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Reshaping Urban and Rural Landscapes

by Aikaterini Karadima

Abstract:  The mass migration, following the Balkan Wars and the Asia Minor Catastrophe, significantly impacted Greece, Turkey, and the broader Balkan Peninsula. Chania, in Crete, bears witness to this history, particularly the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne which enforced a population exchange between Greece and Turkey. Chania became a key destination for refugees, reshaping its urban and rural landscape. The paper aims to illuminate the intricate process of the 1923 forced displacement and its spatial implications. By examining the spatial and socio-political transformations in the region, it introduces new historiographical findings and offers a fresh perspective on the spatial impact of the Treaty of Lausanne on Chania.


Employing a multidisciplinary approach, the research integrates architectural, political, economic, and social data to analyze historical contexts and spatial shifts. It seeks to fill gaps in existing literature by emphasizing overlooked architectural and urban planning aspects. Ultimately, the paper contributes to a deeper understanding of the complex interplay between migration, urban development, and cultural heritage in Chania and beyond.

Ιmage 1.jpg

[Image 1] Map of Chania city:

01 Topanas district

02 Kastelli district

03 Splantzia district

04 Nea Katastimata square

05 EAP refugee settlement

06 Bolari refugee settlement

07 Koum-Kapi area

08 Nea Chora area


Image by the author (2023).


Crete’s historical narrative is defined by the rule of various conquerors, including Romans, Arabs, Venetians, and finally, Ottomans, who took control in 1669. During the Ottoman rule, Crete showcased a multi-ethnic and multicultural structure, with a diverse population consisting of Orthodox Greeks, Muslims, Catholics, Jews, and a few Armenians. This period preserved a plethora of vibrant cultural and ethnological elements, which gradually diminished over the passing decades.


The majority of Muslims in Crete trace their origins to the local population’s conversion to Islam, in order to maintain their privileges as Cretan Muslims [1]. In the early 19th century, the island’s population was approximately 280,000, almost evenly distributed between the two communities.


With the Ottoman conquest of Chania, various urban transformations occurred. The city was limited to the Venetian fortifications and was divided into districts according to the ethnic groups that inhabited them. Christians predominantly resided in the Topanas district in the western part of the old city. Meanwhile, Ottomans lived mainly in the eastern district of the city, including areas like Kastelli and Splantzia, which served as their religious and administrative centers. The main mosque in the city was the Hugar Mosque, previously converted from a church dedicated to St. Nicholas [2]. The coexistence of Christians and Muslims within their distinct districts marked this transformative period, where religious and architectural changes signaled a broader shift in the socio-cultural fabric of Chania. Architectural changes were primarily focused on adapting existing structures to new uses and accommodating the different way of life under Ottoman rule. The new ruling class maintained the feudal way of life inherited from their predecessors. In the fertile rural landscape of Chania, new building complexes with agricultural land, known as “metochia”, were constructed or repaired [3]. 


The Ottoman occupation of Crete was characterized by ongoing violence between Christians and Muslims. However, in the late 19th century, the social fabric of Crete began to unravel, reaching a critical point during the Cretan Revolt of 1878. Following the revolt, a significant number of Muslims left the island, seeking refuge in other Mediterranean islands or the coastal cities of the Ottoman Empire. The 1900 census revealed a substantial decline in the Muslim minority population, dropping to 33,496, further impacted by migration during the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913. The Treaty of Lausanne and compulsory population exchange then compelled 23,821 Muslims to leave Crete [4]. 


During this era, Crete underwent a profound and irreversible ethnic shift, with cities like Chania being reshaped to eliminate the Muslim presence. Both public authorities and the local population took steps to demolish Ottoman structures, including minarets that once defined the urban skyline. Whether driven by a desire to erase Ottoman influence or as part of state initiatives to open up roads and squares, this action symbolized the end of an era and reinforced the island’s new homogeneous identity.

