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Short History of Greece, the Crete Island and the Town of Chania

To write about a history of any country is, generally, very tough and if it should be written in English, so all the more tough for those whom English is not a native language for. To write about the history of Greece, of the country with such rich and colorful history seems to be more difficult in comparison with the history of Crete where there were not so many civilizations like on Greek mainland were in existence. However, to write about the history of Crete seems to be much easier than to do the same about the history of whole Greece as well for the fact that Greece as a unit, as a compact state formation, actually wasn’t in existence for very long time in the past. The reason, why I plunge into it, is the fact that Crete is both currently and also for a long time an integral part of Greece already, and also because Crete is inhabited by Greek spoken people for centuries. Therefore, I think it would be useful to touch a little bit history of whole Greece at least, in spite of a difficulty of this subject-matter. 

In 3rd millennium BC two civilizations on the continental part of Greece existed which is called Sesklo and Dimini, whereas Cycladic civilization developed on islands of Aegean Sea and finally Minoan civilization was on Crete. About 2nd millennium started grandiose shifts of Indo-European population and onstage are coming population of Achaeans from Balkan who found about 1580 B.C. Mycenae and other fortified settlements which were characterized by their “Cyclopean” walls and - in comparison with surroundings - by very well-developed and wealthy culture. After a failure of this civilization in Greece, there were formed a great deal of small rather city-states which joined into more or lesser stable associations and this “manner” was persisting for many centuries. In the 12th century B.C. (in 1104) Dorians, led by Herakles, overrun Peloponessos. The year of 776 B.C. is the year of the first Olympic Games and this date is very important because from this moment counting of an era in Greece was starting, namely for long centuries. Roughly from 700 B.C. Greek spoken tribes divided by way their “sphere of influence”: Aiolians settled on islands of the east part of Aegean Sea and Cyprus, Ionians seized Northern Sporades, Euboia, Cyclades, Chios and Samos, and Dorians were on Crete (from where Achaeans, probably a ruling group, were forced out) and seized also Melos, Rhodos, Thera, Dodekanesses and islands in the current Ionian Sea. In 594 B.C. Solón gave up the first constitution for Athens. During campaign of Persians into territory of recent Greece (5th century B.C.) – after early achievements, when both banks of Hellespont, Thrakia, a part of current mainland Greece and virtually all islands of Aegean Sea were occupied – showdowns occurred: first it was by way a “preparatory” naval battle near Salamine and then the crucial and definitive battle near Marathon (12th September of 480 B.C.) in which victory of Greeks over Persians was crowned in the battle near Plataias.
Concerning this battle, there is a connection with marathon race. Its origin is there, in this event, and more details you can see e.g. here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marathon
Just after these winnings, first awareness of all-Greek kindred appeared. Persians a little bit annoyed yet (battle near Thermopylae) but the influence of Macedonians got stronger and stronger in that time. The peak of their dominance was a victory of Phillip I Macedonian’s (the father of more known Alexandros) in battle at 338 B.C. when he beat Greeks and became a leader of Hellenes in subsequent battles with Persians. After his assassinating, his scepter undertook his son who reached as far as India during his campaigns. After his death (assassinated at 13th June, 323 B.C.) struggles for partition of his empire started (struggles of diadochi after this fights assumed the reign e.g. dynasty of Ptolemaios (in Egypt), the dynasty of Seleukos (in the Middle East) etc. And in all these new countries or empires as a state language, Greek was established.
