The beautiful and impressive buildings that one discovers wandering through the picturesque alleys of the old town and in the enchanting corners of the Venetian port of Chania were created during the long history of Chania starting from the Minoan era.
Constructions of similar interest and significant architectural value can be found outside the Venetian walls of the city, in areas that developed when the wind of freedom began to blow in Crete.
It is the period towards the end of the 19th century during which Crete, after long struggles and innumerable revolutions, acquires a semi-autonomous state within the Ottoman Empire. Thus, the "Cretan State" is created, which has its own parliament, flag, currency, and capital, the city of Chania.
During these years, the city is modernized, with neoclassicism playing a key role in this development. Chania's radical transformation makes it an important administrative, commercial, and cultural center. This transformation was also symbolic as it marked the rupture with the past, the shaking of the Ottoman past, and the shift towards the vision of the European principles, the prevalence of a sense of freedom.
European engineers were involved in this effort, mainly French and Italian, invited to support the modernization of the island's infrastructure. Prominent among them was that of the Italian engineer Nicolas Maguzo, who, among other important projects he undertakes, the design and supervision of the building at Chania's main square, currently houses the Decentralized Administration Authorities and Courts. The foreign engineers, together with several Greek engineers who were educated at the National Technical University of Athens and European universities, thus introducing to the newly formed Cretan State the modern trends of the time.
Among the Greek engineers stands out the work of the very talented engineer Michalis Savvakis, who diligently undertakes the design and implementation of many public and private projects, several of which remain to this day. He was one of the few who strongly opposed the demolition of the Venetian fortress' walls.
In 1901 the plan of the new city of Chania, located outside the walls, came into force, which defined in detail the construction of the buildings, the dimensions of the streets, the sidewalks, the open spaces, and the squares' boundaries, etc. It was when parts of the Venetian walls were demolished at the locations where the streets are connected to the city. The walls, as we find them today, were designed by the famous Veronese engineer Michele Sanmicheli. The bastion of Piatta Forma and Porta Retimiota are leveled to build the Municipal Market, also the Porta Sabbionara (Sand Gate) on the east side of the wall for the Halepa's students to enter the school located inside the walls, next to Agios Anargyros church.
The new city plan is based on the existing condition of the areas outside of the old city walls, as they were developed in the last years of the Ottoman period. It is developed on the axes defined by the Municipal Garden, a creation of Rauf Pasha according to European standards, the strolling path (today Tzanakaki Street), the Italian Barracks (war museum), the court (originally intended to be a hospital for the ottoman army), the settlement of Halikoutides in Kum Kapi and the road to Halepa, the aristocratic suburb where the High Commissioner settled. The new city includes residences and administration buildings while the old one is the shopping center of the whole complex.
During the early 20th century, Chania city was affected by many multinational influences and is experiencing remarkable prosperity and intense construction activity both in public and private buildings.
The suburb of Halepa, the closest settlement to Chania, is experiencing great development, which due to the climate and the wonderful environment, is evolving into a luxurious suburb. Here, mansions of representatives of the Great Powers, of prominent merchants, lawyers, etc., are gradually built. In the area of Halepa, in October 1878, the homonymous multilateral treaty is signed, which provides limited autonomy to Crete.
Majestic buildings are being built along the road axes of the new city; fortunately, many of them survived to the present day, most of which have been designated as "conserved" to preserve the cultural heritage of that period. Thus, we have the opportunity to enjoy and admire impressive villas and beautiful two-story houses of the affluent bourgeoisie.
The walks in the wonderful area of Halepa are an exciting experience since we can discover some of the unique architectural creations:
- the house of Eleftherios Venizelos built by his father's friend engineer Leonidas Lygounis,
- the ‘palace’ as it is referred to by the locals, the mansion where initially Prince George lived, and later the General Commander of Crete Zaimis. It was probably built by the engineer Magouzos for the wealthy Cretan merchant Themistoklis Mitsotakis.
- the French embassy, also the work of the engineer Leonidas Lygkouni.
- The mansion housed the English embassy and was also built by the engineer Maguzo; thus, it has several morphological similarities with the ‘palace.’
- The Greek consulate is one of the most representative buildings, probably built by a foreign engineer.
- The villa of Baroness ‘Schwartz’ as this interesting person was called, who lived at that time in her beloved Chania. The ruined house today still retains some of its impressive features.
- The villa of the Kaloutsis family, built by the engineer Konstantinidis features excellent ornate clay decorative exterior elements.
In the areas that were developed at that time in the city, you will have the opportunity to find some of the projects of the inspired engineer Michalis Savvakis:
- The impressive house of the revolutionary and MP Manousos Koundouros, where the characteristic balcony with the columns and the gable can be seen.
- The house of MP Charalambos Pologiorgis, where the Health Service is currently housed.
- His house and office, which in 1917 was sold to the monastic committee and since then houses the residence of the Orthodox Bishop of Kydonia and Apokoronas.
- The two-story house of MP Nikolaos Bistolakis, which operates the Technical Chamber of Greece, Western Crete.
- The house of the English merchant captain Soos, built on the plans of an Athenian engineer and completed with additions by Savvakis.
Typical buildings of the city and representative of that time are also Senator Foumi house, built with plans of the architect Levidis, the house of MP Katzourakis with plans of Drandakis, and the building that houses the historical archive of Crete built by the Italian engineer Ferlatso.
It would be a great omission not to mention those who materialized the designs of those inspired engineers, such as the Apokoronian stonemasons, the blacksmiths who left us these tangly compositions on the houses gates, balconies, etc., the potters who made the acrokerama and the clay figures that adorn the entrances of the houses and finally the jeweler Konstantinos Alygizakis, who painted almost all the ceilings of the most characteristic houses of that time.
The next time you come across an intriguing old building, stop to give it a closer, more careful look and take a moment to wonder about its story.
Chania city nowadays is beautiful, prosperous, and friendly to its inhabitants, and trying to find its place in the modern environment and the suffocating pressures of the massive tourist development.
This wonderful place will gaze to the future with optimism only if its people combine development with respect for its unique cultural heritage.
- Chania outside the walls, Emilia Kladou - Bletsa, published by TEEDK