The Monastery of Arkadi
is located at an altitude of almost 500 m., in the north-western foothills of Psiloritis mountain, approximately 23 km to the southeast of Rethymnon. Though the old historical tradition related the foundation of the monastery with the Byzantine emperor Arkadios (5th century AD), the scientific research has established that both the foundation and the name of the monastery should be ascribed to a certain monk named Arkadios. According to an inscription found in situ the main temple - the Katholikon - was built in 1587 substituting an earlier church. The current monument bears every mark of the Renaissance architecture, a consequence of the Venetian rule on the island. Apart from the Katholikon, which stands at the centre, the monastery complex includes the monk cells and ancillary buildings, clustered around a
central court yard.
This was an extremely wealthy monastery, an important center of copying Greek manuscripts and a workshop of church embroideries.
In 1866 broke out one of the major revolts in Cretan history against the Ottoman occupation. 943 Greeks, the majority of which were women and children, sought refuge in the monastery which was besieged by the Turks. On 8 November 1866, when after three days of battle surrender was unavoidable, Kostis Yamboudakes caused an explosion at the powder magazine of the monastery, and all mutineers and civilians who had been kept there were buried inside, along with the besiegers. Thus the monastery of Arkadi became an eternal symbol for freedom and the 8th of November henceforth the day of commemorating the Cretan resistance.
A valuable collection of ecclesiastical and historical relics are on exhibition today in the Monastery Museum. In their majority they are dated before the destruction of 1866. Among them are portable Post-Byzantine icons, manuscripts and ecclesiastical vestments, as well as weapons and the banner of the revolutionary period.