A place of contrasts, boasting a long and remarkable history as well as untouched places of natural beauty and living traditions, the prefecture of Rethymno is situated on the island of Crete, abutting the Cretan Sea in the north and the Libyan Sea in the South. The prefecture terrain is mostly mountainous with small but interesting morphological changes such as imposing gorges, a large number of caves, lush valleys and small rivers. The climate is “temperate Mediterranean”.
From Athens there are regular flights to the airport of Chania and Heraklion, from where buses take visitors to Rethymno. There are regular schedules from the mainland port of Piraeus directly to the port of Rethymno. Taxis travel all around the prefecture, while urban and municipal buses run regular schedules throughout the prefecture.
Archaeological finds point to human presence in the region during the Neolithic period, while the greater number of finds date back to the Minoan period (2600-1100 BC). Continuous development of the area is observed during the period of Antiquity (620-500 BC) at which time works of great artistic value were produced. According to testimony of more recent sources, during Classical (500-330) and Hellenistic (330-67 BC) times, the ancient town of Rithimna must have flourished; it was situated in the same place where the modern capital of Rethymo is today. Christianity expanded on the island during the First Byzantine period (330-824) and a large number of churches were built. From the year 824 through 961, the region, along with the rest of Crete, was governed by the Arabs. During the Second Byzantine period fortification works of the town of Rethymno were started for the first time, while in 1211 the long and interesting period of the Venetian occupation began, remains of which can be still clearly seen on all levels. On 29 September 1646, the troops of Hussein Pasha arrived at the fortified walls of the city of Rethymno that had already been weakened due to a number of earlier raids led by the Turks. The Fortezza of Rethymno was surrendered to the Turks on 13 November 1646. Despite continuous struggles the region continued to be dominated by the Turks until the end of the Independence War that ended in 1897, when Crete finally secured its autonomy. In 1913, Rethymno became part of Greece along with the rest of Crete. During the German occupation, the Rethymniots took an active part in the resistance against fascism.
Sightseeing And Monuments
With its central part built on the cape of the northern shore of the prefecture, capital Rethymno stretches along the northern sandy beach with a range of low mountains rising up in the south. This small Mediterranean town enchants visitors with its centre dating back to the period of the Renaissance, its fortress and museums, as well as its beaches. Built during the Venetian occupation, the public buildings of Rethymno were generally magnificent constructions. Situated in the centre of the city, the 16th-century Loggia of Rethymno is a magnificent, well-preserved building where nobility met to discuss political and economic issues. Other samples of Venetian architecture are the famous Rimondi Fountain constructed in 1626 by the Rector of the city, the church of Aghios Frangiskos that belonged to a monastery run by Franciscan monks and the mosque Neratzes which during the Venetian occupation was the Augustinian church of the Holy Virgin. A plethora of churches and monasteries was built in the Prefecture of Rethymno during both the early Christian and the Byzantine periods, displaying splendid interior embellishments such as mosaics and frescoes. Founded in 1887, the Archaeological Museum of Rethymno houses a wealth of archaeological exhibits from the late Neolithic and Proto-Minoan eras through the Classical and Hellenistic periods.
Traditions related to religion, nature and life itself represent a very important chapter in the life of the people of Rethymno. Fragrances and flavours of traditional cooking and special dishes decorate the Christmas and the Easter table. Epiphany is celebrated on 6 January at the ports; carnival and Shrove Monday are celebrated in February or March. Since 1987, the famous Renaissance Festival has been organised by the Municipality of Rethymno each summer featuring works of Cretan play-writers, as well as a large variety of plays by Shakespeare, Molliere, Goldoni and others. Musicians from all over the world gather in Rethymno, while street performances of the “Comedia del arte” can be seen in the narrow streets and alleys of the old town. Dancing performances, paintings, speeches and cinema complete the programme of festival activities. The revival of traditions and customs in picturesque villages of the Prefecture of Rethymno challenges and invites all aficionados of old customs, featuring carnival games, happenings and satires to keep the memories of earlier times alive.
People And Lifestyle
Just like all Cretans, the locals are a truly admirable people who learnt to hold on stubbornly throughout the tumultuous events of forty centuries to their native character and local speech. Courage, mingled with an independent spirit that is often close to downright disobedience, a lively wit, vivid imagination, and a language full of images, spontaneous and unaffected, love for every kind of adventure.
The area of Rethymno is full of disparities. Each part reveals scenery of particular beauty: impressive gorges, numerous caves, lush valleys and small rivers compose the personality of the local countryside. Rethymno is famous for a large number of endemic plants. Among the estimated number of 2000 species of plants, 160 are endemic to the region. The famous turtle caretta caretta lays its eggs on the protected sandy beaches. Hares, weasels, badgers and hedgehogs have their habitat in the valleys and lower hills, while the mountainous region is the paradise of the harrier eagle and other predatory birds.
Sports And Leisure
The beaches of Rethymno Prefecture are ideal for the fans of water-sports. At the organised beaches, one can rent pedal boats, canoes, as well as the necessary equipment for water-skiing and wind-surfing. The multifarious morphology of the landscape in the area including a plethora of mountain peaks, gorges, plateaux and beaches allows for a variety of contact with nature, from simple walking tours and passing through gorges to experienced mountain climbing and difficult excursions involving mountaineering. Beautiful country roads with little traffic are particularly suitable for bicycle tours, while most of the tracks in the countryside make ideal routes for mountain biking.
Nightlife And Entertainment
There are lots of cafes and pubs, open all day, with outdoor tables, along the beach and the promenade, near Rimondi fountain, opposite the port. At the same areas, clubs and a number of places with live Greek or Cretan music stay open until the early morning hours. Larger clubs are situated 5km to the east, among the major hotels.
Gastronomy And Shopping
The ingredients used in the local cuisine are simple, genuine and natural. All types of wild-growing vegetables and greens are consumed, either raw or simply boiled and sprinkled with local olive-oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice. Sheep and goats supply both their famous meat and rich dairy products. Undoubtedly the most important ingredient of the local diet is the local olive oil, which in combination with a traditional barley rusk and a few olives often make a complete meal for the locals. The market of Rethymno and the mountainous villages of Amari, Zoniana and Livadi provide a wide variety of the local products, dairy products, myzethra, graviera, anthotiro and fresh honey. The folk-art shops sell beautiful leather and bronze items, wood-curved pieces, woven baskets and the famous embroideries and woven-fabrics of Rethymno. In the streets of Rethymno there are antique shops, herb shops (buy some “erondas” and fresh oregano), shops selling myzethra, graviera, honey and raki, wine, olives, saucages and “xinochondro”.
Useful Telephone Numbers
Rethymno Buses Services: +30 28310 22212
Rethymno Police: +30 28310 25247
Rethymno Tourist Police: +30 28310 28156, +30 28310 29148
Rethymno Hospital: +30 28310 27491