Beautiful churches and stunning monasteries spread all over the island of Crete… religious centers of utmost importance not just for their spiritual value, but also for having played a key role during years of fights for freedom. Hidden between the high peaks of Crete, some of them hard to access, the monasteries of Crete have been a remarkable spiritual refuge for the locals during centuries. Grab your camera and visit them with this guide.
This article may have affiliate links to products and services that I use. If you make a purchase through these links, it might earn me a small commission at no extra cost to you.
- Why you should visit Crete’s monasteries
- Top monasteries to visit in Crete, Greece
- Arkadi Monastery (Rethymnon)
- Preveli Monastery (Rethymnon)
- Toplou Monastery (Lasithi)
- History of Toplou Monastery
- Toplou Monastery: The building
- Once in Toplou, don’t miss…
- Visiting Moni Toplou
- How to get to Toplou Monastery, Crete
- Agia Triada Monastery (Chania)
- History of Agia Triada Monastery
- The complex
- When in Agia Triada, don’t miss…
- Visiting Agia Triada Monastery
- Wine and food in Agia Triada
- Other monasteries & churches to see in Crete
- Chrisoskalithissa Monastery, Chania
- Gonia Monastery, Chania
- Gouverneto Monastery, Chania
- Korakies Monastery, Chania
- 6 more unique churches in Crete
- Mosques & minarets
Why you should visit Crete’s monasteries
By 1648, most of the island had fallen under the hands of the Ottoman Empire, the Turkish ruled on the island until 1898, imposing strict living conditions to the Orthodox and the Catholic local communities.
Monasteries became natural centers for resistance and organization of the rebels against the Turks. Over 200 years of Turkish occupation led to continuous revolts on the island.
Revolutionary committees and fighters attended meetings and assemblies in monasteries from all over Crete.
Monks played a key role during Crete’s road to freedom from the Ottomans. The religious communities supported the local communities providing food and protection. And in most cases, this implied massacres, arson, destruction, and violence.
Crete underwent 267 years 7 months and 7 days of violent Turkish occupation. A period of battles, fights, and loss of endless lives. An era that forged, even more, the character of Cretans and their religious convictions. And without any doubt, Cretan monasteries played a key role in the Cretan battles for freedom.
Let’s take now a look at some of Crete’s most important monasteries.
Top monasteries to visit in Crete, Greece
Arkadi Monastery (Rethymnon)
Latitude: N 35.310019 Longitude: E 24.629399
Opening Hours: Summer (Apr-Oct) 9 am – 6 pm | Winter (Nov–Mar) 9 am – 4 pm.
Entrance fee: 3.00 € (full ticket), free for local residents.
History of Arkadi Monastery
It’s not known when exactly the Holy Monastery of Arkadi was built. According to the tradition, though, it dates back to the 5th century and it might have been founded by the Byzantine emperor Arcadius.
Other sources state that its name is instead related to a monk, it’s not odd that, on Crete, monasteries carry the name of a founding monk.
Once the island was under Ottoman control (1648), the Turks raided Arkadi and the monks escaped. After months of negotiations and pledging allegiance to the rulers, they were allowed to return and rebuild the damaged buildings.
Arkadi flourished, about 100 monks lived within its walls and over 200 more in the surrounding areas. It was Crete’s most prosperous monastery, the monks cultivated the land and produced olive oil and wine.
The monastery slowly declined, according to different sources, also due to the taxes imposed by the Ottomans.
Cretans needed to rebel. By 1866, Arkadi had turned into a center for the Cretan revolution. While the Turks vandalized the area, many villagers found in Arkadi a place where to hide.
The Holocaust of Arkadi
The monastery was clearly rebelling against the Ottomans. As a consequence, an army of over 15.000 Turkish surrounded the monastery demanding unconditional surrender.
The monastery didn’t give in and fired back as a reply, it didn’t take long for the Ottomans to assault the building. The battle lasted for days and, outnumbered by the Turks, the rebels in the monastery were not able to defend themselves anymore. The Turks captured the building, set it on fire, and killed many Cretans.
The Turks massacred the insurgents hidden in the refectory, while women and children hid in the powder room where they set the barrels of powder on fire making the room explode. Not only the Cretan refugees died, but also several Turks.
Crete did not gain independence after these events, but they certainly caught the attention of the international community.
