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Wednesday, 6 April 2016

A brave new world - Nea Hora (Νέα Χώρα Χανίων)

On a recent walk through the old town of Hania, I came across a part of the Venetian wall encircling the town which is connected with refugee history. The long black markings on this part of the wall, on the western side near the outskirts the old town, approaching the suburb of Nea Hora, were made by the iron hooks that were nailed into the wall for the makeshift accommodation that housed the refugees from the 1922 population exchange. This is where the refugees set up temporary homes, camping out in this area until they were allotted land where they could build a home and live a semi-subsistence lifestyle by planting gardens.


A new world awaited the Asia Minor refugees in Crete. Most of them had never travelled to Greece before, having lived all their lives in areas of what is now modern-day Turkey. The refugees' first home by the wall must have been very cold, as the wall faces the sea. With the current migration crisis being played out in Europe - paying attention in particular to its suddenness - we begin to understand how refugees are forced to restart their lives literally from ground zero. For the repatriation plan of those new arrivals to be sustainable, the refugees had to be accommodated immediately and without limitations, unlike the case in the present migration crisis.

The suburb of Nea Hora, meaning the 'new town', was named as such since it was the first suburb to be built outside the walls on the western side of the town. It was established some time during the Ottoman period after the mid-1800s, when the Cretan Muslims (Τουρκοκρητικοί - Tourkokritiki) living on the island came here to seek refuge from the insurgencies taking place in various parts of the island after the Greek revolution in 1821. The Tourkokritiki constituted the first wave of refugees to the area. Crete remained under Ottoman rule for the longest period out of all the Greek territories, until the end of the 19th century. After this, it became an independent state and finally joined Greece proper in 1913.

It is not difficult to imagine how Nea Hora must have looked when the Muslims came to live in the area in the mid-1800s: imagine an area completely undeveloped, with sandy soil, cold damp winters and strong winds blowing in from the sea. It must have felt quite desolate. It was also the outpost for the start of the industrial sector of the town. Located near the beach area was the former ABEA soap-making factory, whose chimneys are still standing (a school is now located on the former factory grounds: see http://www.organicallycooked.com/2011/12/soap.html). ABEA was the first industrial unit in the whole of Crete, built beside the Jewish cemetery outside the city boundaries of the time by a French scientist called Jules Deiss in 1889. The beach of Nea Hora was also used by the people known as the 'Halikoutides' in Hania as part of their May Day celebrations: "... a 'lumpen' Muslim community, ... the local African slave and ex-slave population, the so-called Halikoutides... were a specific ethnic group of the Cretan population, living on the margins of society and mainly employed in despised jobs, such as porters, rowers etc." (see: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/381861/1.hasCoversheetVersion/Varouhakis%20PhD%20final%20thesis%20(Sept%202015)%20WITHOUT%20SIGN.pdf ).

But by 1923, nearly all the Muslims had gone*, due to a forced migration process under the terms stipulated by the Treaty of Lausanne, when the population exchange between Turkey and Greece took place. Once the Muslims left, a lot of land was suddenly freed up to be put to use for a new purpose. With the area being emptied out by this turn of events, Nea Hora became a natural settlement area for the Greek refugees from Asia Minor who were distributed in various parts of the country, including Crete. Nea Hora then began to take shape under the planning conditions of the time for the relocation of the Greek refugees.


The architecture of Nea Hora shows the origins of the early residents. The area was built up from refugees. (Click here for more photos)
It was not until the war that coastal urban areas were regarded in a more favourable light in Crete, when tourism overtook the economy of the region. Before tourism, the sandy coastal soils were regarded as inhospitable. But a plot of land - any land - was seen - and in many ways is still seen - as an easy answer to the imminent problem of housing and feeding a family. A plot of land is able to provide a roof over one's head and a sustainable way to keep food costs low since the home owner can grow some fruit and vegetables and keep hens and rabbits.

The architecture of Nea Hora alludes to the refugee origins of its early residents. From its present look, what can be inferred is that small bungalow-type houses were built by the refugees, with small gardens where they could plant vegetables and keep domesticated animals. As the town's residents grew, rooms would be added onto the houses, to provide a private living arrangement for the families of the children of the refugees. And as the town became wealthier, these small houses on the small plots of land were turned into apartment blocks, initially for family use: extended families would own the whole apartment block. Nea Hora is now the most densely populated suburb of Hania. Sustainable housing systems for extended families is still the norm in Greece, although this has meant a loss of land for garden plots with the increase in population.
Nea Hora, with a view of Lazaretta islet (right) and Thodorou island (centre) (click here for more photos)
Nea Hora is now a very popular place to go for a drink or a meal among locals and tourists, especially in the summertime. The beachfront has all the attractions of a summer resort: a family-friendly beach, plenty of cafes and restaurants, a range of hotels and rooms to let, and a very pretty marina. The streets behind the beach are worth exploring for signs of the history of the area. In the summertime, Nea Hora never fails to please, mixing old world charm with modern comforts. Fish is the most popular item on the menus of the restaurants in the region.
Nea Hora is now an inner city beachside resort visited by locals and tourists.
(Click here for more photos)
Every Thursday, a farmer's market takes place in Nea Hora, together with a street market full of vendors of all sorts. The farmer's market is also a popular meeting place for the locals, giving a community feel to the region. This again aids in the sustainability of the region, making Nea Hora feel like a picturesque urban village.
The purpose of my visit through Nea Hora was to get acquainted with the laiki (street market) of the area.
(Click here for more photos)
The western side of the moat where the Venetian walls are located marks the boundary between Nea Hora and the centre of Hania. This is also where the old Xenia hotel used to be located, sitting on top of the archaeologically and architecturally significant Venetian walls. Its installations lent a very cosmopolitan feel to the area. It was demolished relatively recently (about a decade ago) in order to clear away the historically important area of modern haphazardly erected unlicensed constructions, to allow for the better protection of the town's Venetian walls.

Despite the many apartment blocks lining the coastal area of Nea Hora, its humble origins are still highly visible in the narrow streets of the suburb. Nea Hora remains a very quiet and pleasant part of the town.

Learn more about Nea Hora: "Urban reconstruction of the district of Nea Chora in Chania" in this link:
dias.library.tuc.gr/view/manf/24453 - which leads to a download of a file (in Greek).

*Not all the Muslim population of Crete left the island. The last Muslim from this period to die in Hania was in 1967. Salis, as he was known, was a Sudanese who was loved very much by the local community and well known for his benevolence. To avoid forced emigration, he took on English citizenship, which caused him some problems during the Nazi period. He is buried in Hania in the town's Christian cemetery as a sign of the great respect that he was shown by the citizens. See: http://kritigr.gr/tag/%CF%83%CE%B1%CE%BB%CE%AE%CF%82/
For more information about the Jewish cemetery, see http://www.etz-hayyim-hania.org/the-recent-exhumation-of-fifteen-burials-from-the-former-jewish-cemetery-of-hania/

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