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You are in:  Top  →  Europe  →  GREECE  →  Crete  →  RETHYMNON

RETHYMNON

Rethymnon, one of the four provinces of Crete, stretches from the White Mountains on the West to Mount Psiloritis on the East, bordered by the provinces of Hania and Iraklion.

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River at Preveli

NATURAL GEOGRAPHY

Rethymnon province covers an area of 1.496 km2 and has a population of 81,157 inhabitants. The largest mountain ranges of the White Mountains, Psiloritis and Kouloukounas and the secondary ones of Kedros, Asiderotas and Vrisinas form a network of valleys, the main one of which is Milopotamos and the two valleys of Amari.

The few flat areas are found near the north and south coasts, while the plateau of Nida stretches over the mountainous mass of Psiloritis. The city of Rethymnon with its 26 000 inhabitants is the capital of the province.

Smaller population centres are Anogia, Spili, Perama and Episkopi.

The villages of the province have a small and constantly dwindling number of inhabitants, which average about 180 persons.

The main transport routes in the province are the new national highway which runs parallel with the north coast, the old national highway, which is situated slightly south of the new road, and the Rethymnon - Spili - Agia Galini - Sfakia road which runs north south.

COUNTRYSIDE AND CLIMATE

Rethymnon is Crete's most mountainous province. Of its 1.496 km2, 507 are cultivated, 936 are pasture, 36 are covered by settlements and only 17 km2 are covered by Mediterranean oak, pine and maple-tree forest.

The Climate is mild Mediterranean and particularly dry and warm. There is sunshine 67% of the year and temperatures range from 12 to 27�C. The prevailing winds are Northerly and northwesterly, while occasional hot Southerly arrive from the African continent with great strength.

While the environmental condition of the countryside is relatively good, the centuries of farming and grazing are beginning to take their toll.

The quality of seawater is still amongst the best in Europe.

Many of the mountains have been stripped due to overgrazing and summer forest fires. Of the eight types of the land of the province (plains, semi-mountainous, sub-alpine, coastal, wetlands and gorges) only in the last two has human presence not been strongly felt.

The two most interesting gorges for wildlife are those of Patsos and Prasses.

THE HISTORY OF RETHYMNON

According to archaeological discoveries, man first arrived in the area in the later Neolithic years (3500-2800 BC). Until now, 13 instances of human presence in this period have been found, 5 of which are in caves. The most well known is the Gerani cave which was periodically a fishermen's settlement.

Human activity spread throughout the whole province during the Minoan period (2800 - 1100 BC). Settlements and large building complexes (Elenes, Monastiraki, Apodoulou) appeared which later flattened in the earthquake of 1450 BC. This destruction was taken advantage of by the Mycenaeans who invaded and settled in Crete.

During the Geometric Period (710-270 BC) there is evidence of civilisation in the area of Eleftherna and its eastern areas including at least IS cities founded between 710 and 470 BC, the majority of which are small towns. Of these, Axos enjoyed particular prosperity.

During the classical years (470-323 BC) Sivritos boomed as did Rithymna, the predecessor of today's Rethymnon.

During the Hellenistic and Roman periods, Lappa appears as the most important city. The 5th, 6th and first half of the 7th centuries AD were peaceful under the jurisdiction of the Byzantine Empire. Since the second half of the 7th century continuous Arab invasions disrupted Crete until it was finally conquered in 827 or 828. The successive attempts of the Byzantine resulted in its re conquest only one and a half century later (961 AD).

In 1204 Crete came under Venetian rule, a period of domination which lasted until 1669, the last centuries of which are characterised as the "Kingdom of Crete" and left a legacy of many important monuments on the island.

The Turkish occupation brought with it a dark period for Rethymnon. The economy became agricultural, education ceased for a few centuries and oppression became unbearable. The Revolution at Sfakia in 1770 prepared for the uprising of 1821, which in turn re-ignited in 1866. It was in this revolution that the Arkadi Monastery near Rethymnon became world famous after the martyrdom of its defenders.

