Tag Archives: Greece

Chania Old Town – Western Crete

Chania is an exceptionally charming town with cobblestone streets abounding with history.  In the old town area you will find quaint hotels and buildings butted up against byzantine walls, nearby to an amiable Venetian harbour lined with waterfront restaurants, cafes and historic monuments.

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Hotel Bozzali in Chania is a delightful old hotel with a mean set of stairs that would give any Dutch apartment a run for their money!  But the owner of the hotel happily helps intimidated guests up the stairs with their luggage, which makes it all achievable after all!  They serve a delightful complimentary breakfast each morning including fresh orange juice, coffee, amazing honey and yoghurt, and a selection of European breakfast items.   You can choose to sit in the vibrant little courtyard, or on the front terrace overlooking the Byzantine wall.  After you have taken a leisurely breakfast, it is time to set off on your day exploring the historical old town in Chania.  The first stop would be the Venetian Harbour which is only a short walk from the hotel after all.

On the way to the harbour you will pass a section of the original Byzantine wall which has been preserved as a monument.  The Byzantine wall, which had four gates, was the boundary which separated the old town from its fortified acropolis.  The outline of the fortifications surrounding Kastelli hill is visible in the old maps of the town, and to some extent in the modern urban network.  The wall, built in the 7th century, fell into disuse when the Venitian fortifications were built, extending the protected area around the town and incorporating the Firka Fortress.  In time, the byzantine wall was incorporated into houses built around and on top of it, as you can see in these photos taken on Sifaka St.

Upon arrival at the harbour, a leisurely walk around the water’s edge will take you past several historic monuments, starting with the Giali Tzami – (the mosque of the seaside ) built in the 17th century,  which is the only preserved mosque in the city from that time.

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Walking past the numerous restaurants with staff standing outside to beckon you in to their restaurant, (little do they know you have just finished breakfast….)  you will come to what remains of the Dockyards built by the Venetians during their occupation, for the maintenance of ships.  Firstly, an individual structure which houses the Centre of Mediterranean Architecture, and a little further on there are 7 continuous domes remaining from this time.

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Continuing on along the water’s edge will bring you around to the beginning of the breakwater.  There are two levels on the breakwater, one higher for the more adventurous among us, and then a pathway down at water level for those of a more cautious disposition.  Strolling along the breakwater brings you to St Nicholas Bastion in the centre of the breakwater and then on to the lighthouse, all the while providing favourable views back across the pretty harbour as you go.

The Lighthouse was also built by the Venetians on natural rock around 1595 – 1601, stands 21 metres high and is the jewel and trademark of the township.  It functioned as an open flame torch with a focal height of 26 metres from the sea surface, its light covering a distance of 7 miles.  You can still climb up the large stone steps to the gate of the lighthouse for a nice photo opportunity.

From the end of the breakwater you can look across the opening of the port and see the the “Firka” Fortress on the northwest side of the harbour, constructed to protect the entrance to the port.  This maintains its Turkish name “ Firka “ (meaning barracks). A chain from “Firka” to the lighthouse blocked the entrance to the port in case of intrusion.

After making your way back around the harbour, you can wander in the cobbled streets and take in a museum or two if that appeals.  Or take a horse and carriage ride around the streets of the old town.  You will find the row of carriages waiting along the harbour side.

For dinner in Chania there are two restaurants I can recommend:

  • The Well of the Turk restaurant for the best vegetarian lasagne I have ever eaten. They also have many other dishes that were all just as well received. The food here is amazing – just because I had vegetarian doesn’t mean that the meat / fish / chicken dishes were not good – please go and try it out.  You will not regret it!!
  • Oinopiio – traditional Cretian food, which was delicious, and interesting, and very appropriate, given our location.

Such a beautiful part of the world!

