Sights & Attractions
Rethymno Old Town
The old town of Rethymno is a preserved renaissance city with an imposing 16th-century fortress, and Venetian and Ottoman remains. There are two markets inside the old city – across Arkadiou and Antistaseos streets, respectively – as well as several quaint cafes and tavernas.
The Venetian fortress of Fortezza is situated on the hill of Paleokastro, in the west of the modern city. This hill was the site of the citadel of the ancient town of Rithymna and the Temple of Artemis Rokkaias. The fortress was built between 1573-1580 by the Venetians to protect the city’s inhabitants from Turkish attacks.
To this day, the Fortezza is a focal point of interest, with the renowned Renaissance Festival of Rethymno taking place each summer in Erofili Theatre located inside the Castle.
The lighthouse of Rethymno
The lighthouse of the Venetian Port of Rethymno is the second largest remaining Egyptian Lighthouse of Crete, after the lighthouse of Chania. Located on the edge of the old quay of Rethymnon, it is very easily accessed.
The lighthouse acquired its present form in the 1830s when Crete was handed to the Egyptians by the Turks.
Conservatoir of Rethymno (Neratze Tzami)
The impressive Neratze Tzami is one of the most well-preserved monuments of the old town of Rethymno.
During Venetian rule, it housed the church of Santa Maria – the Virgin of the Augustinians. Next to it, there was also a chapel dedicated to the Body of Christ. With the city’s conquest by the Turks, the church was converted into a mosque dedicated to the conqueror of Gazi Hussein Pasha Mosque Rethymnon or Neratze (1657). During the Turkish occupation, the roof of the Venetian church was replaced by three characteristic domes, the chapel was converted to an Ottoman seminary, and a minaret was added. Specifically, in 1890 the minaret was built according to the plans of the famous engineer George Daskalakis.
Today the former mosque hosts the city’s Conservatory, while restorations brought to light dozens of Venetian graves. As for the door frame, it is one of the most impressive and elaborate examples of Renaissance architecture in Rethymno.
The Venetian port of Rethymnon
Located next to the modern port, the Venetian harbour of Rethymno is one of the most picturesque parts of the old city, with a trademark Egyptian lighthouse. The port was operational since Byzantine times (after 961) but prospered during the Venetian period.
Water supply was a major issue for the city of Rethymno – and this is why the Venetian commanders undertook to build aqueducts and fountains to serve the citizens. Rimondi fountain was built in 1626 by the Rector of the city A. Rimondi. This project covered part of the city’s water supply needs and is located in what’s known today as Platanos Square, formerly the centre of the Venetian town. It consists of three basins with water running from three spouts into a lion’s head.
Archaeological Museum of Rethymno
The exhibits come from various excavations in the area and represent all periods, from the Neolithic Age to the Roman period. Among the most remarkable displays are the urn with a hunting scene, Minoan goddess figurines, the marble statue of Aphrodite, the violin-shaped marble figurine from the cave of Gerani, a clay semi-enclosed vessel with stem and cap and a terracotta female figurine.
Historical and Folklore Museum Rethymnon
Established in 1974, it is housed in a 17th-century Venetian building. It is a wonderful urban dwelling – a sample of the Renaissance style of the last phase of Venetian rule in Crete.
The museum’s collections include more than 5,000 articles divided into several sections: weaving, embroidery, ceramics, basketry, traditional crops, metalwork and traditional occupations.
It also boasts a rich collection of historical artefacts, including Eleftherios Venizelos’ personal items, Cretan revolution banners, weapons, coins, stamps and historical documents mainly from the period of the Cretan state (1898-1913).
Paleontological Museum of Rethymno
Consisting of nine domes and 13 cells, it is an architectural masterpiece which leaves no visitor untouched. The museum’s exterior is lined up with indigenous plans, offering visitors a unique opportunity to come into contact with the flora that thrives in Crete.
Inside the Museum, the paleontological collection of Rethymno Municipality takes them on a journey through time as it presents an important part of the evolution of Crete and the geological and paleontological changes sustained over 300 million years.
Built in 1587, with various architectural influences ranging from the first Renaissance period to Gothic, classic and early baroque rhythms, the monastery is surrounded by unique natural beauty with dryads, oaks, pines and vines. In the distant past, Arkadi was primarily known as a centre of learning and copying of Greek manuscripts but also for its intricate embroidered vestments. Later on, it wrote history for the heroism shown by its inhabitants who held a strong resistance against the Turkish yoke in the ‘Holocaust of 1866’.
The view from the monastery is magical. There is a temple carved with masterpieces of iconography where you can admire the detailed depiction of biblical images that have survived since 1750.
The palace of Knossos is built on Kefalas hill, 5 km outside Heraklion. Tradition has it that this was the seat of legendary King Minos, which operated from the Neolithic period until the 5th century. An array of gripping myths are associated with the palace of Knossos, including those of the Labyrinth and the Minotaur and Daedalus and Icarus.
Museum of Ancient Eleftherna
Eleftherna was an ancient city of Crete, located in today’s Rethymnon Prefecture, 25 km south of Rethymnon, some 12 km northeast of Arkadi Monastery.
The city was founded by the Dorians in the 9th century BC at the intersection of the roads that connected the cities of Cydonia and Knossos and the sacred Mount Ida. In Orthi Stone, a necropolis of the geometric and archaic ages has been brought to light. In 2010 the discovery of a 2,700-year-old double tomb was announced, which hid more than 3,000 gold leaves and the first display of the bee as a goddess.
