Beauty but no Gondolas: Chania’s Venetian Harbor
If you were hoping to see gondolas floating through the canals of Chania’s Venetian Harbor, we’re sorry to disappoint you. Although I’m sure any disenchantment you’re feeling won’t last, after you see the amazing promenade which rings the city’s small port. Chania doesn’t have any canals for gondolas to paddle, anyway, so they’d be pretty useless here.
No, the Venetian Harbor wasn’t named for its resemblance to the Floating City, but because of its creators. In the 14th century, Chania was controlled by the powerful city-state of Venice, who developed the harbor to suit their military and commercial purposes. In the 16th century, the port was included in the city’s new fortification scheme, due to the threat of a Turkish invasion, which is why there’s a bastion near the entrance, keeping watch over the harbor.
Directly across from the bastion, you can see the old lighthouse, originally built by the Venetians, but reconstructed by the Egyptians in the 1830s, during their short occupation of the city. This is why it resembles a minaret, more than a classical lighthouse.
The harbor isn’t large, with space for just pleasure boats that are geared almost exclusively toward maritime excursions. That means, thankfully, there’s no chance that large cruise ships can dock here; they’re stationed on the other side of the Akrotiri peninsula, in Souda, and their passengers must then take buses into town. Years ago, though, large ships would station themselves right outside the Venetian Harbor, impacting the views.
Are you ready to explore? We recommend starting your walk at the western bastion, the Firka Fortress, which today hosts the Maritime Museum of Crete. From this point on, the promenade is lined with restaurants, bars, cafes, and tourist shops. Many of them have touts working the sidewalk, exhorting potential consumers to get inside their establishments… but not all restaurants do this, and we suggest rewarding your business to the ones which leave people in peace!
Prices are unsurprisingly a little elevated compared to other spots in the city, but still overall quite fair considering the view. We suggest the upstairs Thea Cafe for its chill atmosphere and friendly staff, along with its unparalleled lookout over the harbor.
On your counter-clockwise path, you’ll notice a distinctively Arabic building, known the Mosque of the Janissaries. This is the oldest Ottoman construction still standing on Crete, built in 1645 by the Turks. No longer used as a mosque, today it contains a small art gallery, and serves as a striking reminder of Chania’s colorful past.
Once you’re past the restaurants, you’ll arrive at a stretch of warehouses, and the beginning of the eastern port walls. This is our favorite section, as it’s much less crowded, and you actually have the chance to walk on top of the wall. From here, the view of the harbor is different, and the west-facing Sailing Club Sea Lounge is perfect for an evening cocktail.
The final stop along the wall is the lighthouse, which you unfortunately aren’t able to ascend. Given how close it is physically to the Firka Fortress, from where this walk began, you’ll be shocked how long it took you to circumnavigate the harbor. If you’ve done things right, you’ll have arrived right at sundown; this is an amazing spot to watch the sun disappear behind the far-off Rodopou peninsula.
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