THE TOWN OF KISSAMOS
The northern western edge of Crete, located between the capes of Gramvousa and Spathas, forms a natural bay. The present-day town of Kissamos is built on its inlet at 38 km west of Chania. It is the second largest town in the prefecture and the administrative centre of the Municipality of Kissamos that comprises the regional communities of Kissamos, Inachorio and Mythimni, following the passing of the Kallikratis bill. This is a modern, autonomous, hospitable and fully organised seaside town with an economy that depends on farm produce, olive oil and wine as well as tourism and commerce.
With a history spanning centuries, Kissamos – which, even in ancient times, served as port for Polyrrhenia and was located at modern day Mavros Molos beach – was an autonomous and independent maritime and trading centre in western Crete, with its own currency, that peaked during the Roman era; a multitude of surviving streets, baths, aqueducts, villas, theatres, temples and slick marble statues is proof of this. References to its name can be found in Plinius and Ptolemeus, who call it ‘Cisamon’ and ‘Kissamos polis’ respectively. It too was levelled, just as nearly the whole of Western Crete, by the disastrous earthquake of 365 B.C.. Nevertheless, in the Byzantine era, it underwent partial restoration, became an Episcopal seat and many proto-Christian churches were built, some of which survive to this day. With the Fall of Constantinople in 1204 A.C. by the Crusaders, Crete was put under Venetian rule, who considered it an ideal location to build their mansions. At that time, Genoan pirate Enrico Pescatore took over the control of the area and built the fort, exactly at the spot where ancient Kissamos lay. When the Veneti, ca. 1211 A.C., reclaimed Kissamos and sent Genoans away, they remodelled it as a defensive military fort for the area by building asymmetrical pentagon-shaped walls, as well as the necessary space for soldiers, prisons, a well and a chapel, collectively called ‘Castel Chissamo’. To embolden the fort’s defense they demolished every house that was attached to or too close to the walls – to later rebuilt them, a move that then dubbed the town ‘Kastelli’ (=castle) until 1966 when it was finally called ‘Kissamos’. It played a major part in significant events of local history, swapping hands between Turks and Greeks during Turkish occupancy and was destroyed by World War II bombings. Ever since, just a few parts of the walls have survived.
PRESENT DAY CHARACTER – SIGHTS
The town remained picturesque and unadulterated by touristic development. This is the reason why visitors are able to spend their holiday while mingling with the population, as long as they want to, and directly experience local customs and traditions through heaps of events taking place during the tourist season. Also, alternative forms of tourism are developed, such as agrotourism or hiking tourism that attract nature lovers or naturalists from all over the world.
The town’s structure and organisation serve both inhabitants and visitors on all levels as it features a Health Centre, banks, police force, supermarkets, a Citizen Service Centre, schools with all grades, retail stores and hotels. Moreover, the town hosts the seat of ‘Kissamou and Selinou’ Archbishop.
Passenger ship services operate from the port of Kissamos to Piraeus and Kythira weekly, while there are daily boat trips to Balos lagoon and the islet of Gramvousa.
The historic Skalidis street is of utmost significance to the town. Once a trade centre, today it is brimmed with retail stores, cafés, restaurants and full of life, especially in the summertime when it’s open only for pedestrians. The arches of its listed historic buildings along the street are a trademark of the town, as well as the coffee shops ready to take the visitor on a trip down memory lane.
The nearby spring of Maris, flowing continuously for hundreds of years, was built in the 19th century combining older with neoclassical traits and underwent excavation and repair in 1983. Visitors relish the tranquillity of the place, despite its central location; the sound of the flowing waters brings out a sense of relaxation and wellness. At its east lies ‘Maris mansion’, which along with ‘Xagoraris mansion’ are the town’s two most renowned structures that, over time, hosted such eminent guests as Prince George or Eleftherios Venizelos. This traditional side of Kissamos is rounded up by the so-called Limni, a scenic fishing port town with many tavernas, at 1.5 km from the town centre.
Lastly, Telonio beach lies where the old customs office used to be. Stretching from the municipality stadium up to 1 km to the east, it brims with life all day long. Daytime is all about enjoying a dip, a cup of coffee or a bite to eat, set against the bay’s idyllic view, while night-time is perfect for drinks and partying; Telonio is a youth favourite with its bars and clubs, granting that good-life summertime vibe.
Kissamos might be the centre of the municipality, very close by there might be 3 destinations famous the world over (Elafonisos, the Balos Lagoon and Falassarna), yet it remains completely untouched and authentic. The mass tourism that floods Crete every summer is yet to conquer the town of Kissamos which though it has everything (Health Centre, banks, shops, hotels, offices etc), it still keeps the principals of family and Cretan hospitality intact. In the town and villages of Kissamos you will not find touristy meals or inhospitable people. You will find family businesses, people who respect and love the visitor, the newcomer, just a little bit more.
The renowned Government House at Tzanakakis Square, inside the castle of Kastelli, is one of the prominent and most characteristic Venetian Era constructions in the town of Kissamos. Located in the old town part, once the Venetian centre, later taken over by Turkish occupants, who expanded the castle walls to include the Government House. Over the years and up until 2006, there have been numerous changes to the inside and outside; it houses the Kissamos Archaeological Museum ever since. The Literary Club of Kastelli began collecting archaeological finds from the wider area in 1936 and, in the following year, displayed those available across two halls on the ground floor, while the rest of the building housed public services such as…
The parish existed since pre-Christian times, possibly under a different name. It retains its present-day name and form since 1865. The holy church of the Transformation of Christ and Agios Spiridon lies on the North side of the town of Kissamos. It was built in 1865 out of lime, stone and a special red earth from Santorini, strong enough to preserve the integrity of the structure for many years, funded by people of the parish and with their meticulous volunteer work, supervised by architect Ioannis Kaloroumos, from Akrotiri. In 1911, the church expanded on its west side by building a women section as well as a stone-built bell tower of five bells (the largest of which weighing 1 tonne), which…
It is not known when the Maris Fountain was constructed but it has never ceased running. It is situated in the centre of the town of Kissamos, next to the historic centre and the traditional Skalidis Street. To the east is the Mari manor, the first double-storey building of traditional architecture in Kissamos. The Mari manor is one of the two houses (the second one is the Ksagorari Villa) that hosted all ‘official’ visitors to the town. Typical examples are Prince George and Eleftherios Venizelos.
The once upon a time commercial center of Kissamos, the old market area that enfolded all the buzz of the town with historic shops and personalities. Every inch of Skalidis Street has a different story to tell.
For many years now Telonio Beach is Kissamos’ meeting point. Along the length of the cobblestone road you can find cafes, traditional and other restaurants, bars and clubs. It starts east and extends almost to the municipal sports ground of Kissamos, about 1Km further east. It is essentially the westernmost part of a huge beach that starts from Kissamos and goes as far as Nopighia, many kilometres to the east.