For a more detailed guide through Chania, you might like to try this book:
Greater Than a Tourist – Chania Crete Greece: 50 Travel Tips from a Local

Or try a few more Greek Islands from this guide book: Fodor’s Essential Greek Islands: with Great Cruises & the Best of Athens (Full-color Travel Guide)

Please visit my Instagram gallery for more of my favourite travel photos.

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Ancient Mycenae & the Treasury of Atreus

Less than half an hour’s drive from the quaint seaside town of Nafplion, you will find the ancient city of Mycenae.  This city was one of the finest examples of Mycenaean culture, inspiring Homer in his epic poems.  A UNESCO world heritage site, with onsite museum displaying artefacts recovered during its excavation, the city is located in the North East  Peloponnese region in Greece.

 

As you stroll around the ruins of the city and look at the remains of walls, grave circles,  cistern, and other structures that have been in place since at least 1600BC, it is easy to connect the site to the legends in Greek mythology  –  of demigods and kings, with their tragic tales.  It is such an ancient place.   Set on the top of a hill, you can see all the way to the Aegean Sea, and for miles across the rolling countryside – a perfect place for a magnificent city.

 

Making your way up the hill towards the city you come to the main gateway:  the Lions Gate.  The massive stone gate is impressive.  I have been to this site twice (both times with my parents), with a 38 year gap in between visits.  It was really interesting to go back and see the place through the eyes of an adult, and compare these to my memories as a child.

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That gate was as remarkable as I remembered it being!

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Climbing up to the top of the citadel you can look down over the site, and across a beautiful landscape with the mountains in the distance.

Moving towards the back of the city, you will find the entry to the underground cistern.  This was built in by the city walls to allow safe access to water for the city residents.  Amazing construction for a bronze age city.

The above photos show what it is like to look down into the entrance of the cistern, and then back up from inside the entrance.  I’m not really a cave loving type of person, and I did find it just a little bit scary.  I congratulated myself on being brave enough to go into the dark cave through the tunnel of rocks made centuries ago ( did they have engineering standards to adhere to back then??….),  and snap a couple of pictures.  Then I scrambled out in a bit of hurry, tripping on the stairs in my haste.

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The second gate to the city is the Postern Gate, which you come to after taking the path that leads away from the cistern.  There are some fantastic views out over the countryside down this side of the hill as well.

The artefacts recovered from the various grave sites show the Mycenaean people to have indeed been “rich in gold”, as Homer observed in his Iliad.  There was a famous gold funeral mask uncovered at one of the grave circles, initially thought to belong to Agamemnon, however this theory was later disproved.  Even so, the artefact is still known as the Mask of Agamemnon, and is on display at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.   Below are a few of the other objects on display in the museum at Mycenae.

 

The tholos, or ‘beehive’ tomb named the “Treasury of Atreus” or the “Tomb of Agamemnon” is a short walk down the hill from the main citadel, and is said to be one of the most amazing monuments of Mycenaean architecture.

When we visited this site 38 years ago, we were on a tour, with a tour guide.  As is their way, the tour guide stops the group outside the entrance and explains the significance of what the group is about to see, and what the possible functions for this site were.  Sometimes it takes the guide a little longer to explain the story than the attention span of a 9 year old can wait.  I started standing on some stones, and oops, one was wobbling and I fell off it.  There was a joke made that the stone had been on that path for centuries, undisturbed until now…..

The use of megalithic elements in the entrance, (can you see the size of that massive stone??) and the relieving triangle above the door to distribute the weight to the posts so the lintel won’t crack,  give credit to the ingenuity of that civilisation.   As do the 33 concentric circles of corbelled stones that line the inside of the tomb ending in a single stone at the top. Once the vault was completed, the masons carved away the stone stepped interior leaving a smooth arching wall.  It is 13m high and leaves you thinking “wow”.

Allow yourself about two hours to wander around the site and the museum, to appreciate the achievements of the Mycenaean people, and to be amazed.

 

Here is the link to the site for further information on admission costs and opening hours:   Mycenae