Rethymno: A journey to History and Multiculturalism

Rethymno is situated on the north coast of Crete. The city is inhabited since 1600 BC; its history and cultural identity has been influenced from the Turkish, Arabic and Venetian domination. A visit in the historic center offers the ascertainment that Rethymno is a multicultural, colourful and well-preserved city.

Starting from the Old Town, one of the best-preserved cities of the Renaissance that is located in the heart of modern Rethymno, you will admire the oriental characteristics of the Turkish period as well as the Renaissance-style Venetian architecture. Meeting the small harbour in the Old Town, you will be impressed of the 13th-century Venetian mole which was used as its protection. This is the ideal starting-point for a visit to the Fortezza, the Venetian fortress of Rethymno (16th century), that is located in the centre of the Old Town.

Rethymno is a region with historical monasteries and cathedrals, beautiful museums, amazing streets, shops and architecture. Its quiet, idyllic villages as well as its long, sandy beaches offer some trouble-free moments, inviting visitors to come back again and again.

RIMONDI FOUNTAIN

In the heart of the Old Town, at Titou Petihaki Square, the impressive Fountain that stands there, has taken its name by the city’s governor A. Rimondi who built it in 1626. It is located in the old Venetian square, following the architectural model of St. Mark’s Square in Venice. Through the three lion heads, the fountain still springs water.

LOGGIA

The Venetian Loggia of Rethymno is a square building with arched fronts on three sides. It is located at Paleologou Street and was built during the 16th century by Michele Sanmicheli. The eminent building was used as the meeting point of the nobles, while during the Ottoman domination was operated as a mosque. Nowadays, Loggia hosts the Archaeological Museum replica shop.
In the heart of the Old Town, at Titou Petihaki Square, the impressive Fountain that stands there, has taken its name by the city’s governor A. Rimondi who built it in 1626. It is located in the old Venetian square, following the architectural model of St. Mark’s Square in Venice. Through the three lion heads, the fountain still springs water.

MOSQUE NERATZES

During the Venetian times the Mosque Neratzes (or Gazi Hussein Mosque) was a church, dedicated to Mary of Augustans. In 1657 the town had fallen to the Turks and the church was turned into a mosque with the addition of three domes. The minaret was rebuilt in 1890 as “the most beautiful minaret of the East”. It is the highest minaret in the city with two balconies for the call to prayer and one of the best-preserved in Crete. Located on Emmanouil Vernardou the Mosque Neratzes houses the Municipal Odeon, run by the Association for the Propagation of the Arts.

OLD HARBOUR – LIGHTHOUSE

The structures across the harbour were built by the Ottomans. However, in the entrance the Venetian Customhouse still stands, operating today as an info point. The 13th-century Venetian mole was used as a small breakwater that managed to face the wild waves of the Cretan Sea. It is in remarkably good condition despite the centuries that passed by. The imposing lighthouse at the entrance of the old port was built in the Ottoman period by Mehmet Allie, who was the governor of Crete from 1830 to 1840. Today, it stands as a great reminder of the past.

THE FORTEZZA

Almost in the centre of the old town, the Venetian castle of Fortezza with centuries of history, is visible from every corner, offering panoramic views of the city and the sea to the west. The foundation stone of the Fortezza was laid by the Venetian Governor Alvise Lando on September 1573, though the whole construction was completed in 1580.
This Venetian castle is a trademark of Rethymno and for years it has been hosting plays, music and dance events as well as conferences, painting exhibitions and film shows. The castle is uninhabited and the most important buildings in it are constantly renovated.
Tip: You can reach the Fortezza either through the alleys of old town or more easily by following the coast road, behind the old Venetian harbour.

MOSQUE KARA MUSA

Located at the beginning of Arkadiou Street, the Mosque Kara Musa Pasa was founded in 1660s. It is another former Venetian building turned into a mosque after the fall of Crete to Ottomans. The small dome aside of the Mosque is said to be the tomb in which Kara Musa Pasa, the founder, was buried himself, in 1692. Today the place hosts cultural events.

