History of Paleochora

Paleochora from ancient Kalamyde to the present day

Once there was nothing at Paleochora, not even the peninsula on which the town now stands. The peninsula lay beneath the sea and only the Fortezza hill, now the site of the Venetian fort, jutted up like a little island above the waves.

paleochora, satellite image

A major earthquake made west side of Crete rise up and the peninsula of Paleochora emerged from the depths, justifying its title of “Bride of the Libyan Sea”.

Kalamyde, ancient Paleochora

In ancient times there was a city called Kalamyde a short distance north of present-day Paleochora. We know little about the city; it was probably the seaport of ancient Kandanos and flourished in Doric and Roman times, along with the neighbouring cities of Syia (Sougia), Lissos, Poikilassos and Tara (Agia Roumeli).

Paleochora in the time of the Venetians

Paleochora, a strategic site for controlling southwest Crete and the sea routes, attracted the attention of the Venetians, who built “Castel Selino” here in 1278. The fortress was built by the Venetian general Marino Gradenigo, the regional commander. The name of the fort was applied to the whole area, now officially known as Selino; in earlier times it had been known as Orina.

The history of Selino (southwest Crete) is one of constant risings against the Venetians. In 1322 the fortress was destroyed by the rebel leader Vardas Kallergis and his men. The archives show that the persistent Venetians rebuilt it in 1334. However, in 1539, like a lamb to the slaughter, it was destroyed by the famous pirate Barbarossa. The fortress of Selino lay in ruins for 56 years, until Dolf undertook its restoration.

Castel Selino rose proud again in 1595, but the future still had many unpleasant surprises in store.

Ottoman Period

paleochora in 1926

In 1653 Selino was occupied by the Turks, who used it for their own purposes. Later the Ottomans were also forced to leave and the town was abandoned. When the British traveller Robert Pashley visited the area in 1834, he found only ruins.

However, an area with so many advantages could not remain uninhabited for long. In 1886 people started coming back to reclaim their land and settle there again, although they did not rebuild Castel Selino.

Paleochora was bathed in blood once more during the great rising of 1897, when the Turkish army slaughtered every Christian they found in the area.

In 1908 Crete was liberated from the Turks for good and in 1913 it was unified with Greece. Paleochora with its harbour flourished due to the sea trade with Piraeus.

Paleochora during the German Occupation

In 1941 the Nazis occupied Crete and Paleochora became a battleground between the Greek and German armies. In September 1941 the Germans surrounded the whole Selino area, arrested all those suspected of resistance and imprisoned them in the school at Paleochora.

castle selino, paleochora
the castle Selino in Paleochora – photo by beenbrun

Twenty-nine people were executed over the following four days for “crimes” against the German army of occupation.

In 1945 Crete was freed from its last conqueror and the reconstruction of the Greek State began.

Paleochora today

Today Paleochora is enjoying the development of the past 50 years, and the only reminder of its troubled and bloody past is the ruined Castel Selino on the Fortezza hill, at the south end of town.

Easily accessible, the “Castle” invites you to have a closer look. All you need is some imagination to rebuild the fallen walls from whose battlements the Venetians, the rebel Cretans, Barbarossa’s pirates, the Turks and the Germans once looked out over the Libyan Sea.

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