The events taking place on Crete didn’t go unnoticed and are an important landmark on Crete’s path to independence which the island finally gained in 1898.
Arkadi Monastery: The building
Plan of the building
1) Western door – 2) Cloisters – 3) Supply room – 4) Dairy – 5) Wine cellar – 6) Oil cellar – 7) Storage – 8) Workrooms – 9) Cells – 10) Powder magazine – 11) Cellars – 12) Kitchen – 13) Cellar – 14) Refectory (now Museum) – 15) Courtyard – 16) Hospice – 17) Church.
Walls: The monastery is surrounded by a continuous perimeter of defensive walls that give the building the impression of being a fortress.
Church: Arkadi’s church is one of the most beautiful religious buildings in Crete with distinctive Renaissance influences. The church is in the center of the courtyards and dates back to the 16th century.
Museum: It displays a rich collection of icons as well as a few special rooms with exhibits related to the Cretan revolt.
Ossuary: It’s right outside the monastery, behind the parking lot. It gathers the remains of those who perished in the massacre. Inside the monastery, it’s also worth visiting the refectory.
Don’t miss the ancient tree in the middle of the courtyard which hosts a huge iron bullet from the days of the siege.
Guided tours of Arkadi vs. independent visits
We’ve visited Arkadi a few times already, however, our first visit was as part of an organized tour when we were still not living on the island. We booked this tour (full day trip + cooking class), and it was expensive. For a much more convenient price, we strongly recommend you to check this other tour (also full day, lunch not included). This last option also takes you to Eleftherna, Melidoni Cave, and Margarites. It’s a super value for money!
All that being said, it’s fairly easy to visit Arkadi. It does not require driving for hours, especially if you’re staying in Rethymnon. If you prefer the public bus or driving, or if you like to travel in autonomy avoiding organized tours, you can find more tips in my guide to visiting Arkadi.
If you’re this kind of visitor, check a car rental search engine to compare prices when looking for the right car to tour the island. Discover Cars searches over 500 trusted rental companies for you to find the best deal.
Preveli Monastery (Rethymnon)
Latitude: N 35.157629 Longitude: E 24.457051
Opening Hours: Summer (Apr-Oct) 9 am – 6 pm | Winter (Nov–Mar) 9 am – 4 pm, we suggest contacting the monastery before organizing the visit during the winter months (webmaster[at]preveli[org]). In summer, the monastery closes from 1.30 to 3.30 pm)
Entrance fee: €2.50, free for local citizens.
The complex is formed by two different monasteries, Kato Monastiri (the lower monastery, today in ruins) and Piso Monastiri (the rear monastery).
History of Preveli Monastery
Also for the Holy Monastery of Preveli, the founding date is uncertain, although it’s believed to date by to the Venetian period of the island (1205-1669).
Over the centuries, Preveli became an important religious point of reference for the Cretan community as well as a center where locals would meet.
During the period of continuous revolutions against the Ottomans, the main abbot was part of a secret revolutionary group, who organized and financed the rebel units against the Turks.
The Ottoman response was the destruction of the monastery of Preveli. The monks were rescued on time and then took part in different battles for freedom.
Preveli alway fought for the Cretan cause, helping the different revolutionary committes even after the holocaust in Arkadi, offering shelter to almost 200 rebels.
An Ottoman army of over 8.000 men set the nearby villages and the Lower Monastery on fire in 1867. The Rear Monastery was saved from the destruction and was active until the end of the Ottoman rule on the island.
>> Check the best Airbnbs places to stay and experiences in Preveli.
The monastery during WWII
Preveli played a key role during the Battle of Crete (1941) against the invading German forces with supplies for the Allies during the battles held in the region and, later on, functioning as a place of shelter for the allied soldiers that remained on the island.
German soldiers attacked the Lower Monastery, and although some monks managed to escape, the Nazis destroyed much of the building as well as furniture and personal objects belonging to the monks.
The monks remaining in the monastery underwent heavy interrogation and were then imprisoned in the Firkas Fortress (Chania).
When in Preveli, don’t miss…
Preveli’s Benediction Cross
The Holy Cross (Timios Stavros) of Preveli has a long history. It comes from the city of Constantinople and it was carried in the frontline of the battles of Crete. The cross was lost and then found in battle against the Turks. It was removed by the German soldiers who couldn’t manage to take it to their country.