Information is available at: www.visiteleftherna.gr
Military Museum of Rethymnon
The collection of the Military Museum of Rethymno is located in Chromonastiri, featuring military uniforms, weapons from various eras, decorations, historical relics from 1821 onwards, reports on the Macedonian Struggle, a library and meeting rooms.
The museum is housed in one of Crete’s most beautiful Venetian mansions, Villa Clodio. This was the summer residence of the princes of Rethymno, while during the Turkish reign, it was the house of an Ottoman Agha.
EXCURSIONS / BEACHES
From palm beaches, high mountain peaks and awe-inspiring gorges to a world-renowned ancient civilization and an equally famous traditional cuisine, the island of Zeus offers endless possibilities for exploration and inspiration.
Melidoni Cave is located approximately 1.800m. northwest of the village of Mylopotamos at an altitude of 220 m. on the south side of Mount Kouloukonas. Along with its paleontological significance, the cave boasts marked historical importance, as it is connected with one of the greatest tragedies in Greek history. In October 1823, 340 women and 30 men from the neighbouring village of Melidoni barricaded themselves in the cave to escape the Ottoman army which, alas, eventually found and massacred them.
Margarites village is located at an altitude of 300 m, 27 km from Rethymnon, and is undoubtedly the most important pottery centre of western Crete. The area is rich in clay soil, which accounts for the locals’ long-standing association with the art of clay. It is believed that Margarites was a settlement of potters since its foundation centuries ago.
Located in the village of Zoniana in the prefecture of Rethymnon, it is one of the most important caves in Greece covering an area of 3,000 square meters. The unparalleled beauty of the surroundings, along with the innumerable stalactites and stalagmites will take your breath away.
The cave where Zeus was allegedly born is located 55 km from Heraklion at an altitude of 1,100 metres. As the story goes, this is the sacred cave on a plateau of Psiloritis where Rhea hid her son Zeus to save him from his father Kronos. The archaeological findings include bronze statuettes and other votive offerings to the father of all gods.
The Minoan palace is the main attraction in Knossos, an important city in antiquity, with a continuous existence from the Neolithic period until the 5th century. According to tradition, it was the base of the wise King Minos. A cluster of exciting myths like those of the Labyrinth with the Minotaur and Daedalus and Icarus are connected with the palace of Knossos.
Phaistos was a Minoan city of Crete, the ruins of which are located 55 km south of Heraklion. The city was inhabited by 6000 BC and flourished until the 1st century BC.
Phaistos is famous for its palace and archaeological site, which receives thousands of visitors every year. The palace of Phaistos was built on a low hill in the valley of Messara, with panoramic views of the surrounding area. It is the second largest palace after Knossos and occupies an area of 18 acres.
According to legend, the Palace of Phaistos was established around 2000 BC. It was the seat of King Rhadamanthus, the brother of the mythical Minos. Rhadamanthus was the son of Europa and Zeus and was renowned for his sense of justice. He is credited with the authorship of the Cretan Code, the first system of laws, which was later adopted by the Spartans. Thanks to his inflexible integrity, he was also made one of the judges of the dead in the underworld, together with Aeacus and Minos.
Located 43 km from the city of Chania, Samaria is one of the longest gorges in Europe (18 km). The gorge starts at Xyloskalo in the plateau of Omalos and ends in the coastal village of Agia Roumeli in South Crete. Flora and fauna in the National Park Samaria will fascinate visitors, who will also have the opportunity to observe up close the endangered species of Kri-Kri that lives only in Crete.
Imbros is one of the deepest and most narrow gorges of Crete. It begins just south of the village of Imbros in the Askifou plateau and after about 5 km, descends down to the village of Komitades near Frangokastello beach.
With its abundant natural beauty and evocative architectural remains, Mili makes for a wonderful hike. A few kilometres outside Rethymno, this easy trail runs through luscious flora and fauna and the many water mills built in Venetian times.
Once a colony of lepers, Spinalonga became famous with Victoria Hislop’s romantic interpretation of life on the island. This historic site can be reached by boat departing from Agios Nikolaos, Elounda or Plaka.
South Coast of Rethymno
Preveli, Plakias, Triopetra, Agios Pavlos, Ligres, Damnoni, Peach, Frangokastello and Schinaria, all boast crystal clear waters and incredible scenery. The drive from Rethymno towards the south coast is particularly scenic.
Located on the southwest tip of Crete, Elafonisi is simply stunning, with fine white-pink sands and shallow turquoise waters.
The beach of Balos and the islet of Gramvousa are located in the northwestern part of Crete, in the prefecture of Chania. Balos is an exotic beach lagoon formed between the peninsula of Gramvousa and cape Tigani. Gramvousa is the island opposite Balos that houses the ruins of a Venetian castle (1579). Both destinations are accessed by boat departing from the port of Kissamos.
The seaside village of Loutro is located at a distance of about 71 km south of Chania in the Sfakia province on the tip of Cape Mouri. It is believed that it was the site of the ancient city of Phoenix. It was also the port of ancient Anopolis which later became the port of Sfakia since the surrounding bay and the small island at its entrance created a natural harbour where ships could safely anchor even in bad weather.