The church within the walls of the Arkadi Monastery, one of the most ionic sites in Crete.
The complex is situated on a scenic plateau in the hills southeast of Rethymno. Though the original founding of the monastery is much debated, with some suggesting it could date as far back the 5th century (though more likely around the 14th century), the church itself is Venetian (1587). Heavily influenced by the Renaissance, it blends both Roman and baroque architectural elements.
The rest of the site is largely 17th century and is still a functioning Eastern Orthodox monastery today. Obviously the complex is open to the public and even features a small museum, gallery and gift shop.
Arkadi holds a deep significance for Cretans and has witnessed a fair amount of bloodshed and rebellion in its long and rich history. In 1822, 80 Turkish soldiers seized and pillaged the monastery, who in turn were captured and put to death by local rebels. In retaliation, the Ottomans razed several of the buildings.
More famously, in 1866 the monastery served as a Cretan stronghold during another rebellion. When the Ottomans arrived in force to quell the island-wide insurrection, hundreds of families took refuge in Arkadi. After two days of siege, the defences were breached. But rather than surrender, the Cretans deliberately set fire to the powder kegs stored there, killing hundreds in the blast, including many of the Turkish soldiers. The survivors were not spared. This horrific incident generated a wave of international support for Cretan independence, including some financial support from Britain.
Since then, many of the buildings have been restored and it’s possible to visit the vault where the explosion took place, now a shrine to the victims and symbol of Cretan resistance.