Crete was eventually unified with the rest of Greece in 1913 and since then it has followed the nation's history. In May 1941, Rethymnon was one of the German Parachutists' three fronts. The memorable resistance of the local people led to the execution of hundreds of inhabitants and the levelling of whole villages.

The development of tourism in the last 20 years has given employment opportunities to the people of Rethymnon and has stemmed the emigration to urban centres, which had devastated the settlements of the province. At the same time, however, it has put a strain on natural resources and the environment.

FLORA AND FAUNA

The climate and geography of Rethymnon, and Crete generally, allow the existence of a large number of species, many of which are endemic to the island. As a result, the visitor may find natural treasures that have existed on the island for centuries and were depicted in Minoan frescoes such as the sea lily (pancratium maritinum) along the coastal zone, sea turtles "caretta-caretta" which lay their eggs on the beaches and may even see the Eleanora's falcon "falcon eleonore" which migrates from Africa in the summer months.

In the valleys, the visitor will come across, the makia bushes and laudanum (citrus incanus creticus), the ebenus cretica and dozens of types of wild flowers. The quick-eyed visitor may also spot hares, skunks, martens, hedgehogs and rats (apodemus sylvaticus creticus), bats and many types of birds.

In the semi-mountainous areas, apart from bushes the visitor may distinguish cyclamen (cyclamen cretium) and many birds of prey. In the mountains amongst other varieties are the Cretan maple (acer sempervirens), the Cretan tulip (tulipa cretica), the yellow violet (erysimum raulini) etc. This is also the most important habitat for birds of prey as well as the Cretan wild goat and the thorn mouse (Amoco's minus).

In the wetlands of Geropotamos and Preveli, the visitor will encounter interesting fauna and flora, especially the latter, which includes the Cretan Palm tree (phoenix theophrastii).

Lastly, in the gorges, the visitor, if he is lucky, may come across the famous Cretan dittany and other fragrant plants of Crete.

THE PEOPLE AND THEIR FEASTS

The people of Rethymno countryside are direct, honourable and extremely hospitable. In places where tourism has penetrated, traditional hospitality has been affected. The Rethymnians like learning are progressive and love their land. They fervently preserve their music, their dialect and, although not as intensely, their customs.

Baptisms and weddings remain events of utmost importance and the Rethymnians' demonstrativeness sometimes express itself in gunshots.

The shepherds celebrate their herd with the "koura", in other words the sheering of their animals at the end of spring, which is accompanied by a lavish feast. The shepherds of one particular village, Karoti, bring their sheep down for blessing in the church on the feast of Saint George.

Fruit gathering from orchards and vineyards. A custom that heralds autumn is followed by a non official celebration next to the still, where the opportunity arises for a celebration during the making of raki.

In addition, religious customs are alive and Christmas, Easter and the Assumption of The Virgin ( 15th August) are considered to be the greatest of religious feasts. Other smaller religious feasts, summer ones especially, give rise to local fairs. However, a few agricultural products, like cherries, citrus fruits and sultanas, provide the basis for fairs in the villages of Mt. Kedros, in Garazo and Perama.

TRIPS THROUGH THE PROVINCE

Getting around the province in a car or on a motorbike is easy. The suggested routes take in a lot of sights and can be easily modified, according to the visitor's interests.

Rethymnon - Anogia

At 3 kms east of Rethymnon, the visitor can choose between the new or the old National Road, the second is more tiring but more interesting. Ten kilometres along the new National Road, detour and visit the Arsani monastery. At the 17 kilometre mark, stop for a swim at the beautiful and clean beach of Geropotamos.

Turning off at the 22nd kilometre visit Panormo, a picturesque coastal village. There, turn to reach the Milopotamos district centre, Perama. Following the old National Road after Rethymnon, cross the coastal area with hotels and visit the Arsani monastery.

