The important Minoan settlement of Kydonia was centred on the hill to the east of Hania’s harbour, between Akti Tombazi and Karaoli Dimitriou. Kydonia was destroyed along with the rest of Crete’s Minoan civilisation in 1450 BC, but was rebuilt and later flourished as an ancient Greek city-state during Hellenistic times. It continued to prosper under Roman and Byzantine rule.
Hania, along with the rest of Crete, was claimed by the rising power of Venice following the Fourth Crusade (1204), and the city was renamed La Canea. After briefly losing the city to their Genoese rivals in 1266, the Venetians finally wrested it back in 1290. They constructed massive fortifications to protect the city from pirates, making the city a key strategic hub in their Mediterranean trading empire for three-and-a-half centuries.
In 1645 Hania was captured by the Ottoman Empire, after a two-month siege. The Turks made it the seat of the Turkish Pasha until they were forced out finally in 1898. During the Turkish occupation of Greece, the city’s churches were converted into mosques and the architectural style got some Arabic flourishes like wooden walls, latticed windows and minarets (two survive today).
When Crete became independent of Turkish rule in 1898, Hania was declared the island’s capital by Europe’s Great Powers. It remained so until 1971, when the administration was transferred to Iraklio.
The WWII Battle of Crete largely took place along the coast to the west of Hania. The town itself was heavily bombed during WWII, particularly around Ancient Kydonia, but enough of the old town survives for it to be regarded as Crete’s most beautiful city.