The Monastery of Arkadi combines the natural beauty with its important history and legends. It is about 23 kilometers from Rethimno, in a very green plateau, in the north-west side of the Idi Mountain, near the beautiful arkadiotiko gorge that connects the province of Rethimno with Milopotamos and Amari.
According to the tradition, it is said that it was built in about the 5th century. It was founded by the emperor Irakleios and built by the emperor Arkadios, from whom it took its name. Ruins of the first monastery are preserved in the north-west of the precinct. Venetians built it in the today’s fortress style in the end of the Venetian Occupation.
The impressive church (with two aisles) dedicated to Metamorfosi of Sotiras and Agios Konstantinos and Eleni is in the center of the monastery. An inscription that proves that it was founded in 1587 is in the bell tower.
The church is surrounded by the Abbot’s quarters and the cells in a large apartment divided into the kitchen, the bakery, the oven, the bread and the flour store rooms. A powder keg is in its perimeter where the wine store room was in 1866 and, then, became the area with the hospital, museum, cells and various store rooms.
The bones of the protectors of the monastery from the 1866 battle are kept in a building near the monastery, next to the gorge. In the past that building hosted the wind mill of the monastery, the stables and the guardhouse of the rural constable.
The monastery of Arkadi was known -not only- in the whole Crete for its important and tragic history. After the conquest of Crete by the Turks, in 1669, the bell chiming in all the churches and monasteries was prohibited. The deacon of the monastery, Neofitos Patelaris, met Porthitis pasha, offered him presents and pleased him to return the bell of the monastery of Arkadi. Pasha let the use of the bell and, that is why, it was called “Tsanli Monastir” that is the monastery that can chime its bell.
Two and a half centuries later, about 1500 Cretan rebels gathered in Arkadi in order to assign leaders in the various provinces of Crete. The Turks found about it and asked the abbot, Gabriel Marinakis, to send the rebels away from the monastery or else they would destroy it. The abbot refused so the Turkish army with 15.000 soldiers and 30 canons attacked the monastery on the 8th of November 1866. 964 people were in it, 325 men and the rest of them were women and children.
The Turkish army entered in the monastery a day after when the defense of the Cretans was fallen and the abbot was dead. Many of the survivors were locked in the powder keg and fired it. Many Greeks and Turks were killed and the monastery was destroyed. It was said that the explosion was so loud that was heard in Heraclion.
The monastery was reconstructed completely and only a burned iconostasis in the left of the altar of the church and a cannonball in the perennial cypress next to the church remind the 1866 destruction.
UNESCO has declared Arkadi as a European Freedom Memorial.