In the meantime, another state formation became stronger westward Greece, the formation which should have later undertake reign not only over Greece but also over large part of current Europe and whose influence at the time of its largest bloom extended to Africa and Asia – and this formation was the Rome. When Romans battered down Corinth (at 146 B.C.) the whole area of Greece fell under their tribute and became a part of the Roman Empire. At first, as a province of Macedonia but from the year 14 A.D. like the single province of Achaia, with several advantages because Romans considered Greece to be source of culture (that wasn’t related to Crete which was a part of different province – Crete-Cyrenaica like a very important base for Roman’s conquests from 66 B.C.). Between years 49–54 A.D. Apostle Paul preaches in Thessaloniki for the first time and it was also the first moment when Greeks came into contact with Christianity. This faith got stronger and in the time of Emperor Constantine I, The Great (323 – 337 A.D.) this church became to be the state religion of Roman Empire whose capital meantime shifted in Byzantium (current Istanbul, in the time of mentioned Emperor called Constantinople). The last Olympic Games was hold at 393 A.D. (to be renewed for many centuries later).
However, for only two years later (at 395 A.D.) the Roman Empire was divided into two parts – Western (Roman’s) and Eastern (Byzantine) ones. Greece – of course – became the part of the second one. The Byzantine Empire, rather its peripheral parts, were attacked by many nations, like Avarians, Slavonians, Albanians, Goths, even Varangs from Norway and others. Crete was also the part of Byzantine Empire in that time but during certain period (824–921 A.D.) was under tribute of Arabic Saracens; after this quite short episode Crete came back into Byzantine Empire.
Existence of Byzantine Empire put an its end by victory of Mehmed II who conquered Constantinople (29th May 1453 A.D.) and from that moment a dark era comes on not only for Byzantine Empire but almost for whole Europe (mainly Balkan and Middle Europe) which must defend against continual threats of Osman’s (Turkish) Empire. Crete stayed a little bit apart from these events because at 1204 A.D. Venetians bought the whole island from the member of the 4th crusade – Bonifacio, Marquess of Montserat, for 100 “silvers”!! However, after several centuries Crete was usurped by Turks, too.
Greek’s effort for achieving independence started from the break of 18tn and 19th centuries and culminated by proclamation of independence of Greece at international congress which was hold in Epidaurus on Peloponéssos peninsula (13.01.1822). Leader – Ali Pasha – who headed in resistance wasn’t successful though, his troops were beaten and he himself was executed. However, just for several years later, at 1829, Osman’s Empire was forced to ratify a treaty of peace in Edirne (former Hadrianopolis) and admit independence of Greece, but with engagement that Greece will pay a tribute for Great Porta of Empire. Just for one year later, at 03.02.1830, Greece became fully independent and sovereign country under warranty of Great Britain, France and Russia. At 1833, as an expression of independency, Greek Orthodox Church separated from patriarchy in Constantinople, so-called autocephaly. Nevertheless, Crete was still under reign of Turks in that time, and that was a reason why many riots exploded there. Perhaps, the largest one was a revolt at 1897 resulting first in obtaining of certain autonomy (1898) and finally, Crete was joined with Greece at 15th October, 1912.
At 1910 a Cretan Eleftherios Venizelos (born in Mourniés, a village in the suburbs of Chania) became the prime minister of the first Greek government. Nevertheless, at 1923, after some war events a cooler came of which consequences are staying in background of persisting reluctance between Greeks and Turks. According to a peace conference in Lausanne must be realized “unlimited shift inhabitants” between Greece and Turkey, what meant all Greeks who had lived in Asia Minor or on some Aegean islands for thousands years, had to move away and leave there all their property (houses, fields, manufactures, engines etc.) without any compensations. Of course – the same was valid for Turks from the area of current Greece but because number of Greeks was much bigger and Greeks were much richer the impact on Greek population was horrible. Up to know – in the area of Asia Minor one can meet empty houses step by step ruined which were formerly ownership of Greeks…
Proclamation of republic took place at 1924 but still a few times came on some of former monarch of “Greek dynasty” tried to return to change “army dictators”. During 2ww Greece was attacked by Italians (1940) but people resisted successfully, however against occupation by German troops did not manage. Mighty partisan and national fight was suppressed with unprecedented cruelty. Whole villages, were soldiers found often just women and children, were extirpated, non-combatants were tortured and executed.
