Visiting Preveli Monastery: An Insight into Cretan Culture and Spirit

Preveli Monastery

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A visit to the Preveli Monastery is like a trip through time and events that shaped Crete’s history. In this guide, prepare to learn how monks and locals fought for the island’s independence, sometimes successfully, but others not.

Equipped with this knowledge, you’ll read how to make the most of your visit by discovering the secrets of one of the most prominent monasteries in Rethymnon.

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Everything About Preveli Monastery, Crete

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The Importance of Preveli Monastery in Crete’s History

preveli monastery

Few other monasteries in Greece have played such a leading role in the fight for Greek independence.

Preveli Crete might be a religious center, but fate had it that it has always been involved in all national endeavors for freedom. 

Whether it was during the intense years of Ottoman rule or the brutal German occupation in World War II, the Monastery of Preveli helped the local population and allied forces against all odds. And more often than not, it paid the price. 

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For those reasons, the locals deeply respect and are grateful to the monastery and its legacy. And don’t forget the regular contribution such an establishment has had to the community’s overall spiritual health and growth.

In short, if you plan to visit the Preveli Monastery, it is wise to first learn of its inspiring and thrilling stories. It will make the experience ten times better.

To help you with that, here is a brief history of all you need to know about the Preveli Monastery. 

Preveli Monastery During the Byzantine Period: How It All Started

Preveli Monastery

Although we don’t know the specific date, the Monastery of Preveli dates back to the 10th or 11th century when Byzantians established several monasteries on the southern coast of Crete.

The name Prevelii, however, came into existence centuries later. So how did it all begin?

According to local lore, a criminal named Prevelis had a spiritual awakening and decided to turn into a monk. He then moved to the old monastery of the area and founded Moni Preveli, as known in Greek. 

preveli monastery

If you prefer more evidence-based theories, the prominent view is that a feudal lord named Prevelis installed the monastery during the Venetian rule of the 16th century.

To support this theory further, the monastery’s Italian bell even has the number 1594 engraved.

Preveli Monastery During the Ottoman Period: The Start of Independence Movements

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Because of its remote location and surrounding landscape, Preveli Monastery enjoyed relative political tolerance from the Turks. This limited freedom allowed their monks to lead an anti-Turkish movement in the broader area. 

Apart from actively supporting the Cretan revolution, the monastery always provided shelter to Greek rebels and refugees. Sometimes, armed groups even used the buildings as a launching point against the Turkish occupying forces.

For example, the 1821 Cretan revolution originated in Preveli Monastery, where the abbot Melchizedek led the fight for independence.

This historical figure organized, equipped, and financed the first rebel units against the conquerors.

In retaliation, the Turks destroyed the monastery, but thanks to the timely efforts of the abbot, the monks were rescued at the last moment.

Preveli Monastery

The Cretan Independence movement continued for many decades, and the monastery always supported it.

Even when a solid Ottoman army set it on fire in 1867, it wasn’t enough to deter the monks and local population, who rebuilt the monastery in no time and reentered the fight.

After two successful revolutionary periods in 1878 and 1893, the Monastery of Preveli finally returned to its spiritual and social role in 1913.

Under Greek rule, the monastery prospered and continued to provide for the community, this time with its religious function. 

Preveli Monastery During WWII: The Turmoils Continue

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If you think the monastery’s story throughout the Ottoman occupation was heroic, wait until you hear about the wonders of Preveli monks during World War II.

From the moment the Germans set foot on the island until their departure, the Monastery of Preveli sheltered more than 5000 allies who fought in the Battle of Crete.

Despite strict measures against aiding Allied troops, the monks and locals organized an intricate network of hidden hideouts for Greek and Allied soldiers.

They even helped in their evacuation from the island.

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Australian veteran soldier, Geoffrey Edwards, was one of the survivors who legendarily escaped on a British submarine – all thanks to the Preveli monks.

Later in his life, and in memory of the Greeks who helped him, he founded a monastery named Prevelly, located in a tourist village near Perth, Australia.

On another attempt to rescue soldiers, Preveli monks got caught and put into prison in the Firkas Fortress of Chania.

things to do in crete: visit preveli monastery

In retribution, the Germans destroyed the Monastery of Preveli once again. However, it wasn’t long until the remaining monks rebuilt it and continued their support of the Greek war for independence. 

Plan the Visit: What to See in Preveli Monastery, Rethymno

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First things first, the Preveli Monastery is a complex of two different buildings, 1.7 kilometers apart.

