Rethymnon Prefecture (Greek: Perifereiaki Enotita Rethymnou) is one of the four regional units of Crete, Greece. Its capital is the city of Rethymno. Today its main income is tourism. The countryside is also based economically on agriculture and herding.
The prefecture of Rethymnon is Crete’s most mountainous region, bordered in the west by the White Mountains and in the east by Mt. Psiloritis. It is divided into four provinces: Rethymno, Agios Vasileios, Amari, and Mylopotamos. However, it has other natural beauties also, such as beaches, gorges, and caverns. The most famous places are Agia Galini, Plakias, Preveli Monastery, Spili, Arkadi monastery, Panormo, the caverns of Zoniana and Melidoni, Anogeia, and its capital, Rethymnon. The biggest archaeological sites which a visitor can see are those of ysterominoan cemetery Armenoi, Eleytherna, Monastiraki.
The first archaeological findings of civilization in the area are from the late Minoan period. Its ancient name was Rethymna. The area developed during the 5th and 4th century BC but towards the end of the Roman period, the town began to decline. It flourished again during the Venetian rule when it became an important export centre and seat Lektor (today’s prefecture). Also, their knowledge in letters and art grew, here was founded the Academy VIVI (1562 with the initiative of Francesco Barrozi), the first intellectual association in Greece and one of the first in the whole of Eastern Europe. During this period of Venetian rule, the city underwent repeated revolts from the Cretans.
Rethymnon was to encounter frequent invasions from the pirates and the Turkish fleet (1562 pirate Barbarossa, 1562 Dragoumis, 1571 Ali Oylouits). Due to the attacks they suffered, they decided to build walls around town and the fort to fortify the city. In 1646 the Venetian rule ended in Rethymnon and it was then the turn for the Turks to take over the city. After it was seized by the Turks Rethymnon ceased to be an administrative and intellectual centre. Because of the decimation of the population after the war and the epidemic, a large amount of the residents fled the city and the Islamization phenomenon was to change the ethnological composition of the town. The architectural structure of the town with its Venetian buildings was to change dramatically when the Turkish architectural elements were added, to this day these buildings give a special atmosphere to the city that was once the crossroads for different cultures/civilizations. The Second World War left Rethymnon with catastrophic damage. After the emancipation of Crete, a new era was about to begin for Rethymnon. The opening of the University of Crete was to turn Rethymnon into a centre for literature and social studies. The position of the town with its long beach along with its natural beauty has made it one of the most popular tourist destinations on the island. Famous landmarks for Rethymnon are the Venetian harbour. South and south-west behind the harbour are all the old houses with the characteristic combination of Venetian and Turkish features, also better samples of buildings that are called Cretan Palazzo. Close to the harbour is the Venetian fort which was the central point for their social life during the Venetian occupation.
Places worth going to see
It is well worth going to see the Rimonti fountain one of the most elegant monumental fountains on Crete. The most impressive Venetian building in Rethymnon is the fort which had a fortress to protect the city. A visit to the archaeological museum which is located where the prison once was, Neratze mosque, the ruins of the old Turkish baths, Kara Mousa mosque, four witnesses square, the temple of our lady of the angels and the historical and folklore museum, which will give you a clear picture as to what life was like through the ages in Rethymnon. On the border of the old town are the municipal gardens which were once the Turkish cemetery. Finally a little outside the old town you can see the Veli Pasa mosque which not only functioned as a mosque but also as a Teke (smoking den).
Popular Resorts of Rethymnon Prefecture
Adele village is located east of Rethymnon town some 8 km away. It is a small village with some 350 permanent residents on the way to Arkadi monastery. Some 3 km away from Adele is Adelianos Kampos (Plain of Adele) a seaside suburb of Rethymnon, with a sandy beach and a variety of amenities such as hotels, apartments, and villas and many options for eating, shopping, and entertainment. The beach is well organized with umbrellas, lifeguards, changing rooms, showers, bars, etc. It is very popular for the water sports and beach sports infrastructure. The location of the village is ideal for someone who wants to have it as a base to make excursions around Rethymnon and the island of Crete.
The seaside village and popular resort of Agia Galini on the Libyan Sea was once the harbor of ancient Sivritos. It is located 61km southeast of Rethymnon and 68km southwest of Heraklion. The village has a harbor, beaches to the right and left, and a Byzantine church. In the town behind the harbor there are many satisfactory restaurants and hotels. Agia Galini is a good place to stay overnight or for some days to explore the Amari Valley and the south side of Psiloritis, and to visit the archaeological areas of the Mesara Plain. The village clings to the mountains above the harbor, and has panoramic views across the Libyan Sea. The bay of Mesara shelters the harbor and provides a mild year-round water temperature. Opposite Agia Galini is seen the Paximadia islands, which can be visited by rented boats. Along the coast, marine caves are accessible only by boat. One such cave, the cave of Daedalus, is said to have been the workshop of the mythical craftsman. The beautiful beaches of Agios Georgios and Agios Pavlos are nearby and accessible by caique (boat). In addition, frequent sea excursions are available from Agia Galini to Matala, Preveli, Plakias, Frangokastello, and Hora Sfakion.
