Historical Folklore Museum
The Historical And Folklore Museum of Rethymno was founded in 1974. It covers nicely the local life of the previous centuries with more than 5000 items (most of them from donations). It is housed on a venetian mansion from 17th century that was built in renaissance style and it’s a fine example on its own to see how an old house looked like.
Unfortunately the two storey building (that actually has 5 big rooms only) was closed for renovations which brought sadness to my face as I was standing at the front door, but the lady inside came out and asked me if I wanted to get in for a while!! You have to be kidding, of course I do! :)
They allowed me to see only a small part (for safety reasons) but that was enough for me as there are numerous things to see (costumes, ceramics, lace, textiles, several metalwork or agricultural tools, old weapons, old documents, photographs, maps, flags) but also corners that represent old jobs (cutler, cobbler, coppersmith, basket maker etc). There are small info boards (in greek and English)
Normally the entrance fee is 3euros but as I said it was my lucky day :) Have in mind it’s free on Sundays (November to march)
It’s open 8.30:15.00
- Historical Travel
- Arts and Culture
- Museum Visits
Ibrahim Han Mosque
This lovely dome topped mosque dominates the large area in the middle of the Fortrezza. This was originally the spot of the catholic church of San Niccol that was used by the venetians and not the greeks that were living outside of the Fortrezza anyway. When the Ottoman Turks conquered Rethymno they demolished the church and built a mosque dedicated to Sultan Inrahim.
There’s an info board with some information about the mosque just outside the main door. It is a square building (17,50x17,20m) with a maximum height of 18,80meters. Until the early 20th century there was an open portico with arches along the main façade. The minaret once stood at the NW corner but only a small part of its base survives.
I liked the brickwork of the exterior but then I got inside and loved the wonderful ceiling of the large hemispherical dome (14,50x6,80m). It was very calm inside with no other visitors.
The small chapel you see on pic 4 was founded in 1899 during the Russian occupation in Rethymno and it is dedicated to Agios Theodoros Trichinas.
- Religious Travel
Fortezza is the main attraction in Rethymno. The fortress is located on a hill overlooking the Old Town and worth an hour or two even if you don’t really care about history or any of the buildings inside. It offers some nice views over the town but also the shore so take your camera.
The fortress comes from the venetian era, its construction begun in 1570 (just after the fall of Cyprus to Ottomans) when venetians fortified Crete. First they tried to build a long (1307meters) wall around the town but they sea side was open, no surprise Olu Ali just jumped in in 1562. So the Venetians decided to build the polygonal fortress on the Paleokastro hill where once was the Acropolis of Ancient Rithymna and during the roman era the temple of Artemis Roccaea. So they created barracks, storehouses, cisterns, the catholic church of San Niccol and a hospital. They forced thousands of Cretans to work.
Of course the Ottomans returned a century later (1646), conquered the island and they used the fortress as a residential area and turned the church into a mosque. Most of those houses demolished during 20th century (mainly after WWII) that included the removal of the brothels that have been inside the fortress. After 1990 a great renovation projects begun.
It’s cheap to get inside (the entrance fee is only 4euros) but I wonder if a slightly more expensive ticket would help for better restoration and general maintenance of the fortress. There’s a theatre (that is called Erofili) where you can attend a concert or theatrical playes during the summer months.
Inside the fortress there are numerous paths, the extensive thick walls of course (that stand still stand still) and some old structures including the Ibrahim Han Mosque, a church, the cisterns etc The terrain is uneven and in april there was an overgrowing foliage all over the place but I was alone and enjoyed walking through most areas without the hordes of visitors you see in the Old Town. I had a guidebook with me but without one you don’t really get/see much information inside the fortress as there are only a few info boards.
- Historical Travel
- Castles and Palaces
Loggia is a venetian structure that dates back from 16th century and was always the central meeting point for the noble citizens of Rethymno where they could discuss politics or do some trades. It is a square building with arched fronts on three sides (except the west side). It was originally built with a wooden roof but after 1625 an upper storey was added.
The Ottoman Turks converted many old buildings so this one was turned into another mosque for them, they added a minaret of course but it was demolished in 1930. For many years it housed the Archaeological Museum of Rethymno but due to its small size the collection was moved to the new one opposite Fortezza. In our days it is a nice souvenir store where you can buy copies of antiquities, guidebooks etc
- Historical Travel
Walking around the Old Town of Rethymno was the highlight of our visit and we spent much more time than the picturesque but boring Venetian Harbor. It is a well preserved area right in the middle of the new town of Rethymno and gave us the chance to see many different architectural styles.
