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How the “controversy” of Heraklion-Chania began – What is the history of the capital of Crete


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A…contrary that is lost in the depths of the centuries. How the seat of the island’s capital began “with an apple of strife”.

How did the history of civil strife with westerners and easterners begin? The argument from western Crete that there is a symbolism in the case of the services, in the matter of the seat of the court of appeal was based. He had a point. What was certainly absurd and documented historically is the issue of the seat, the capital of Crete.

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For centuries Heraklion was the administrative, political, economic and cultural capital of Crete. It is no coincidence that Crete has been a single administrative region since the time of the Venetians with the name “Kingdom of Crete” (Regno di Candia) taking its name from the capital of the island, Candia, which of course is Heraklion.

The transfer of headquarters…

Chania became the seat of Crete in 1851, since the then Turkish Pasha wanted a more reliable and safe port. Chania became the capital of Crete by the Turks at the mercy of… Soudas which was and is a really safe port – today as it is for the whole of NATO.

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Until 1830, Crete was under Turkish occupation. Crete was Egialeti with Khandaka as its capital where the local commander (seraskeris) had his headquarters. In 1830, with the London protocol, it was granted to the regent of Egypt, Mehmet Ali. It remained in the hands of the Egyptians until 1841 when, with the Treaty of London, the ‘greats’ returned Crete to the High Gate.

Sultan Abdul Mejit appointed Mustafa Pasha as general commander of Crete, who welcomed him to the island in 1850. This trip was decisive because then the Sultan saw for the first time Souda and its famous gulf. It was a natural bay that piqued the interest of the Sultan who wanted to build a naval station to play the intermediate station between Turkey’s European and African possessions. Or that he had stayed in the once mighty Ottoman Empire. Which collapsed. He saw and had enemies everywhere. Then the decision was made. TO make the naval station in Souda and move the capital to Chania to be next to the base, where the foreign ships have already started to gather.

The “controversy” of Heraklion-Chania and the history of the capital of Crete

The decision was actually taken in high gate in a meeting chaired by the Sultan in the presence of the ministers Mustafa Resit and Fuat Pasha with the aim of being executed before the Crimean War was declared. The edited Masmatas is a historical document published by G. Economidis, director of the Translation Office of Heraklion. In this document, the transfer of the headquarters to Chania is justified, pointing out that “only the lack of a suitable port dictated the dire need to relocate the headquarters”!

In the meantime, Mustafa Pasha was summoned to the City and became… Grand Vizier. A title of honor that essentially demobilized him and closed the door to Crete once and for all, where he stayed for many years – that’s why he was called Mustafa Naili Pasha the Geritlis, meaning Cretan. In his place came Salih Vamim Pasha, who finally executed the decision to move the headquarters from Heraklion to Chania. At that time Chania had 5-6 thousand people. However, even if they took the seat, they could not take the momentum of Heraklion which continued to develop until the time when the seat returned to its natural location in 1970.

The past years…

However, there is no historical doubt that Heraklion has always been the capital of the island. From the time of the Minoans it was the center, until the Roman Empire and Byzantium. The Period of Venetian rule began with the conquest of Constantinople by the Franks in 1204 and the concession of Crete by the Latin emperor to Boniface Montferratico. The latter, in 1210, sold the island to the Venetians, who, after successfully facing the Genoese attacks, managed to settle there permanently in 1212 and designate Heraklion as the capital of the island. The Venetian rule, which lasted approximately four centuries, is divided into two sub-periods. The first reaches up to 1453, when the Turks occupied Constantinople, and the second up to 1669, where after a harsh siege of 21 years, Crete also fell into the hands of the Turks. Throughout the Venetian rule, Crete experienced significant population growth as the Venetians engaged in a major colonization effort to strengthen their presence there. The island, also known as the “Kingdom of Crete”, was divided administratively initially into six sexterias and later into four departments. The power was exercised by the Duke (who had his headquarters in Heraklion), his advisers and the rectors, while the local population had almost no rights and property.

The conflict”

At that time, a Latin archbishop was imposed and a great effort was made to limit the Orthodox Church and confiscate its property. During the Venetian occupation, a series of liberation movements broke out, with the leading ones being those of the Skordilis, Kallergis and Melissines. They managed to win some privileges and rights for the local population, such as the treaty of 1299 (Pax Alexii Callergi), which recognized the right to install an Orthodox bishop, free settlement throughout the island and the liberation of serfs. The movement of the Kallergi brothers also found the support of Venetian landowners who, dissatisfied with the harsh taxation, cooperated in declaring the island an Autonomous Republic under the name of the Republic of Agios Titos.

However, despite any movements for independence during the Venetian rule the feudal system was particularly oppressive to the poor peasants who worked as serfs on the estates of the rich landowners. With the decline of the feudal system, the class of bourgeois merchants emerged as a leader and the Orthodox church began to strengthen again. The main characteristic of the Venetian rule was the great cultural development, which has important examples of painting art of the Cretan School, theatre, literature and poetry – with the first and best being Heraklion where one form dominated, that of Domenikos Theotokopoulos. Finally, the development of architecture was impressive, with the construction of imposing fortresses, fortifications and public works.

The siege…

In 1645 about 60,000 Turks led by Yusuf Pasha landed in Crete and occupied Chania and Rethymno. After a tough siege of 21 years, on September 27, 1669, Handakas, the last bastion of resistance, was surrendered by Francis Morozini to the Turk Ahmet Kioproulis. Thus, almost the whole of Crete fell into the hands of the Turks. The period of the Turkish rule is characterized by great disasters, confiscation of all the properties that came into the hands of the Sultan and cruel persecution of the local Christian element, despite any privileges that Mohammed II had granted to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Most of the churches became mosques and the population was massacred and captured.

The Cretans who did not leave the island, although they lived under miserable conditions of poverty and oppression, resisted with all the means at their disposal. In 1692 they did not hesitate to cooperate with the Venetians, in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to shake off the Turkish yoke, which provoked the enemy and cost the lives of many Christians. A similar attempt was made with the help of the Russians in 1770, but it was also sealed with blood.

However, the Cretans did not give up the fight. In the period 1821-24 the island was liberated for the most part and if the Egyptian Mehmet Ali had not come to the aid of the Sultan the whole island would have been liberated. The conditions that followed after the establishment of the Greek State allowed the Sultan to donate it to Egypt until 1840.

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