Today I look at one of Chania’s most impressive sights and destinations that, actually, does not get the love it deserves. I’m talking about the wall on the breakwater that reaches out like an enormous arm to surround and protect the Venetian Harbor. Everybody, of course, knows the beautiful Faros, or lighthouse, that stands perched at the extreme western end of the breakwater. You can find all the information your heart desires on that. You can do detailed research on Ta Neoria, the ship docks that stand inside the eastern half of the port and are protected by the breakwater. There is even a fair bit of information out there about the small Bastion of St. Nicholas that stands midway from the start of the wall to the end. But the wall itself? There must be more out there than I know of, but I haven’t found it yet. Here is what little I have been able to glean from a surf on the net. (I’d be thrilled if anyone who knows more would be willing to share their information.)
The Venetians, who took over Crete around 1205, did not get around to start building a port in Chania until 1320. It took them until 1356 to finish it. During this period the first version of the Bastion of St. Nicholas was erected directly on the rocks on the outer part of the harbor. However, due to the port’s vulnerability to storms, and to the fact that the eastern end would fill with silt, the decision was made around 1364 to move the main port from Chania to Souda Bay, a huge, natural port to the east of Chania. Fears of Turkish attacks caused the Venetians in 1515 to begin building up fortifications around the port. The work was completed only in 1643. As part of that renovation, the Venetians began construction on the lighthouse around 1595. It was completed six years later. This apparently, and I can only say apparently, is when the beautiful wall was built on the foundation of a natural, low outcropping of rocks serving insufficiently as a breakwater. The closest I can come to a confirmation of dates is this brief phrase on a website devoted to the history of Chania: “In the 16th century the Venetians would build a wall with battlements along the breakwater, the Bastion of St. Nicholas of Molos, the Fortress Revellino del Porto at the entrance of the harbor and the lighthouse.” But some confusion is introduced into this tale by Berend Wolffenbuttel and Toine van der Meijden’s brief, but trusty book Discover Chania… on Foot (3rd edition, 2019), where it is written that the Bastion of St. Nicholas was rebuilt in 1515. Are they just taking the beginning date of the bigger construction project, or do they know more than the rest of us? If the bastion really was rebuilt in 1515, might they have built at least half of the wall up to that point? Mysteries, mysteries. I will crack them some day. Allowed to fall into disrepair during the Turkish occupation (1669-1898), the wall and the lighthouse were renovated by the Egyptians during a short, interim tenure on Crete (1831-1840).
The wall is a delight to walk (it is roughly 550 meters from one end to the other, i.e., a little over a kilometer to go out and back). Based on the known height of the lighthouse (21 meters), I am guessing that the wall is approximately four or five meters high. During the biggest winter storms, huge waves crash over it at intervals. At places it has three levels on which you can walk, some of those being so narrow that anyone lacking the adventurous spirit is warned to drop down to the inner walkway. In some places the stonework on the top of the wall gets quite rough and makes for a difficult walk. There is a hole in the wall on the east side that allows a constant stream of fresh water into the eastern port to keep it from going stagnant. The hole is big enough for small motorboats to use as an entrance/exit from the port, to avoid going all the way around the lighthouse. From the wall, the views of the snowcapped White Mountains (Lefka Ori) to the south are stunning in the winter, as are the views looking back at the Old Town of Chania, to say nothing of the seascapes that open up in the direction of the Akrotiri Peninsula and the famed village of Stavros.
My photos today make no effort to show the breakwater wall from all angles. What I got in the early morning light is what you see.
Text and photos © John Freedman, 2020.