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Greek Island Holidays

Tragic events at Arkadi Crete

crete arkadi monastery

A symbol of the struggle for liberation.

The Arkadi Monastery is one of the most important sites in Crete and what happened there is etched deeply into the island's history as one of its most heroic and tragic events.

In the 19th century, the monastery was a hiding place for Cretan revolutionaries fighting their Turkish occupiers and munitions were stockpiled there .

In 1866, besieged by 1,500 Turkish troops and unable to prevent them storming the gates, the 1,000 or so resistance fighters holed up in the monastery and refusing to be taken prisoner by the Turks, set fire to their own gunpowder magazine and blew themselves up.

This suicidal act by the besieged inhabitants shook public opinion around the world and turned Arkadi into a symbol of the struggle for liberation. Each November the event is commemorated all over Crete with fireworks and dancing.

The Byzantine monastery is located about 22 kilometres south-east of the Crete port city of Rethymno in a fertile valley with an open vista to the sea and mountains behind.

The distinctive facade seen today was built in 1587 in an eclectic mix of styles but mainly baroque. The fortress-style complex to the north-west dates back to the 14th century and a monk named Arcados but the original date of the monastery is unknown.

In its heyday the monastery had a huge collection of books and manuscripts and many ancient Greek manuscripts were transcribed here.

Unfortunately the monastery and most of the library had been destroyed by the Ottomans in 1645 when they conquered Crete but was quickly restored and by 1700 it had a population of 300 monks.

Today the monastery is one of the most visited sites in Crete. It houses a small museum packed with historic artefacts.

The top exhibit is a flag from the Arkadi event depicting the Transfiguration of Christ which was returned to the monastery in 1870 by one of the Turkish officers involved in the siege.

Another unique exhibit is part of a wooden carved altar screen or iconostasis depicting the resurrection, the only original piece that survived the explosion and fire.

Also, among the weapons on display, are some of those used in the siege, including flintlock rifles and long-barrelled pistols as well as a Turkish musket.

There are also several pictures of the rebels, some sporting the astonishing moustaches typical of Cretan men of the time and dressed in traditional Cretan costume of headbands and baggy trousers.

There is also a collection of post-Byzantine icons and ecclesiastical vestments — this was an important centre for embroidery in the 17th century — with an outstanding piece of gold embroidery, dating from 1681, which depicts Christ and the disciples.

The monastery is surrounded by a thick stone wall with two large entrances. Notable are the many ancient trees in the monastery, and in particular one cypress that still shows the scars of a Turkish cannonball. In one of the outbuildings is a room containing several rows of neatly arranged skulls and called 'The Sanctuary of the Dead'.

Greek Island Holidays

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