PORTA GUORA

Porta Guora (or Great Gate) of Rethymno is the only remaining of city’s Venetian Walls. Despite the big changes throughout the years, it is still recognizable as the imposing entrance to the fortifications. The Great Gate was based on the plans of Michele Sanmicheli and built when the governor of the city was Jacomo Guoro (1566-1568). It leads to the central square of Rethymno (Four Martyrs square) with its imposing public buildings. The Venetian Symbol of a Winged Lion that was decorating the Gate, is now placed in the courtyard of the Loggia.

OUR LADY OF THE ANGELS

The church of Our Lady of the Angels (Kyria ton Angelon) was built by the Dominican Friars at the end of the Venetian period and was dedicated to Mary Magdalene. The Ottomans changed it into a mosque with the addition of a mihrab and a minaret. Since 1917 it has been a Greek Orthodox church dedicated to Our Lady of the Angels. Locals call it the “Mikri Panagia” (Little Virgin) in order to distinguish it from the main Cathedral of the Panagia in Rethymno.

THE CATHEDRAL

The old church built in 1844, was ruined by the bombardment of 1941 and finally demolished in 1956. The new building has the same wooden temple and its imagery composed in 1852 by famous Greek artists. The Cathedral is dedicated to the Entries of Theotokos and is also called Megali Panagia (Great Holy Mary).

THE HISTORICAL – FOLK MUSEUM

Situated in Vernardou Street, the Museum was founded in 1973 by Christophoros Stavroulakis and Fani Voyiatzaki who donated the building. It stands as one of the most representative examples of a town house dating from the end of the Venetian occupation (17th century). The Museum preserves collections of historical items, woven fabrics, weaving equipment, pottery, baskets, metalwork, coins, costumes etc. There is also a room with an exhibition on traditional crops and bread-making.

THE IDA RANGE – PSILORITIS

Mount Ida, well-known as Psiloritis is located in Rethymno region. At 2.456m, it is the highest mountain of the island that fascinates its visitors with its rough beauty. According to the legend, on its slopes lies Ideon Antron cave, in which Zeus was born. Psiloritis range hosts many more caves, like Kamares which is of utmost archaeological importance. However, only two caves are opened to visitors: Sfendoni (Zoniana) and Gerontospilios (Melidoni). Psiloriti’s summit, called Timios Stavros has the highest topographic prominence in Greece. Its chapel marks the island’s highest summit (2.456m).
The scenery of Psiloriti’s landscape is fabulous: Deep gorges, small plateaus, impressive karst formations and small villages on the foothills compose the pieces of this natural puzzle. Visitors of the mountain can experience the authentic Cretan tradition in Anogia, the major town of Milopotamos province.
In the past, Psiloritis was covered by dense trees, residues of which are still visible. The most important of these areas is the oak forest of Rouvas by Zaros.
A natural park which includes Mount Ida is a member of UNESCO’s Global Geoparks Network.

MONI ARKADIOU (ARKADI MONASTERY )

The famous Orthodox monastery is located at an altitude of almost 500m., in the foothills of Psiloritis mountain, 23 km away from the city of Rethymno. The current church dates back to the 16th century and its architecture reveals a great impact of the Renaissance. As early as the 16th century, the monastery was a place for science and art with a school and a rich library. Moni Arkadiou has been a non-stop inseparable part of the Cretan history during the last eight centuries. It played an active role in the Cretan resistance of Ottoman rule and became the symbol of self-sacrifice and freedom during the revolution of 1866-1869, particularly since the besieged inhabitants sacrificed themselves rather than to surrender to the Ottomans. Nowadays, the breathtaking buildings of the Monastery belong in UNESCO’s World Heritage list, as the European Freedom Monument. The sacred banner of the revolution, as well as other impressive relics are exhibited in the Monastery museum

74100 Arkadi, Rethymno – tel.: +30 28310 83136

MONASTERY OF PREVELI

It is situated 37km away from Rethymno city, on the western hillside of Kourtaliotis gorge. Monastery of Preveli is consisted of two main building complexes, the Lower Monastery of Saint John the Baptist that is deserted and the Rear Monastery of Saint John the Theologian which is at a distance of 2km and remains opened to its visitors. The earliest date related to the monastery is the year 1594, and it is engraved on one of its bells. Monastery’s history is glorious due to the leading involvement of its monks in the national endeavourers for freedom.

