|May 25, 2013
Byzantine Period and Venetian Occupation
There is little information referring to the town of Rethymno during
both the First Byzantine period (325-824) and the period of Arab occupation (824-961).
Crete's liberation by Nikiforos Foka in 961, followed by its re-integration into
the Byzantine Empire, signaled the beginning of the Second Byzantine Period, which
lasted up until the arrival of the Venetians on the island in 1204. At that stage
a fortified wall was built around all the buildings, thus constituting the first
fortified settlement, the so-called "Castrum Rethemi", which the Venetians later
called Castel Vecchio.
The period of the Venetian occupation formally began in 1204, when
Crete was passed over to Bonifatius of Montferrato, who later handed it over to
the Venetians. However, in 1206 the Genoese pirate Enrico Pescatore invaded the
island, and it was not until as late as 1210 that the Venetians actually succeeded
in regaining control of Crete again. The Cretans were in opposition to their conquerors,
which resulted in a series of revolutions during the period between 1211 and 1367.
Despite the Cretan resistance, the Venetians embarked on successive administrative
changes, according to which the island was initially divided into six, and later,
during the 14th century, into four sections, with the capitals Chania, Rethymno,
Chandakas and Sitia. The Duke (Duca), who had his seat in Chandakas, had sovereign
power over the entire island. Rectors (Rettore), who were supported by two Councillors
(Consiglieri), were in administrative command of the districts of Chania, Rethymno
The destruction in the year 1571 and the Cretan Renaissance
After the fall of Constantinople in 1453 the position of the Venetians
in the East was gradually weakened. As early as in 1537/38, the architect Michele
Sanmicheli from Verona was entrusted with a programme of fortification works,
which had already been initiated by the town of Rethymno. His drafts included
the land wall of the town, on which the construction works were started in 1540
and completed in 1570.
Chaireddin Barbarossa looted the village of Apokorona, the surrounding
villages of Chania, and the towns of Rethymno and Sitia.
The attack of the pirate Ulutz-Ali on 7 July in 1571 devastated Rethymno.
The Turks found the town deserted, whereupon they plundered it and set it on fire.
Most of the houses were burnt; the walls of the Castel Vecchio as well as the
land wall, which had only been completed a short time before, had vanished. As
a result of these events it was decided to build a fortress on the hill of Palaiokastro,
the walls of which should also protect the houses of the town. In 1573, the foundation
works of the fortress were realised under the leadership of the Rector Alvise
Lando. The architect Sforza Pallavicini drew the initial plans, whilst the supervising
mechanical engineer was Gian Paolo Ferrari.
After the fortress had been completed they realised that the space
was actually too small to house all the buildings. Consequently it was decided
that only the Venetian administration, the Latin Episcopate and the Military authorities
should be accommodated within the fortress, while it should merely serve as a
place of shelter for the inhabitants in case of emergency.
After several years, when the fortress, the so-called Fortezza, was
completed, the Venetians had secured a powerful position on the island. Thus,
towards the end of the 16th century the city achieved characteristics of the Renaissance
according to Venetian examples. This stage included the construction of luxurious
public and private mansions, while at the same time the city achieved a central
square (piazza) as did the city of Venice, a club house of the nobility (Loggia),
fountains such as the Rimondi fountain, a large sundial, a central street, as
well as smaller by-passing roads, which led to the temples, the monasteries, the
mansions and the simple houses. Those magnificent buildings were ornamented with
a variety of doorframes, some of which were kept simple, whereas others were greatly
decorated. They have been preserved up until today and give evidence of that brilliant
stage in history of the city of Rethymno. During that atmosphere of Renaissance,
in which the Hellenic element definitely excelled, the union of two civilisations
was accomplished, which influenced the intellectual and artistic domain to a large
Scholars such as Markos Mousouros, Zacharias Kalliergis and the brothers
Vergikios were highly esteemed in Europe, whilst G. Hortatzis, Troilos and Marinos
Tzane Bounialis, the poet of the Cretan War, contributed to the flourishing Cretan
literature and were rewarded for their achievements. On a similar line, Emmanuel
Lambardos and Emmanuel Bounialis, both of who were worthy representatives of the
so-called Cretan School, also expressed the era of Renaissance in the art of painting.
The siege of Rethymno
In 1645 the first Turkish troops landed at Chania and besieged the
city immediately. After two months the city surrendered and the great Venetian-Turkish
Wars of the 17th century had started. On 29 September 1646 the troops of Hussein
Pasha arrived at the fortified walls of the city of Rethymno. These walls had
already been weakened because of the many earlier raids led by the Turks, who
had previously established themselves in the area of Chania.
Citizens and civilians gathered inside the fortress, where the situation
had reached dramatic dimensions due to the plague, the injured, the lack of food
and most importantly the lack of ammunition. When the Governor realised that the
town could no longer be defended, he raised the white flag and negotiated the
capitulation of the city of Rethymno - fortunately on favourable conditions: any
of the inhabitants who wished to go to Chandakas were transferred there, while
those who wished to stay became subjects of the Sultan. The Fortezza of Rethymno
was surrendered to the Turks on 13 November 1646.