At the 24th kilometre reach Perama after crossing the villages of Viran Episkopi and Hani Alexandrou. Following the same route after Perama, cross the villages of Aghios Sillas, Daphnedes and Clourtzana, following the junction towards Garazo. At the 44th kilometre reach the village of Axos where you can stop to visit the antiquities of ancient Axos as well as the more recent church of Agia Irene. Eight kilometres further you come to the small town of Anogia.

Rethymnon - Argiroupoli

Following the coastal section of the new National Road, you encounter the village of Gerani after 7 kilometres and the settlement of Petres after 12 kilometres. After the river of the same name, an endless sandy beach begins where you can enjoy a swim.

At the junction towards the village of Episkopi, turn left following the signs towards Argioupoli. If you wish to follow the old National Road, you will encounter the traditional villages of Atsipopoulos and Prines. Further along, pass through Gonia, Aghios Petros and Episkopi at the 31 St kilometre. Leaving the old National Road and turning left, you will find a well-made road to the village of Argiroupoli.

Rethymnon - Spili - Aghia Galini - Asomatos School - Rethymnon

Nine kilometres south of Rethymnon, you will arrive at the YMIII cemetery of Armeni and the village of the same name 1,5 kms further along.

The village of Mixorrouma is found at the 23rd kilometre outside Rethymnon and Spili, the capital of the Aghios Vasilios district, 5 kms further on.

After Akoumia and Krya Vrissi, you will reach the tourist resort of Aghia Galini.

Returning, pass through the village Apodoulou where you can visit some of its antiquities at Nithavris, Kouroutes, Fourfouras, Vizari and Afrates and stop for a rest at the waters of the former monastery of Asomatos.

Continuing, you will cross Apostolos Potamos and Prasses, returning along the relatively tiring road to the beginnings in Rethymnon. The fatigue of the return journey will be offset by the beauty and coolness of the two valleys of Amari, as well as by the traditional character of its settlements.

EXCURSIONS

MOUNTAINEERING EXCURSIONS

The province of Rethymnon is a paradise for hiking and climbing excursions, although experience and suitable equipment are necessary.

  • Roussospiti - Vrisinas: Duration, 4 hours.
  • Arkadi - Thronos: Duration, 5 hours.
  • Kouroutes - Psiloritis

Duration, 14 hours with a small stop 1,400 m up at the shelter provided by the Mountaineering Club of Rethymnon.

  • Ano Meros - Kerdos: Duration, 8 hours.
  • Apladiana - Kouloukounas: Duration, 6 hours.
  • Pan European track E4.
The possibility exists of crossing its two passes or choosing sections of its passes.

Point of interest found on the south coast of Rethymnon lying 12 km east from Chora Sfakion is the Venetian fort "Fraggokastello", an imposing fortress dominating the sea. The four towers and the Saint Markos Lion still subsist.

There, an amazing spectacle awaits you, if you are at the right place and the right time. During the war of independence, 650 Cretans held Fraggokastello, until 8000 Turkish troops arrived to force them out. The Turks took the fort, and all the defenders were killed. This event, the Massacre of Fraggokastello, has given rise to the following ghost story. For a very strange reason, probably meteorological, around mid-May, a mysterious mist arises at dawn around the fortress, and one can see the phantoms of the Cretan warriors, fully armed, marching silently towards the fortress and then disappear into the sea. These are the famous Drosoulites, the dew shades, still ready to fight against the enemy.

Fraggokastello is otherwise a very quiet seaside place, with a long fine beach, where it is very pleasant to swim.

Standing in a beautiful landscape on the south coast is also the Monastery of Preveli. The Monastery was built at the end of the 16th century by a person called Prevelis. Under the Turkish rule the Monastery acquired large possessions and played an important role. In 1821 The hegoumen Melchisedek Tsouderos, was inducted into the Philiki Etairia. The small museum in the Monastery contains ecclesiastical furniture, church treasures, vestments, sacred vessels and documents.



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