It was build on the lands of the Monastery to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Crete, it’s dedicated to the Resistance of the Cretan Population and Peace and stands facing the Libyan sea, less than 2 km from the monastery.
Moni Preveli: The building
The monastery was originally formed by two main buildings, the Lower Monastery of Saint John the Baptist and the Rear Monastery of Saint John the Theologian (today active).
Lower Monastery: Presents an irregular plant, with several buildings and a courtyard. Saint John’s church is in the center of the yard. The church (Katholikon) of the Lower Monastery has one nave and a domed roof and a tower with two bells.
Rear Monastery: Stands at the foot of a mountain overlooking the sea. There’s a small cemetery for the monks which a chapel and an ossuary. The church (Katholikon) stands in the center of the courtyard and it has a very pretty yet simple facade.
Museum in the Rear Monastery: Hosts the icons saved from the different attacks as well as religious vestments, and a collection of seals.
Guided tours of Moni Preveli
When we visited, we did it with an organized tour that we really enjoyed. If you’re also interested in visiting the nearby palm tree beach or other activities in the mountains of Rethymnon, you can head here for some of my favorite tours.
How to get to Moni Preveli
- Preveli is 36 km from the city of Rethymnon (on the northern coast). You need to travel south along the road Rethimou-Agias Galinis, passing through the beautiful Kouraliotiko gorge, and then take the road Koxaron-Moni Prevelis.
- If instead, you’re traveling from the southern village of Plakias, you’ll drive for just 20 minutes. The best road is Koxaron-Moni Prevelis.
Toplou Monastery (Lasithi)
Latitude: N 35.221614 Longitude: E 26.216085
Opening Hours: 9 am-1 pm, 2 pm-6 pm. The monastery is open daily all year round.
Entrance fee: €2.50, free for local citizens.
Note: Photography is not allowed in the church and museum, but you can take pictures of the courtyard and the outside areas.
History of Toplou Monastery
The Holy Monastery of Toplou was probably built on top of an existing church around the 15th century. It was subsequently destroyed by an earthquake and it was rebuilt by the Venetian Republic due to its strategic position on the eastern coast of the island.
When the Turks invaded and took control of Crete, the monastery was repeatedly attacked by the Ottomans, especially in 1866, during the years of the Cretan revolt.
>> Check this link to discover the best Airbnb places to stay and experiences near Toplou
Toplou during the German occupation of Crete (1941-1944)
The island of Crete was occupied by the Nazis during WWII, from 1941 to 1944. In this period, Toplou sheltered the local resistance fighters.
Today, in the museum, it’s possible to see the different objects that the monastery used to combat the Germans. Among them, there’s a wireless radio used to communicate with allied forces based in Egypt.
This radio was the cause of the torture and execution (in the prison of Agia, near Chania) of the abbot and some monks when it was found by German soldiers.
Toplou Monastery: The building
Due to its isolated and rather vulnerable position, but also because of the continuous attacks it went through, Toplou stands behind solid fortification walls which are about 10 meters high.
It’s not a big construction, such as Arkadi or Preveli, but it’s certainly one of the prettiest religious buildings on Crete.
The Courtyards: The monastery has two beautiful inner courts, with refined stone floors, flowers, trees, and wooden staircases.
The Belfry: The imposing bell tower and, in particular, the belfry, are constructed in the typical Rennaisance style that characterizes many of the Cretan religions buildings. The rest of the buildings also incorporates elements of Byzantine architecture.
Museum: The museum of Toplou is divided into several rooms, all of which hosting objects from different historical periods. There’s an impressive collection of ancient books, icons, and images, religious clothes and countless artifacts from WWII, such as bullets and weapons.
Across from the main building, there is a small cemetery for the monks and a tiny chapel.
Once in Toplou, don’t miss…
Moni Toplou Winery
Arguably one of Crete’s most prestigious wine and olive oil producers.
In summer, it’s possible to visit the wine tasting facilities to sample the wines, the raki, and the top-class extra virgin olive oil produced in the structure.
The climate of the Lasithi region is ideal for growing varieties such as Assyrtiko (originally from Santorini), otherwise not common in Crete.
During the visit, it’s also possible to taste other local delicacies, such as Cretan rusks, graviera cheese, and olives.