The 1923 Compulsory Population Exchange 


The 1923 population exchange resulted from the Treaty of Lausanne, signed on 30 January 1923.  At least 1.6 million people were forced to leave their properties and relocate [5]. Properties in both lands were considered exchangeable, and they were allocated for the spatial rehabilitation of refugees [6]. The resettlement of refugees emerged as one of Greece’s most crucial political and social concerns, resulting in significant spatial transformations. This marked the starting point of the rapid urbanisation and uncontrolled urban expansion that has since shaped Greece’s urban and social structure.


In September 1923, the Refugee Rehabilitation Committee (EAP) was established to address the rehabilitation of refugees by providing them with employment and permanent housing. When deciding where to relocate the refugees, the EAP primarily considered the distinction between urban and rural refugees. This was done to ensure that refugees were given similar employment opportunities to what they had in their homeland, with the aim of facilitating their integration and adaptation to their new environment [7]. 



Crete emerged as one of the most significant destinations for refugees to relocate. The planning for refugee resettlement required available land and housing, while taking into account the exchangeable property of the Muslim population. However, the presence of a population exceeding 20% of the pre-existing inhabitants in Crete led to significant socio-political implications. The resettlement process led to tensions between the existing local population and the newcomers, stemming from competition for land ownership, housing, and employment. These challenges prompted the Greek government to implement policies to alleviate potential social unrest and ensure the integration of refugees into the local community, by promoting measures for the accommodation and economic autonomy of refugees. 

Between 1924 and 1930, a policy aimed at establishing refugee settlements in Crete’s cities was implemented. The state granted concessions for exchangeable or expropriated properties to facilitate this initiative. These settlements, situated typically at a distance from city limits, began with a central nucleus and expanded over time [8].Despite this approach, the scarcity of available housing options posed a challenge. Faced with these difficulties, refugees took matters into their own hands, resulting in the creation of informal settlements on the outskirts of organized refugee settlements or in any available spaces, leading to the phenomenon of arbitrary construction.

The settlement experience of refugees in Crete during this period did not follow a predetermined process dictated by a centralized authority. Instead, a diverse array of informal settlements rapidly emerged, challenging any notion of homogeneity. These settlements serve as tangible expressions of refugees’ collective assertion of space, forged through mutual support. The shared struggle and collaborative efforts among refugee communities played a significant role in shaping the development and evolution of the cities in Crete.



The arrival and resettlement of refugees in Chania, resulting in a 24% population increase, marked a transformative period in the city’s history [9].  This was particularly evident with the departure of Muslims, leading to an unprecedented homogeneity in what was once a multicultural and multiethnic city. This demographic shift had profound implications for the architectural, spatial, and social dimensions of Chania, which was once characterized by its diversity.


The initial resettlement efforts involved temporary accommodation in various public and private vacant buildings, including schools, old prisons, mosques and churches. Urban “refugees“ were settled within the city of Chania, either in areas previously inhabited by Muslims or in refugee settlements, while “rural refugees“ were settled in the outskirts where Muslims owned their own metochia.  


The substantial influx of a large number of refugees triggered a housing emergency, exacerbating pre-existing crises. The overwhelming demand for accommodation has forced multiple families to share a single building, highlighting the severity of the situation. Many refugees found themselves allocated only a single room as their living space, emphasizing the urgent need to address the accommodation requirements of the refugee population.

Urban landscape transformations of Chania


The urban landscape of Chania underwent significant transformations in response to the challenges posed by integrating and rehabilitating refugees into the local society and the rapid population increase.


The need for city reconstruction and utilizing refugees as a workforce led to an expansion towards the south and west, encompassing Muslim properties and barren areas during the urban expansion phase [10]. This expansion, covering an area of 5,520 square meters, began during the demographic transformation.


Prior to the departure of the Muslims and the population exchange, this area was part of the Muslim cemetery. The square of “Nea Katastimata“ (New Stores) was created in parallel with the pioneer cooperative of shopkeepers and the first refugee settlement, pushing the commercial center beyond the boundaries of the old city and the Venetian fortifications, reflecting the dynamic changes in the city’s urban landscape.


