You may wish to read an introduction to the history of Venetian Crete first.
La Canea (Xanià and also Hanià and Khanià) is the second largest town of Crete and it is situated on the western part of the island. In 1898 it became the capital of the semi-independent Cretan State; after the 1913 annexation to Greece it maintained its role until 1971 when the capital of the island was moved to Iraklion (Candia), which is located in a more central position.
1618 engraving by Francesco Basilicata: 1) Castel Vecchio, the oldest part of the Venetian town; 2) Bastione Sabbionara; 3) Bastione Schiavo; 4) Bastione S. Salvatore; 5) 1477 round tower; 6) shipyards
Canea is seated in a fine plain about 3 miles from the bottom of the Bay of Suda, and upon the Sea to the North, having a very fair harbour which may be called a double Port, the one being round, the other stretching away to the Eastward; where are two Arsenals. It is secure against the worst of weathers, The entrance is narrow, and not above 18 foot water. To the West of which the Turks have built a new battery with 20 very large Guns, and above it to the South is a great Cittadel, in which are 40 good Guns. To the East of the Entrance is another great Castle which commands the part called the Sabioniera. (..) Toward the land there are 4 Bastions.
Bernard Randolph, b. 1643. The present state of the islands in the archipelago.
The city of Canea, is of an oblong figure; (..) fortified towards the land after the modern way by the Venetians, with four bastions, and a ravelin at the north east corner.
Richard Pococke - A Description of the East and Some Other Countries - 1745.
The Venetians acquired possession of Crete after the 1204 conquest of Constantinople by the Frank knights of the Fourth Crusade. Their control of the island was threatened by the Genoese and by frequent revolts of the Greek population, but the imposive fortifications they built at La Canea and many other towns were all built in the XVIth century to respond to the Ottoman threat.
Canea has been commonly thought to be on the spot of the antient Cydonia
but the chief reason is, because the bishop of Canea is called in
Greek the bishop of Cydonia. About the middle of the north side of the
town there is an old castle within the fortifications, which is about
half a mile in circumference. Pococke
La Canea is the heir of Kydonia, an ancient town which flourished during the Roman Empire. During the Byzantine period the reduced population of Kydonia lived on the hill which was fortified with materials taken from ancient buildings. The site was called Castel Vecchio (Old Castle) by the Venetians. From Basilicata's engraving it appears that in the XVIIth century the walls and the three gates of Castel Vecchio were still standing, although the town had new walls.
During WWII Castel Vecchio was bombed and archaeologists found actual evidence of Kydonia in the foundations of the Venetian buildings.
(above) Bastione Sabbionara (named after a nearby sand beach - sand=sabbia); (below) winged lion and erased 1590 coats of arms of the Venetian officers who promoted the construction of the bastion (see also the image used as background for this page)
The whole place is surrounded by a Venetian wall
of great massiveness, and the harbour is enclosed by
extensive moles. Over the sea-gate stands the Lion
of St. Mark. (..) We left Khanea, passing
through a gateway in the massive Venetian walls.
Henry Fanshawe Tozer - The islands of the Aegean Sea. Published 1890, but Tozer began his travels in 1874
In 1538 Hayreddin Barbarossa (Red Beard), admiral of the Ottoman navy (and previously a much feared corsair), defeated a large Spanish-Venetian fleet at Preveza; after this victory Barbarossa raided several locations on Crete without fear of being attacked. These events led the Venetians to develop a major plan to protect their possessions in the Levant.
The Walls are in very good repair, having a dry ditch about 30 yards broad, and 6 deep, from the land on the other side. The Walls are about 30 foot high; within them the earth is raised, about 10 foot higher than the Walls, there being a walk between. Randolph
The new walls of La Canea and of Candia were built on the basis of a plan designed by Michele Sammicheli, one of the best known Italian military architects, who in 1535 was appointed Ingegnere Capo della Repubblica by the Venetian Senate. In Italy Sammicheli designed Forte S. Andrea at the entrance to the lagoon of Venice and the walls of Verona. While at Candia Sammicheli designed walls having the shape of a star, at La Canea they had a rectangular shape with a large projecting bastion at each corner.
This city was taken by the Turks under the conduct of Issouf captain pasha, in one thousand six hundred and forty six, after a brave defence for fifty seven days. Pococke
In 1645 the Ottomans waged war on Venice with the objective of seizing Crete; they landed to the west of La Canea and they laid siege to the town; the walls, because of their thickness, were able to withstand the impact of the Ottoman artillery and the first assaults were repelled. Venice reacted to the Ottoman landing by raiding Patrasso and other locations of the Peloponnese, so the bulk of its fleet did not leave the Ionian Sea. The Ottomans therefore were able to support their siege of La Canea with seventeen warships. Ottoman sappers managed to dig a tunnel which reached the base of the walls and they ignited several barrels of gunpowder causing a major breach. At this point the two sides entered negotiations and eventually the Venetians surrendered the town and were allowed to reach Rettimo.