Visiting Moni Toplou
Our visit to Moni Toplou was a perfect fit in our 5-day Lasithi itinerary, which also included the Lasithi Plateau and the Cave of Zeus, Agios Nikolaos, the mountain village of Kritsa and many other highlights.
We reached Toplou driving from Sitia and spent about three hours in the monastery. Next on the same day, we headed to the palm tree beach of Vai, a short drive from Toplou.
- INSIDER’S TIP: If you’re planning to visit East Crete, I strongly suggest you renting a car and driving the road from Sitia to Vai Beach passing from Toplou, it’s one of the most isolated, beautiful, and inspiring landscapes I’ve ever witnessed on Crete.
How to get to Toplou Monastery, Crete
- Toplou is Preveli is 85 km from the city of Agios Nikolaos and 15 km from Sitia. The best way to get there from Agios Nikolaos is to drive along the coastal road (National Road E75) until you reach Sitia, and once there, follow the Wines of Crete signs to reach the Monastery.
- If instead, you’re traveling from the southern city of Ierapetra, you can head north driving the road Ierapetra-Sitias (about 73 km).
Agia Triada Monastery (Chania)
Latitude: N 35.560757 Longitude: E 24.135279
Opening Hours: 8 am-sunset (summer | 8 am-4 pm (winter). Open daily all year round.
Entrance fee: €2.50, free for children and local citizens.
- LOCALS KNOW BETTER: The monastery is located less than 5 km from my home, on Cape Akrotiri. I’ve not only visited countless times, but I even host a lunch and wine tasting experience in the cellars during summer. Do trust me when I say that the monastery is open daily, even when different online sources write that it’s closed on certain days of the week. That’s simply not correct.
History of Agia Triada Monastery
The Patriarchal Monastery of Agia Triada Tsagarolon was built during the last years of the Venetian rule of the island, during the first half of the 17th century, probably on the site of a former monastery, by the Venetian-Cretan brothers, the Orthodox monks Ieremias and Laurentio Tsangarolon.
The name Agia Triada means Holy Trinity while Tsagaralon makes reference to the founding brothers.
The construction of the building was interrupted during the years of the Ottoman invasion of the island.
During the year of the Greek Revolution against the Turks (1821), different monasteries in the region suffered attacks (in the area, the Nunnery of Korakies and Agia Triada Monastery were the object of extreme violence).
In particular, the Turks burned an impressive collection of manuscripts as well as several historical relics. The monastery was completed after the revolution while, by the end of the Ottoman occupation, it functioned as a hospital and headquarters of the local rebels.
Agia Triada during the Nazi occupation of Crete
During the years of the Nazi occupation of the island, Agia Triada was used by the German soldiers as a place to storage ammunitions. The troops also established the School of the AAA in the place.
If you visit and climb to the patio on the roof, you can see the German carvings on the stones of the bell tower, probably made by the soldiers during the occupation.
>> Check the best Airbnbs in Chania Old Town.
The architectural design of the monastery is the work of one of the founding brothers, Ieremias, and it was completed by his brother after his death. It has a squared shape and is surrounded by high defensive walls.
After climbing the imposing stairs at the entrance, a vaulted corridor leads you to a beautiful courtyard with fruit trees and beautiful flowers, a garden carefully maintained by the monks living in the monastery.
The Church: The imposing church of the monastery has two chapels, one of them dedicated to Saint John the Theologian. It also has a characteristic dome with colorful frescos inside. The bell tower is built opposite the church, right under the entrance.
Also visit the area of the museum, the library, and the cells of the monks… don’t miss the entrance road border by hundreds of cypress trees and marvel at the view of the extensive vineyards of the monastery.
When in Agia Triada, don’t miss…
>> Discover where to stay in the area!
Agia Triada Winery
In the building next to the monastery, you can visit the wine cellars, an ancient stone mill, and different objects belonging to the past of the monastery.
Also, you can ask to taste the wines and the olive oil, as well as other gastronomic delicacies made in the monastery (do try their orange balsamic sauce!).
They also produce a wide variety of carob products, vinegar and products derived from extra virgin olive oil, such as cosmetic creams and soaps.
Agia Triada was one of the few (if not the only!) wineries of the island making wine from the Chania grape variety Romeiko for a very long time.