In 1928, the first refugee settlement was established in Chania, located outside the city plan on an exchangeable property, encompassing a vast area of 35,826 square meters. It consisted of 40 two-dwelling buildings for 80 families. Each house had a surface area of 35 square meters, was built at a distance from the road, and included one bedroom, a kitchen, an external WC and a yard of 250 square meters. Unfortunately, due to the economic difficulties of the Greek State that prevailed at that time, it was impossible to provide adequate infrastructure to the refugees. As a result, the refugee houses were poorly constructed and overcrowded. 

This initial development was followed by the improved construction of the Bolari urban refugee settlement which consisted of 12 two-dwelling buildings. Each house with a surface area of 47.5 square meters featured one bedroom, a kitchen, an internal WC, and a basement. These structures were built directly adjacent to the road on a plot of approximately 200 square meters [11].


Amidst official initiatives and in response to inadequate available housing options, refugees in Chania resorted to self-housing. They constructed simple dwellings through their own initiative, using basic and inexpensive materials such as stones and mud. Although initially intended as temporary solutions, these structures endured for years, especially in areas outside the city walls like Koum-Kapi and Nea Chora. Their significance extended beyond mere shelter provision.


The self-driven response to limited resources underscored the resilience of the refugee population and contributed to a notable disruption in the city’s predetermined evolution. Refugees emerged as active subjects of the city; their presence and actions directly influenced the existing urban fabric, shaping the transformation of Chania during this significant period of its history.


Rural landscape transformations of Chania 


The urban center faced significant challenges, particularly in terms of housing and the professional resettlement of Asia Minor refugees. Unlike the countryside, where exchangeable Muslim houses were available for refugees, cities lacked sufficient vacant dwellings. Conversely, in rural areas, even a small piece of land was deemed adequate for provisional resettlement of a refugee family. After the end of Ottoman rule in Crete and the population exchange, refugees were allocated the properties of metochia in the countryside of Chania for resettlement, excluding those owned by Muslims of various European nationalities.


The size of the allocated land varied based on factors like refugee family size, soil quality, cultivation type, and irrigation availability. Typically, land allocation didn’t form a contiguous area but consisted of parcels scattered in different locations. Building complexes and land were fragmented and distributed among the refugees, with numerous families assigned small plots for cultivation and residence in each metochi [12]. 


In the struggle for survival, new inhabitants turned to more profitable crops, such as vegetables and tobacco, given the limited space. Many also sought employment in urban areas, capitalizing on the short distance between metochia and the city of Chania, engaging in various roles like workers, craftsmen, or itinerant vendors. Eventually, these exchangeable metochia evolved into sizable settlements, transforming the rural landscape into a semi-urban one [13]. 


The current image of the rural landscape of Chania appears quite different from that of previous centuries. Its area is shrinking as its agricultural holdings systematically decrease and its habitation increases. This shift in land use and settlement patterns has reshaped the once predominantly rural landscape.



In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the city of Chania in Crete experienced profound transformations driven by the forced population displacement following the Treaty of Lausanne, coupled with the subsequent influx of refugees. These significant occurrences left an enduring imprint on both urban and rural landscapes, shaping the spatial evolution of Chania in profound ways. The requisition of exchangeable properties for refugee housing played a fundamental role in this transformative process, emphasizing the incomplete understanding of Greek urban space evolution without a thorough exploration of this process.


Government-led resettlement initiatives, combined with the resourcefulness of refugees, contributed significantly to defining the evolving urban fabric of Chania. In urban areas, the arrival of refugees triggered housing emergencies, leading to a restructuring of city planning dynamics. Concurrently, in rural settings, exchangeable metochia underwent a metamorphosis into semi-urban settlements, challenging conventional distinctions between rural and urban spaces.