Don’t forget that after the Venetian conquest on the island (1204) the Venetians added many renaissance and venetian elements but the mansions are not impressive (except some details on the façades). The town was destroyed by Ulu Ali in 1571 and was built again so the Ottomans added their own elements (some typical extended wooden upper floors etc) but also converted some of the buildings to mosques etc. It seems the town was always open to the sea and not enclosed for defense reasons (eg.Chania), the main street Ruga Maistra was running parallel to the sea (in our days Venizelou avenue)
Don’t miss the Venetian Loggia (a square building with arched fronts) from 16th century, the Rimondi Fountain (1626), the Nerantze mosque (former Augustinian Priory church that was converted into mosque in 1657), the Kara Musa Pasha Mosque(originally monastery of St Barbara), the Porta Guora (the Great Gate of Rethymno from mid 16th century). But also check the small cafés, lovely restaurants in small alleys, locals buying bread from tiny bakeries or enjoying the coffee for hours (typical greek) and of course as expected lots of souvenir stores but also some more peaceful corners with lazy cats, windows with pots that have colorful flowers etc
The Venetian Harbor of Rethymno is a lovely corner with a promenade to stroll around but definitely much less impressive and picturesque than the one in Chania. But don’t let me be misunderstood, it’s a great place for coffee in the morning or some drinks later in the day. But the truth is we weren’t there after sunset to check how it looks with night lights on.
The lighthouse comes from later era, it’s not venetian as it was built by Ottoman Turks in 17th century. But again it isn’t something special (ok, here I go again!) but it’s probably the background while I was taking photos (pic 2) that didn’t allow me to get excited as in Chania. The other reason was that we didn’t have enough time to spend some extra time here (eg. we didn’t walk to the lighthouse and missed a proper photo of the harbor itself, big mistake…).
Anyway, as expected there are fish restaurants facing the port, a good spot for some relaxing lunch with great view but I guess the risk of falling into a tourist trap is much higher here than other restaurants inside Old Town.
The harbor houses many fishing boats and yahts and not Turkish warships or Venetian galleys anymore but you can also find boats to near by beaches, some of the boats look like old wooden sailing boats but we didn’t take any. Further to the east (pic 3 was taken from Fortezza) is the new much larger port that serves the large ferries from Piraeus.
One of the main attraction in the heart of the Old Town is the Rimondi fountain, a lovely small structure with Corinthian columns on raised basins that have acanthus leaf capitals. The water at the bottom springs through three lion heads and gives a nice backdrop for some photos.
The Petychaki square has lots of café and people pass by quick but the detailed info info board about about the fountain in front of it kept me there for some minutes:
In the 16th century, the Venetian authorities constructed an important hydraulic work, in order to confront the lack of water in the town of Rethymno. The water was carried, through a conduit from the source of Evliyas, 2km to the south of Rethymno, to a fountain in the middle of the town, known today as the Rimondi Fountain. The stone conduit was still in use until the late 19th century. Because of its large length, it underwent many conservation works, and it was even in replaced several times, as was proved by recent excavations. The first reference of the fountain in the written sources was in 1588. Its present form was given in 1628, when the Rector(Governor) of the town, Alvise Rimondi, during a repair of the fountain’s pipelines, erected a new one on the same spot, “without any expense of the State”, as he refers in a relevant report.
The architecturally structured façade of the fountain projects over a rectangular deposit. Four half-colonettes with Corinthian capitals support a richly adorned entablature. Above it, three consoles with relief acanthus leaves hold the ridge cornice. At the lowest part, there are three spouts in the form of masks, a motif that stems from the ancient type of lion-head spouts.
- Historical Travel
Agios Antonios Catholic church
Walking around the Old Town we noticed this catholic church. It was built in 1890 during the Ottoman occupation and was dedicated to Agios Antonios.
It was built in neoclassical style but we couldn’t check the interior of this recently renovated church as the main door was locked (I guess during summer they stay open because of the numerous visitors).
The mass takes place at 10.00am on sunday
- Religious Travel
Evangelismos Theotokou church
Evangelismos Theotokou church is located in the Old Town.
It was built in 16th century and looks like a western Christian church but in reality it is a Greek orthodox church. It is dedicated to Annunciation of the Virgin Mary and is also known as Lady of the Angels. Locals usually refer to it as Mikri (small) Panagia because the cathedral is known as Megali (big) Panagia.
We got inside and took some photos as there weren’t any pilgrims around. The church was decorated in black because it was Great Friday.
- Religious Travel
Last thing we saw before we get back to the car (the parking lot lies opposite this park) was the Municipal Gardens. Not much to see or do actually but the peaceful park houses lots of busts if you want to focus on something as you walk through. It was surprisingly empty that day while the main road was full of cars…
Eleftherios Venizelos statue
As in every town of Crete we noticed a street named after Eleftherios Venizelos (near the port) but also a statue dedicated to him (near Four Martyrs church).
Eleftherios Venizelos was the eminent greek leader of early 20th century that organized the Revolutionary Assembly for Independence of Crete and union with Greece.
