Chania is located about 7 Km east of Souda Bay, on the north coast of Crete. The area is mostly known for its military installations with both Hellenic and NATO bases positioned on its Akrotiri peninsula. However, the area is increasingly being seen as a popular tourist destination with many people wanting to explore the areas rich heritage and ancient historical sites.
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To be honest, I hadn’t really heard of Chania or Souda Bay until the day we arrived. Our cruise ship, Holland America’s Koningsdam was originality supposed to be docking in Santorini. However much to everyone’s disappointment, the captain had been advised from the Santorini port authority that the weather was too bad for us to dock and the winds too strong for the tender boats. So we were woken to the news that although we could see the beautiful island of Santorini in the distance, we wouldn’t be able to venture ashore.
However, the captain announced that they had found an alternative port that was willing to let us dock and that would be Souda Bay in Crete. So after a few more hours sailing we arrived at midday in port without a clue of what to do or see. Luckily, as this was an unscheduled stop Holland America put on free transport to the more scenic port of Souda Bay which was most appreciated.
History of Chania & Souda Bay
The area has a long history, with port facilities being in the bay since ancient times, serving the city of Aptera which was founded in the 7th century BC. Aptera was eventually destroyed by the Saracens in the 800s AD.
The Venetians occupied the area in 1207 and fortified the bay and its islands with many fortifications in order to protect themselves from Ottoman raiders and pirates. During this time the Venetians constructed salt evaporation ponds which produced around 150,00 kilos of salt each year! During these times the area was flourishing with many inhabitants enjoying a lavish lifestyle.
However, Crete and the rest of Greece were under constant threat of invasion by Turkey during the last years of Venetian rule. Eventually In 1645, after two months of siege, the town sundered to the Turks. Incredibly extensive material destruction followed the conquest. Many churches were levelled whilst others were converted into mosques, and roads and fortifications fell into disrepair.
Over the years there were various attempted uprisings against the Turks, which led to the Greek War of Independence in 1821. In May 1822, 10,000 troops made up of Ottomans, Egyptians and Albanians led by Hassan Pasha disembarked warships in Chania and successfully suppressed the revolt of the Cretans.
Later In 1832 a Greek state was established, however, this did not include Crete and the island passed to the Egyptians, in acknowledgement of their assistance against the revolt.
In 1870 Rauf Pasha drained the salt ponds and built a settlement with around 150 Turkish families. During this time the Cretans were subjected to hard treatment and high taxes, finally, after years of struggle, the British alongside the French, Italians and Russians decided that Turkey could no longer maintain control and intervened with the expulsion of Turkish forces in 1898 which led to the formation of the independent Cretan Republic.
Finally, in 1913, union with Greece was realised. Under the Treaty of London, Sultan Mohammed II relinquished his formal rights to the island. In December, the Greek flag was raised at the Firkas fortress in Chania, with Venizelos and King Constantine in attendance, and Crete was unified with mainland Greece.
During World War 2, the Cretan desire for independence resurfaced after the Italian forces of Mussolini tried to gain control of northern Greece. After Mussolini’s failure, Greece became the target of Hitler’s forces. In April of 1941, Nazi Germany began its attack against mainland Greece, rapidly penetrated the Greek defences, and occupied the country. The battle for Crete lasted only 10 days with huge loses on both sides. Eventually allied forced had to retreat and evacuate to Egypt. The German occupation lasted 4 years until the end of the war.
Today, Souda bay still holds a massive allied military base as well as a large War Cemetery where more than 1500 commonwealth service men are buried.
Where do cruise ships dock:
Most cruise ships will dock at Souda Bay port, however some ships may dock near to the old Venetian port and use tenders to ferry people into the port.
Our ship arrived in Souda Bay and although transport was already arranged by Holland America there is a regular bus running straight from outside the port into the old Venetian port which takes around 15 minutes and costs €1.50. You will also find plenty of taxis willing to take you into town as well as other places further afield.
Things to do:
The Old Harbour
The first thing you need to do once you get off the bus in Chania is make your way down to the old harbour. This place was definitely an unexpected highlight to our cruise. At first when we got off the bus we were a little disappointed as we had been dropped off in what looked like a typical Greek urban town with nothing looking particularly interesting. However we followed a little map, given to us at the port and made our way to the harbour. As we got closer we found more and more tourist shops and it started to look more like the typical tourist destination I generally expected in Greece with the usual leather sandal shops and trinket stores. Eventually we found ourselves looking onto one of the most beautiful harbour views I’d seen in a long time!
