The old harbour at Hania is not just one of the most alluring points in the town; it is THE most alluring, and although there are other port towns on the island (Rethymno and Iraklio) which all have stone-built piers jutting out into the sea, none has a lighthouse. The 'faros' of Hania was renovated two years ago; the last time it was renovated before then was by the ruling Arabs in the early 1820s, after the fall of the Ottoman empire.
The best time to come and sit at the harbour is in the evening when you can see the sun set behind the lighthouse in a pastel-coloured sky, enjoying the cool breezy early evening air.
The atmosphere of the old Venetian port is very cosmopolitan. The mix of locals, economic migrants and tourists, all mingling amongst each other peacefully, combines the European ideals of a pluralistic society, conveying the sense that life has always been like this, which of course, is far from the case. After the fall of the Minoan empire and the hellenisation of Crete via the Dorians, Crete has been invaded and conquered by the Romans (west), the Byzantines (east), the Venetians (west again) and the Ottomans (east again), finally gaining its independence in the late 1800s. Greece has always been referred to as a country where the East meets the West.
It's hard to keep a look out for pirates and invaders when you've got this view on the other side of the harbour...
The air is crisp and salty as the ocean waves crash onto the rocks below the defence walls. The view is breathtaking. The pretty box-like pastel-coloured houses line the harbour, hiding the urban sprawl of the modern town behind it. The mountains give the scene depth. As the evening descends, the city lighting creates an air of romance, which at times is rudely interrupted by blaring rock music from the clubs that line the waterfront.
As the sun sets, the harbour changes colour, from soft pastel hues to solid dark shades. The harbour offers a wealth of possibilities for photography at this time of the day.
The history of the old harbour can be recounted simply by pointing out the old buildings. The Turkish mosque (top: left hand side) and the old ship yards (bottom: centre of photo) are now used as function halls and exhibition centres.
The various conquests over the island's sovereignty have left behind a wealth of variety in the town's architecture. Towards the east are a few remaining shipping sheds from the Venetian period. The water’s edge was further inland, and these old sheds were once used to build and renovate ships. These buildings serve as reminders of Hania’s wealthy history. In between these focal points are low lying pastel coloured buildings, now used as souvenir shops, hotels, restaurants, bars and cafes, setting the ambience of this picturesque corner in the middle of the Mediterranean.
The pier leading to the lighthouse is accessible to anyone who wishes to walk out to it, and it's worth the short trip. Once you reach the lighthouse, you’ll feel as if you’re in the middle of the ocean watching out for insurgents and invaders through the holes in the pier’s walls, which once fired cannonballs at all the intruders.
The remains of the old guard house in the middle of the pier make a great viewing point, providing one of the coolest spots in the harbour after sunset. The Fortezza Café operates at this point, where you can enjoy a cool drink (and some fast food served ever so slowly), as you listen to the waves crashing onto the rocks below.
If you’re not up to walking back to the harbour, you can always take the little raft boat service (provided by the café) that will cruise you back to terra firma in just a little over a minute. It’s a pity that the boat ride is so short because you really don’t want the night to end so quickly.
If you only have five minutes to spend at the Venetian port of Hania, make sure it's at sunset. This will ensure that you'll be back, this time to stay longer.
Cost of walk: free; boat trip: leave a donation; 1 Corona, 1 cold barrel beer, club sandwich and small pizza: 20 euro, shared among four people.
UPDATE: Fortezza Cafe no longer operates - no more boat ride, no more drinks on hot summer evenings...
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