Best Neighborhoods of Chania: Tabakaria


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Back with this series to portray the city of Chania on the blog, today I show you an area off the beaten path. Last time it was the turn of Splantzia, a colorful, laid-back district where the most authentic traditions of the city are still alive. This is the story of a different neighborhood. My story extends a bit further away from the walls of the old city of Chania, it crosses Koum Kapí (Κουμ Καπί), borders Halepa (Χαλεπα), and then reaches the solitary district of Tabakaria (Ταμπακαριά)

If you are visiting Chania, in Crete, and you love photography, then you should read this post about Tabakaria, one of the most suggestive areas of the city.

CHANIA, CRETE: The abandoned tanneries

Getting to know Tabakaria

In Tabakaria the atmosphere is opposite to the vivid streets downtown. There are no Venetian buildings, no Cretan Renaissance, no fancy boutiques. This is a forgotten snapshot of Greece, worth knowing because of the history, the landscape, and its unicity.

The back of the abandoned factories leads to the sea. Chania, Tabakaria
The back of the abandoned factories leads to the sea. Chania, Tabakaria

I was introduced to Tabakaria many months after living in the area. I had a vague idea about the nearby neighborhood of Halepa, known for its historic past, but that gave me no clue of the fact that so, so close, there was a mysterious place to discover.

Snapshots of Tabakaria, Chania Crete
Snapshots of Tabakaria

Maybe it was luck, maybe my curiosity. Or maybe, my pathologic addiction to Instagram. Fact is that one evening I found myself chatting about photographic equipment online with another Chania lover. And I couldn’t believe it, but we were neighbors… and he knew the best places to shoot in town, and so he mentioned Tabakaria. And I started to investigate.

Tabakaria Chania Crete
Man vs. Nature.

Tabakaria: The history behind this Chania neighborhood

Tabakaria is an old ghost-like neighborhood, extending from the end of Koum Kapí towards the East. It carries much of the stigma that Koum Kapí gained through the years. Koum Kapí used to be the more disreputable area of Chania, home to the lowest classes, rough and noisy at all times. Yet, in the last 30 years,  it became the place where locals love to hang out. Luck had other plans for Tabakaria.

Abandoned tanneries in Chania (Tabakaria)
When the red of the sunset designs the shape of an abandoned machine on the walls.

Tabakaria (the tanneries) was a district dedicated to the process of leather. It was a convenient place: rather close to town, but far enough to prevent the smells of the industry to reach Chania. Another advantage of the place was that it was easy to access the underground briny water and a shallow rocky coast, all key to the first stages of tanning.

Colors of Tabakaria. Chania Crete
Colors of Tabakaria.

Development began during the short Egyptian occupation (1830-1840),  and it was at its best during the interwar. The German occupation made activities to cease, while the end of the Second World War brought modern changes and new equipment. This resulted in the gradual vanishing of the tanneries. In fact, by the end of the 60s, only a few of them were still open.

Tabakaria today

Skeletons of old factories populate the solitary seaside. Empty buildings, old machines, broken windows are silent reminders of the industrial past of Chania. Two-floor factories, with a direct exit to the sea, stand one next to the other. Here and there, narrow steps, sometimes very steep, go down towards the coast.

Tanneries Chania
A window to the sky.

Some of the old tanneries are now lofts. Architects were able to keep the unique spirit without defacing the complex. Few of them are still functioning as tanneries, but there aren’t really many, I only counted three.

Photoshooting in Tabakaria

By the end of summer, Theo suggested we should meet and shoot. The meeting place was our conversation topic: And so it was arranged. After having discussed light, lenses, and models, we started shooting, hoping for the sun to go down a bit more.

As we walked around, all I had started reading about Tabakaria was within reach. I sensed the real history of the place. The past was no longer distant. I wanted to have it all captured by my camera. I even remember saying I want the sound of the waves in the pictures, that’s the only way to show how the place really feels like.

Taking photos in CHania tanneries
Backstage 🙂

There was an anguishing atmosphere of abandonment, soothed by the strength of the sea breaking into the rocks. The soft light filtered through huge cotton-shaped clouds. It entered with power through the broken glasses of the windows. The acrid smell of old leather, sea-salt, and mildew were heavy. And there was silence.

We entered old buildings, climbed ladders, walked roofs. The perfect shot is always around the corner. Or it’s never there at all, maybe that’s why we keep shooting. Because the lack of utter perfection is the best incentive to keep moving. Always.

Tambakaria Crete
Getting the right mood for this shot took a while, but I love the results.

The perfect shot is always around the corner. Or it’s never there at all. Maybe that’s why we keep shooting. Because lack of utter perfection is the best incentive to keep moving. Always.

Colors on top of the city.

I thank Theo @The_Final_Cut_87 for showing me the area and shooting together in Tabakaria. Besides the impeccable photographic techniques, Theo manages to convince the drama of the scenario as a perfect film director would do. His images speak a unique language and tell more stories than a quick look could suggest. Here a few of his shots.

Why Tabakaria is one of my favorite corners in Chania

Tabakaria is the place I learned to choose when stress piles up in my mind. I turn off the phone, grab my camera and walk through the rocks by the sea. I choose the sunset because there’s no Tabakaria without the colors of dusk, and vice-versa.

Sunsets from Tabakaria.
Sunsets from Tabakaria.

I get lost for an hour or two.  I shoot, forget, and feel a somewhat lost connection with the sea, with myself. A look at the distant Chania puts everything back into perspective. Just a few clicks and I start to feel better. Then, before going home, I have a coffee in a kafenio nearby. But that’s already Halepa, and Halepa is a whole different story.

Thalassino Ageri restaurant it Tabakaria.
Thalassino Ageri restaurant it Tabakaria (Photo Thodoris Pant).

Do you like to take photos when you explore a new place?
Let me know in the comments below!

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