From the Turkish Occupation to Autonomy (1669-1897)
The domination of the Turks over the inhabitants of Rethymno (1669-1898)
as well as over the rest of Crete, brought many important changes not only in
the administrative, economic and population areas, but also in the intellectual
and every-day life of the people. By that time the island of Crete was considered
large enough to initially be divided into three regions, that of Chandakas, of
Rethymno and of Chania, to which that of Lassithi was added later. None of these
regions were governed by a Pasha. The image of the town changed radically. The
conquerors installed themselves in the Venetian mansions, which they decorated
with their own architectural elements. At the same time they started building
mosques and minarets, which further emphasised their presence. The so-called "sachnisia",
wooden balconies projecting from the fašade of the buildings, suddenly appeared
in the former Venetian alleys and network of streets, thus giving the city a new
character - that of a Moslem town. Many churches were destroyed; others were turned
into mosques. As could be expected, these acts led to an intellectual decline.
The period of the "Cretan Renaissance" with its flourishing literature
and fine arts belonged to the past. Christians were slaughtered and their properties
plundered, which resulted in a series of uprisings and revolutions started by
the Cretans, among which the most important took place in 1821 in the framework
of the general uprising of the Greek people against the Turkish subjugators.
However, the Cretans did not succeed in obtaining their freedom in
the revolution of 1821. Instead the island was assigned to the Egyptian Vice-Roy
Mechmet Ali (1830-1841), a fact, which gave only small relief for the Christian
inhabitants of the island, who continued to fight for their freedom. Over the
years their continuous struggles showed a few results with regard to privileges
concerning the freedom of religion and the right of holding property. However,
the Cretans were not satisfied unless they were completely liberated and united
with the Greek mainland. A crucial battle was fought during the Great Cretan Revolution,
which lasted for three years, from 1866 to 1869, and during which the holocaust
of the Arkadi Monastery took place. Even after this shattering event and their
crucial battle for freedom, the Cretans continued to be dominated by the Turks
with no change to their situation. Therefore, another revolution followed, that
of 1878, and as a result of this one they achieved several religious and political
privileges, the most important of them being that a Cretan was allowed to be the
General Governor of Crete. However, this did not mean that the situation improved
henceforth. On the contrary, from 1890 to 1895 the Turks showed an even more merciless
attitude towards the locals, which resulted in the revolution of 1897, and due
to this revolution the Cretans finally secured their autonomy.
The most important event during their battle for freedom was the dramatic
ending of the siege of the Arkadi Monastery. Rather than surrendering to the Turks
they decided to lock themselves up in the ammunition storeroom and then blow it
up, thus fighting for their freedom in the most heroic way. The man, who set the
ammunition room on fire, played a major role in the Arkadi drama. This hero's
name was Kostis Yamboudakis from the village of Adele near Rethymno.
Autonomy - Union - Modern Times
The year 1897 was the last year of the Turkish occupation of Crete.
In 1898 Russian soldiers took up position on the island and on 9 December Prince
Georgios arrived at Chania taking office as High Commissioner. During the same
year preparations began to organise Crete as an autonomous state with its own
constitution and government. This period of autonomy had positive effects on all
levels, mainly however on the economic and intellectual life of Rethymno. A large
number of works on infrastructure were carried out, including the construction
of luxurious private and public buildings, while at the same time intellectual
activities could be observed such as the creation of cinemas and theatres. This
creative development continued up until 1 December 1913, when Crete was united
with the mainland of Greece. Whilst everything had been proceeding satisfactorily
up until then, the union with Greece, which at that time was facing many problems,
reversed the creative development of both the town of Rethymno and the entire
Island of Crete. Only as late as 1924, after the War of Asia Minor had ended,
would the situation improve. The remaining Turkish-Cretan population left the
island, while Greek refugees from Asia Minor established themselves on Crete.
Their culture and creative spirit was to enrich Rethymno and to provide impetus
to a new economic and intellectual prosperity.
World War II was probably the most important reason for regression
and decline on all levels. The invasion by German parachute commandos and the
bombing of the town of Rethymno in May 1941 were only the beginning of a series
of battles with a large number of casualties, during which civilians, filled with
the euphoria of courage and patriotism, taught the conquerors a lesson. However,
the Germans triumphed over Crete and settled down in Rethymno, where they took
control of the life, the administration and the economy of the town.
The intolerable living conditions as well as the oppression of the
conquerors during the period from 1941 to 1944 created a strong resistance movement
including Rethymno, with activities in many places of the prefecture. Following
the German occupation a period of poverty and misery began, which lasted up until
the decade of the 60's. The installation of electricity also meant a first spark
of hope for better days for the people. Since 1960 the town of Rethymno has been
following a steady course of development. The expansion of tourism, which started
towards the end of the 60?s and the first years of the 70?s, contributed enormously
to this development.