The region of Rethymno Prefecture boasts some of the most famous and important monasteries of Crete that are worth considering when hiking around the island. Of course, there are many less known chapels and churches, but it is worth visiting them when you notice something interesting. You just have to look around carefully because small chapels and churches can be found in very surprising places. You can find examples at the end of this list.
These large and famous monasteries are very well kept, picturesque and full of greenery. Which does not mean that the smaller and the poorer have no charm. On the contrary!
In large and famous monasteries there are often shops where, in addition to souvenirs, monks sell products that they make themselves. They are usually wines, honey, herbs, sometimes some sweets. It is worth taking a look at such products because they are of really great quality.
Admission to monasteries is usually paid, usually for an amount between 2 and 4 €. It may happen that the so-called appropriate outfit. In extreme cases, it can be long pants on men and long skirts and covered shoulders on women. However, there is no rule, and each monastery has its own rules. If you are going to such places, it is worth taking longer clothes with you to, if necessary, jump into them while visiting. It is true that in some monasteries you can rent scarves to cover, but they are usually polyester fabrics, so bearing in mind the high temperatures in the summer in Crete, we recommend this solution only as a last resort.
It is a monastery that can be safely called the most important for the history of Crete and the identity of the island's inhabitants. The tragic events of 1866, sealing the relentless struggle for independence, have become a permanent part of history. 15,000 Turkish soldiers under the command of Suleiman and 30 cannons did not manage to break the resistance of 300 Cretan insurgents. In addition to the men fighting for freedom, the monastery also sheltered several hundred inhabitants of the surrounding villages, including women and children.
Even the melting ammunition supplies and the breach of the gate leading to the monastery by Turkish soldiers did not induce the defending people to lay down their arms. Pushed to the gunpowder warehouse, they set fire to the gunpowder barrels instead of surrendering. This led to a great explosion that killed most of the Cretans gathered here.
Moni Arkadiou is a symbolic place worth visiting, not only because of its tragic past. It is also an exceptionally beautiful monastery, but marked by tragic events.
Moni Preveli is situated on the southern coast of the island near Preveli beach, famous for its palm forest. Like many other monasteries on the island, this one also played an important role during the battles of the Cretan rebels with the Turks and with Germany during World War II. However, Preveli was additionally crucial during the Allied evacuation. After the lost Battle of Crete, over 5,000 Allied soldiers found refuge here. In the monastery, they waited for submarines, which were their only chance to leave the island. The brave monks paid a high price for helping the Allied soldiers. Many of them ended up in a prison in Chania. The monastery itself was destroyed and completely plundered by the Germans. Apparently, the plane filled with precious loot from the monastery was so heavy that it had trouble taking to the air. Legend has it that it is because of the holy cross stolen from the monastery, which supposedly had such miraculous properties. Only when the Germans decided to return the valuable relics, the plane could take off.
Agia Irini Monastery is one of the oldest monasteries in Crete, which is confirmed by a Venetian document from 1362 confirming the existence of the monastery. However, the very foundation of the monastery took place even earlier, between 961 and 1204.
Until 1990, when renovation works began, Agia Irini was a mix of dilapidated buildings. Today it is considered to be one of the most beautiful monasteries on the island as it has been restored with great care and in keeping with the original monastic architecture from a bygone era. Indeed, it has been awarded the European Heritage Award for preserving its architecture.
The monastery looks like a fortress from a distance. In the center of the buildings there is a completely new church of St. Irene, and around it, the sisters' cells, an old olive mill, chapels, a small monastery museum. Outside the courtyard are the remains of the old three-nave church of St. Irena, St. Catherine and St. Euphemia, which has not yet been restored.
This is a little known and popular monastery located about 20 km south of Rethymno next to the village of Roustika. This exceptionally beautiful place is one of the most historic monasteries on the island, and its origin is related to the Venetian era. The place was destroyed many times by the Turkish occupiers, which was a revenge for the active participation of the monastery in partisan activities. In times not so distant, because during the German occupation during World War II, the Historical Archive of Crete was located on the premises of Profitis Ilias. Thus, the monastery's contribution to the preservation of the history of Crete is invaluable. Profitis Ilias is one of our monastic favorites in the Rethymno region. This beautiful place is full of peace, Mediterranean greenery and a few cats.
It is also known as the Monastery of Timios Stavros. The period from the 12th to the 14th century is assumed as the date of its creation. It belongs to the "chain" of monasteries built around the Psiloritis massif. The monasteries belonging to him include: Savvatianon, Eleousa, Agios Antonios Vrontisios, Varsamoneros and the now abandoned Asomaton. Most of them belong to the Heraklion prefecture, which is why we have marked only the atmospheric Asomaton on our map.
The special climatic conditions prevailing in the Idajskie Mountains did not allow the founding of monasteries at high altitudes. So they were built lower, surrounding literally the entire mountain massif, in which the highest mountain of Crete is located. Each of these monasteries is unique places. If you have a passion for visiting such places, we highly recommend you to do such a trail.
Vossakos Monastery is at the end of a winding road and you will probably pass thousands of goats by the time you reach it.
And finally, we have two completely unique places that prove the rule that chapels and churches in Crete can be found anywhere.
The road leading through the Kotsifou Gorge (Φαράγγι Κοτσιφού) is undoubtedly one of the most picturesque road routes in Crete. Entering from the northern side, you cross the narrowest point of this gorge, where the steep walls are not more than 10 meters apart. In the southern part of the gorge there is a very characteristic chapel dedicated to St. Nicholas. This small stone building hidden under a rock overhang creates such an unusual view that the vast majority of tourists traveling this road for the first time stop to capture it in a photo.
Plakakia is a part of the coast shaped into small narrow fjords full of caves and interesting nooks and crannies. In one of the small caves there is a tiny and modest chapel. In this case, we do not provide its location on purpose. Firstly, it's hard to find it, and secondly, there are a lot of such places, so if you keep your eyes open, you will see many places like this during your travels.
In the prefecture of Rethymno there are many interestingly located roads that are worth driving, if of course you plan to rent a car during your holidays. Unfortunately, recently car trips have become quite an expensive form of exploring Crete. The cost of car rental has soared, while the availability of small cars, which are the cheapest (which does not mean cheap), has decreased. However, if, regardless of the cost of renting a car and cosmic petrol prices, you decide to explore the island by car, we can suggest you some interesting roads in this part of Crete.