After the end of 2ww next period of insecurity arose – huge civil war (1945-1949) in which on one side there were staying communists (supported by – everybody can guess - - of course by “international communist stream” thus Russia, at that time named Union of Soviet Socialistic Republic – How well I remember this horrible and very sad times when such communist stream influenced and managed our lives!!!) whereas on the opposite side was legal Greek government. In 1949 communist was successful at least for certain time. In following year – 1950 – 78% of Cyprian inhabitants declared for uniting with Greece, but for 10 years later Cyprus gained independence under leadership of Archbishop Makarios. In Greece, various fractions changed in government and just under democratic government Greece was entering in some European associations, precursors of current EU and NATO.
First vestiges of human habitation are known from Early Stone Age already but it isn’t known which nation left these traces there, neither which language was used nor from which area this nation put in an appearance on Crete. Most likely they came from Asia Minor. Most famous period for the Crete Island was Middle and Later Bronze Age called also Minoan, which beginning used to be dated roughly at the end of 3rd millennium and its end at about 1380 B.C. All these periods are divided by archeologists into several shorter sub-periods from which as a Gold Age could be considered that finishing at the year of 1380 B.C.
Most likely, the Cretan culture was autochthonic what means it developed on the island. Its creators and bearers could be immigrants mainly from the East – from Syria, Asia Minor but even from Egypt; also Luvians come into consideration but it could be members of other non-Indo-European nations as well who anchored on Crete. Of course, each from these possible nations brought their own usually well developed cultures which were consequently on Crete like in a “smelting bowl” enhanced on unprecedented level including invention of letters which is called as hieroglyphic. Language of the first bearers of Minoan culture according to the analyses of hitherto unriddled letters which developed from the hieroglyphic – so called linear “A” – did not belong into family of Indo-European languages.
Roughly around 22nd century B.C. mighty movements of people took place within the area of “fertile half-moon” thus in Mezopotamia which led among others to formation of the Hittite Empire on the area of current Turkey. By virtue of these movements and disquiet around Mediterranean Sea a space not only for developing of trade activities of Cretans appeared but in this way also for larger building activity on the island. First large palaces were built in this period (Knóssos, Malia, Faistos and elsewhere). Cretan inhabitants overruled sea-trade in eastern Mediterranean, their influence constantly enlarged and vestiges of it were found even on Peloponéssos peninsula. Around 1700 B.C an earthquake happened which led to a partial destruction of palaces but due to next movements of nations (mainly from Armenian and Iranian mountains) aiming towards Babylon (and also Egypt was occupied by Hyksóses) next period of disquiet around Mediterranean came released the space for Cretans and Crete was renewed again. Next earthquake came at 1580 B.C. however also from this catastrophe Crete arose and buildings were rebuilt. Nevertheless, in Mycenae grew up in meantime a new sturdy rival: Achaeans came there and created characteristic and rich culture known with its Cyclopean fortresses. Growing wealth of Cretan inhabitants, mainly of ruled and middle society, brought with itself supposedly an exploder of riots. Enlarged wealthy had to lead to enlarging amount of inhabitants but mainly that non-productive – government and clerical elites. And limited possibilities of Cretan agriculture couldn’t sustain such huge amount of “hungry necks”.
Onstage on Crete are coming Achaeans. Scientists have supposed the riots could cause crisis and such scenario could arrive when ruled layer might ask Achaeans just for repression of these riots. Or – there is a next possibility – a marriage policy could cause their existence in the island. At any rate, Achaeans were on the island, and the reason wasn’t fight in any case – any artifacts (mosaics, fresco, paintings, sculpture) which could be associated with violence during that time wasn’t found. They adapted used “linear A” letters for requirements of Indo-European Greek by that time, now called “linear B” – and started rigorously register entire economic information. This letters are only ones which were broken (by English architect M. G. F. Ventris). The final and total destruction of all palace centers occurred at 1375 B.C. and a question “why” arises. The reason wasn’t one-shot attack of a nation because Crete was very strong and mighty and an explanation suggests itself – the reason was Achaeans again who could cause it!! They could be well implanted, became rooted, became rich and a little bit brought away from mother’s area - and stayed to be competitor for Mycenae. In the light of last archeological findings, that possibility appears to be rather realistic, although a possibility that a trigger of destruction could be also volcano eruption on the Théra Island (now called Santorini) which could cause a huge tsunami wave destroying all on the flatter northern coast, including fleet is also in play. But it doesn’t seem to be the main reason.
