A visit to Arkadi Monastery, in Rethymno, is an experience that shouldn’t miss from your Crete trip. A place so beautiful and yet so deeply marked with the Cretan struggle for freedom. Arkadi Monastery is a helpful instrument to understand Crete, as well as its people, character, and history.
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- Here’s the reading challenge!
- Preparing the Travel and Reading list
- 1. Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
- 2. Jorge Luis Borges, The Aleph
- 3. J.R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
- 4. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
- 5. Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek
- 6. Tiziano Terzani, A Fortune-Teller Told Me
- 7. Sujata Maasey, The Sleeping Dictionary
- 8. David Lodge, Small World
- 9. Stephen King, On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft
- 10. Lonely Planet, The World: A Traveller’s Guide to the Planet
- Final words… (and here is where I cheated!)
1. General information to visit Moni Arkadi
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 fights for freedom.
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.
2. 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.
Check this guide to driving on Crete with tips about renting a car, overtaking on the highway, and more suggestions for a perfect road trip on the island.
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 hours 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.
3. Where to stay in Rethymnon to visit Arkadi Monastery
Rethymnon Accommodation Resources
Staying in Rethymnon can be a great compromise in terms of distances for those who intend to visit more than just one region in Crete. Booking fees are in general convenient for the whole island, yes early booking will always guarantee a better deal. Hotels in the center of Rethymnon and in the old town sell out early. Don’t book your room last minute!
– There are great places to stay in Rethymnon if you’re traveling with a limited budget (under €60 per day). One of the top picks is Kallithea Studios, where a studio starts at €50 per night!
– Mid-range options go from €50 to €150 per night. Archipelagos Hotel is one of my favorite places to stay, just steps away from the center of town. Prices start at €75 per night.
– With a higher budget, from €117 per night, you can stay in the gorgeous Palazzo Vecchio Exclusive Residence.
The Turkish occupation of Crete and Arkadi
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 businesses. 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.
>> These guided tours of Arkadi are super value for money!
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 rest of some of the people that perished in this massacre.
Plan the visit: 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 at 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 octagonal 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 Monastery 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 remarkable importance.
Back in the day, in many European countries, different movements appeared with the intention of supporting Crete in getting rid of Turkish domination.
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.
Have you ever visited Arkadi Monastery?
Let me know in the comments below!
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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!