Arkadi is one of the most famous monasteries on the Greek island of Crete - it used to be an important cultural centre and is also an interesting architectural monument, however, it has made its mark in the history of the island mainly with the tragic event of 1866. It can be found near the northern coast of the island, about 20 km southeast of the town of Rethymno.
Arkadi Monastery, also known as Moni Arkadi, dates from the end of the so-called Venetian period (completed in 1587) and is a beautiful example of Cretan Renaissance architecture, especially the facade of the temple clearly shows the influence of Western architectural trends of the 16th and 17th centuries. Beautiful architectural features such as Corinthian columns or curved arches can be observed here. As early as the 16th century, Arkadi Monastery became an important intellectual centre of the island.
The monastery is dedicated to St. Constantine and St. Helena and also to the Transfiguration of the Saviour. It was a large fortified complex supplemented by two side aisles of the temple. In addition to the beautiful church and rooms for the clergy, it also included warehouses, stables and premises for processing agricultural products.
However, the spiritual and cultural development of the area was disrupted by an event during the period of Turkish rule. In November 1866, the Ottoman army laid siege to the Arkadi Monastery, where some 700 women and children, 280 Cretan warriors and 45 monks were barricaded. However, the besieged inhabitants of the monastery were not sufficiently armed and could not resist the pressure of the ruthless Turkish warriors for long. When the soldiers killed the local abbot, the Cretan warriors let the Turkish army inside the fortress and set fire to the powder magazine under the leadership of a guerrilla warrior named Costas Yiamboudakis. As a result of the explosion, not only the besieged Cretans were killed, but also thousands of Ottoman invaders.
This was one of the most tragic events in Cretan history, but at the same time Arkadi became a symbol of heroism and resistance to the Turkish occupation. The determination and bravery of the Cretan people also shook public opinion around the world, and European powers finally became involved in helping the Greeks against Turkish rule. UNESCO subsequently designated the monastery a European Monument to Freedom.
The south wing of the monastery now houses a museum with religious icons, spiritual manuscripts and personal objects that belonged to the abbot of the time. The museum also holds a number of Greek and Turkish weapons used in the memorable battle, and the roof of the powder magazine remains unroofed in memory of the deed. The "Arcadian Holocaust" banner stands in pride of place - it was returned to the monastery in 1870 by a Turkish officer who took it from there after a massive explosion. Another unique exhibit is a part of the carved altar that survived the explosion and subsequent fire. An ossuary was added in front of the complex as a tribute to the deceased martyrs.
Arkadi Monastery is located off the northern coast of Crete, near the tourist resorts of Skaleta, Lavris and Sfakaki, hidden behind a large grove of olive trees. You can get here by local bus from Rethymno, by rental car or even by small train.
Most favourite sights of Crete: Agia Triada (archaeological site), Archaeological Museum Heraklion, Phaistos (archaeological site), Gortyn (archaeological site), Arkadi Monastery, Knossos (archaeological site), Church of Four Martyrs, Fortezza Fortress (Rethymno), Frangokastello Fortress, Spinalonga Fortress, Windmills on Lasithi Plateau
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