Firkas

Maritime Museum of Crete, Firkas Tower, Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Collection, Venetian Magazine Store, Angelou Street

Established in 1973 in the former Firkas Fortress, this maritime museum once housed the barracks of the Venetian naval garrison to Chania with storehouses for military equipment and large underground water cisterns situated in the central open courtyard.

This fortress, itself, was designed and built in 1620 by the Overseer of Chania, Alvise Bragadin, and its layout derives from typical Roman fort and garrison plans that incorporated two levels of rooms encircling a central courtyard or parade area that were used for both the living quarters and for storage. Although much abraded due to the soft limestone, the details of a finely-carved doorway leading to the residence of the Venetian Provident on the second level are still discernible. The interesting feature about this doorway is that the Lion of St. Mark remains above the door and has not been dismantled, defaced or replaced when the Turks subsequently used the building as a barracks and then as a prison for Cretan liberation fighters in the nineteenth century. The museum itself has a number of noteworthy exhibits on display including maquettes of Venetian Chania, old maps, marine instruments, photos of warships alongside an exhibition on the history of Greek shipping and importantly, the Battle of Crete.

The small observation tower on the northeast corner of the Firkas Fortress is considered to be one of Crete's most "sacred" and significant places. This tower also takes its name from the Turkish word for barracks, "firkas" and it is here that the Greek flag was raised for the first time on Crete on 1st December, 1913 by Prime Minister Venizelos, together with King Constantine of Greece, an event since celebrated every year. This ceremony marked the end of successive invasions and occupations of Crete over many centuries by foreign powers and finally, the end of struggle, resistance and the fight for independence and the start of long sought-after independence and "enosis" or union with mainland Greece. What led to this event was an almost continuous resistance throughout the nineteenth century by locals against an increasingly corrupt and despotic Turkish rule. Outside of the complex along the northern face of the fortress are a number of arched openings at ground level. These openings mark the position of cannons intended by the Venetians to prevent enemy ships from entering the harbour. Just above these arched openings are small rectangular openings that are now blocked up, but which served as sighting holes so that the trajectory of the cannon could be raised or lowered. These cannons were placed at sea level because they were aimed at the galleys of ships and it was essential that the cannon ball hit the boat at waterline. As a further defense tactic, the Venetians placed a large chain that they could pull across the harbour entrance from the lighthouse to the Firkas Tower to thwart ships from entering the harbour. Don't Miss: Celebrations marking Crete's union with mainland Greece on 1st December.

The Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Collection is housed in the former church of the Franciscan Monastery of San Salvatore built on the west side of the Firkas Fortress between the fifteenth to mid-seventeenth centuries. The monastery was, in large part, razed in 1941 and the church altered many times, especially in the late seventeenth century when it was converted, like most churches in Chania, into the Aga Tzamisi mosque. The church is of particular interest as a well-known British traveler, William Lithgow, sought sanctuary here in 1609 having helped a slave to escape from one of Venetian naval ships. Lithgow spent the night in the church and later observed in his diary that "Chania is like a large castle with its fortification walls containing some ninety-seven palaces in which the Rector and the Venetian gentlemen dwell". Lithgow is no doubt referring to the numerous Venetian "archontika" or luxurious two to three-storey mansions also located in this neighborhood which represent some of the best examples of Late Venetian urban architecture in Crete. This small, but neatly organized collection consists of icons, wall paintings, mosaic fragments, pottery, coins and sculpture all arranged in chronological order and clearly labeled for the visitor.

This rectangular, vaulted stone building is of Venetian origin, but like many structures, was altered in the Ottoman Turkish period when the sloping roof was removed and the walls raised to accommodate a parapet and flat roof and numerous openings at both ground and first floor levels added. Originally, this building served as a magazine or storeroom where cannons and gun powder was stored. This magazine gave its Turkish name, Top Hane, meanings guns and canons, to the whole area which is now called Topanas. From the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries onwards, Topanas was a predominantly Christian neighborhood of wealthy aristocrats, merchants and traders and, for a time, the location of the European consulates until their move to the district of Halepa in the late nineteenth century. The building is now used as a conservation laboratory for antiquities.

Angelou Street connects Theotokopoulou Street to the west with the harbor-front, Akti Koundourioti, to the east and lies directly behind the Firkas Fortress. This narrow street features some fine examples of the Venetian-built, multi-storey mansions characteristic of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in particular. The main three-storey building on the north side of this street (Angelou 16-18) retains all the architectural elements favored by the Venetians in their bid to recreate their own city through town planning and architecture, and with the same standards of hygiene and comforts that they were used to previously. These idiosyncratic architectural hallmarks include the well-proportioned and finely-dressed window and door openings, the external walls that are always usually plastered and painted, the ornate metal grilles above the doors, the circular occuli windows, the carved stone corbels, balcony slabs and columns with Corinthian capitals supporting the double-arched window heads and the overall angular and well-proportioned appearance of the building. While these architectural facets are fundamentally Venetian, the Ottoman Turkish influence can also be seen in other nearby buildings with the timber hai-arti, the projecting, second-floor wooden facades that were originally latticed, therefore allowing cool air to filter through the upper floors, and most importantly, to allow Muslim women to look down on the street below and to watch events without being seen.

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