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I have written numerous times about Koum Kapi in this space. It is my neighborhood in Chania, and I have come to love it every bit as much as any other place on Crete. The name appears to be an abomination or shortening of the Turkish phrase koum kapisi, which means “gate of sand.” (The Italian version of this phrase is sabbionara, which is the name that has stuck to the oblong stone bastion that was built out into the sea in this area by the Venetians in 1596.
Whether defined as koum kapisi or sabbionara, these words originally referred to the area at what is now the far western corner of Koum Kapi, where there was a gate through a monstrous fortress wall allowing people to enter and exit the eastern section of the Old Town that was built and controlled by the Venetians from 1205 to 1669, when the Turks seized control of Chania. During the Turkish (Ottoman) occupation Koum Kapi was largely inhabited by Turks. Of course, there weren’t nearly as many buildings there in the 18th and 19th centuries as there are now. Back then the waters of the Sea of Crete washed up lazily (or stormily) on an open beach that reached back much farther inland than it does today. The owner of the great Machalas restaurant in Koum Kapi, the oldest eatery in the neighborhood – opened by his grandfather as a coffee shop back in the 1930s – tells how, when the water rose back in the day, waves would wash in one door, flow through the restaurant interior, and exit the door on the other side. Nowadays there is a stone-paved boardwalk set a good eight-to-ten feet above sea level atop a cement wall. In the swimming season (roughly April to early November), you enter the sea by way of one of eight or so stairs that drop down to the sea. Depending on the season, the weather, and the time of month (full moon, new moon), the bottom ends of each staircase may lead to a sandy beach, a rocky sea bed, calm, still waters, or deep churning water that just might turn you away.
I’ve never heard anyone talk about the shifting sands beach here at Koum Kapi, but, in fact, it is a very volatile place. In fact, I was prompted to write today’s blog by an article I saw on the very cool Greek High Definition website, “Possidi of Chalkidiki – The Only Greek Beach that Changes Shape and… Disappears.” I was rather taken aback by the headline, because there are actually several beaches on Crete that do this – the most famous being Elafonisi and Balos. But, right here at home in Koum Kapi I watch the beach change drastically throughout the year depending upon the whims of nature – it often disappears entirely.
During the swimming months my wife and I go out to swim every morning, and we never know what we will find – sand, rocks, or water. This last year (2020) sandy strands – albeit, changing in size and shape daily – hung in for most of the season. But there were those days you’d walk out there and find the entire beach had moved on to another area, or had disappeared entirely. Any rough weather is bound to bring huge changes to the beach at Koum Kapi. The heavier the weather, the more obvious the changes. In the following photos, taken over the course of three years, you will see sandy beaches, nothing but water, or piles of rocks and rubble following a particularly big storm.

All photos (unless noted otherwise) and text © copyright 2021 by John Freedman. If you wish to use either text or photos, I will almost surely grant permission as long as you do the courtesy of asking.

A fall storm in 2020 overwhelmed all beaches in Koum Kapi.
A recent storm in 2020 carried all the sand from the Koum Kapi beach out to sea, leaving nothing but water. The sand would return soon.
The Koum Kapi beach in 2019 was as big as I ever have seen it.
A storm covers the beach with rocks.
This area at the Sabbionara changes drastically. Here we have a thin layer of sea water over a sandy bottom. Sometimes the sand creates a high beach on which people sunbathe. Sometimes the sand is removed by high seas, leaving nothing but underwater rocks here.
This photo from 2019 shows a rocky entrance to the sea at a place where my wife lay out sunbathing on sand all throughout 2020.
All beaches in the Koum Kapi neighborhood have disappeared under high waters.
People swimming in relatively rough seas at the eastern end of Koum Kapi.
The Koum Kapi beach in 2019 was as big as I ever have seen it.
The eastern end of Koum Kapi beach.
The eastern end of Koum Kapi at dusk.
The beach at Koum Kapi’s eastern edge is usually a fairly large sand beach – here, following a storm, it is covered in rocks.
The eastern beach at Koum Kapi covered in stones after a storm.
East end of Koum Kapi after a storm, the beach is gone, replaced by rubble.
Here you can see the gaping hole in the old Venetian wall that once kept Old Town closed off from the world.
Sabbionara bastion at the “gate” into Old Town.
Koum Kapi, 1900+/- looking toward Old Town from the east. Photo from the great Facebook page: Χανιά Παλιές Φωτογραφίες – Hania Old Photos
Koum Kapi, late 1930s+/-, left/east to right/west. Photo from the great Facebook page: Χανιά Παλιές Φωτογραφίες – Hania Old Photos