The best preserved Renaissance city in Greece, the Old Town of Rethymno was almost entirely built by Venetians. Its dramatic aristocratic appearance, with arched doorways, narrow streets, and countless architectural monuments, has inspired creative souls for centuries. In the rush of the summer, many of the details that make Rethymno such a magical place remain unobserved. When the bulk of the tourists is gone, the town shows off her beauty, shameless and glaring, just like a Venetian courtesan.
Another Venetian legacy, the Fortezza fortress is the most imposing structure of the Old Venetian harbor. Its foundation was laid by the Venetian Rector Alvise Lando in 1573. For many years, the fortress served as a refuge for the locals when faced with enemy attacks. In 1646, Fortezza and Rethymno were conquered by the Ottomans, who build inside the walls of the fortress houses, and turned the Venetian Catholic Cathedral of St Nicholas into the Ottoman Mosque of the Sultan Ibrahim Han. Although this landmark is not open to the public today, Fortezza still has a wealth of attractions that can be admired within its walls: Santa Maria Bastion, the Erofili Theatre (a structure built in the XXth century, and used for a variety of outdoor events in the Summer), the late XIX century Orthodox church of Agia Ekaterini, the Rector's Residence, and the Orthodox church of Agios Theodoros Trichinas, to name just a few.
Just in front of the main gate of the Fortezza, in a pentagon-shaped edifice built by the Ottomans, and once used as a prison, here you will find the Archaeological Museum of Rethymno. Opened in 1991, the museum houses important collections relating the local history, from the late Neolithic period 3500-2900 BC, and ending with the Classical, Hellenic and Roman periods.
The Venetian Loggia of Rethymno, once a gathering place for the Venetian nobility, was probably built based on plans by Veronese engineer Michele Sanmicheli. The initial structure, although modified with an upper floor in 1625, is preserved intact. Today, the Loggia houses the Archaeological Receipts Fund, well worth a visit, if you are passionate about history, or want to buy books on archeology.
To tame your thirst, but also to admire a unique monument, of true artistic and historical value, stop for a while at the Rimondi Fountain. This outstanding landmark dates from 1626, and was built by order of the Venetian Rector of Rethymnon, A. Rimondi. To reach the fountain, walk from the Loggia down the Paleologou Street, till you reach the Platanos Square.
Agios Frangiskos, the church of St Francis, is another notable Venetian monument you shouldn’t miss. It was once the Franciscan Friary church, then it was converted into a poorhouse under Turkish occupation. Apart from the temple, two chapels have been preserved which are situated east of the church. Today, the church is used as an exhibition hall and events venue.
The Nerantze Mosque, also known as the Gazi Hussein Mosque, was converted from a Venetian monument, the Augustinian church of the Holy Virgin. Despite extensive modifications, you can still see the elaborate entrance of the original building, plus three imposing domes added by the Ottomans. Today, the building houses the Municipal Odeon, run by the Association for the Propagation of the Arts.
One of the most important institutions of history and culture, the Historical and Folklore Museum of Rethymno was founded in 1973 by Faly G. Voyatzakis and Christophoros I. Stavroulakis. The building housing the museum is an important architectural monument, a fine example of Venetian town houses of the XVII century. Inside, you will find an extensive collection of traditional folklore art; a hall dedicated to the art of weaving; a hall showcasing the art of embroidery and lace in the XVII and XVIII centuries; basketry and pottery, as well as methods and tools of these Cretan handicrafts in the third hall; traditional agricultural tools and tools for kneading and baking the traditional Rethymnon bread in the fourth hall; and a hall dedicated to traditional Cretan professions.
The Museum of Sea Life on Arabatzoglou Street is a fascinating experience for young visitors, despite lacking the exciting element of an Aquarium. A visit is interesting for those interested in local architecture, as the museum is housed inside an old abbey, recently renovated. Young visitors will find an excellent collection of molluscs, shells, sponges, fish and fossils.