(above) A 1477 circular tower near Bastione S. Salvatore; (below) view of the town from the top of the tower: in the foreground a modern Roman Catholic church and to its right Mitropolis, the Greek Orthodox cathedral
There is a mount which they call the Marteningo where formerly were 10 Guns, but now it is of no use. (..) To the West is a mace placed on the Wall, to shew where a Basha, at the taking of the place, first enter'd the City: before the Gate is a half moon built of earth about 20 foot high; at each end is a small Pyramid of mortar and sculls, which are the sculls of Christians, who were slain before the place in the year 1666. The Venetians then attempting to regain the place under the conduct of Marquis Vila, a Savojard, 5000 men were landed at the bottom of the Bay of Suda, and were encamped before the City several days. The Turks sallyed out of the City, to the W. surprizing the Christians, and had a very great victory, pursuing them to the Fort which was built at the bottom of the Bay. In this flight there were above 1500 killed and several taken Prisoners. Randolph
The loss of La Canea was final as Venetian attempts to reconquer the town in 1660, 1666 and 1692 all failed. The western and eastern walls are still in relatively good condition, whereas the southern walls were pulled down to allow the expansion of the town.
Unlike what can be observed at other former Venetian fortifications such as Nauplia, no guns can be seen on the walls of La Canea because according to Robert Pashley who visited La Canea in 1834: The bronze guns which were on the ramparts have been removed by Mehmet Ali Pacha and taken to Alexandria; where doubtless they have already been melted and converted into money.
(left) Shipyards on the southern side of the harbour; (right) a shipyard which houses a small maritime museum
On the north side of
the town is the port, well defended by a wall, built on the north side on the
rocks; there is a light-house at the end of it; (..) the entrance to the harbour is narrow, and there
is a very fine arsenal for laying up gallies, which was built by the Venetians. Pococke
We had time to land and visit the Venetian docks, which resemble those of Candia, and have a place for drawing up the galleys. Tozer
The Venetians at the same time as they were fortifying the land defences of La Canea built a series of shipyards inside the harbour for shipbuilding and repairing. These were crucial for maintaining warships. The harbour had shallow waters and Venetian convoys not having to call at La Canea preferred to moor in the well protected bay of Souda which is located a few miles to the east of the town.
Nine of the 23 shipyard halls remain; after docks were built in the harbour which prevented access to them by sea they have been used for a variety of purposes.
(above) S. Teodoro seen from La Canea; (below) S. Teodoro seen from the coastal road
All great ships come to an anchor at a place called St Todoro, being 2 small Isletts about 5 miles to the West of the Port of Canea; there is very good anchorage, and a small Fort to defend them. Randolph
About half a mile from the land is the high island of saint Theodoro, so called from a chapel which was formerly on it, dedicated to that saint; it is half a mile long, and about a furlong broad. The Venetians had a small castle there, which the Turks battered from a high ground on the land; (..) this place is now uninhabited. Pococke
In order to provide their ships with safe anchorages along the northern coast of Crete in addition to the ports, the Venetians built fortresses on four islets. S. Teodoro is located to the west of La Canea and in 1645 it was the first fortress which was attacked by the Ottomans; its garrison was very small and the assailants greatly outnumbered the defenders. The commander, feeling that further resistance was in vain, ignited the gunpowder magazine and blew up the fortress causing large Ottoman losses. In 1650 the Venetians reoccupied S. Teodoro and considered rebuilding the fortress, but they opted instead for its total demolition.
(above) The sea (left) and land (right) fortresses which protected the entrance to Souda Bay; (below) Souda Bay seen from the land fortress; the Akrotiri peninsula is on the right
Suda lyes in a great Bay about 30 miles from Retimo West, 12 miles from Canea, and 9 from the bottom of the Bay South East, having the land to the South about a mile, and to the N Wt. not above half a mile distant. Randolph
I proceeded on the side of the hills, over the south east side of the bay of Suda; this bay is near a league broad, and well sheltered by the land, which runs out in a point from the south west to the north east; it is a very good harbour, where all the large ships lay which cannot enter the port of Canea. Pococke
Souda Bay is an excellent natural harbour between the Akrotiri peninsula and the coast of the island; in 1573 the Venetians completed the construction of a fortress on one of two tiny islets at the narrow entrance to the bay. The location, the size and the design of the fortress were very similar to those of Spinalonga on the eastern part of Crete.