The Romeiko variety was once despised by local sommeliers and producers, and usually considered a grape a grape that was ok only for homemade wine.
Today, however, Romeiko is widely used by many regional wineries to produce some of their top-selling labels.
Visiting Agia Triada Monastery
It’s very easy to reach Agia Triada driving from the center of Chania. The trip is 30 minutes along the road that connects the center with the Akrotiri Peninsula. The road is known as Akrotiriu but the official name is Profiti Ilias-Moni Agias Triados).
It’s also possible to reach Agia Triada driving along the road to the International Airport of Chania.
Other monasteries & churches to see in Crete
Chrisoskalithissa Monastery, Chania
The Monastery of Panagia Chrisoskalithissa is in the region of Chania, about 71 km from the city center, and approximately 5 km before reaching the pink sand beach of Elafonisi.
The building, which stands on top of a steep rock (about 40 m high), dates back from the 17th century and the cells of the nuns are in a building close by. It was built as a fortress, and dominates the landscape with an ample view of the Libyan sea.
Inside the complex, it’s also possible to visit a small but interesting folklore museum that exhibits objects belonging to the everyday life of the monks and the nuns. There is also a Byzantine museum with religious exhibits. The museums are right after the entrance, before reaching the famous stairs that give the name to the monastery.
The name Panagia Chrisoskalithissa means Our Lady of the Golden Step. It’s said that the last of the 98 steps leading up to the church was made of gold, but only those pure of heart manage to see it.
The church (Katholiko) is dedicated to the Assumption of the Holy Virgin. It houses a famous icon of the Virgin Mary, which was hidden in the area to protect before the monastery was even built.
The legend says that, a few years after, a local was presented with a religious vision that led him to the rock to find the icon, and therefore the church was built in that place.
Within the monastery, there are two chapels, one dedicated to the Transfiguration of Christ ad the other to Saint Gregory the Theologian.
Operating hours: 7 am – 7.30 pm
Entrance fee: €2 (free for residents)
Insider’s tip: Check the view of the stunning sea of Elafonisi from the rear of the church.
Gonia Monastery, Chania
The gorgeous Monastery of Our Lady of Gonia (also Panagia Odigitrias) stands less than 1 km from the town of Kolymbari and no more than 25 km from the center of Chania, at the base of Cape Rodopou. It’s in a magnificent elevated position, on a steep hill, facing the Gulf of Chania.
The monastery was originally founded during the 9th century, and it was located further inside the peninsula, close to the beach of Menies, and not far from the ancient ruins of a Minoan temple.
During the first years of the 15th century, while the island was under the control of the Republic of Venice, it was rebuilt on its present location with very typical Venetian traits in its architecture.
When you visit, don’t forget to check the fortified walls, the impressive courtyard opposite the church and the surrounding cells of the monks. Also, take a look up at the belfry and the fountain at the entrance.
Just like many other Cretan monasteries, it suffered continuous attacks and destruction attempts during the Ottoman ruling, in fact, the remains of a cannonball can still be seen on one of the walls of the monastery.
It also suffered damages during the Nazi occupation (1941-1944), in fact, the monastery is located quite close to Maleme the place where the German paratroopers landed, invading Crete, giving origin to the Battle of Crete (1941).
The monastery was even occupied by German soldiers who also imprisoned the monks, however, the area remained an active resistance center against the Germans.
Visiting hours: 9 am – 1 pm and 2 pm – 7 pm.
Entrance fee: €2 (free for residents)
Insider’s tip: Check the Byzantine Icon Museum.
Gouverneto Monastery, Chania
Not far from the main gate of Agia Triada Monastery, the road continues towards the mountains of Akrotiri and after about 4 km and a few hairpin turns, you find yourself at the main door of Gouverneto Monastery, another religious center in the region of Chania, and one of the oldest monasteries of Crete.
Built in 1537, the official name of the temple is Our Lady of the Angels. It’s a clearly fortified building bearing resemblance with the shape of a castle and boasting a fantastic Venetian architectural style.
It had towers on its four corners (only two are standing today), used to defend the monastery from invaders and pirate attacks, being it located not far from the sea. The cells of the monks are set on two different floors building and the yard has a beautiful garden and magnificent bells on one of its corners.
The church has a beautiful facade in Venetian Renaissance style and stunningly beautiful Baroque columns with fantastic beings and monsters and carved in relief. The work started being built during the Venetian period, but the Turkish occupation delayed its completion for centuries.
