There are many beautiful things to see in Crete. One of the most remarkable buildings is without a doubt the Venetian Fortezza in Rethymnon, also known as the Rethymnon fortress. The fortress has a rich history that dates from the 16th century. Its typical walls and wonderful location are quite impressive and it is without a doubt one of the best places to visit in Crete!

History Rethymnon Fortezza

The Fortezza is located on Paleokastro Hill. It was recorded as a walled settlement as far back as the 13th century, but it was really only in the 16th century that it was heavily fortified and developed by the Venetians. They wanted an intermediary base between their ports in Heraklion and Chania. After the Corsair Ulu Ali Reis successfully raided and razed the town in 1571, the Venetians returned and set to developing new defensive structures. By this time, the Ottoman Turks had taken over Cyprus, making Crete even more important as it was the last Venetian stronghold.

Defensive effectiveness

Though construction started in 1573, it was not completed until 1590, by which time there had been one great addition to the threat facing it, namely gunpowder. Thus the final modified plans of the castle included basic defences against this powerful weapon; the walls were made thicker and had a sloped outside edge, (to improve the likelihood of ballistic missiles glancing off, the same way modern tanks are designed with sloping sides) and dense bastions were included at the corners. The plans for defensive effectiveness did not succeed well. This was partly due to the limitations of the site, being uneven, rocky and quite small; only three bastions could be built. Some residents had moved in during the long construction period and refused to move away and allow their houses to be demolished to create a clear skirmishing area or firing line around the structure.

Agios Nikolaos Cathedral

Inside the fortress, the cannons and weapons were stored in the artillery storeroom, but the ammunition was a little removed – its storeroom was located in the safest place, along the north wall, The residences of 2 councillors and the plush home of the Venetian governor were quite a different sort of living space from the nearby barracks. The Agios Nikolaos (Áyios Nikólaos) cathedral was placed in the middle of the structure.

The Ottoman Empire

After a battle in 1646 the Fortezza fell in the hands of the Ottomans, who did not leave for the next 300 years. During their rule, the existing Fortezza buildings were taken over for the use of the Turkish garrison, and the cathedral became the mosque of Sultan Ibrahim Han; details of its decorated ceiling can still be seen today. Over the period of the occupation, the interior of the fort slowly filled up with residences, and was pretty much full by the time of the Second World War. It was under the Ottomans that the interior of the fort was settled.

The 20th century

The last of the Ottoman structures were pulled down in the 1960’s and with the advent of a great archaeological effort in the 1990’s, the entire site was cleaned up. Today it is a quiet place, with lots of open space and great views of the sea, for not many buildings remain except the eastern gate, a small church (devoted to Agios Theodoros Trichinas (Áyios Theódoros Trihinás)), the large mosque and sections of the Palazzo Pubblico with its strong supporting pillars.

A tourist attraction

Today, the fortress has a different role. It is first and foremost a tourist attraction, (open to the public from 8am -8pm, tickets: Adult €3.10, Child €2.60) where the exhibits and signs denote the way life used to be here. The Fortezza hosts exhibitions in its large open spaces and is also home to a theatre company, the Eurofili Theatre Company, which performs at an amphitheatre next to the fortress walls throughout the year, but most especially at the Renaissance festival at the end of August. In the thoughts of the local people, in the snapshots and memories of holidaymakers, the Fortress of Rethymnon still very much dominates the landscape.

Are you going to spend the holidays in Rethymnon and do you wish to stay at a luxury hotel? RG Resorts and Spa welcomes you!