Hania is the contemporary and most popular name of the western prefecture of Crete Island. Chania has replaced the Minoan name Kydonia or Kythonia and its origin has not really been validated till now. One of the most possible scenarios has to do with the Arabs having named this part of Crete “Alhania”, since Kythonia or Kydonia was difficult for them to use. “Alhania” is believed to be deriving from an Arab God “Vulhanos” and after the Arabs left the island, the inhabitants left the article “Al” out of the word and used only Chania. In Latin the region is named “Canea”.
Being of Arab and Hebrew origin, Hania is considered to mean a place to rest and be happy. And this has been confirmed through Hania’s history and its popularity as a travel destination among Greeks and foreigners.
Through archeological excavations in the contemporary town of Chania, it has come to light that the new town has been built on the ruins of the ancient Kydonia town, considered to be the predecessor of all Cretan main towns. Kydonia enjoyed a very important position in the area, surrounded by sea and the fertile valley of Hania. The settlement had conquered a very important role as it was a major commercial spot and had managed to establish extensive commercial activities with Kithera Island, right below Peloponnese. Kydonia was constantly in war with other major towns of the period, like nearby Aptera and Polirrinia.
Another important part of the ancient settlement Kydonia was the region of Kastelli, at the western part of the prefecture. The area was destroyed by a great fire in 1450 B.C. but various findings reveal the existence of a Minoan Palace there.
The Romans had shown great interest in Crete and especially Kydonia mainly because of its strategic position. After an unsuccessful attempt to take over the reign of the area in 71 B.C., they managed to conquer the city in 69 B.C. and gradually the entire island. The Roman General Cointos Kaikilios Metellos declared Kydonia an independent city - state with its own coin and various luxurious buildings, many sculptures and mosaics were constructed there during his reign, revealing the area’s great economical and commercial during his reign. The Byzantine wall of Kastelli is considered to have been also built during the Roman period and Kydonia’s necropolis extended around it.
Byzantine & Arab Years
Kydonia continued its ascending route during the Byzantine times until the Arab occupation. The Byzantine Years introduced Christianity within the entire island, while the area’s inhabitants were all of Greek ethnicity. But as the interest of Byzantium was turned to the east, Crete fell into ignorance and was thereafter supervised by a Byzantine General as an independent region. The attacks of the Arab pirates started to multiply and the region suffered from decay and destruction of many of its cities. Finally, the defense of the island proved to be inadequate to confront these attacks and Arab Saracens took over many parts of the island.
During the Arab occupation Kydonia’s development and reign was halted. Till now not many findings of this period have been revealed except for a few Arabic coins.
Crete was not a part of the Byzantine Empire during Arab occupation (824 A.D. - 961 A.D.) till Nikiforos Fokas and its army liberated the island and united it again with Byzantium. The entire island started being inhabited by Byzantine populations form other parts of the Empire and many aristocrats came from Constaninople and took its leadership. In order to protect the island from another Arab invasion, great walls were built in various coastal areas. Kydonia started flourishing again and during that time its name changed to Hania.
After the fall of Constantinople and the decay of the Byzantine Empire Chania passed through a long period of Venetian rule, during which Crete and Chania were greatly developed. Venetian walls and buildings, Catholic expansion and a great economical, agricultural and cultural development were the period’s highlights, till 1669 A.D.
The Turks took over Crete at around 1645 A.D. when most Venetian buildings turned into mosques and the walls were reinforced. The city of Chania is now the headquarters of the Turkish governor till the revolution of entire Greece against Turks. From 1831 to 1841 A.D., the island is under Egyptian government and the great lighthouse and breakwaters are constructed at the Venetian harbor of the town.
The Turks regained the occupation of the island in 1841 and Chania is declared to be the island’s capital. The city expands outside the city walls and its style begins to simulate a contemporary European city. The final revolution took place in 1889 and after a great slaughter of the inhabitants of Chania and the help of other nations, including Greece, the island was liberated by Turks once and for all in 1898 A.D.
From 1898 till 1913 Crete was declared an autonomous, independent state, the Cretan State, with its Constitution, flag, Police, coin and government. Hania, as a capital of this new state, flourished dramatically in every aspect during these years. The famous Municipal Market, the philological Association “Hryssostomos”, the development of other areas around Chania to powerful districts, new neoclassic buildings, the first cinema, various educational, athletic and cultural associations, the first independent and indigenous newspapers, are among the most important outcomes of this period.
Finally, after many negotiations, Crete is being unified with the rest of Greece in 1913. For many decades after this unification, Chania continued to be the island’s capital, where many reconstruction and maintenance works took place. The inhabitants of the region continued to vision freedom and justice and thus they successfully took part in many other battles for Greece such as against the dictator Ioannis Metaxas or the Germans. Nowadays Chania Town is considered to be a great cultural and commercial centre, an important touristic destination and an historical monument and efforts are made in order to preserve and promote its unique, exceptional identity, history and tradition.