Maleme is to the West of Chania. It is part of the Platanias municipality in the prefecture of Chania. It is a relatively small village resort by the sea. It is quiet and peaceful being 3 kilometres from the relatively crowded beaches of Gerani, Agia Marina and Platanias.
There is a magnificent church befitting a village of this size. The church of Agios Antonios is effectively at the centre of the village. Maleme is a quiet place built on the side of a fertile hill between the villages of Tavronitis and Gerani. The village is surrounded by Olive trees, Orange groves and vineyards. There are about 800 permanent residents in Maleme.
Maleme has history – both very recent and significantly older. It has believed to have been founded many centuries ago – long before its first mention in the 16th century census. The area is relatively flat and is of course coastal – because of this, it has been very popular with many invading armies in previous years.
The Turks landed here in 1645 and stayed in the area before conquering and ruling for some 250 years. A fierce battle took place between the Cretan revolutionaries and the Turks in 1867.In 1897 the Greek army landed here to start the war that would ultimately lead to the liberation of Crete.
More recently Maleme also featured prominently in the Cretan history associated with World War 2. At that time (1941) Maleme was the site of the old Chania airport and a tremendous battle took place in May as the airport was taken by the Germans. Many parachutists were deployed and the Germans in particular suffered huge losses as the parachutists jumped in to heavy infantry fire from the British.
This was the start of the ‘Battle of Crete’ that would ultimately lead to the death of thousands of young German, British, New Zealand and Australian lives.
There is a German War cemetery at Maleme in the area of Kafkalos. Some 4,500 Germans are buried there in a beautifully kept place with line after line of flat headstones. It is similar to the British and Commonwealth War cemetery at Souda. An incredibly moving place to be and its impossible not to reflect on the stupidity of war as you walk through and see the headstones of dead soldiers with an average age of 17 – 20.
Most people who visit Crete are aware of a book called ‘The Cretan Runner’ written by Giorgos Psychoundakis. Giorgios was originally a shepherd but became a member of the resistance after the German invasion. His heroic and selfless exploits along with those of the resistance fighters, the British soldiers trapped on Crete and the general population are described in the book. It is regarded as a classic book of its type.
Surprising until his death in his late eighties, Giorgos Psychoundakis was the ‘caretaker’ of this extremely well kept and maintained cemetery!
In reality, if you look closely or talk to the villagers, there are reminders of WW2 all over Crete. However, the Cretan people are not – as far as I can see / have ever observed, Anti German in any way. Anti American – possibly, some of them.
Having dwelt on the not exactly uplifting history of Maleme, it is worth saying again that it’s a lovely quiet and peaceful village on the coast with a great beach and many tavernas and shops! A really nice place to holiday and to live.