to the harbour (see
Tophane Cesmesi, a beautiful fountain opposite a cannon foundry at Constantinople). Evraiki was the Jewish quarter of the town.

(left) Palazzo Renier; (centre/right) details of Venetian buildings

As I walked through the streets of KhaniÓ, the period when Venice possessed the island was often recalled to my mind. The arches seen in view of the port were designed for Venetian galleys; and coats of arms are still observed over the doorways of some of the principal houses. (Robert Pashley - Travels in Crete - 1834)

(above) Palazzo Renier 1608 inscription; (below) another Venetian lintel

The inscription on the portal of Palazzo Renier is rather puzzling: the first line is a quote from Horace - Ars Poetica (CCCCXII) where "pater" (father) replaced "puer" (young athlete). In the translation by Henry James Pye:
A youth, who hopes, th'Olympic prize to gain
All arts must try, and every toil sustain;
th'extremes of heat and cold must often prove
(And shun the weakening joys of wine and love).

The landlord turned the quotation into a celebration of the efforts he made to build the palace.

Yali Djami (Waterfront Mosque)

We rapidly approached the city of Khania with its minarets towering above its other buildings and conspicuous from afar. The population is nearly six thousand souls, of whom the Christian and Jews amount to about the seventh part. (Robert Pashley - Travels in Crete - 1834)
This mosque was the first Ottoman building of the town and it was dedicated to its first Ottoman governor, but over time it became known as the mosque by the waterfront. Its minaret was pulled down in 1923 when the last Muslims left the island.

Ottoman memories in Splantzia quarter

The image used as background for this page shows a detail of a small Venetian fountain near the shipyards.

Go to page one:
the Fortresses
Introductory page on the Venetian fortresses in Crete
Grambusa (Granvousa) and Castello (Kasteli/Kissamos)
Candia (Iraklion)
Rettimo (Rethymno)
An Excursion to Moni Arkadi
Spinalonga and Castel Mirabello
An Excursion to Kritsa
Sittia and Paleocastro
Castelfranco (Frangokastelo) and other castles on the southern coast
Introductory page on the Venetian fortresses
You may refresh your knowledge of the history of Venice in the Levant by reading an abstract from the History of Venice by Thomas Salmon, published in 1754. The Italian text is accompanied by an English summary.

Clickable Map of the Ionian and Aegean Seas with links to the Venetian fortresses and to other locations (opens in a separate window)