Crete backed out of history but it came in under influence of growing Rome step by step, and next date when Crete is onstage is 66 B.C. At this date Crete was joined to the Roma Empire as a part of Crete-Cyrenaica providence. After the partition of Rome Empire it became an organic part of Byzantine Empire, namely until 1204 A.D. when was bought from a member of 4th crusade – Bonifacius of Moserat for 100 silvers. Venetians (with one exception when Crete ruled Saracens together with merchants from Genoa between 824 and 961 A.D.) controlled Crete for very long time. When Byzantine Empire fell, Crete became Mecca of byzantine culture and religion. From this period there are know excellent artworks – building of basilicas, church icons and others, and at this time a famous painter Domenicos Theotokopulos was born (at 1541, in the village of Fódela near Iraklio) who was afterwards known like El Greco, living in Spain. This period lasted up to 1669 A.D. (thus for almost two centuries) when Crete was conquested by Turks. Cretans never resigned to Turks, very often uprisings burst out which used especially inaccessible terrain of Levka Ori, however all these riots were suppressed with unexampled cruelty. The very known is an example of Ioannis Daskalogiannis, leader of such uprising who was after the riot was beaten captured and executed by hidden he was “doofed” of his skin alive (at 1770 A.D.). His bust is standing at Kambos hamlet on the Anopolis Plateau. Turkish predominance over Crete lasted even in time when others parts of current Greece got free. Crete itself got first a form of certain autonomy (Crete even had its own currency and printed its own postage stamps at 1989!!) and as soon as at 15th October of 1912 it was joined with other territory of Greece (thanks to initiative of Eleftherios Kyriakos Venizelou, first prime minister of Greece).
Still once Crete fell under bondage of any usurper – during 2ww became a military base for Nazis.
Early history
Chania is the site of the Minoan settlement the Greeks called Cydonia, Greek for quince. Some notable archeological evidence for the existence of this Minoan city was found by excavations in the district of Kasteli in the Old Town. This area appears to have been inhabited since the Neolithic era. The city reemerged after the end of the Minoan period as an important city-state in Classical Greece with the first major wave of settlers from mainland Greece by the Dorian Greeks who came around 1100 BC. Cydonia was constantly at war with other Cretan city-states such as Aptera, Falasarna and Polyrrinia and was important enough for the Cydonians to be mentioned in Homer's Odyssey. In 69 BC the Romans conquered Crete and Cydonia was granted the privileges of an independent city-state with the right to mint its own coins until the third century AD.
Byzantine era
The early Christian period under Byzantine rule (First Byzantine Period, 395-824 AD) and the rule of the Arabs, who called the settlement Chania, are not well documented. During the former, Christianity spread in the island but during the latter one, the Christian population was persecuted and moved to the mountains. The Byzantine Empire retook the city in 961 AD (Second Byzantine Period, until 1204 AD). They began to strongly fortify the city in order to prevent another Arab invasion, using materials from the ancient buildings of the area. By this time Chania was the seat of a bishop.