On both sides of the main church, there are two small chapels, one of them dedicated to the Ten Saints of Crete, while the other honors Saint John the Hermit who not only founded the monastery but who also lived in the nearby cave known as Arkoudospilios (The Cave of the Bear), right below the monastery, along the Gorge of Avlaki.
To visit the cave you need to hike a narrow path down towards the sea for about 20 minutes, walking through the gorge. Inside the cave, there’s a small chapel and beautiful natural formations. The most important of these is the one that names the cave since it has the aspect of a bear.
According to the legend, a bear entered the cave to drink water and the virgin transformed into a rock to protect the hermit. In fact, the rock looks like a bear that’s bending down to drink from a natural water basin.
Walking for about 10 more minutes you will reach the abandoned Katholiko Monastery and the former church of Saint John the Hermit.
Finally, at the end of the trail, there’s a small cove that once functioned as a harbor. Despite being such a beautiful seaside spot, swimming is strictly forbidden by the monks in Gouverneto.
>> The monastery is very strict with visiting hours, does not tolerate inappropriate clothes (shorts, sleeveless shirts, swimming clothes), and is not enthusiastic about big groups of tourists. Cameras are not allowed in the church.
Gouverneto Monastery is 19 km north of Chania, and the entrance is free.
9 am – 12 pm and 5 pm – 7 pm (Monday, Tuesday and Thursday)
9 am – 11 am and 5 pm – 8 pm (Saturday and Sunday)
Closed on Wednesday and Friday.
Korakies Monastery, Chania
Mostly unknown to tourists and visitors, Korakies is a nunnery on the Akrotiri Peninsula and one of Chania’s most beloved temples by the locals.
The peninsula has always been a place with a distinctive monastic tradition, today, three monasteries remain in the area, the former two mentioned above, Gouverneto in the mountains, and Agia Triada at the foot of Mount Skloka, while Korakies is on a flat area of the cape.
It’s a traditional place of gathering for Orthodox Easter when the nuns take turns to read the Holy Scripts in several languages all night long. As a matter of fact, those living in the Akrotiri peninsula claim that this is the most traditional place in Chania to spend Easter.
The official name of the monastery is Holy Convent of Saint John the Forerunner (Iera Moni Timiou Prodromou) and its founding date is unknown since the archives of the convent were destroyed during the successive attacks during the Ottoman period.
After the Greek revolution against the Ottomans, in 1821, the convent was badly damaged and the nuns sought refuge in other religious buildings of the region. The monastery re-opened in 1867, while some of the nuns played a significant role in the many Cretan battles against the Turks.
Once the island finally set free from the Ottoman rule, the nunnery became a well-known place of education from the young girls of Chania. It hosted the Housekeeping School, where the future housewives learned different arts and techniques, such as the old tradition of kopaneli, a magnificent traditional craft from Crete to make lace.
The nuns in the school also produced and sold curtains, tablecloths, carpets, and more. During WWII the Germans ordered the nunnery to be abandoned, but some of the nuns remained to take care of the relics and icons housed in the building.
Today it’s possible to visit the nunnery, walk through the wonderful gardens and discover the ancient crafts in the museum. there are just a few nuns living in the monastery, and they’re extremely welcoming to foreigners and visitors wanting to discover the history of the Monastery of Korakies.
Opening hours: 8 am – 6 pm.
For more details check the map to reach Agia Triada Monastery.
6 more unique churches in Crete
Crete is home to dozens of monasteries and over 800 churches, so it’s quite difficult for me to decide which of them to include in the article. First of all, I haven’t seen all of them. Secondly I don’t intend to write so much (this post is quite long already!).
I’ve chosen my six favorite ones for you to take a look, but I encourage you to leave a message with your favorite church in the comments below (if you send me your picture I will add it to your comment)!
The Church of Panagia Kera is probably Crete’s most famous temple because it houses some of the finest and best-preserved Byzanties frescoes on the island.
Panagia Kera is about one kilometer away from Kritsa, a picturesque mountain village in the region of Lasithi, about 20 minutes away from the city of Agios Nikolaos.
Bothe the dome and the aisles present colorful and very vivid frescoes, including scenes from the New Testament, images that reference the life of Virgin Mary and the day of the Judgement.
