Located on the north side of Crete, Rethymno is the capital city
of the County of Rethymno and has a population of around 29,000.
Much of the commercial and tourist activity takes place around
the busy harbour. The town is built next to a wide sandy beach
and around the impressive Forteza castle. It is a town of great
historical character and the old part of the city is full of
surprises with beautiful Byzantine and Venetian churches and
mansions side by side with the minarets of mosques, arched
passages, Turkish drinking fountains, narrow picturesque streets
and old houses with heavy, carved wooden doors. Also picturesque
is the small Venetian port surrounded by tall houses with arched
ground floors and Turkish cannons scattered around as street
decor. The old city is well preserved and the visitor can spend
many days exploring what it has to offer. The greatest activity
is concentrated on the coastal road, close to the harbour that
is fringed with palm trees and this road, every afternoon, is
pedestrianised with cars having to detour around the town. In
recent years the wide beach has become very developed for
tourists with many cafes and bars set up along the sea front
which has had a boardwalk laid on the sand for tables and chairs
and ease of movement. During the summer season many artistic and
civil festivals and programmes are organised. Most important of
these is the Festival of Wine, which lasts many days and takes
place in the park. To the east of Rethymne stretches a long
beach all the way to Adele and here are some of the largest
hotel complexes as well as many tavernas, restaurants and
It is believed that the contemporary town stands on the site of the ancient Minoan city of Rethymne or Rithimna although evidence has been found to show that the town has been inhabited since prehistoric times. Initially, the Minoan city of Rethymne was fairly insignificant but slowly began to flourish, minting its own coins and being the centre for the worship of Rokia Diana, who was the patron deity for those bitten by rabid dogs. This increase of power and economic importance thrived even more during the Venetian occupation between 1210-1646. It was in this period that the Forteza castle was constructed as well as a strong fortress of some 1400 metres in length to protect the city from invading forces. In 1646 Rethymne was seized by the invading Turks and began to decline. Since that time however, Rethymne became the focus of many revolts and, in 1821, its inhabitants were slaughtered by the Turks for taking part in the Revolution.
Today, there is still plenty of evidence that reflects Rethymno's chequered past. The historic buildings of the Venetian Lotzia, Venetian mansions, the Cathedral of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, the churches of Santa Maria, the Lady of the Angels and of San Francesco. The Turkish occupation left their mark with the mosques of Veli Pasha, Kara Moysa Pasha and the Neratzes Mosque. There is also the building which housed a Turkish school, Turkish baths and the beautiful Rimonti Fountain a public drinking fountain. The city also has some interesting museums and an art gallery. Rethymno has two of the largest sandy beaches in Crete 12km to the east of the town and 10km to the west.
Most noteworthy sights of the town are located in Rethymnon Old Town with its small Venetian harbour, narrow streets lined with beautiful, old, aristocratic buildings dating from around the 16th century, garnished with stone arches and staircases. Here too you can find remains of Byzantine and Hellenic-Roman structures. It is an attractive location to sit in one of the many fish tavernas which have occupied the vaulted spaces below the buildings along the quay. The town also boasts some beautiful religious buildings which include mosques, churches and a cathedral. It is also worth visiting the Archaeological Museum where artefacts from the Neolithic to the Roman period are displayed having been excavated from various locations around the prefecture of Rethymno. The Folklore and History Museum is also fascinating as it is housed in a restored Venetian building with a beautiful interior courtyard. .
Places to see:
The carved tomb of the third Hystero Minoan Period located in the group of houses of Mastabas of Rethymne.
In Ethnarchou Makariou Street are the remains of the Venetian fortifications of 1540-1570 as well as three soldiers' lodgings which were protected by the fortification wall. Very impressive is the big door to the fortification enclosure (known as Gouora) which is preserved at Ethnikis Antistatis Street.
The Loggia is a four sided building with semicircular arches at three sides, of which the middle one is open and leads inside the building through a flight of stairs. Today, it forms the roof of the Archaeological Museum of Rethymno but, when it was built in the middle of the 16th century, it was an important public building of the Venetian occupation where noblemen and important city dignitaries used to hold meetings. The Loggia buildings were also used as places of entertainment.
