Around the prefecture of Rethymno lie a plethora of churches and monasteries built during the Christian and Byzantine years. Basilicas and single-aisled domed churches witness the rich historical past of Rethymno and embellish the villages as well as the main town. On the inside, they are decorated with magnificent mosaics and icons that captivate all visitors. Especially the town is ideal for those who want to study religious architecture in depth and admire the Byzantine art.
Some of the most worth seeing churches and monasteries are spread out in the villages of Rethymno. One of the best examples is the historic Preveli monastery dedicated to Saint John the Theologian. It is located on the southern coast of Rethymno, on the slopes of Mt Psiloritis. It consists of two complexes, the Lower Monastery, and Pisso Monastery which operates to this day. Inside the monastery, visitors can admire gold crucifix from the True Cross which became miraculous by the faithful. In one of the monastery's rooms, there is a little museum exhibiting various ecclesiastical items.
The foundation of Arkadi Monastery goes back to the late Venetian period, although its exact date is unknown. However, during the 16th century, the monastery was already established as the spiritual and educational center of Crete. Its architecture relates to a fortress with gothic elements and vaulted cells. From the monastery, you have a breathtaking view of the sea and the gorge which is set around lush vegetation. It is located close to the idyllic Prevely beach, 23 km from Rethymno town.
Arsani monastery was also built around the same time, in a splendid location with lush green forests and a panoramic view to the Cretan Sea. It is dedicated to Agios Georgios but the name of the monastery was probably taken after one of the monks named Arsenios. There is a museum with impressive relics and other ecclesiastical objects.
One of the closest monasteries to Rethymno town is dedicated to Agia Irini. It exists since the 14th century in the homonymous settlement, on an altitude of 250m on the hill of Mt Vrysinas, 5 km from the center. It is one of the oldest female monasteries in Crete, still active. Its fortress architecture has been awarded and as a result, it charms all visitors. It is surrounded by nuns cells, workshops, and beautiful chapels.
Remains of Early Christian basilicas have been found in Rethymno. The largest one is Panormos Basilica located 30 km from the town. It was excavated in 1948 and dates back to the 5th century. Equally important is the Early Christian basilica of Goulediana (6th century) and Ancient Eleftherna, Agios Ioannis (13th century) and the church of Panagia Roustika(7th century).
The historic Monastery of Preveli is located about 40 km south of Rethymnon Town. It stands by a bridge over Kourtaliotikis River and it is surrounded by lush vegetation. The monastery has two buildings with a distance of 3 km between each other. It was originally built in the 17th century and it played an important role in all the Cretan fights for freedom.
The Monastery of Arkadi is the symbol of the Cretan Revolution. In 1866, Crete had revolted against the Ottoman Turks who ruled the island. Many fighters were trapped inside the monastery and the Turkish army was besieging it. To avoid capture, they exploded the monastery and killed themselves and the Turks outside it.
The Monastery of Arsani is dedicated to Saint George and it was probably built in the 16th century. The monastery has a small museum with ecclesiastical clothing, Byzantine icons and holy crosses of the 17th century.
The Monastery of Panagia Antifonitria is located in Miriokefala, a mountainous village in the borders between Rethymno and Chania. Founded in the 11th century A.D., this is among the oldest monasteries in Crete.