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The Mosque of the Janissaries, a Landmark of Chania, Crete

mosque janissaries chania crete
The Mosque of the Janissaries in Chania, Crete. Credit: Public domain

The Mosque of the Janissaries in Chania, Crete is one of the most recognizable buildings on the entire island, which is the largest in Greece.

Once ruled by the Ottomans for centuries, Crete is home to many reminders of that time period; easy to spot through different types of buildings and construction, Turkish heritage still lives on through the architecture of the island.

Crete was declared an Ottoman province in 1646 when the Turks managed to conquer the western part of the island. However, the Venetians kept their hold on the capital of Candia (currently Heraklion) until 1669.

The offshore island fortresses of Souda, Gramvoussa, and Spinalonga were the only places that remained under Venetian rule until 1715, when they were also captured by the Ottomans. Crete only became an autonomous state in 1898.

The Mosque of the Janissaries in Chania, Crete

In the town of Chania, Byzantine, Venetian, and Ottoman buildings coexist together in the landscape of the city. As far as the Muslim architecture is concerned, one of the most iconic corners of the city is the famous Mosque of the Janissaries.

Located in the old Venetian Harbor, the Mosque was built on the grounds of a former church which had one nave. No longer functioning as a religious building, it remains the oldest structure from the Ottoman period.

Also known as the Kucjk Hassan Mosque, the building in its current form dates back to the year 1645, when the Turks captured Chania; it is the oldest Ottoman building on the island.

It stopped functioning as a mosque in 1923, and, since then, the venue has been used as a café, a restaurant, and a tourist office over the years. In the recent past, the mosque has been renovated, becoming a space dedicated to exhibitions.

The Janissaries were enslaved non-Muslims (since under Ottoman law, people who had been born Muslim could not be enslaved); usually, they were boys who had been taken as political prisoners or were prisoners of war.

Later on, the Sultan would choose Janissaries from the promising boys in his realm. These young soldiers were normally between six and fourteen, taken from their homes and sent to live with Turkish families in order to be converted to Islam and to learn the language and customs of the Turks.

They would constantly be under supervision, but they were not considered to be usual slaves in most ways.

The Janissaries

Subject to very strict discipline, the Janissaries were extremely skilled soldiers feared by every other member of society. They would wear special uniforms and were paid a high salary as well as a pension upon their retirement. As time went by, they eventually managed to create their own social class.

The exterior façade of the Mosque of the Janissaries still presents very visible Arabic inscriptions and maintains its niche in place. However, the back courtyard, once home to a magnificent garden of palm trees, as well as its minaret, were both bombed and destroyed during the Nazi occupation of Chania in the forties.

The mosque of the Janissaries, though one of the best-known Muslim faces of Crete, is not the only example left by the time of Ottoman rule. In the picturesque district called Splantzia, it is also possible to see the remains of the tallest minaret of Chania on the grounds of Saint Nicholas church.

The church shows examples of three major heritages of the island. A Venetian building and an Ottoman minaret are combined with a Greek Orthodox bell tower.

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