Understanding Crete: My Cretan experience is highlighted by lots of very touching moments. When I look back and think of our visits to the island, I can’t come up with just one perfect moment, because there were always many of them. However, the visit to the Arkadi Monastery was more than touching. The first thing that strikes you is the immense beauty, a sense of peace and harmony that’s easy to grasp. A place so beautiful and still so deeply marked with the struggles of locals for freedom. A helpful instrument in understanding Crete, its people, its character and its history.
As part of our Crete Urban Adventure trail, our next visit after the walking tour of Rethymno, was a surprise I was not really aware of. I had many times read and even heard about this sacred place, but I really didn’t know that the monastery we were about to visit was, in fact, Arkadi. When I first heard our guide saying I’m sure you will love Arkadi, I still needed a few minutes to realize we were really going there. The history attached to the place had really touched me in the past, I could not believe we were actually heading there. All of a sudden I couldn’t wait to arrive.
The walls of Arkadi enclose the cells were monks used to live, beautiful gardens and, in the center, a magnificent church, Baroque in style. Its bell tower is equally impressive and, once inside, the icons and renaissance paintings strike for their vivid colors.
A BIT OF HISTORY
By the end of 1648, most of Crete was under Ottoman control. A conquest followed by incredible destruction. They looted buildings and churches which were later converted into mosques. The destructive rage of the conquerors didn’t stop there, targeting roads, houses, local business. Many islanders escaped to avoid execution or imprisonment, while others fled to the mountains.
Ottoman rulers and settlers forced the shrinking Christian population into further misery and despair, imposing high taxes and confiscating lands. Local uprising took place on several occasions but they were inevitably followed by strict countermeasures and oppression.
The need for a revolution felt stronger and spread in the area. Arkadi was its soul. It became the center of the Cretan revolution. Anger made Ottomans vandalise the area, forcing villagers to seek refuge behind the walls of Arkadi. Almost a thousand refugees, mostly women and children, underwent Ottoman attack. Upon the request to surrender, their only reply was “We’d rather have war.”
The Holocaust of Arkadi Monastery was a tragic symbol of Cretan struggle for independence. Hundreds of women and children locked inside the gunpowder stores blowing it up and taking hundreds of Ottoman soldiers with them to the grave.
After years of struggles, the Ottoman forces were expelled in 1898 and the Cretan Republic was declared independent. The union of Crete with Greece became a reality in 1913.
BYGONE CRETE ADVENTURE
The full tour includes a stop on one of the island’s most heartfelt landmark, Arkadi Monastery, surrounded by striking natural beauty. The visit allows to take a tour within its walls and its beautiful church, the gardens and the museum.
The Adventure continues submerging you into Crete’s rural life. We learnt to bake bread and explored the surroundings in search of Cretan herbs. Activities were endless, we will post more about them as this was one of the most delightful days in Crete. It was a gift to our kids and an incredible experience for the family. Our Best Day Ever, an experience that most tourists on the island are unaware of.
Contact Crete Urban Adventures
The Monastery of Arkadi is 23 Kilometres south-east of Rethymno. For an insightful visit, there’s no better idea than reaching the place in the company of a local guide. Contact Crete Urban Adventures to experience their Bygone Crete Adventure, the best option when understanding Crete and its soul.
Crete Urban Adventures – #LocalsKnow
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