One of them, Kato Monastiri or Lower Monastery, is now in ruins, while the other, Piso Monastiri or Rear Monastery, is the one you can visit today. 

Lower or Kato Monastiri: Monastery of Saint John the Baptist

preveli monastery

Although in ruins, the Lower Monastery makes for a dramatic landscape you will fall in love instantly. Imagine a demolished church surrounded by several stone buildings and cypress trees, while flower pots and the nearby olive grove give life to the scene.

Add the bizarre mountain landscape in the background to the picture, and you have it all.

This fertile land was used to host the farming installations of the monastery.

It also was home to younger monks and civilians who produced everything from shoes and carpets to baskets and saddles.

preveli monastery

If you pay attention, you may even notice the ruins of an olive oil press among the warehouses and all the living rooms of the building. 

Unfortunately, the Kato Monastery faced several destructions over the years, including fires, looting, and retaliation acts by the various conquerors of Crete.

Its residents slowly abandoned it and moved to the Rear Monastery, commonly known as Preveli Moni.

Rear or Piso Monastiri: Monastery of Saint John Theologos

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Unlike Lower Monastery, the Rear Monastery of Saint John Theologos resides on the rocky and barren cliffs of Mesokorfi Mount.

Once you enter the monastery, the incredible views over the Libyan Sea will fascinate you. And that is without even seeing the inside of this historic venue.

preveli monastery

In the center of the courtyard, you’ll find the monastery’s main attraction. The two-aisled church of Katholikon has a simple yet charming facade with an arched roof.

Inside, you’ll come across several important icons, paintings, relics, and decorative tiles on the floor.

preveli monastery

Surrounding the church, several buildings make up the monastery. Some rooms you may notice are the abbot’s residences, a wax workshop, the dining room, the library, the monks’ cells, and a small cemetery.

The monastery also features a traditional fountain which is still in use. Inscribed on it, you’ll read the phrase, “Not only wash your face but purify yourself from sin; the well is ample.”

preveli monastery

Feel free to try the water here and take your chances with the enigma above.

Museum in the Rear Monastery

preveli monastery
Museum of Moni Preveli (Preveli Monastery), Crete, Greece (via Tomisti – Creative Commons Share Alike).

One of the exhibits you must not miss during your visit to Preveli Monastery is its museum, opposite the fountain.

The structure, which used to be a stable, now houses many significant icons dating between the 16th and the 20th century. 

Among many relics, you’ll admire several religious vestments, garments, vessels, and a unique collection of seals.

What may surprise you the most, however, is a grand Assembly dedicated to the battle of Crete, which was gifted to the monastery by the Greek community of Perth.

Preveli’s Benediction Cross 

preveli monastery
We were very lucky during our visit as we were granted permission by a priest to take a picture and get close to the cross!

On top of all these sights, there is an important one that you won’t find in the museum – Preveli’s Benediction Cross. We were very lucky during our visit since a priest in the church opened the shire and let us get a close-up look, as well as take a few photos of the incredible cross.

It stands inside a shrine in the main church and is believed to bring miraculous healing, especially for eye diseases.

Since its base includes part of the True Cross, the monks have always carried it in every battle they fought as a sign of encouragement. 

Many stories shed light on the miraculous effects of the cross. One story dates back to 1823 when the cross was lost at the hands of the Turks during an unequal battle.

Later, Genoese pirates bought it and embarked on a journey home. When they passed by Preveli Lake, the boat mysteriously stopped and wouldn’t move for three days despite the strong winds.

Only when the pirates delivered the cross to the monks could they return home.

Cretan WWII Resistance Monument

preveli monastery

This memorial commemorates the Battle of Crete (1941), the civilians, the Cretan Militia, and servicemen from the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand.

The first sculpture shows the armed Abbot of the Preveli Monastery in 1941 Agathangelos Lagouvardos and the second a soldier of the Allied forces.

A similar event allegedly happened on the 13th of September of 1941, when Germans forcefully removed the cross from the monastery and tried to send it home.

The first plane they used wouldn’t start; the same happened to the second one. The German officials attributed this astonishing coincidence to the cross and decided to return it to their rightful owners.

How to Get to Preveli Monastery

preveli monastery
Rethymnon – Preveli (Google Maps 2023).

Preveli monastery is 36 kilometers south of the city of Rethymno.

