History and Culture of Rethymnon
Rethymnon, on the north coast of Crete, lies on the island's longest sandy beach and is known by visitors as the "hidden jewel" of Crete. Since 1400 BC the Minoans, Venetian, Turks and Cretans have built their ancient cities, minarets, citadels, the hilltop Fortezza, winding narrow streets, fishing harbour and lighthouse which create an old-world charm. Situated at equal distances from Heraklion and Chania, Rethymno is also only a short distance from the most spectacular countryside making it an ideal centre to explore the island.
Rethymnon, the only well-preserved Renaissance town in Greece, is famous for its literature & arts. Its story was recorded in the book The Tale of a Town by the world-famous author Prevelakis who was quoted by Hemingway.
The site of Rethymnon has been inhabited since the Minoan period. The city flourished under Venetian rule & the Palazzos (mansions) can still be seen in the old town today. The Rethymnian tycoon Kallergi owned even the grand palazzo Behamin-Kallergi in Venice Grand Canal. The huge Venetian castle Fortezza, built in the 16th century to protect the city from pirates, overlooks the picturesque harbour with its charming 13th century lighthouse.
Directly opposite the main entrance to the Fortezza, the Archaeological Museum occupies a converted Turkish bastion. Its collection is set out chronologically from Neolithic through Minoan to Roman times.
Stroll in the narrow streets of the old town and don't miss the 17th century Neranzes Mosque, the best preserved in the city, the 17th century Venetian Rimondi Fountain with lion-headed spouts standing alongside busy cafes and shops selling fresh vegetable and fruits and the elegant 16th century Venetian Loggia. The small Historical & Folk Art Museum is housed in a Venetian mansion nearby. On display you can find local crafts including some brilliantly coloured weaving, pottery, lace and jewellery.
The region of Rethymnon is rich in archaeological sites. Armeni with its Minoan cemetery. Eleftherna founded in 1700 BC with the remains of a tower on a rocky ridge and a derelict Hellenistic bridge in the valley below and Argyroupoli, the waterfall village built on the remains of ancient Lappa dating from the Roman times - being amongst the most famous with their ongoing excavations. Not to mention the numerous monasteries and churches like the Atali Monastery in Bali, and accessible by road through the Kourtaliotiko gorge, the Monastery of Preveli which stands in an isolated but beautiful spot overlooking the Libyan sea.
The buildings date from 1731, include a 19th century church and a small museum displaying religious artefacts. East of the Preveli Monastery a steep path leads to Preveli beach, a palm-fringed oasis. Visit also the Monastery of Aghia Irini that won the international award of Europa Nostra in 1993 for the quality of its restoration and see the hand embroideries created by the nuns. The 5th century Monastery of Arkadi stands on the top of a winding gorge. The most impressive of its buildings is the double-naved church with an ornate Venetian facade, which dates back to 1587, this is featured on the 100 Drachma bank note. In 1866, when Arkadi was crowded with hundreds of refugees, it came under attack by the Ottoman army. The Cretans chose death over surrender…
In Thronos, the beautifully frescoed church of Panagia dates back to the 14th century. The Venetian buildings of Moni Asomaton nearby, now an agricultural college, stand in a lush oasis of palm plane and eucalyptus trees…and numerous more churches all over the region, each with its own history !
The prefecture of Rethymno features unique natural beauty. It has the highest mountain range in Crete, Mount Ida (Psiloritis), home to many sanctuaries including the famous Ideon Andron, the cave where Zeus was born. At the foot of Mount Ida, Anogia, the famous textile village of the 13th century leads through a paved road to the Nida Plateau.
Senic beaches…Rethymno city boasts the longest sandy beach in Crete and the second largest nesting beach in Greece for the endangered species of the turtle caretta-caretta. Plakias until recently a fishing harbour, nowadays a full-scale tourist resort features a grey sandy beach of 2 kms sited at the mouth of Kotsyfou gorge offering daily boat connection 'services to the palm-beach of Preveli. Scattered fishing villages are found along the south coast of Rethymnon, including Aghia Galini, at the southern end of the Amari Valley.