This large harbour was surrounded with lots of shops and restaurants all painted lovely pastel colours looking out on to the most beautiful clear blue sea. As the bay circled round you could see the old Venetian walls wrapping the harbour with the old Venetian lighthouse proudly sitting at the mouth out the harbour.
The Venetian Lighthouse
The Venetian lighthouse is one of the most prominent attractions in Chania. Although you can’t go inside it’s a beautiful walk giving you fabulous views of the harbour and the mountains behind. To get to the lighthouse you need to walk along the promenade towards the right side of the harbour towards the marina. It’s a bit of a walk but eventually you will reach the old stone wall where the harbour meets the sea. From here you can walk along its walls right towards the lighthouse. Be careful walking along its top tier though as there are no safety rails!
Maritime Museum of Crete
Towards the left side of the harbour near to the fortress you will find the Maritime museum. If like me you love history, you will love this little museum. It houses various displays setting our Crete’s maritime history including an exhibition about the battle for Crete in 1941. Entrance fee is €3.00
Exhibition of Ancient Naval Architecture
As you are walking towards the harbour walls towards the lighthouse you will pass the old ancient Moro docks which date back to the 17th century. Within one of these building you will find the Exhibition of Naval Architecture . Inside you will find a reconstructed 15th century Minoan ship as well as other artefacts and displays relating to ancient navigation and ship building. This is a great little exhibition and worth it’s €2 entrance fee.
Wander the ancient streets
Like lots of other old Greek settlements, the streets of Chania are perfect little places to wander and explore. There are so many old cobbled streets lined with well-preserved historic building all with various Venetian, Ottoman and neoclassical influences. It really is a picture perfect place to explore.
This once mosque is the oldest Islamic structure in Crete. The mosque was built in the 17th century where once a Venetian church once stood. The building hasn’t been used as a mosque since 1923 and today it’s used as an exhibition space. The building is situated in the harbour and looks out towards the Venetian lighthouse.
Check out the Cathedral
As you walk towards the harbour from the bus station you will most likely walk past the old Venetian cathedral. During the ottoman era the cathedral was used as a soap factory. In fact, the belfry you see today was once were cauldrons were houses in which the materials for the production of soap were boiled. In another part of the church was used as a warehouse, there was once a picture of the Virgin Mary.
Legend says that in the mid- 19th century, a man named Tserkaris was working at the soap factory. Apparently the Virgin Mary appeared, in a vision, and told him to leave as this place was her home and not a place for soap manufacturing. The craftsman left, taking the picture with him. Shortly thereafter, the child of Pasha fell in the well, to the south of the temple. Full of despair, the Turk Pasha appealed to Virgin Mary to help him save his child and promised that in return, he would give the church back to the Christians. The child got out of the well safe and sound and the Turk Pasha kept his promise and started the construction of the new church.
Pick up some souvenirs
One of the things I love when travelling is walking around the souvenir shops; Although I usually stick to buying fridge magnets to add to my ever growing collection! However, I was travelling with my parents who can’t help but come home with a multitude of souvenirs from every trip! This trip was no exception. There are so many beautiful shops to buy jewellery, ceramics and other souvenirs in Chania; however one place is defiantly worth a mention, Melody Ceramics. This mother and son duo work together and produce some beautiful handcrafted ceramics, I would highly recommend a visit to their shop. You can even watch them making some of their products and they are also happy to answer any questions about the shop and the local area.
Final Thoughts on Souda Bay
I have got to say; although I’d never heard of Souda bay before I arrived I was pleasantly surprised. Even with only the afternoon in this lovely place we managed to see quite a lot and explore some of the local history. It has definitely made me want to book a trip to Crete with the view of exploring more of the area as well as other parts of Crete. If you have the chance to visit Chania and Crete I would very much recommend it, fabulous history as well as beautiful surroundings all thrown together with that famous Greek hospitality.
Not visiting by cruise ship, looking for somewhere to stay? If so, I recommend Booking.com for budget hotels or Hostelworld for hostels. If you are looking for something more luxurious then I recommend using Hotels.com as you will get one free nights’ accommodation for every 10 nights booked!
Have you visited Souda bay and the surrounding area? If so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments below.
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Thanks for reading,