Old Harbour

Center of Mediterranean Architecture, Yali-Tzamisi Mosque, The Venetian Arsenali (Neoria), Lighthouse

Immediately to the east of the Venetian donkey steps is large a two-story building originally forming the end unit of a terrace of Venetian-built arsenali or dry-docks.

This edifice is known as the Great Arsenal, the largest of the Venetian dry-docks and has been extensively altered many times since its construction in the sixteenth century. Like many Venetian buildings in Chania, it was modified firstly by the Turks who cut off its barrel-vaulted roof, and then again in the late nineteenth century when an upper storey was added after which the building became a Christian school and then the Town Hall from 1928 to 1941. The Grand Arsenal was partly destroyed by the aerial bombardment in 1941 and it has only been completely restored as the Center of Mediterranean Architecture since 1997.

The Mosque of the Janissaries (also called Kucuk Hassan or Yali Mosque) is the oldest Islamic structure in Crete. The Janissaries were the Turkish soldiers stationed in Chania and elsewhere around the island assigned to keep law and order following the Turkish conquest of Crete. Rather than being merely soldiers or policemen, they were the Christian sons captured from conquered countries between the fourteenth and early nineteenth centuries often described as "door servants" or "slaves". This mosque was built in 1645 on the site of a small Venetian church dedicated to San Nicolo so that the Janissaries had a place to pray. The central dome is part of the original construction and the porticoes, as well as four of the smaller domes, are of nineteenth century typical Neoclassical design. The flying buttresses are later additions. For centuries, a fine minaret stood in the southwest corner of the mosque (dismantled in the 1930s), alongside an enclosed courtyard containing palm trees and the graves of prominent Turkish officials, both of which were destroyed by the German bombing in 1941. The building has not functioned as a mosque since 1923 and this site has, at various times, been used as a cafe, museum, a tourist information office and more recently, as an exhibition space.

Seven Venetian-built arsenali or dry-docks line the main eastern basin of the harbour, of which there were originally seventeen. These long, contiguous vaulted arsenali, fifty meters in length and ten meters in height, were constructed between 1461 and 1599 for the purposes of shipbuilding and ship repairs for the Eastern Mediterranean Venetian fleet during the winter months. The buildings were open-ended with the sea reaching the entrances so that the ship could be pulled up from out of the water into the sheds and worked on under cover. The main entrance to the complex of arsenali was located at the end of Daskaloyianni Street where the west half of the imposing doorway still survives. Another two arsenali known as the Moro docks were constructed in 1607 at the north-east end of the harbor next to the Sabbionara bastion. Most fell into a state of disrepair during the Ottoman Turkish period and others destroyed by the German bombing in 1941.

The Faros lighthouse is the oldest existing lighthouse in Greece and was constructed by the Venetian Navy to protect Chania's harbour and dry-docks at the turn of the sixteenth century. All that remains of the original Venetian construction is its base that contains a recess where the emblem of Venice, the Lion of St. Mark, was once placed. It is no co-incidence that the lighthouse bares a close resemblance to the minaret of a mosque. In the early nineteenth century, the lighthouse collapsed in a storm following years of neglect by the Turks. The structure was later re-designed and rebuilt between 1824 and 1832 by Egyptian soldiers stationed around the island during a brief period (1821-1841) when Crete was ceded by the Ottoman Turks to Mehmet Ali, the ruler of Egypt. What we see today is a now restored lighthouse, approximately twenty meters in height that, until recently, was leaning badly as a result of the aerial bombardment of 1941 and by numerous earthquakes that are common in this part of the world.

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