He was the prime minister of the Cretan State (1910) and then the prime minister of Greece in many different periods (1910-15, 1917-1920, 1924, 1928-1933) and was responsible for the reformation of modern Greece and the organization of a modern army that took advantage of the war conflicts of the early 20th century so he finally doubled the size of his country. He was born in Mournies(village of Chania Prefecture) in 1864, died in Paris (march 18, 1936) and he was buried in Profitis Ilias, just a few km away from his home overlooking Chania.
Four Martyrs church
We left the car in the parking and we were ready to head into the Old Town. But first we noticed this church just opposite the parking. It’s the church of the Four Martyrs, dedicated to Aggeli, Manouel, Georgios and Nikolaos and it was built near the spot where they martyred in 1824. Later they became patron saints of Rethymno. The church houses the remains of the three (out of 4 martyrs).
The first church was founded in 1905 but it was never fully completed, it was demolished in 1947 and a new one was built but smaller in size. For some reason the church was demolished again (!) in 1972 and a new one was built in 1975. Until today the church managed to survive! :) The main gate was open but the lovely old lady told us in perfect English No Photos please…
The square in front of the church is called Plateia Martyron, named after the church.
- Religious Travel
The Old Town of Rethymno
The harbour is pretty and the seafront is pleasant, but for me Rethymno's real attraction is the streets of the Old Town. There are so many things to see, from quiet back streets with local bakeries and homes to the beautiful Rimondi Fountain. As I walked around, I saw how the area subtly changed from the main souvenir shop thoroughfares to the shopping centre oriented towards the locals with fruit stalls and clothing stores (this is close to the old gate). The less busy streets have colonies of cats basking in the sun and hiding out behind the grilles of abandoned houses.
You can see the chronology of the town all around: the historic buildings are largely Venetian, but there are inscriptions in Arabic script everywhere. The most impressive buildings in Rethymno reflect the dominant invading cultures: the Loggia right in the busiest centre of the Old Town is close to the Nerantze Mosque, another landmark. Oh, and the Loggia was a mosque too in another lifetime - Kucuk Haci Ibrahim Aga Mosque. In fact, most of these religious buildings have had a dual history. I was surprised to find that some of the churches which look as typically European Christian as you can imagine were once mosques, including the Orthodox Church of Our Lady of the Angels.
Just outside the warren of streets is the road which winds around the coast. By following this street, you can find the Fortezza and the old Venetian harbour.
Rethymno Hop-On Hop-Off bus
I'm sure you know the drill - pay a fee and jump on and off the red double decker as many times you like within the period of a day (or longer in some places). But what's it like in Rethymno? My overall view is that this is a good, cost effective way to see a little of Rethymno's immediately surrounding areas if you don't have private transport, although it's not really a must-do.
At 12 euros I thought the price was fair for a 90-minute non-stop trip. Around half of the twelve stops are located within Rethymno itself, and I don't think these in themselves would warrant a journey like this - the city is so small that anyone who can walk up and down the steps of the bus can easily walk around them all in a day. What the bus does that is not feasible on foot is to get into the surrounding areas, including two monasteries and the Myli gorge. Very popular is the military museum at Chromonastiri. The drive was very pleasant - I loved seeing trees filled with olives and the small villages - and the audio gave some interesting information.
It wouldn't be feasible to get off at all the stops and explore, and some probably wouldn't warrant an hour stay until the next bus anyway. Others would require much more (the gorge for one). So, you could perhaps do the tour and get off at two or three places. We chose not to get off anywhere and just enjoy the ride. I was quite content in the end not to return to any of the places we went past except those in Rethymno itself. Not sure if that means I didn't find them sufficiently interesting or if the ride was enough.
In short - enjoyable for the money, but not a lifechanging experience. In Singapore the bus was a brilliant means of seeing the main sites in an efficient way and I've also enjoyed it in Gozo, where we saw much of the island in a day, but neither of these are really the case in Rethymno. Finally, as everywhere in Crete, I can say that the staff were lovely!
Historical and Folklore Museum
Now, I haven't actually been into the museum (bear with me), but my mother did when I went off to see Heraklion on my own and she enjoyed it so much I thought it deserved some attention here. This is what she thought...
Like many businesses in the Old Town, the Historical and Folklore Museum is housed in an old Venetian building, and it has kept many of its original features. It's small, with only five rooms, but everything is very well labelled in both Greek and English, interesting and "just sufficient without being too brief or too wordy".
The first room has a good introduction to the history of Crete, while the other rooms have exhibits on local shops (including a basketmaker) and crafts, such as lacemaking. There was plenty on the craft of making and embroidering towels, which are traditionally given as gifts on many different occasions.
As is common in these types of museum, there are many old implements, such as items for baking bread. There's also a small garden.
My mother was one of the only visitors, and the museum is very quiet. Entrance is four euros.
- Museum Visits
- Historical Travel