The Ottoman Turks conquered Crete between 1645 and 1669 for the purpose of controlling the trade routes much like the Venetians before them. Having first captured Hania in 1645, they converted all but one of the Greek Orthodox and Venetian Catholic churches into mosques, baths and bakeries. They more or less maintained the defences, and began a large-scale building scheme where new structures including mosques were built and older Venetian structures renovated and refurbished.

The first century of Ottoman rule witnessed mass evictions of many Orthodox Cretans from the cities, together with emigration and executions. Many Christians converted to Islam to maintain and protect their material privileges and rights; a phenomenon that continued throughout the entire period of Turkish rule. Town life was devastated and the island’s economy shrank to an elementary form of agricultural and pastoral life with grain, legumes and salt the most common exports. The Turks imposed heavy taxes and a host of other hardships on the Cretans. With the exception of the first decades of occupation, very little of this money was reinvested and as a result, the construction of public works eventually halted altogether and roads and defences fell into gradual disrepair. However, the Ottomans reinstated the Greek Orthodox Church on the island so that the state could exercise influence over its Orthodox subjects. By the 18th century, the economy improved slightly with large-scale cultivation and export of olive oil and soap, as well as smaller quantities of almonds, chestnuts, honey, wool, silk and wine.

Later on in the mid-19th century, the Ottomans established an educational system for both Muslims and Christians for the first time. Despite these initiatives, however, two and a half centuries of Turkish rule witnessed numerous Cretan rebellions culminating in an almost constant struggle for independence in the 19th century. When the Greek War of Independence (1821-1832) led to the foundation of an independent Greek state in 1832 with Crete left outside its borders, Crete was briefly ceded to the ruler of Egypt, Mehmet Ali, until 1841 when it was handed back to the Ottoman Turks. This further ignited calls for Crete’s union with Greece which was eventually achieved in 1913 under the leadership of Eleftherios Venizelos.

Photo 1
Source: public domain–69)#/media/File:Crete_-_ethnic_map,_1861

Photo 2
Source: public domain

Map of Crete, 1861 showing distribution of Cretan Muslims (red) and Christians (blue)

Agios Nicholaos Church in Hania, built as a Catholic monastery, converted into main mosque of Hania under Ottoman rule

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