Exploring Rethymno in Crete
The site of present-day Rethymno, the Greco-Roman Rithymna, has been inhabited since the Minoan era. This city flourished under Venetian sovereignty in the 16th century and welcomed the numerous sages fleeing from Constantinople. Despite tourism and modern buildings, Rethymno retains much of its charm and remains the intellectual capital of Crete. Samples of the elegant and well-preserved Venetian and Ottoman architecture abound in the old town. The huge Venetian Fortétsa (fortress), built in the 16th century to defend the island from pirate attacks, presides over the picturesque port, which has a 13th-century lighthouse.
This city is located in the center of Crete, between the cities of Chania and Heraklion, and its active port is like a great outdoor cafe for tourists. It is surrounded on almost its entire length by a sandy beach and at its western end a small pier opens up. A restored 13th-century lighthouse stands on the jetty.
The Venetian Fortétsa
La Fortétsa is one of the largest buildings of its kind and dominates the city from the inner port. Conceived by Pallavicini in the 1570s, it was built to defend the port from pirate attacks (Barbarossa had devastated the city in 1538) and expansionist threats from the Turks. This has four bastions and three doors, and within its walls is the Ibrahim Han Mosque, which was originally the Venetian cathedral, and part of the governor's residence is seen, most of them in ruins today. Open-air concerts are held in the summer.
In addition to all this, Rethymno has a symphony orchestra, choir and even the University of Crete has one of its two campuses there. The other is in the capital. Not bad for a small town of just over 30,000 inhabitants!
In front of the main entrance of the Fortétsa, the Archaeological Museum occupies a reformed Turkish bastion. Its collection arranged in chronological order ranges from the Neolithic to the Roman era, through the Minoan era, and includes objects from cemeteries, shrines, and caves in the region. The late Minoan sarcophagi (larnakes) and the present funerals stand out. The old town huddled behind the fortress, is made up of several alleys and Venetian and Ottoman houses with wrought-iron balconies. Together with the Titou Peochaki Plateia, on the site of a Venetian church, the Turks erected the Nerantzes mosque, in 1657, the best preserved in the city (now it has been restored, it is a music institute, and also, serves as a concert hall).
The Rimondi fountain and the elegant Lotzia
In Palaiologou, the 17th-century Venetian fountain of Rimondi, with lion-headed figures, stands next to cafes and fruit and vegetable shops. There is also the elegant Venetian Lotzia (lodge) from the 16th century. This is one of the most outstanding architectural memories of the Venetian domain. Currently, the lodge houses a shop for reproductions of classic works of art.
To the east of Rethymno, and in the direction of Panormos, tourist buildings follow one another, while to the west of the city lie 20 kilometers of relatively clear beach that end in the town of Georgioupoli. Despite the urbanizations, this small community preserves part of its traditional environment. The lush eucalyptus trees line along the streets and a picturesque river inhabited by turtles flows placidly down to the sea.
5 kilometers inland, Lake Kournas sits among steep hills that stand out for its transparent and blue water. Called a beach (although it is a lake), you can rent pedal boats, windsurfing equipment, and canoes on the shore. There are also hammocks and umbrellas, and you can also have a drink in the shady taverns. Additionally, there are several restaurants.
Of course, in addition to visiting the fortress, getting lost in the old city, contemplating the Rimondi fountain and the old but beautiful port, and getting to know the famous mosque, you must pass under the Puerta Guora. During the Venetian period of domination, it was the gateway to the city. Although now, you can enter everywhere, of course.
But a curious thing to do in Rethymno, without a doubt, is to enter the old city through that door, as in the old days. Bear in mind, that this is the only part left of the old wall.