My first home in Crete was in the middle of town, a small two-bedroomed apartment on Sfakion St where I lived with my father.
Sfakion St is written only in Greek on this map - the small street that mentions the name "Sfakion' is actually a nameless side street running off Sfakion, which is simply known as 'Sfakion side-street' (Πάροδος Σφακίων in Greek); the Agora is located by the 'A' sign, while the lighthouse in the Venetian port is directly north from that point.
Sfakion St begins off a very busy road clogged with traffic most hours of the day in the centre of town; this same busy road leads you straight to the most well-known landmark of the town, the Agora. North of Sfakion St is Tzanakaki St, where the trendy fashion shops are located; on its southern side is Apokoronou St, which has always been home to a category of shops belonging to the more functional class, although it has undergone some gentrification relatively recently, with businesses formerly located in the more expensive rental areas moving here since the economic crisis. The streets are lined with businesses on the gound floor and offices and doctors' surgeries in the apartment blocks above them. Sfakion St stands out as an exception among them.
There are many good reasons why people would choose to shop from the cheese shop, butcher, bakery, grocery and cookie shop on Sfakion St instead of walking to the Agora which is in essence a hop, skip and a jump away from this area: the shop owners have built a relationship of trust with their regular customers, ensuring that they sell only high quality products. Not only that, but it's easier for most people to carry their groceries back home rather than walk twice the distance from the Agora.
Sfakion St holds a unique position in Hania; it forms an island of mainly residential properties, combined with a few stores that cater especially for the residents of this unique neighbourhood, located in the heart of Hania in one of the most urban areas of the town, and all this, despite being nestled between two of the busiest and most commercial streets in town. Office workers may share apartment blocks with permanent residents, while the ground levels of most of the buildings house stores, or private parking space. The stores all help to lend an air of self-sufficiency to the self-contained residential urban islet.
These photos were taken at 4pm on a Saturday afternoon; the shops are closed and the street becomes deserted. Cafes located on Sfakion St primarily serve the needs of the office workers in the area.
It may occur to the average reader that when you live so centrally, you won't need to drive much. It's generally the case that most of the residents of Sfakion St don't need to drive around in the town, but they may still be car owners, which they would use mainly at weekends. Once you remove your car from the narrow road (only one side of the street is used as parking), don't expect to find a place to park again so easily! Sfakion St is one of the few places left in the centre of town which isn't plagued (yet) by pay-to-park or resident parking schemes. Cars are lined up bumper-to-bumper during business hours and ply down the one-way road most of the day; there is literally no place to double-park, even if you wanted to try this!
Towards the top end of Sfakion St, the buildings are used mainly as residential properties.
The first formidable-looking functional apartment blocks in the street came up during the building boom after the late 1970s, replacing the houses originally built on each site: detached single-family dwellings with spacious gardens, serving the needs of an extended family that included aging parents and sprightly grandchildren. A few of these charming houses remain on the street, some on better shape than others. But the area is considered as prime land in a tight property market: houses are often demolished to make way primarily for for modern office blocks.
A mish-mash of architectural styles characterises the area, without detracting from its primarily urban appearance.
Sfakion St can be noisy, but only during the day. After a week of living there, I eventually got used to the garbage trucks stopping outside my apartment building early in the morning, beepers ringing loudly (imagine summertime when most people keep their windows open and their shutters closed) to warn passing motorists of their temporary stop. But once the shops close, and the commercial centre shuts down for the day, and especially at weekends, Sfakion St quietens down and almost becomes pleasant.
The old sits side-by-side...
Mid-town apartments are highly sought after because of their central location, especially by young people who like the facilities that urban settings offer them, as well as doctors, lawyers, accountants and architects who need urban office space. But there are also a number of older citizens living in Sfakion St, people who had invested in a city apartment during the building boom after the 1970s, and had moved there from a village. Most of them would be retired office workers, their state salaries and pensions possibly creating the crisis that Greece finds itself in at the moment. These people will tell you that they are Haniotes. They feel at home in their urban setting, even though they may still have ties to a village in the prefecture of Hania.
... with the new - and not so new.
There are still quite a few houses on the street that have escaped demolition and continue to be used as private residences. Some of them are in what looks like good condition, while others have seen better days. They are often rented out to immigrants; the original owners probably died and left the property to their children who have moved out of the area. I was never a grat fan of living in the middle of the town. It felt unnatural to be surrounded by cement, glass and steel. At the same time, my father and I were luckier than most residents in the area, because our apartment windows weren't located directly across from someone else's windows: our balcony view looked on to the municipal park, popularly known as Kipos (meaning 'garden'). Good thing too: my father suffered from claustrophobia and was always thankful that he never felt so confined in his last home on earth...
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