A historical retrospect
The paternal house of Eleftherios Venizelos in Chalepa Chania was the home of his life for more than thirty years, from 1880 until 1910 and occasionally from 1927 to 1935.
In 1876 his father, Kiriakos Venizelos, bought the land, located in the center of Chalepa, the historical suburb of Chania. In Chalepa during the period of the Cretan State were located the houses of the bourgeoisie, the residence of Prince George, High Commissioner of Crete and the embassies of the Great Powers. The two-storey houses (villas)of Chalepa –a typical one is Venizelos’ residence- with their gardens and their special relationship with the urban planning, together with the churches of the area, are still urban coefficients and they fully convey the aura of the time in which they were created.
In the two-storey house, according to the original plan of 1880, with the service rooms and the bedrooms on the ground floor and the reception rooms on the first floor, except the internal wooden staircase, it also leads straight from the garden and a stone one, exterior, with two sides. After the death of Kyriakos Venizelos his son Eleftherios and his family were living here. Here his two sons, Kyriakos and Sophocles, were born and his first wife, Maria died.
When Eleftherios Venizelos was designated Prime Minister and left for Athens, in 1910, the house was rented to relatives, foreign diplomats and Cretan politicians, who they used to host him whenever he was visiting Chania.
The residence in Chalepa took its present form in 1927, when Eleftherios Venizelos returned to Chania and undertook its renovation. The renovation study was assigned to the architect Stavridis, and Venizelos personally supervised the works. The house bears the personal stamp of the great statesman, since all the spaces have preserved to this day their original form, the one they had the time that Venizelos lived in the house. It is therefore his personal “ideal” space.
Furniture of the decade 1925-’35 chosen by Venizelos himself and his second wife Elena, came from their houses in Athens and from abroad. Mobile, decorative items and works of art, original photographs and personal artifacts of particularly significant value decorate the interior of the residence
During the next years, from his death (1936) until the beginning of the Second World War, the sons of Eleftherios Venizelos lived in the residence. In 1941, during the Battle of Crete, the house was bombarded. The Germans restored it and used it as their headquarters and as a residence of the German Governors of the Cretan Fortress. During the occupation the house was seriously damaged and vandalized.
After the liberation, Sophocles Venizelos undertook the first restoration mainly of the building’s exterior, and after his death, Marika Venizelou, the wife of Eleftherios Venizelos’ son, Kiriakos, supervised the repairs of the interior of the residence. Nikitas Venizelos, grandson of Eleftherios, inherited the residence of Chalepa.
In 2002 the Ministry of Finance bought the residence and ceded it to the National Research Foundation “Eleftherios K. Venizelos”, in order to become the Foundation’s headquarters. In May 2012, through the NSRF and the Ministry of Tourism, the Greek National Tourism Organization undertook the task of the static restoration and museological conversion of the house into a modern museum. The Residence – Museum opened to the public in the summer of 2015 and on November 1st, 2015 was inaugurated by the President of the Greek Republic.
A modern museum
The Residence – Museum “Eleftherios K. Venizelos” is classified as an authentic (documentary) home, since it is recounting the life of a personage and it is preserving authentic items, most of them in their original position. The Residence-Museum is not just a building containing collections or the original furniture of a bygone era, but as a result of a collective and integrated museological project, has developed the ability to recall the past, which in turn gives to the monument great social and political significance.
The Museum – Residence of Eleftherios Venizelos consists of 3 floors and has a total of 18 visitable rooms – stations in its route, which all include authentic museum material. The ground floor and part of the first floor is exactly as delivered to the Foundation by the Venizelos Family and much like when he was living in it himself. Subsequently, five rooms are presenting the action of Venizelos divided into the following topics: “The Rebel”, “The Politician,” “The Diplomat”, “The Man,” and “The Myth” completed with visual material and original museum objects from the Collection of the Foundation. Finally, two “stations” present the murder attempts against Venizelos, respectively in 1920 and 1933 with original documents of the era and visual material.
Furthermore, in the attic of the residence the visitor is guided through an interactive – educational exhibition, donated by Stavros Niarchos Foundation, which aims to bring the visitor closer to the world of history fulfilling in this way the museum experience as well as the uptake of information.
The power of a museum is to communicate with its guests. The whole of this effort is clearly aiming not only at gaining the maximum of knowledge one can drain from a place ground on its memories, but mainly on the essential and fecund interaction with the past. This objective becomes even more powerful to the extent that appeals to young people and students who are visiting the Venizelos residence while in contact with the Modern Greek history.
The guests coming face to face with the past have the opportunity to create a strong link between collective and personal memory. A (historic) house is more than a memorial to update the lost past. It is a place where people lived their lives.