The repercussions of these events, extending beyond mere demographic shifts, made an indelible impact on both Chania’s spatial and social structure. The concerted efforts towards Hellenization were evident not only in alterations to the physical landscape but also in the deliberate eradication of Ottoman elements. This intentional shift resulted in the loss of the city’s once vibrant multiethnic and multireligious character. The memory of Chania’s diverse past has been altered by demographic and spatial changes, as well as shifts in the use of buildings brought about by the population exchange. Refugees emerged as central figures in reshaping Chania’s cultural identity, contributing significantly to the creation of a nuanced and homogenous character that defines the city to this day.


In conclusion, Chania’s history is intricately linked to the contributions of refugees and the resulting spatial transformations, illustrating the dynamic interplay between government initiatives and the agency of refugees. This perspective provides fresh insights into the spatial impacts of the Treaty of Lausanne, highlighting the metamorphosis of Chania’s intricate history and the enduring legacy of its diverse cultural influences on architecture and urban space.

[1] Cretan Muslims are individuals of Muslim faith who trace their origins to the island of Crete, Greece. The majority of Cretan Muslims were originally Christian Cretans who converted to Islam during various periods, notably during the Cretan War (1645-1669) and its aftermath. This conversion was often driven by factors such as the upheaval caused by the war, integration opportunities into the Ottoman Janissary corps, and the desire to avoid capital taxes. The presence of Cretan Muslims persisted from the Ottoman conquest of Crete in 1669 until the compulsory population exchange between Greece and Turkey in 1923. After the exchange, the Muslim population, including Cretan Muslims, left Greece for Turkey, marking the end of a distinct Muslim community on the island. Andriotis (2004), p.63.


[2] Andrianakis (1997), p.45.

[3] Metochia were independent building complexes with agricultural land in the rural landscape of Chania. The term referred to the entire estate and not just the specific building. It was a common rule for each rural complex, known as „Metochi,“ to be exclusively involved in a specific type of cultivation for which it possessed the corresponding infrastructure: presses for oils, mills for grains, and presses for wine. 

Gasparis (1997), p.50.


[4] Andriotis (2008), p.65.

5] Andriotis (2008), p.65.


[6] Kossivas (1928), p.392.

Image 2.jpg

[Image 2] Sakir Bei Metochi in Chania, at the beginning of the 20th century.


Image source:  ‘Hania Old Photos’ (accessed 15 July 2023).

[7] Refugee rehabilitation (2023).

Image 3.jpg
Image 4.jpg

[Image 3] The depiction of the old town of Chania from its port during the Ottoman period and the present day illustrates the absence of minarets, highlighting the changes after the population exchange.

Image by the author (2023).

[Image 4] Crete, distribution of Asia Minor refugees in 1928.

Image source: Kolodny (1968).

[8] Kotsaki (1997), pp.63-69.

Image 5.jpg

[Image 5] The city of Chania (01) before the population exchange, (02) in 1939 and (03) today depicting the urban extension to the southwest towards to Nea Chora (New Country). 

Aerial images edited by the author (2023).

[9] Belavilas (2013).

[11] Kladou (2015), pp.35-39.

Image 6.jpg

[Image 6] The first refugee settlement.

Image source: Kladou-Bletsa (2015), p.35.

[10] Aligizaki (2023). 

[12] Moisidis (1986), p.73.

[13] Kallivretaki (2011).

Image 7.jpg

[Image 7] Bolari refugee settlement.

Image source: Kladou-Bletsa 

Image 8.jpg

[Image 8] Refugee houses in Nea Chora still surviving in the current urban fabric of Chania.

All Images


Aligizaki, Stella, ‘The settlement of refugees in Chania and especially in Nea Chora’.προσφυγικός_εποικισμός_σε_μια_περιοχή_των_Χανίων_doc (accessed 19 July 2023).

‘Η εγκατάσταση των προσφύγων στα Χανιά και ειδικά στη Νέα Χώρα’


Andrianakis, Michalis, The old town of Chania (Chania: Pergamos, 1997).

Η παλιά πόλη των Χανίων


Αndriotis, Νikos, ‘Christians (locals- refugees) and Muslims. Population mobility in Crete (late 19th-early 20th century)’, in: Venizelismos and refugees in Crete (Chania: National Research Foundation Eleftherios K. Venizelos, 2008).