The building has a unique characteristic shape, wit buttresses offering support to the whole structure, as well as a small but refined belfry.
Agios Pavlos is another Byzantine church of Crete, located in a stunning position, on the Agios Pavlos’ beach in the southern village of Agia Roumeli (Chania).
To get to the church, walk the paths along the sea from the main beach of the village, for about 20 minutes.
It’s believed that the church stands exactly on the spot where Saint Paul baptized Christians while he was on his way to Rome.
The church was built using the dark stones of the beach itself, which makes it hard to distinguish it from its surroundings.
The beautiful building dates from the 10th century while the frescoes in its walls are from the 13th century.
Church of the Panagia (Fodele)
The little village of Fodele, only a few kilometers away from the capital of Crete, Heraklion, hosts one of Crete’s most precious Byzantine buildings, the Church of the Panagia.
This is another temple hosting impressive ancient frescoes, some of them as old as the 12th century.
The temple, from the 11th century, has the clear shape of a cross and it was built on top of a former early Christian basilica (probably from the 6th century).
The church is located among lush orange trees, right opposite the El Greco museum.
Church of the Panagia (Thronos)
The small stone Chapel of the Panagia, or Church of Our Lady, is in the picturesque village of Thronos, right in the heart of the valley of Amari, in the region of Rethymnon.
It’s a very old construction with a single aisle and a vaulted ceiling. It has a very simple interior, yet its walls are covered with unique Byzantine frescoes and an inscription dating from 1491.
The temple stands on the ruins of an early Christian basilica from the 4th century, parts of which are still visible. You can read more about this church here. If you plan to visit, remember to ask in the local kafenio for the key to getting inside.
Agios Nikolaos (Georgioupoli)
One of the most picturesque churches you’ll be able to find in the region of Chania is the small chapel of Agios Nikolaos.
This tiny chapel was built at the end of a long pier that extends into the sea right at the end of the city beach of Georgioupoli, a small seaside town about 27 km from the center of Chania.
Inside, the church is incredibly simple, with just a few icons and candles always lit. The chapel is dedicated to Saint Nicholas, who is the patron saint of sailors.
The spot is a famous location for wedding photography, and it’s in fact common to see couples walking along the pier in wedding suits.
The path to the church is very irregular and it’s possible to spot crabs hiding among the rocks as you walk. Unfortunately, the church is not accessible to people in wheelchairs, and I highly recommend you to wear comfortable shoes to visit.
Agios Nikolaos (Chania)
The beautiful church of Agios Nikolaos, in the Turkish district of Splantzia, was once the main mosque of the city of Chania, during the years of the Ottoman rule.
The beautiful church of Agios Nikolaos, in the Turkish district of Splantzia, was once the main mosque of the city of Chania, Huncar Camii, during the years of the Ottoman rule.
The most characteristic feature of this building is the high minaret (the tallest building in the old town) that still stands on the south corner of the church, while a Venetian bell tower stands on the north angle.
Agios Nikolaos is the remaining main church of a former Dominican monastery from 1320. During the Ottoman occupation, the Turkish turned the monastery into the mosque of Hunkar Camii and added a minaret with two balconies. Agios Nikolaos has been operating as a Greek Orthodox Church since 1919.
Mosques & minarets
When the Ottomans invaded Crete, they converted every Catholic or Orthodox building in a Muslim place of prayer.
This particular building used to be the Church of Holy Mary, a Franciscan religious building before being turned into the Neratzes Mosque at the end of the 1600s.
The mosque is in the old town of Rethymnon and it’s now a school of music.
Küçük Hassan Mosque
Also known as the Mosque of the Janissaries, or Yiali Tzamisi Mosque (the seaside mosque), this is the oldest Islamic building on the island and it’s located on the old Venetian port of Chania.
It stands on the foundations of a former Venetian chapel and it was used only by the Janissaries (the soldiers of the Turk ruler during the Ottoman times). The mosque was built in 1645.
Minaret of Valide Sultana
At the end of the 1600s, as the Ottomans were filling the city of Rethymnon with Muslim buildings, the Turkish ruler Sultan Ibrahim ordered the construction of a mosque to honor his mother.
The building is located in the old town of Rethymnon, next to the Guora Gate, which made the mosque to be called the Mosque of Megali Porta. The minaret of Valide Sultana (Ibrahim’s mother) dates back to 1878.