One of the most famous and tourist villages of Rethymnon, Anogia village in Crete, is perched on the slopes of Psiloritis at an altitude of 700m. Local music, folk art, and tradition are the elements that have remained unchanged in time since the inhabitants of the village carry them from generation to generation. The famous Cretan weavings almost monopolize the merchandise of the stores in central alleys and streets of the village, while the cafes are a meeting point for locals and tourists who make a stop to drink raki and taste Cretan dishes. During the summer months, the central square of Saint George is always crowded, and many musical and theatrical performances are organized. The highlight is the music festival “Iakinthia”, in the first week of July. During your winter holidays in Crete, the raki cauldrons are already set on fire and Psiloritis is preparing a dress in its white cloak. Even in Summer or Winter, you will realize that the journey to this special Cretan village is always a unique experience. What you can see while there? 1. The stone church of Timios Stavros (Holy Cross), 2. The area of Sfendoni with many unexplored caves, 3. Nida Plateau at an altitude of 1,400 m., in the center of Psiloritis, 4. Ideon Andron (altitude 1,500 m), the cave where Zeus was raised, 5. The Observatory which is located on Psiloritis in Skinakas, 6. The museum with woodcuts of the folk artist Alcibiades Skoulas.
Bali, between Rethymnon and Heraklion, is a beach resort. In recent years, Bali has grown a lot and become a popular resort for families, thanks to its excellent beaches. There’s very little traffic – the road going into Bali is a dead-end. The nights are pretty quiet here since there are no nightclubs. Some beaches are congregated around the little port in the town center, and the bay itself is well-protected against waves, giving the sea a calm nature, almost like being on a lake. You can rent all kinds of water sports equipment: pedal boats, canoes, water skis and so on. Experienced swimmers can swim to the small islands just off the coast. There is a much larger beach out of town in the direction of the motorway. Around the port in the town center, there are lots of restaurants, taverns & cafeterias. Many of them serve snacks in the daytime to people enjoying the nearby beaches.
Panormos is a small traditional Cretan fishing village with narrow cobbled streets, shops, and an excellent choice of tavernas. It lies above the harbor and overlooks three beautiful little coves with lovely sandy beaches for sunbathing and calm waters for swimming. It is the ideal place to relax and enjoy the lazy atmosphere, go for long walks or just sit at the cafes/tavernas overlooking the harbor and enjoy the beautiful view and watch the world go by. There are supermarkets, boutiques, shops, a post office, a chemist shop, and a doctor. In Roman times Panormos was the old port of Axos, in the more recent days of steam travel, it was an important harbor and a flourishing small town. Above the harbor, you can see the remains of a medieval Genoan fort and behind the village, the remains of the sixth-century Christian basilica of Agia Sofia have been excavated. The basilica has three aisles; each aisle was separated from the other by four columns. Fragments of the capitals have been found. About 25 km south is the archaeological site of Eleftherna. Panormos is an excellent geographical point to use as a base for excursions all over Crete. It is in the center of the island, 22 km east of Rethymnon. There is a regular bus service to Rethymnon (on average every 20 minutes) and to Heraklion. It is just a short drive up to Anogia in the mountains, 740 meters up the north face of Mount Psiloritis, and from there to the stunning Nida Plateau and the Ideon cave where according to mythology was where Zeus grew up.
Set beside a sweeping sandy crescent and accessed via two scenic gorges – Kotsifou and Kourtaliotiko. Plakias is surrounded by mountains to the north and the Libyan Sea to the south. The village is an excellent launchpad for regional excursions and hikes through olive groves, along seaside cliffs, and to some sparkling hidden beaches. The name in Greek means “flat” but the approach and coastline are quite mountainous and dramatic. There are small hotels and many beachfront restaurants & cafes. The large crescent bay of sandy beach and the harbor provide a varied and yet not too busy destination. Frangokastello and Sfakia is a pleasant twisting and scenic short drive. Above Plakias, Myrthios affords gorgeous views of the bay, coastline, and sea. The gorges of Prevelli (and the monastery), Kourtaliotis, and Kotsifos are easily visited. In addition visit the mountain village of Spili, Preveli Monastery, and Preveli beach and the wonderful villages in the hills on the road to Sfakia.