The Rimonti Fountain is a very attractive public drinking fountain built by the Venetian governor, Rimonti, of Rethymne in 1626. It is located at the north end of Petychakis square where an older fountain once stood.
The church of Agios Franciskos is one of the most significant monuments in Rethymno. It is a wooden roofed church which, in the past, housed the monastery of Franciscan monks. During the years of the Turkish domination it was converted into an almshouse. In 1971 it was sensitively repaired and renovated.
The church of The Lady of the Angels known locally as Mekri Panagia and dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene of the Battalion of the Dominican monks. It is located on the crossroads of Nikiforos Fokas and Thessalonikis Street in the old part of the town. It was constructed in the final years of the Venetian occupation. Interestingly, this church was built without a dome.
The Forteza on Paleocastro Hill at the north end of the town is a fortress built in 1573 by the Venetian governor, Alvisso Lanto. It is a polygonal building with a total area of 1,370 metres and four ramparts at the south and east sides and three points at the west and north. Today, only the walls remain of this Venetian building. Close by is a domed mosque which was a small cathedral church, St. Nicholas, constructed in 1583. However, during the years of the Turkish occupation it was converted, in 1648, into a mosque and dedicated to Ibrahim Khan and, it was at this time that the enormous dome, with a base diameter of 11m, was added.
Neratzes mosque, at the Venetian square of Rethymno, was the church of Santa Maria and the monastery of Augustine monks. It was altered into a mosque in 1657 by Gazi Hossein Pasha, the conqueror of Rethymno and was the biggest mosque in the town.
The Kara Moussa Pasha mosque, on the junction of Arcadiou and Ugo Street was the very first Venetian monastery of Saint Barbara. It was changed into a mosque by the Pasha. Today it exhibits artefacts of Byzantine antiquities
The mosque of Megali Porta on Tobazis Street was built before 1670 and dedicated to Sultana Valide, the mother of the Sultan Ibrahim Khan. The building has two cupolas framed by a minaret. Today it is used by the Greek Archaeological Service. As a warehouse to store archaeological finds.
The mosque of Veli Pasha, in the group of houses of Mastaba close to the bus station was built in 1789. It is covered by six small domes, has a minaret, a circular balcony and a pyramid roof. There is an impressive entrance of Tuscany style.
Next to the church of Agios Franciscos is the old Turkish school. There is an inscription over one of the entrances that states it was built in 1796 and was a girls' school. Of special interest is the Turkish entrance door which has some remarkable architectural features. Today, the school is used as a primary school.
The Turkish Hamam (or Turkish Baths) is a building with two large halls covered by hemispherical cupolas. It is located at 25 Radamanthyos Street but unfortunately is not open to the public.
The Temple of Eisodia of Theotocos was built in 1834 on the site of an older church. The bell tower was added later in 1889. The temple was designed according to the plans of the church of Evangelistria of Tenos and inside are some outstanding wooden and sculptured iconostasis and frescoes. There is also a notable painting of the Panagia of Pathos although it is unknown who the artist was and when it was painted.
There are several hundred beautiful houses with Venetian frontages dotted around the old town many of them renovated and some in ruins Likewise, a couple of noteworthy Neoclassical buildings. Examples of the latter include: The Metropolitan Mansion at the southern side of the church in Moussourou Street. This Neoclassical building has an absolutely symmetrical facade. The Mansion of the Prefecture, on Heroon Polytechniou Square is a two-storey Neoclassical building constructed in 1869. Finally, the Catholic Church of Agios Antonios, on the corner of Messologiou and Salaminas Street was built in 1890 according to Neoclassical design.
Places to visit in the vicinity of Rethymno are Armeni which lies approximately 4.5km away. Famous for its Minoan cemetery and tombs. 6km west of Rethymno is Gerani with the Cave of Gerani complete with stalactites and stalagmites. 8km south-east of Rethymno is Adele with its long beach and hotel complexes nestled in front of a cultivated plain and thickets of reeds. In 1868 a battle took place at Adele which led to the retreat of the Turks and, Constantis Giaboudakis, one of the heroes of this battle was born in the village and his house can be seen with its inscription on the walls in remembrance of this event. . All around this area, including the village of Pigi, are many villas, restaurants and clubs.