Minaret of Achmet Aga
The Achmet Aga Mosque used to be on Chatzimichali Daliani street, in the Turkish quarter of Splantiza, very close to the center of Chania.
The area was known as Schinoplokadika (the road where they would manufacture ropes and knit).
All that remains of the mosque is the beautiful minaret and an abandoned knitwear factory.
Are you ready to explore Crete? It can be the trip of your lifetime. Get in touch if you need extra help to plan your itinerary and join our Crete Travel Group on Facebook. Or check this guide if you’re touring West Crete. You’ll find detailed info about where to go, what to see, where to eat, and more!
Coming to Crete any time soon? These fantastic resources will help you organize the trip!
- Start by heading right to my post with helpful tips to plan a trip to Crete, which goes over every detail you need to know, from when it’s best to travel to what documents you need, or how to get a SIM card. You can also check my post to plan a Crete trip with kids!
- Probably, you’re also planning to spend some time at the beach on the island. Check my guide to the best beaches in Crete to choose the one you like the most. Read this article to decide what area suits best to stay in Crete, or check this post is you still don’t know all the things you can do in Crete.
- Finally, to have updated information about the island, join my private group on Facebook about Crete and download a copy of my West Crete Travel Guide to have it always with you on the island!
Finally, make sure you’ve got everything you for a hassle-free trip!
- I never move around the island with any of these… my Osprey backpack has been the most loyal travel partner over the last 5 years. It’s sturdy, light, roomy, and super comfortable! I just love it. To visit the old town, archaeological sites, and museums, this little crossbody bag is always around.
- When driving around Crete, I always pack my Michelin map, clear, accurate, and easy to read and my Nikon D7200, I’m lost without any of them. In summer I also carry good sunscreen lotion, the sun on the island can be pretty aggressive.
- Greece, and especially Crete, is a fairly safe destination, however, I’m sure you know that it’s always better to travel with an insurance policy for complete peace of mind. My favorite? World Nomads. Already left home? Buy your travel insurance online now!
- Always bring with you a good travel guide to Crete! The best Crete Travel Guide I’ve found so far is the one published by Lonely Planet. It has all the information you need.
- Airfares to Crete can vary immensely from one airline to the other, make sure you always compare ticket prices with a powerful search engine. Getting to Crete can be really comfortable with an airplane, but nothing beats the romantic experience of traveling by sea. I always choose Direct Ferries to visit other Greek islands or to travel directly to Crete from Athens. It has a powerful search engine to get the right ticket you need!
- If I need to book accommodation in Crete or anywhere else, I personally use Booking.com. Their Genius Loyalty Programme allows me to find better fees. As they say, the more you stay with them, the more rewards you get.
- Road trips in Crete are the most authentic way to explore the island. Find the cheapest rental car using a good car rental search engine. Discover Cars searches over 500 trusted rental companies for you to find the best deal. Compare prices for rental cars in Crete here.
- Sometimes, the best way to get to know a place better and make the most of your time on Crete is to join an organized tour. GetYourGuide has a great selection of proposals that help you save time and money. From cooking lessons to archaeological site tours, skip-the-line attractions, and even airport transfer!
Do you have everything you need? Then you just have to get ready to discover Crete, Greece’s most beautiful island!
- Further reading
If you would like to read more about Crete’s fascinating past, you should also check the article that helps you discover the most stunning archaeological sites in Crete. There are also beautiful monasteries to visit on the island. If you’re interested in Crete’s past as a leper colony, don’t miss this article about the island of Spinalonga, while in the same region there are many gorgeous villages to explore. A trip to Crete is a good opportunity to learn even more about Greek mythology, why not checking the Cave of Zeus or the fantastic seaside caves of Matala and the Minoan Palace of Faistos. Finally, in the region of Rethymnon, a day trip to Arkadi Monastery will teach you tons about the Turkish occupation of the island.
Which of these buildings would you like to visit?
Let me know in the comments below!
- Pin for Later
About the Author
Hola! I’m Gabi. Welcome to The Tiny Book – Crete Travel Blog! I moved to Crete to explore the island all year round. I love taking pictures and driving on the mountain roads of Crete. I’m a beach freak and on this island I’ve found heaven on earth!