My Cretan life and experiences are highlighted by many of very touching moments. When I think of all my trips around the island, I can’t come up with just one perfect memory, because there were always many of them. However, visiting the Arkadi Monastery, in Rethymno, is always a touching experience. Once you’re there, the first thing that strikes you is the immense beauty of the place, and a total sense of peace. A place so beautiful and still so deeply marked with the struggles of the locals for freedom. Arkadi Monastery, is a helpful instrument to understand Crete, as well as its people, character, and history.
- General information about Arkadi
- How to get to Arkadi Monastery
- The Turkish occupation of Crete
- The history behind Arkadi Monastery
- What to see in Arkadi Monastery, Rethymno
- The importance of Arkadi in Crete’s history
- Useful resources to plan your trip to Arkadi, Crete
The Holy Monastery of Arkadi in Rethymno is one of those places that I strongly recommend you to include in your Rethymno itinerary. The monastery has been for long an integral part of Crete’s history and fight for freedom.
General information about Arkadi
The Holy Monastery of Arkadi, or also Moni Arkadi, is located in the regional unit of Rethymno.
Opening Hours: April – October: 9.00-18.00 | November – March: 9.00-16.00
Entrance fee: 3.00 € (full ticket), free for local citizens.
How to get to Arkadi Monastery
By car: Those staying in or near Rethymno should get on the Main National Road and drive in the direction of Heraklion (East) for no more than 6 km, until the exit Tsesme-Platania (or Adelianos Kampos). Once there, switch to the Old National Road and drive for 16 km more, until reaching the monastery, the whole drive is from 30 to 45 minutes. There’s a large parking lot (free) at the entrance of the monastery.
By bus: Buses to Arkadi Monastery depart from Rethymno’s Public Bus Station, 2-3 times a day. The trip lasts about 40 minutes. You can visit the website and check the schedules here.
It’s very easy to reach the Arkadi Monastery in Rethymno both from Chania and Heraklion, in general the roads are not difficult and the mountain landscape when accessing the site is really breathtaking. Plan plenty of photography stops!
It will take you about one hour and a half to reach the monastery from Chania, always take into account that if you’re driving during the high season, roads might be trafficked and therefore you might need some extra time. Besides, being Arkadi such an important religious place on the island, it’s common for it to be crowded not just in July and August.
Another beautiful road trip, that might take you approximately one and a half hour on the coastal road. If you have time to explore a bit more, try discovering some mountain villages on your way. A stop in Anogeia, Axos or Zoniana are good ideas.
The Turkish occupation of Crete
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 avoiding 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.
The local uprising took place on several occasions but they were inevitably followed by strict countermeasures and oppression.
The history behind Arkadi Monastery
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 the Ottomans vandalize the area, forcing the villagers to seek refuge behind the walls of the Monastery of Arkadi.
Almost a thousand refugees, mostly women, and children underwent an 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 the 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.
The walls of Arkadi enclose the cells belonging to the monks, a well-kept garden as well as the magnificent Baroque church with an impressive bell tower. Inside, icons and paintings both belonging to the Byzantine school and the Cretan Renaissance.
It’s also possible to visit the museum, where there are a lot of interesting exhibits related to Crete’s fight for independence. Also, pay a visit to the kitchen and the refectory.
Once outside, you can also take a look at the Ossuary containing the rests of some of the people that perished in this massacre.
Are you planning a trip to Rethymno?
- Check my guide to the 10 best things to do in Rethymno
- Visit the Old Town & explore the area with day trips
- Where to eat and where to sleep in Rethymno
What to see in Arkadi Monastery, Rethymno
The church of Arkadi Monastery
Also known as catholicon, the church stands in the central court of the monastery and together with the whole complex, it is surrounded by a thick, fortified wall. It was built in the 16th century with a strong Baroque and Roman components, quite typical of the Cretan Renaissance.
The museum of Moni Arkadi
The museum, which develops in different levels, includes a rich collection of Icons as well as manuscripts, books and engravings. In the museum it’s also possible to see a selection of impressive religious clothing.
The impressive space devoted to the monk’s meals dates back to 1687. Under its vaulted ceiling, it’s possible to see the old, original furniture still bearing the marks of the bullets and swords belonging to the Ottoman attacks.
From the refectory you can reach the kitchen to admire the big oven and fireplace, as well as some pieces of pottery used to prepare the meals.
The octogonal building that houses the ossuary is located outside the walls of the monastery, right in front of the parking lot. The site remembers those Cretans who chose to die rather than surrendering to the Ottomans (1866).
In this small construction, dozens of skulls and other bones bear the marks of the battle made by the Turks. Finally, an inscription commemorating the massacre reads Nothing is more noble or glorious than dying for one’s country.
The importance of Arkadi in Crete’s history
It’s worth remembering that, despite the fact that still many years had to go by until Crete would find itself free from the Ottoman rule, the massacre of Arkadi had a remarkable importance.
Back in the day, in many European countries, different movements appeared with the intention of supporting Crete in getting rid of the Turkish domination.
Useful resources to plan your trip to Arkadi, Crete
Disclaimer: Bear in mind that some of the links in this post are affiliate links and if you go through them to make a purchase I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Keep in mind that I link to products & companies that I personally use and recommend for their quality.
When in Greece, I always recommend choosing a local rental company over an international one. With Rental Center Crete fees are more convenient, there’s a zero-excess insurance policy (as well as no hidden costs, free mileage, and extra driver). Check this car rental website and use my promo code to get a 5% discount.
Whenever I need to book accommodation in Crete 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.
TOURS & DAY TRIPS
For organized activities, I usually book my tours through Viator and GetYourGuide. From transfer to cooking lessons, including archaeological site visits, skip the line attractions, and boat trips, both platforms help you save time and money.
Getting to Crete can be really comfortable with an airplane, but nothing beats the romantic experience of traveling by sea. Choose Let’s Ferry to visit several Greek islands or to travel directly to Crete.
Greece, and especially Crete, is a fairly safe destination, however, you should never travel abroad without an insurance policy for complete peace of mind. My favorite? World Nomads, click here for a quote.
This post was originally published on 1st November, 2016 and it was updated on 20th October, 2019.
READ MORE ABOUT CRETE
About the author
Hola! I’m Gabi. I moved to Crete a few years ago to explore the island all year round. I love to backpack with my kids, taking pictures and driving around the mountain roads of Crete. I’m a beach freak and on this island, I’ve found heaven on earth!