The Venetians
After the Fourth Crusade (1204) and the fall of the Byzantium in the Hellenic area, Crete was given to Bonifacio, marchese de Montferrat. He, in turn, sold it to the Venetians for 100 silver marks. In 1252 the Venetians managed to subdue the Cretans but in 1263, their rivals of Genoa, with local support, seized the city and held it until 1285, when the Venetians returned. Chania was chosen as the seat of the Rector (Administrator General) of the region and flourished as a significant commercial centre of a fertile agricultural region. The Venetian rule was initially strict and oppressive but slowly the relations between the two parts improved. . Contact led to close intertwining of Cretan and Venetian cultures but without the Cretans losing their Greek Orthodox nature. The city's name became La Canea and fortifications were strengthened, giving Chania the form that it still has today. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, many priests, monks and artists took refuge to Crete and reinforced the Byzantine religion and culture on the island. The city of Chania became a blend of Byzantine, Venetian and Classical Greek cultural elements. Many important buildings were built during this era and the intellectual activities (written word, music, education) were also promoted.
Ottoman rule
However the walls did not prevent the Turkish army overrunning the city in 1645 after just two months' siege. Huge numbers died in the siege, particularly Turks.. The Ottoman commander was executed on returning home for losing up to 40,000 men.
Most churches in town were turned into mosques, while the Turks resided mainly in the eastern quarters, Kastelli and Splantzia, where they converted for example the Dominican church of St. Nicholas into the central Sovereign's Mosque "Houghiar Tzamissi". Until today the church got an orthodox bell-tower, as well the minarett built by Muslims. They also built new mosques such as "Kioutsouk Hassan Tzamissi" on the old harbour. Public baths (hamam), and fountains were new features of the city, as well the public garden (Kipos), initiated by the residing Ottoman ruler, the Pasha of Crete.
In 1821 when Greece rose against the Ottoman Empire, there were conflicts between Greeks and Turks in Chania, leading to casualties from both sides. The Bishop of Kissamos was hanged from a tree in Splantzia for participation in the revolutionary events. In the following decades a big part of the local Muslim population moved back to Turkey. The Test of them stayed until the population exchange between Greece and Turkey in 1923.
Greek times
Eleftherios Venizelos, born in Mournies near Chania, was the leader of the 1896-97 uprising against Ottoman rule and went on to be Prime Minister of Greece and a great statesman. His tomb is on a hill overlooking Chania (Profitis Ilias). In 1898, during the final moves towards independence and enosis - union with Greece - the Great Powers made Chania the capital of the semi-autonomous Cretan State ("Kritiki Politeia"), with Prince George of Greece as the High Commissioner of Crete. During these years Crete issued its own stamps and money. This was a very important transitional period when the city became more cosmopolitan and flourishing, regaining its role as the crossroad of civilizations, influenced by Europe as well as by the East. Intellectual and artistic societies were created and a new class of local aristocracy brought a different atmosphere to the everyday life of the town. The district of Halepa has many fine neoclassical embassies and consulates dating from this period.
However the main goal was enosis with Greece which came after Venizelos's constant opposition to Prince George's rule over Crete, the series of conflicts includes the Revolution of Therissos in 1905, which overthrew Prince George. Finally in 1908 Venizelos managed to establish a revolutionary government, recognized by the Great Powers.
His later election as the prime minister of Greece (1910) was the last step before Crete was united with Greece on 1st December 1913. On that day the Greek flag was raised for the first time at Fort Fircain the Old Harbour.
War times
Another important period for the city of Chania was the invasion and occupation by German forces during World War II. Fighting the British force and local partisans, the German paratroopers bombed large parts of Chania during the Battle Of Crete in 1941. Progress in several aspects of life was halted and many Cretans were either executed or imprisoned due to participation in the resistance against the German rule.
The Jewish community of Chania was also eliminated during the German occupation. Most of them were transported off the island by the Nazi occupiers in 1944. Tragically a British torpedo sank the ship "Tanais" carrying most of the Jewish prisoners.
Modern times

Fortunately, Chania and Crete in general escaped most of the disastrous consequences of the Greek Civil War of the postwar years. The city of Chania was slowly regaining its normal pace of development during the 1950s, trying to overcome the difficulties that the war had left them. In the 1970s Crete became a major destination for Greek and international tourists, something that gave a significant boost to the city's economy and affected the everyday life of the local people.



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