The Island is about 2 miles in circumference, not above 50 foot above the water at the highest part, being all rock and steep round. To the S Wt. lyes a long Rock about 10 foot above water, and not above 20 from the Island; against it is the Entrance up to the Castle very steep and winding; having two Gates, and a strong counterscarp before you pass into the main Castle. The Wall about the Island is low but very thick. (..) The Castle is quite round the Islett, wherein are about 120 Guns planted. The Turks have several times attempted to take this place, and to that purpose in the year 1659 they built 6 Castles, three on each side of the Bay, from whence they continued to batter it, and secured the Harbour so, as no Ship or Gally could come to bring them succor, but what in the night small Vessels would adventure to get in. In the year 1665 the Captain Basha attempted to assault it; he came with 45 Gally's, but durst not adventure to land any men. He caused the Gallys to batter that part which is to Sea-ward, while on the other side they continually fired from the 6 Forts. The Venetian Fleet was so dispersed that they could not come to relieve them. The besieged were much streightned for provision, but most for want of water, for above a month they had but a pint a day, and were so disheartned that they near inclined to surrender the place. (..) The winds coming about Northerly the Venetian Fleet came from Zante, forcing the Turkish Gallys to retreat. The Captain Basha was kill'd with a great shot, upon which the Army broke up, and retired to Canea. The Vizier in his march from Canea to Candia past by here, and with admiration beheld the place, but would not attempt any thing against it, saying, it was not worth the men which had been already lost against it. The Port is very commodious, being one of the largest in all these Seas, and there is very good anchor-hold all over the Bay. (..) The Turks have here a small Tower, where are two or three servants of the Customer of Canea, to see that no goods are carried away; which have not paid Custome at the City. In time of peace they have all provissions from Canea, at the market price, and there is a good Correspondence betwixt the Inquisitore of Suda, and the Basha, who often send letters to one another. The Governor of Suda hath the title of Inquisitore Generale delle Isole di Levante; Cerigo and Tine, being also under his Government, altho' there are Providetors to both. The Venetians have no benefit from these Islands, but are at a continual charge to maintain the Garrisons in each. Randolph
Towards the opening of this bay, there is an island called Suda, which is near a mile in circumference, having a small rock at each end of it; this place was strongly fortified by the Venetians, and not taken by the Turks till after they had conquered the Morea. The people of Suda by their capitulations were permitted to go away, and many went aboard the Venetian ships. (..) There are only about a thousand Turks in the island who bear arms. Pococke
The Ottomans made attempts to seize the sea fortress of Souda in each of the four years following the fall of La Canea, but without success. In 1651 they tried to reach their objective by bribing some officers, but the plot was discovered. The 1669 peace agreement which ended the War of Candia left Souda in Venetian hands and only in 1714 the Ottomans were able to conquer it.
(above-left) Ottoman fountain at the entrance to Castello Apicorono, the Venetian land fortress at today's Kalyves; (above-right) a small section of its Venetian walls; (below) Itzendin Castle at Aptera
We reached the bay of Suda, where
the Turkish fleet, composed of a frigate and some
smaller vessels, was lying. It is a perfect landlocked harbour, and the Turks have a project for
converting it into a naval station. Tozer
The Venetians built a small castle on the southern coast of the bay, opposite the sea fortress; it now houses a base of the Greek army which is surrounded by high modern walls. Because of the development of long distance artillery in 1872 the Ottomans built a new fortress on the top of the mountain behind Castello Apicorono. Today this fortress houses a prison.
There are restrictions on taking photos of all the fortresses, including the sea one because of their proximity to a NATO naval base.
Move to page two: the Old Town.
Introductory page on the Venetian fortresses in Crete
An Excursion to Moni Arkadi
An Excursion to Kritsa
Sittia and Paleocastro
Castelfranco (Frangokastelo) and other castles on the southern coast
Other Venetian fortresses in Greece:
|Geographic area||Location||Ionian Islands||Corfù (Kerkyra) Paxo (Paxi) Santa Maura (Lefkadas) Cefalonia (Kephallonia) Asso (Assos) Itaca (Ithaki) Zante (Zachintos) Cerigo (Kythera)||Greek Mainland||Butrinto (Butrint) Parga Preveza and Azio (Aktion) Vonizza (Vonitsa) Lepanto (Nafpaktos) Atene (Athens)||Peloponnese (Morea)||Castel di Morea (Rio), Castel di Rumelia (Antirio) and Patrasso (Patra) Castel Tornese (Hlemoutsi) and Glarenza Navarino (Pilo) and Calamata Modon (Methoni) Corone (Koroni) Braccio di Maina, Zarnata, Passavà and Chielefà Mistrà Corinto (Korinthos) Argo (Argos) Napoli di Romania (Nafplio) Malvasia (Monemvassia)||Aegean Islands||Negroponte (Chalki) Castelrosso (Karistos) Oreo Lemno (Limnos) Schiatto (Skiathos) Scopello (Skopelos) Alonisso Schiro (Skyros) Andro (Andros) Tino (Tinos) Micono (Mykonos) Siro (Syros) Egina (Aegina) Spezzia (Spetse) Paris (Paros) Antiparis (Andiparos) Nasso (Naxos) Serifo (Serifos) Sifno (Syphnos) Milo (Milos) Argentiera (Kimolos) Santorino (Thira) Folegandro (Folegandros) Stampalia (Astipalea)|
You may refresh your knowledge of the history of Venice in the Levant by reading an abstract from
the History of Venice by Thomas Salmon, published in 1754. The Italian text is accompanied by an English summary.