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5+1 things you need to know about Rethymnon: a smart travel guide

Updated: Jan 2, 2021

Rethymnon (Ρέθυμνο) is one of the most scenic towns in Crete, for both the preservation of many historic buildings of the Venetian and Ottoman periods, as well as the wonderful terrain. The geomorphology consists of a rocky, almost circular, headland covered by a fortress (Fortezza), a large sandy beach to the east and a rocky cove to the west, and hills south of the seaside plain area.

Rethymnon old town and Fortezza as seen from the hill of Timios Stavros, to the south of the town
Rethymnon old town and Fortezza citadel

1. History On the hilltop of the headland where the Venetians built the Fortezza, scholars estimate that an ancient city was located, called Rithymna or Arsinoe. By that period, the headland of Fortezza probably was an island, or had a geomorphology similar to Mont-Saint-Michel in France or St Michael’s Mount in the UK. Rethymnon existed as a settlement during the Roman and Byzantine Era, but only during the Venetian rule begun to flourish as an urban center of that period, and continued during the Ottoman times.

2. Fortezza The initial Venetian town was organised in the plain area between the seaside, the headland of Fortezza and the southern terrain. The town was fortified by the Venetians during the 16th century due the Ottoman offensive took place through occasional raids, and later on they decided that the defensive was weak and the obviously the headland had to be fortified. Thus, the Fortezza was constructed in order to host the entire population of the town, but in fact rather formed a fortified citadel.

Fortezza, Rethymnon, from the South-West, Greece, Crete. Stone built walls on a rocky terrain, picture viewing uphill.
Fortezza, Rethymnon

3. Old port Rethymnon has also a small harbour, and as a matter of fact the initial medieval settlement, as suggested by scholars, extended around the area of the harbour. Nowadays the old port is one of the most scenic places of the town.

4. Old town The ground plan of the Venetian urbanism and many of the historic buildings dating from the 16th and 17th centuries are still remaining. You may admire many Venetian arched doorways, stone staircases and other architectural elements influended by the Rennaisance and Mannerism, as well as many wooden balconies constructed in the Ottoman period. Near the old port the impressive stone built Venetian Loggia is still standing, housing now the information office of the Ministry of Culture and Sports.

5. The best 5+1 things to do in Rethymnon.
I) Walk by the coastal sidewalk (extending and around the headland of Fortezza).
II) Visit Fortezza hilltop citadel. 
III) Scroll around the recently redeveloped alleys of the old town, and:
IV) admire the wonderful Rimondi fountain
V) visit the (temporary) Archaeological Museum located at the old St Francis Venetian Basilica.
VI) Relax at the central park (Kipos / Κήπος).

6. Tips Usually tourists visit Rethymnon from May to October. Also, a massive attraction of local, and Greek in general, tourists is the Carnival. Our suggestion is that, under normal conditions, the best time to visit Rethymnon is May or October, and also November (as the other two major Cretan urban centers). As a matter of fact, the town celebrates on the 8th of November, in memory of the fall of the Arkadi Monastery (1866, Cretan revolt against the Ottomans).

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