Once ruled by the Ottomans for a long period of time, Crete is home to many remnants of the period, easy to spot through different buildings and construction, the Turkish heritage still lives through its architecture in the most important centers of the island.
The island was declared an Ottoman province in 1646 when the Ottomans 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 in their Venetian rule longer, until 1715, when they were also captured by the Ottomans. Crete only became an autonomous state in 1898.
In the town of Chania, Byzantine, Venetian, and Ottoman buildings coexist in the landscape of the city. As far as the Muslim architecture is concerned, one of the most emblematic corners of the city is the famous Mosque of the Janissaries.
Located in the old Venetian Harbor, the Mosque of the Janissaries was built on the grounds of a former church with one nave. It no longer functions as a religious building and it remains the oldest structure from the Ottoman period. Also known as the Kucjk Hassan Mosque, the building dates back to 1645 when the Turks captured Chania and it’s 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 during the years. In the recent past, the mosque has been renovated becoming a space dedicated to exhibitions.
The Janissaries used to be enslaved non-Muslims (Muslims cannot be enslaved), usually those taken as political prisons or prisoners of war.
Later on, the Janissaries would be those promising boys that the sultan would seek around his kingdom. These young soldiers were normally between six and fourteen, taken from their homes and sent to live with Turkish families in order to learn both the language and customs of Islam. They would be constantly under supervision but still, they were not considered as normal slaves.
Subject to very strict discipline, the Janissaries were extremely skilled soldiers feared by every other member of the society. They would wear uniforms and had a high paid salary as well as a pension upon their retirement. As time went by, they eventually managed to create their own social class.
The exterior facade of the mosque of the Janissaries still presents very visible Arabic inscriptions and still keeps its niche in place. While 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 Ottoman rule. The picturesque district Splantzia, it is also possible to see the remains of the tallest minaret of Chania in the yard of the Saint Nicholas church. The church shows examples of three major heritages of the island: A Venetian building, an Ottoman minaret. The Venetian building combined with a Greek Orthodox bell tower.