My name is Deziree, and I am here to tell you the story of this historic home in Chania. But before I start with my story, allow me to introduce you to my city.
You find yourself in the heart of the Old Town of Chania, in the traditional Splantzia district. It is a quiet and picturesque neighborhood just a hundred meters from the Venetian Harbor of Chania, with its impressive lighthouse. Your stay here will pleasantly surprise you in many ways. Walking around the streets, you will be impressed by the colorful buildings, you will admire the coexistence of Christian churches and majestic Ottoman minarets, you will be enchanted by the smells of flowers in the yards of the houses, you will stop for a while to enjoy the music from the “hidden” little taverns, you will find your way through the Saturday outdoor market, where the locals call out their goods to sell, you will savor the unique Cretan tastes, but above all, you will be won over by the warmth of the people of Chania.
Talk to them! You will definitely meet someone willing to tell you stories of old, those that tell of wars, conquests, and uprootings, but also of great love. One of them is my story.
I was not always called Deziree. I was born in Chania at the beginning of the last century. My name was Shefket. I come from a Cretan Turkish family. My ancestors the Ottomans captured Chania in 1645 AD and settled in the eastern districts of the city, in Kastelli and Splantzia. My family bought this house in October of 1919. The ground floor of the residence was built by the Venetians during the Venetian occupation of Crete (1204-1645 AD) and was part of a larger building. The first and second floors were added later on by the Ottomans. I remember the morning light bathing our windows, which overlooked the small square, “Meintanaki”, we called it, and I remember the endless hours that we passed looking from the second floor to the sea, sometimes stormy and sometimes serene. A few months after we settled here, I met Dimitris, the son of a wealthy fabric merchant who lived in the western quarter of the city, in Topanas. It was love at first sight. It was a love, however, forbidden by the mores of our time. Nevertheless, we did dream with Dimitris that we would overcome our difficulties and live together forever.
But fate had other plans for us. On January 30, 1923, the “Convention Concerning the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations” was signed in Lausanne, Switzerland. It concerned the Greek Orthodox Christian citizens of Turkey, and the Muslim citizens of Greece, about 2 million people, most of whom became refugees, losing the citizenship of the country that they left behind as well as all their real estate. Among them was my family. We were forced to leave Chania in August of the same year. We were allowed to take with us only our personal items. Dimitris was only able to say goodbye to me from afar. Our home was now owned by the Greek State. In August 1940, it was sold to a Greek merchant and later, during the Second World War, it suffered serious damage from bombing.
As all the Cretan Turks were obliged by the Turkish state to change their Cretan surnames, Dimitris and I could never be reunited, even when they opened the borders, many decades later. From what I learned, despite all the that was said about the many immigrants dying from epidemics during the journey with the inhuman conditions of waiting for the boarding of the ships, Dimitris never ceased to hope that I was alive and that one day I would return to him and our beloved Chania. He never married. He died at an old age shortly before the advent of the 21st century. Unfortunately, he never got to see the house, which we had so many dreams about reviving to its original form. I will be delighted to share my memories with you through the warm and welcoming atmosphere of my home, which was redecorated with much love and care by its present owner and host, Maria, now offering you the discreet luxury and the comforts of a modern home.
Finally, almost a century later, after that tragic August of 1923, I have come back home… to the small square that gives birth to the most beautiful of feelings. In this city, those who live in it even for a short while, carry its spirit forever in their heart.
Come and let’s explore Chania together.