The Monastery of Arkadi is an impressive building and a must for everybody who visits Crete. Its rich history and beautiful views will knock you of your feet. So are you going to Crete? Historical sites such as the Arkadi Monastery are obligatory for every visitor who enjoys cultural history! Luckily the monastery is just at 13 km west of our hotel in Rethymnon.

History of Arkadi Monastery Crete

The fortress-like monastery in Crete was founded in Byzantine times. It appears to have been named after the Emperor Arcadius, though most monasteries in Greece were traditionally named after one of the founding monks. Indeed there is an alternative story that the name originates from one such monk by the name of Arkadios. By the 16th century it had become a centre for science, education and financial support for the locals.

Arkadi continued to prosper despite having been conquered by the Ottoman Empire in the early 17th century. The monastery exploited the natural treasures of the area and supported itself through agriculture: olive oil and wine.

By the mid-19th century the locals had become angered at their situation as the Ottomans instituted new taxes and were forcing Cretans to convert to Islam. This eventually led to the 1866 uprising, during which almost a thousand locals, mostly women and children sought refuge in the monastery from the approaching Turkish army.

Not wanting to die at the hands of the enemy, one of the rebels blew up the gunpowder repository and the immense explosion reduced the monastery to a pile of rubble, resulting in 864 Cretan and about 1500 Turkish victims.

The tragic events of 1866 attracted international attention and opened the way for the liberation of the island in 1898. Much later, UNESCO would designate Arkadi as a European Freedom Monument.

Structure and buildings

The buildings of the monastery are set around a courtyard always blooming with a selection of beautiful flowers. Arrive in the morning to avoid the crowds and take the time to reflect among the huge walls and to enjoy the overwhelming atmosphere. In the middle of the court, stands the impressive Renaissance style church (left), with its two naves dedicated to Saint Constantine and Saint Helen, and to Our Lord. The total area of the monastery is 5200 m² and only the ground floor is open to visitors.

A visit to the ossuary is a truly overwhelming encounter. The skulls of the martyrs killed in 1866 are stored here on a glazed shelf, some showing battle scars, bullet holes and sword wounds.

Getting there

If you are driving from the hotel, take the E75 West towards Rethymnon, then turn south after approximately 9km. If you prefer to take a bus or taxi, please ask for assistance at our reception.

One word of warning, as with all places of worship, it is important to show respect by arriving suitably dressed. This means that ladies must cover their legs and arms when entering the Monastery. It is open throughout the year for pilgrims and visitors. Further details of opening hours and other helpful information can be found on the Monastery website.

Do you wish to visit the Arkadi Monastery and are you looking for an elegant accommodation? RG Resort and Spa is a 4 star resort in Rethymnon with beautiful rooms.