Rethymno - Arkadi Monastery
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Points of Interest:
RETHYMNON (OLD TOWN)
The old town of Rethymnon is one of the best-preserved towns of the Renaissance. Lying in the heart of modern Rethymnon, it combines the oriental features of the Turkish period with Renaissance-style Venetian architecture.
After the Venetian conquest of Crete (1204), the town of Rethymnon was built according to the rules of Venetian architecture. The original craftsmen were Venetians, but these later were replaced by Cretan murari, Venetian-trained master builders.
The layout of Rethymnon is directly linked to the sea, with the main Venetian street, the Ruga Maistra (today's coastal Venizelou Avenue) running parallel to the sea. The opposite is true of Heraklion and Hania, where the town is closed to the sea for reasons of defence and the main street is at right angles to the coast.
The private mansions of Rethymnon are not as impressive as those of Venice, mainly for financial reasons. Furthermore, the strong traditions of Cretan architecture could not be overcome, and Renaissance influences are most apparent on building facades.
Finally, as opposed to Heraklion and Hania, Greek features are predominant in Rethymnon because most nobles were Greeks, known as “Archondoromeoi” (noble “Romans”, that is, inhabitants of the Eastern Roman Empire).
Many buildings with gothic features were lost in the destruction of the town by Ulu Ali in 1571, while Rethymnon was rebuilt almost in its entirety in the third quarter of the 16th century. Many fine examples of Turkish architecture are preserved scattered around the narrow streets of the old town.
Their main feature is the heavy use of wood. Building styles changed during the years of the Turkish occupation (1646-1898) and the dressed stone of the Venetians was replaced by a wooden frame filled with rubble and mud (bagdati). The walls were then thickly plastered. The upper storey almost always projects out over the street (sahnisi) and is faced with wood, often with kafasoto latticework.
In Rethymnon the Turks made full use of the existing Venetian public and private buildings, which they modified according to their needs.
Today the old town of Rethymnon is a living museum of monuments of past centuries. Despite the damage sustained in the Second World War, many Venetian and Turkish monuments still stand, especially as the town has not been struck by major earthquakes.
Points of Interest:
The current catholicon (church) dates back to the 16th century and is marked by the influence of the Renaissance. This influence is visible in the architecture, which mixes both Roman and baroque elements. As early as the 16th century, the monastery was a place for science and art and had a school and a rich library. Situated on a plateau, and surrounded by a thick and high wall, the monastery is also built like a fortress.
The monastery played an active role in the Cretan resistance of Ottoman rule during the Cretan revolt in 1866. 943 Greeks, mostly women and children, sought refuge in the monastery. After three days of battle and under orders from the hegumen (abbot) of the monastery, the Cretans blew up barrels of gunpowder, choosing to sacrifice themselves rather than surrender.
The monastery became a national sanctuary in honor of the Cretan resistance. November 8 is a day of commemorative parties in Arkadi and Rethymno. The explosion did not end the Cretan insurrection, but it attracted the attention of the rest of the world.