Beautiful Souda Bay and Ancient Aptera in Apokoronas Crete
Souda is a town in Chania region. It is an important ferry and naval port at the head of Souda Bay.
Souda is 6.5 km to the east of central Chania, although the area in between is mostly built-up. The town is relatively new, built on what used to be salt beds and marshland. The Turks knew the area as ‘Tuzla’, their name for salt-beds. In the 1870s, they began to build a new settlement here which grew as the port expanded. Souda Bay is one of the deepest natural harbours in the Mediterranean and easy to defend.
Port since ancient times and the city of Aptera
There have been port facilities on the bay since ancient times, previously serving the city of Aptera. Aptera was founded in the 7th Century BC and was an important city during the ancient and early Byzantine periods. It was destroyed by the Saracens in AD 823.
Venetian Souda Bay
The Venetians occupied the area in 1207. They fortified Souda Island between 1570 and 1573, in order to protect the area from Ottoman raiders and pirates. However, Souda Bay remained a pirate infested area during the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. The Venetians managed to hold on to the strategic islands within Souda Bay until 1715, over thirty years after the fall of Crete to the Ottomans. In 1822 an Egyptian army of approximately 10,000 under Hassan Pasha landed at Souda to defeat the Cretan Revolution of 1821.
After the Cretan Revolution of 1866–1869 the Ottomans built fortresses at Aptera and Kalami, barracks, a military hospital and a naval base. They also built the town of Souda at the head of the bay, as the new port of the nearby city of Chania. The fortress at Kalami is still in use as prisons. The naval base was officially inaugurated in 1872, in the presence of Sultan Abdul Aziz.
In the period of the semi-independent Cretan State the area attracted international interest, as it offered port facilities to foreign naval vessels enforcing the Cretan autonomy. The first High Commissioner, Prince George of Greece, disembarked at Souda Bay on December 9, 1898. The church of Saint Nicholas was built during this period.
Souda – today a modern port
Now Souda is the arrival point for ferries from Piraeus. There is also a NATO naval base located in Souda and across the bay, with military accommodation and hospital in the town. Much of the command, particularly for US forces, is found across the bay on the Akrotiri. A grain silo overshadows the centre of town.
Perhaps because of its nature as a departure point and military town, it is not popular with tourists and can appear seedy and threatening. However it is well-served with shops of all types and some renowned fish restaurants in the old centre.
The Allied War Cemetery
The Allied War Cemetery, mostly of soldiers from World War II, is found in Souda on the shore. There are 1,527 graves, mostly British with 447 New Zealanders and 197 Australians. Buried in the cemetery is the archaeologist John Pendlebury. Pendlebury was the curator at Knossos for the British School in Athens and had been continuing excavations in Crete until the war. He was executed by the Germans in 1941 whilst working for British Intelligence.
Souda Bay on the northwest coast of Crete is about 15 km long and only two to four km wide, and a deep natural harbour. It is formed between the Akrotiri peninsula and Cape Drapano, and runs west to east. The bay is overlooked on both sides by hills, with a relatively low and narrow isthmus in the west near Chania.
Near the mouth of Souda bay, between the Akrotiri and the town of Kalives, there is a group of small islands with Venetian fortifications. The largest island is Souda Island, giving its name to the bay.
Souda Bay – a popular travel destination
Souda Bay is now a popular tourist destination although there are no real public beaches due to the presence of the naval base. Villages such as Megala Chorafia and Kalives afford fine views of the bay, and house-building, particularly for foreigners and tourist companies, is spreading along the bay.
Kalives and Castello Apicorono
Kalives lies about 20 km east of Chania in the Apokoronas area and is linked with GR-90 (E65). It is on the coast at the entrance of Souda Bay. It essentially consists of one long road, with houses opening directly on to it, with the occasional alley behind. The town is bound on one side by the sea and the other by low hills. On Kastelli Hill, east of the town, are the remains of the fortified settlement Castello Apicorono, identified by some scholars as the site of ancient Ippokoronion, which is thought to have given the Apokoronas region its name. In classical and Byzantine times, Kalives is the likely site of Kissamos, one of the ancient city of Aptera’s two harbours.
Kalives is the base of the municipality of Armeni, covering 12 other villages inland. With a short walk out of Kalives village to the west you find a collection of stone buildings including a taverna and a chapel known as Koumos built by a local man who spent ten years erecting them. Paths are littered with mosaics, walls stuffed with stones in the shape of fish, snakes and other creatures with rough tables and chairs of stone. Before reaching Kalami village, another beach – ‘Kyani Akti’ is hidden behind fields of bamboo.
Apokoronas – What to see?
- Archaeological Museum of Chania, 25 Halidon str.
- Nautical Museum of Crete, Chania, Akti Koundourioti, Venetian Harbour
- Μinoan Ship, Moro dock, Venetian Harbour
- Historical Archives of Crete, Chania, 20 I. Sfakianaki str.
- Folklore Museum, Gavalochori, Apokoronas
- Typography Museum, VIOPA, Souda
- Museum of National Resistance, Therisso
- War Museum, Chania, Tzobanaki Cassern