74060 Preveli, Rethymno – tel.: +30 28320 31246

ANCIENT ELEFTHERNA

The archaeological site of Ancient Eleftherna is located at a height of 380m, on the serrated hump of mount Psiloritis. Findings of great importance referring to several eras that include Pre-historic, Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods were brought to light by archaeologists from the University of Crete since 1984. A necropolis of the Geometric and Archaic era lies in the west side of the hill, forming an impressive spectacle for visitors of the ancient site.
The Museum of Ancient Eleftherna that is situated in the archaeological park of Eleutherna, houses artifacts found in the nearby archaeological site and the necropolis of Orthi Petra. The significant exhibition within the Museum is supported by the newest technological equipment. At the entrance you will find touch screens installed with all the important information for the visitors.

Mylopotamos, 74100 Rethymno – tel.: +30 28340 92501

ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM

Located at the old Town in the basilica of Agios Fragiskos (St Francis), the Archaeological Museum of Rethymno belongs to the national Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities Conservancy. Its collections represent periods from the Neolithic until the Roman times. The Museum’s halls host findings from caves, settlements, and cemeteries of the Minoan Era as well as objects from the Geometric, Archaic, Classic, Hellenistic and Roman period, brought to light by archaeologists during various excavations in ancient cities of the area.

St. Francis Church, Fortezza, 74100 Rethymno – tel.: +30 28310 54668

PALEONTOLOGICAL MUSEUM

The Museum is housed in a very impressive building, the “Igoumenio”, which is the sacred precinct of Mastaba, with 9 domes and 13 cells, surrounded by beautiful plants. Inside, the visitor goes on a historic journey of 300 million years, through the paleontological changes in Crete. Its collections include fossils from Paleozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic sea deposits in Crete, along with texts, drawings and maps. The Museum operates as part of the Goulandris Natural History Museum in Crete.

Temple of Mastaba, 74100 Rethymno – tel.: +30 28310 23083

MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART OF CRETE

The Museum is located under the Venetian wall and the Archaeological Museum. In 1970’s the Municipality of Rethymnon bought it and in 1992 it became a Gallery, under the name of Lefteris Kanakakis who donated approximately 50 of his artworks.
Today the place is Crete’s Museum of Contemporary Art, of high standards, exhibiting old and new examples of Greek artists. It houses a permanent collection of approximately 500 works (oil, drawings, aquarelles) of various contemporary Greek artists covering a wide range of the contemporary Greek art world from 1950. The collection includes adequate samples of art from abstraction and geometry to neo-expressionism, new representation arts, minimalism, object in space, sculpture etc.

32 Mesologiou Street, 741 31 Rethymno – tel.: +30 28310 52530

PLAKIAS

Located 35 km south of Rethymno, the beach extends east from Plakias village. It is one of the biggest sandy beaches in Crete, offering its visitors a sense of space and comfort. It is well-organized with cool green waters. The east end of the beach is mainly used by naturists.

PREVELI

Ten km east of Plakias, beach of Preveli (also known as Lake Preveli or Phoenix), is located at the exit of the imposing Kourtaliotikos Gorge, where Megas Potamos flows. With thousands of visitors every summer, Preveli remains one of the most popular beaches in south Crete. The palm trees around the beach give a sense of a tropical landscape, offering shade and cool breeze. During the 60s and 70s, the beach was a favorite destination for the hippies.

AMMOUDI

It is located 32km south of Rethymno and 4km east of Plakias. The place has a characteristic green slippery rock in the middle and the beach is slightly organized, with umbrellas and some tavernas nearby. Ammoudi has thick white sand, a bright green color water and rocky seabed, ideal for diving and snorkeling. Moreover, you can find a scuba diving centre. Next to the beach there are many tamarisk trees, under which you can find shade and camp.

SKINARIA BEACH (OR SHINARIA)

Skinaria is a small beach with crystal blue deep water, soft gray-beige sand and fine pebbles. The beach is located 33km south of Rethymno, in the east part of Plakias area. On the beach there are small ponds with fresh water from springs that carry water from the mountain of Kouroupa. Around these lakes the landscape gives visitors the sense of a tropical environment.

