The modern city of Chania is built in the place of an important ancient Cretan city, Kydonia or ku-do-ni-ja, according to Linear B inscriptions. According to tradition it was one of the three cities founded on Crete by King Minos (Diodorus V, 78.2).
Homer refers to the Kydons as one of the five Cretan tribes (The Odyssey 3,292 and 19,176). Stravon also refers to the city of Kydonia, which he considers to be the third largest in Crete (10,4,7). The archaeological finds that came to light during the excavations on the seaside hill “Kasteli” and the nearby neighbourhood “Splantzia”, in the Old Town of Chania, represent all the chronological phases of the Minoan Civilisation, from the Proto-Minoan period I (about 3650 – 3000 B.C.) to the Late Minoan period ΙΙΙ C (about 1190 – 1070 B.C.).
The most important early Minoan settlement in the city of Chania is on the coast and its centre is the Kasteli hill. Large houses with well-built rooms, elaborate floors with circular hearths, walls covered in deep red coating, polygonal door – frames and ceramic products of excellent quality show that this was a significant early Minoan centre. Its location is ideal, not only because it is next to the sea but also because it is surrounded by the fertile plain of Chania, having all the preconditions for the development of agriculture, fishery and sea trade.
During the next middle Minoan period I (first half of the 2nd millennium B.C.), the settlement of Chania develops into a dynamic center. The economy remains agricultural but trade and shipping are also developed. The products of the pottery workshop of Chania follow the styles of central Crete (dark figures in a light background, light figures in a dark background, barbotin style, camaraic style), while pottery is also imported from other parts of Crete. Unfortunately, the middle Minoan buildings of the settlement have been destroyed by the extensive construction activity of the years that followed and very few remnants are preserved. Remains of buildings of the early Minoan and the middle Minoan years spotted at various points may indicate that the prehistoric settlement had a “vertebral” arrangement, while the hill in the Old Harbour remained its centre.
Most of the Minoan finds are dated in the late Minoan period (second half of the 2nd millennium B.C.). The prosperity of those years can be seen in the settlement of Kasteli in Chania, which possibly had the characteristics of a palace of that period. The city of Chania had city plan organized in squares, with elaborate constructions and elegant houses with “palatial” architectural features: multiple doors, skylights, very elaborate facades and a sewage system. The settlement was suddenly destroyed by a large fire in 1450 B.C., sealing the most impressive architectural remains in Kastelli.
The city of Chania showed an impressive prosperity during the late Minoan period II (1400-1100 B.C.), despite the decrease in the number of settlements. Chania developed into a very important centre with Mycenaean, Cypriot, Syrophoenician, Italian and Egyptian imports. The intense Mycenaean presence in Crete in those years is obvious in architecture, pottery and miniature art. The local pottery workshop of Kydonia is known as one of the most important of the island. It seems that the area of Chania was the centre of an important overseas trade network in the late Minoan III period, as we can conclude from the study of a special type of vessel, the inscribed false-neck amphora, used for the transportation of liquids.
The Kydonia of historical times was also located in the modern city of Chania, although the remains of the settlement at the hill of Kastelli and in the centre of the modern city have been destroyed by continuous building. The foundation of classical Kydonia is attributed to colonists from Samos, who abandoned the island in 524 B.C, when Polycrates became a tyrant there. After five years the Samians of Kydonia were defeated by the people of Aegina who had rushed to help the local people. The territory of the city extended from cape Spatha in the west, to Melecha in the east and the foot of Lefka Ori and Aptera in the south. In 429 B.C. the city was looted by the neighbours from Polychnia with the cooperation of the Athenians (Thucydides ΙΙ, 85). In 74 B.C. the inhabitants successfully resisted the Roman siege under Markos Antonios. Finally the city was looted by Cointus Caecilius Metellus in 69 B.C., following the resistance of the Generals Lasthenes and Panaris. During the Roman times is was one of the important centres of Crete and it flourished until the late antiquity.
From 1966 to the present day rescue excavations and systematic excavations are conducted by the 25th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities. An important part of the city is being excavated in cooperation with the Swedish Institute of Archaeology. Some of the most important finds of the excavation are exhibited in the Archaeological Museum of Chania.
(Authors: Vanna Niniou – Kindeli, Aggeliki Tsingou, archaeologists)