‘Χριστιανοί (γηγενείς-πρόσφυγες) και Μουσουλμάνοι. Πληθυσμιακή κινητικότητα στην Κρήτη (τέλη 19ου-αρχές 20ου αιώνα)’


Andriotis, Nikos, ‘Christians and Muslims in Crete, 1821-1924. A century of continuous confrontation within and beyond the battlefield’, Μnimon, vol. 26 (2004).

‘Χριστιανοί και Μουσουλμάνοι στην Κρήτη, 1821-1924. Ένας αιώνας συνεχούς αναμέτρησης εντός και εκτός του πεδίου της μάχης’


Belavilas, Nikos, The housing of refugees (Athens: School of Architecture, National Technical University of Athens, 2013).

Η στέγαση των προσφύγων 


Gasparis,  Charalambos, Land and peasants in medieval Crete, 13th- 14th c. (Athens: The Institute for Byzantine Research, National Hellenic Research Foundation, Athens, 1997).

Η γη και οι αγρότες στη μεσαιωνική Κρήτη, 13ος - 14ος αι.


Kallivretaki, Argiro, ‘ Metochia, Municipality of El. Venizelos’μετόχια-περιοχή-δήμου-ελ-βενιζέλου/ (accessed 12 July 2023).


Kladou-Bletsa, Aimilia, Chania: 100 years since the Union in 2013: the city, events, culture, engineers, projects (Chania : Technical Chamber of Greece. Regional Department of Western Crete, 2015).

Τα Χανιά : 100 χρόνια από την Ένωση στο 2013 : η πόλη, τα γεγονότα, ο πολιτισμός, οι μηχανικοί, τα έργα 


Kolodny, Emile-Y, La Crète: mutations et évolution d’une population insulaire grecque (Lyon: Géocarrefour, 43-3, 1968).


Kossivas, X., Legislation on the management of Muslims land exchangeable properties (Athens: Typos P. Liva & G. Hantzou, 1928).

Νομοθεσία της διευθύνσεως των Μουσουλμάνων και ανταλλαξίμων ακινήτων


Κotsaki, Amalia, CRETE 1913-2013. ARCHITECTURE AND URBAN PLANNING AFTER THE UNION (Chania: Cultural Centre Of Chania, 2014).



Moisidis, Antonis, Rural society in modern Greece, Productive and social structure in Greek agriculture (1950-1980) (Athens: Foundation for Mediterranean Studies, 1986).

Η αγροτική κοινωνία στη σύγχρονη Ελλάδα, Παραγωγική και κοινωνική διάρθρωση στην Ελληνική γεωργία (1950-1980).


Motta, Giuseppe, Less than Nations: Central-Eastern European Minorities after WWI (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013).


‘Refugee rehabilitation’. (accessed 15 July 2023).

‘H αποκατάσταση των προσφύγων’

Image Sources


‘Hania Old Photos’. (accessed 15 July 2023).


Kladou-Bletsa, Aimilia, Chania: 100 years since the Union in 2013: the city, events, culture, engineers, projects (Chania : Technical Chamber of Greece. Regional Department of Western Crete, 2015).


Kolodny, Emile-Y, La Crète: mutations et évolution d’une population insulaire grecque (Lyon: Géocarrefour, 43-3, 1968), p. 268.

Aikaterini Karadima is a practicing architect and Ph.D. candidate at the Technical University of Crete. Integrating academic and professional realms, her research delves into spatial and social transformations, architectural and urban remains management, across diverse historical and socio-political contexts. Engaged in various exhibitions, research projects, and international conferences as a speaker, she has significantly contributed to the discourse on architectural heritage and urban development.


PhD candidate in Architecture, School of Architecture, Technical University of Crete, Greece, 

05/2020-to date

MA in Architecture and Historic Urban Environments, The Bartlett, UCL, UK, 2017

Bachelor’s degree (5-year programme) in Architectural Engineering, School of Architecture, 

Technical University of Crete, Greece, 2015


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