BALI BEACHES

Bali has four beaches (Livadi, Varkotopos, Limani, Karavostasis) which are formed in sandy coves with green waters. The beaches are almost calm all the time, since the bay of Bali faces to the west. They are all well-organized and suitable for children and families. Furthermore, water is cool because of the several springs around, that carry fresh water from Psiloritis Range into the sea.

EPISKOPI

Located 14km away of Rethymno, in a fertile valley, Episkopi has a 3,5km of sandy beach long, shallow and mostly wavy, like the average of beaches in North Crete. It is well organized with several hotels, restaurants, cafes, tavernas and bars. However, you can certainly find a quiet spot, especially in the easternmost part, next to Petres bridge.

AGIA GALINI

In a distance of 61km south of Rethymno, Agia Galini is one of the most popular seaside resorts of the area. The sea is almost always calm. The part of the beach near the port is very well organized and the water is cold with fine pebbles, due to the river of Amarianos which is located 200m east of the port. When you cross the river, you will find the second beach which extends to the east. It has small pebbles and is less organized. In the area near the river, ruins of an ancient temple of Artemis have been excavated.

AGIOS PAVLOS

West of Agia Galini, 58km south of Rethymno, the beautiful beach of Agios Pavlos is well-hidden in a sheltered bay with green deep waters and magnificent rocky seabed. The place is peaceful, ideal for quiet family holidays. Basic services such as umbrellas, sunbeds and pedal boats, are provided, while near the beach you can find a few rooms and tavernas. Above the beach you may visit the small church of Saint Paul; according to the legend Saint Paul lived here during his journey to Rome

RETHYMNO

The beach has a length of 13km starting from inside the city and extending to the hotels area on the west until Scaletta. It’s a beautiful beach with golden sand and crystal-clear shallow water, very well organized. The beach gets quieter towards the west, past Missiria and Platanes. It should be mentioned that the sea turtle Carretta-Carretta has chosen Rethymno beach to lay its eggs on.

PAXIMADIA ISLANDS

are two uninhabited islets off the Gulf of Messara, 12km south of Agia Galini. Their length is about 3km and they are separated by a narrow strip of sea, called Bogazi. The east Paximada which is the smaller one, hosts four beautiful tiny beaches with crystal-clear waters and pebbles. You can access the place by excursion boats from Kokkinos Pirgos and Agia Galini.

TRIOPETRA

is located about 52km south of Rethymno. It lies in the central part of a long beachfront, called Akoumiani Gialia. The main beach of Triopetra, (called Chatzi), extends to the west for some kilometers, and from there you can watch a fantastic sunset. The sea has a beautiful water color. The east part of the beach is mildly organized with tavernas, rooms and umbrellas. There is a small river, with fresh water all year round.

PANORMO

is situated about 20km east of Rethymno, in the province of Milopotamos. Panormos is a natural harbour with calm water. There are two main beaches and a few smaller ones. The harbour (Limanaki) beach serves as the port of the area. It is sandy and shallow and the sea has clear water. The beach is well organized with umbrellas and showers, ideal for families with small children. The second main beach named Limni is located just 200m west of the village. It’s also sandy and well protected by a rocky dock.

KORAKAS BEACH (RODAKINO)

Two km away of the traditional Rodakino village (located 45km southeast of Rethymno), you will come across some beautiful and tranquil beaches. The first beach that you will meet at the exit of the dried river is called Korakas and is one of the most beautiful ones, with long fine pebbles. Korakas has amazing clear waters and it is well-organized with umbrellas and some tavernas.

LIGRES

is located 51km south of Rethymno, south of the village Kerames, at the foot of the imposing mount of Siderotas. Ligres is a wide beach with an amazing deep sea. The beach is not organized, but there are some tavernas and a few rooms. At the west part of the beach there is a beautiful waterfall, all-year round, which falls next to the sea. Ligres remains one of the nicest, tranquil and most secluded beaches on the island.

PIRGOS BEACH, KERAMES

Two adjacent beaches with fine pebbles and sand, are between Gialopotama and the harbor of Agia Fotini, about 45 km south of Rethymno. They are called Pirgos and are surrounded by huge rocks with three imposing caves situated above. Pirgos beach is ideal for snorkeling and naturism.