The Next Chapter in Discovering Crete: Travels in the West from Chania to Rethymno
There are many reasons to visit Crete – the marvelous beaches, the unique landscape and a noteworthy cultural history that can be seen and experienced in countless attractions throughout the island. Chania and Rethymno are visited by millions of tourists who want to enjoy the beauty of the nature, indulge in Cretan gastronomy and take in the rich history of these popular cities.
Chania: Venetian Architecture & Romance
Chania is situated in the furthest west part of Crete, a romantic city with Venetian buildings reminiscent of days gone by and a shoreline of crystal clear beaches.
Chania Town is the heart of the city where a lot of neoclassic houses, shops, restaurants, bars and cafeterias can be found. The Old Venetian Harbor is a must-see attraction located near the Town Center. You can stroll the cobblestone streets, admire stone mansions and small fishing boats of the port (caiques), walk until the Venetian Lighthouse and take some photographs of the sunset.
Another famous attraction of the Harbor is the Turkish Mosque Yiali Tzami, the first Mosque built in Crete in approximately 1649. Yiali Tzami is an impressive square building with a large dome that served as a Muslim temple until all Turkish Muslims left Crete following the Asia Minor Catastrophe. Nowadays, Yiali Tzami is an exhibitions and events venue which is visited by thousands of tourists each year.
Museums: Something for every taste!
Memory preservation and cultural demonstration are two purposes of great priority in the many museums of Chania. One of the most important museums of Chania is the Archaeological Museum, located near the Metropolis Church and housed in the former Venetian Monastery of Saint Francis. Its exhibits cover a long period with various sculptures, mosaics, pottery and other artifacts dating from the Neolithic period through the Greek and Roman periods.
In 1973, the Maritime Museum was founded with the mission to preserve the history of the Cretan Navy. The Museum is located within an old Venetian fortress and includes exhibits of ship models (including ancient triremes like those of the Peloponnesian Wars), a fascinating sea shell exhibit and other exhibits with nautical equipment from the the 1821 War of Independece, the Balkan and World Wars and even fascinating post-War technological innovations.
For lovers of the traditional arts, be sure to visit the Folklore Museum of Chania, located near the Archaeological. The museum offers visitors the opportunity to step back in time. Leave technology behind and see how Cretans lived, worked and enjoyed the simple pleasures of life in the 18th and 19th centuries. The embroidery of Crete during this time is renowned and the museum houses some many fine textile examples.
Samaria Gorge and Botanical Park
Western Crete is home to many amazing natural landmarks. The mountains, the sea, and a landscape dominated by vibrant vegetation. The array of blues and greens you will see and experience are sure to overwhelm you. The Samaria Gorge is one such experience – , an 11 mile long gorge near Agia Roumeli village in Sfakia, this National Park is regularly visited by tourists who are passionate about nature and especially hiking. Anticipate a 5-6 hour walk to see the whole Gorge – the experience of a lifetime. Inside the Gorge, take a moment to admire the springs, the variety of trees, and even the Cretan wildgoat (Kri Kri) you may encounter! The most breathtaking moment is sure to be upon arriving at the famous passage known as “Iron Gates”. Standing between the two enormous rocks will surely make visitors feel small in size against this great earthen wonder.
Moving from the wild to the more mild, the Botanical Park & Gardens of Chania has preserved the island’s flora and fauna through time. Set in a area that suffered a fire in 2003, the Botanical Park is comprised of more than 150 species of fruit trees and a wide variety of different herbs and plants. It is a wonderful learning experience for children as well as the botanical information for all the species in the park is exhibited. There is also an array of wildlife, including ducks, peacocks and other birds which are part of the park’s ecosystem. Amble around the gardens’ lake, watch the butterflies and after the day’s adventure, enjoy lunch at the park’s restaurant.
Rethymno: From the Old Town to Venetian Harbour
The Venetian influence is quite evident not only in Chania, but in Rethymno as well. Rethymno is the third major city of Crete and has a wonderful historical center, it’s own Old Town. The picturesque Old Town is full of alleys, little shops, taverns and bars that are usually filled by university students or tourists during summer season. Most houses of the Old Town are remnants of the Venetian or Ottoman architecture, as Rethymno was occupied long ago by both Italian and Ottoman conquests.
As you walk in Old Town, be sure to find your way to the Venetian Harbour, the Egyptian Lighthouse and finally, the Venetian Fortezza. The Venetian Fortress was built in 1573 for defensive reasons, that is to protect the local residents from a possible Turkish invasion. Today, it is the most popular attraction of Rethymno and with a fantastic view of the sea and island.
This history of Rethymno dates back to the Minoan civilization, but it was during the Venetian occupation that it became a center of trade due to its location between Heraklion and Chania. Visitors will also find influence and remnants of its rich Byzantine history as well.
The Museums of Rethymno
Rethymno is filled with cultural centers and museums, each unique and worth visiting. From the Military Museum, to the Cretan Lyra Museum and the Wooden Sculptures Museum, each offers something unique to see and experience and offers a glimpse into the amazingly rich history of Rethymno and of Crete.
Chania and Rethymno are two enchanting cities with fascinating attractions and museums to visit. Here you will experience Greek, Venetian, Ottoman and uniquely Cretan influence everywhere you go. No matter your western travels may take you in Crete, the marvelous Mediterranean landscape and hospitality of the local people will leave you with lasting memories and a longing to return.
Archaeological Museum of Chania: www.chaniamuseum.culture.gr.
Botanical Park: www.botanical-park.com.
Cretan Lyra Workshop (Stagakis): www.stagakis-manolis.gr.
Maritime Museum: www.mar-mus-crete.gr.
Municipality of Chania: www.chania.gr.
Municipality of Rethymno: www.rethymno.gr.
Samaria Gorge: www.samaria.gr.