To visit the Rear Monastery, you must follow the highway Rethimnou-Agias Galinis and then pass through the scenic Kourtaliotiko gorge. Finally, turn on the road Koxaron-Moni Prevelis, and you are almost there!

If you’re already on the southern coast in the village of Plakias, you only need to drive for 20 minutes on the Koxaron-Moni Prevelis road.

While you approach the monastery, remember to embrace the surroundings, especially the picturesque stone bridge built in the 1850s by the monastery (more info down below).

Practical Tips for Your Visit to Preveli Monastery

preveli monastery

PREVELI MONASTERY OPENING TIMES: Preveli Monastery opening times are daily from 9 am to 6 pm in summer. However, if you visit in winter, it is open until 5 pm instead. In any case, I recommend calling the monks before you get there to confirm the Preveli Monastery opening hours.

preveli monastery

PUBLIC TRANSPORT: If you don’t have a car or have parked in Plakias, you can still visit the monastery by bus. It takes around 20 minutes to get from the village of Plakias to Moni Preveli, and the ticket is approximately €2.

PREVELI MONASTERY ENTRANCE FEE: If you are wondering about the cost of Preveli Monastery tickets, that would be around €4. A great deal if you ask me! Also, remember to bring cash in case there is no service for credit card use.

preveli monastery

ANIMAL SANCTUARY: While admiring the local relics and architecture, you’ll notice a charming animal sanctuary in the monastery. Think of ostriches, ducks, peacocks, mountain goats, birds, and many cats. It is so fun seeing all these animals freely roaming around the complex!

LITTLE CAFE: If you feel like taking a break from sightseeing, there is a tiny cafe a few steps away from the monastery. It’s a nice spot to get some drinks or snacks, especially if you feel a bit hungry. 

preveli monastery

SHOP: On your way out of Moni Preveli, check out the unique products and specialties in the local store. The Preveli monks keep busy producing various delicacies, including honey and olive oil. You’ll also find handmade beeswax candles, religious books, and incense.

Supporting the shop goes a long way. After all, the earnings go to the upkeep of the monastery, which is now left with only four male monks. 

preveli monastery
Preveli Beach early in the morning.

PREVELI BEACH: The area’s highlight and main attraction is the Preveli Palm Tree Beach and the nearby forest. So, make sure to combine your visit to the monastery with this famous Preveli Beach. You’ll love every second of it.

Other Sites to See Near Preveli Monastery

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Megalos Potamos before reaching the sea.

Apart from its monastery and the famous beach (a gem on the southern coast of Rethymnon), the area has historical landmarks and natural sites of unparalleled beauty.

To mention just a few, think of a centuries-old olive grove, old traditional chapels, hidden caves, scenic hiking paths, and of course, the trail along the Megalos Potamos River and the waterfalls of Kourtaliotiko Gorge.

preveli monastery

One of the sites worth special mention is the beautiful Venetian Bridge, locally known as the Preveli Bridge.

This stone construction dates back to a later time than the Venetian era (probably 1850) and it marks the starting point of the hike to Preveli Beach.

The bridge is 13.5 meters long and about 7 meters high, and it crosses the Megalos Potamos or Big River which ends at the famous palm tree beach of Preveli.

Preveli Monastery

A few meters from the bridge there’s a traditional Cretan taverna where to sit under the shadow of the trees and enjoy a cold drink before starting the hike.

If you are in Crete, monasteries such as Preveli are a must-visit. You will get an insight into local architecture and culture and experience a serene environment that will enchant you with its old-world charm.

preveli monastery
Remember to carry a sarong to cover your shoulders.

In short, remember to include the Monastery of Preveli in your Crete itinerary, and prepare for a memorable day trip in Crete.
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Written by Dimitrios Tsevremes
Passionate about travel, spirituality, and sports, I have lived in 5 countries and traveled to more places than I have counted. Writing, for me, is a way to express myself and my creativity. Whether I write for my blog or a freelancing gig, I always fall in love with the process and often lose my sense of time. If you want, you can check out more about me and my work here.

Pin This Helpful Guide to Visit Preveli Monastery during Your Crete Stay!

Preveli Monastery

About my blog:

Gabi Ancarola | The Tiny Book

Gabi Ancarola

I moved to Crete in 2016. During these years, I learned much about the island.
In Crete, I juggle being a solo mom, hosting culinary tours, and writing for several travel blogs.
I’ve written for Greek Reporter, published travel guides about Greece, and had more glasses of frappe than any regular person could ever handle.

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