After the liberation of Crete by Nicephorus Phocas from the Arabs in 961 AD, followed a period of cultural renaissance, which is reflected on the monuments of the period and which continued during the Venetian rule.
Most large and small monasteries operating today were established in that period. Apart from serving religious needs, most of them played an important role during the struggles of Cretans for liberation, especially after the conquest of Crete by the Ottomans.
Monasteries were the only places where Christians could find shelter and organize their military operations. Suspicious of the supportive action of monks, the Ottomans destroyed several monasteries that functioned as revolutionary centers.
Even today, visitors admire the story of the Holocaust of Arkadi Monastery in 1866. Then, the besieged Christians decided to blow up the powder keg in order not to surrender to the Ottomans. All the monasteries of that time have similar stories to tell.
Chania hosts some of the finest masterpieces of monastic architecture in Greece. The monasteries of the Holy Trinity and Tzagaroli at Akrotiri cape, Chrysoskalitissa and Gonia Odigitria are exquisite samples. Equally impressive are the restored monasteries of Saint George at Karydi, Chrysopigi, Kalogrades at Akrotiri and Santa Kyriaki. Significant former monasteries are the monasteries of Katholiko, Saint Anthony and Saint John Pazinos at Akrotiri, Saint George Charodias, Saint Eleftherios at Mournies, the old monasteries of Saint John, Saint Paul and Saint George at Spatha, Azogyres and many others. Most monasteries in Crete are open to visitors. There are certain opening hours and visitors should be decently dressed. Arkadi Monastery is the most famous monastery in Crete both due to its excellent fortified architecture and because it is a symbol for the liberation of Crete from the Ottomans after the holocaust of 1866. There are more important monasteries around Rethymnon, such as Preveli, Santa Irene, Prophet Elijah in Roustika, Katevati and Arsani. Milopotamos province developed a very important monastic tradition and is home to the beautiful monasteries Vosakos, Chalepa, Diskouri and Attali. Some of the most famous abandoned monuments in Rethymno are the monasteries Halevi, Saint Peter in Gallos, Kaloidena by Ano Meros, Saint Anthony in Veni and the School of Asomati in Amari. Heraklion is home to some of the oldest monasteries in Crete, including the important monasteries of Agarathos, Paliani by Venerato, Vrondissi by Vorizia, Saint George Epanosifis, Saint George Gorgolainis by Asites, Saint Panteleimon by Fodele, Panagia Odigitria by Sivas, Kallergis by Kastelli, Saint Anthony by Arvi, Santa Pelagia by Ahlada and Apezana by Antiskari. The area west of Heraklion is a thriving religious enclave with the monasteries of Savvatiana, Rogdia, Santa Fotini, Pantanassa and Saint Theodore, all located nearby. The nunnery of Panagia Kera Kardiotissa dominates the foot of the Lassithi range, while Psiloritis hosts the monasteries of Santa Irene by Kroussonas and All Saints in Loutraki. The monastery of Agia Marina in Vonni is the largest pilgrimage in Crete. Lastly, the visitor could also visit the monasteries of Kalyviani by Mires, Saint John by Anopolis, Panagia Theogennitor by Mohos and many others. The most famous monastery in Lassithi is Toplou by Itanos, which reminds of an impregnable fortress. Other monasteries that are open to visitors are the monasteries Kapsas by Goudouras, Faneromeni by Gournia, Faneromeni by Skopi, Exakousti by Malles and the monasteries of Lassithi Plateau, namely Vidiani and Kroustalenia. The area of Mirabello hosted the largest number of monasteries in Crete. Today monasteries that still operate are Areti by Fourni, Kremasta and Koufi Petra by Neapolis and Saint George Selinaris. Ierapetra is home to the modern monasteries Axion Esti and Ayiasmenos.
Toplou Monastery is located in the northeastern tip of Crete, at the base of Sidero Cape, 10km east of Sitia and 6km north of Palekastro. The monastery is one of the most historic monasteries of Crete and is known for its vast real property. In religious circles it is known as the Monastery of Panagia Akrotiriani, while the locals just call it the Great Monastery.
The fortified monastery of Agarathos is located 23km east of Heraklion in a wooded location at an altitude of 538m near Episkopi. The monastery, especially during the Venetian Era, was one of the richest in Crete owning several other monasteries in Heraklion and Lassithi prefectures. It is considered the first in the hierarchy of the monasteries of the island.
The Monastery of St. George Apanosifis or Epanosifis is located about 30km south of Heraklion, near Metaxohori village. It is the largest male monastery in Crete (in monk number). The spiritual and social contribution of the monastery during the difficult years of Turkish occupation was invaluable.
The monastery of Agios Nikolaos (Saint Nicholas) is located just off the beautiful canyon Gafaris (or Rouvas), about 48km southwest of Heraklion and 3km north of Zaros village. It is situated at the point where in 1994 a great fire burnt much of the beautiful pine forest of the gorge.
Arvi monastery is built near the gorge of Arvi, in an elevated area with panoramic sea views. Today it is abandoned and only remnants of monks’cells reveal its past.
The Monastery of Saint Nektarios at Anogia is a female modern monastery built in a beautiful wooded location with nice view to the neighborhood Perahori of Anogia town.
The monastery of St. Andrew was built long ago in one of the most isolated shores of the Mirabello Province, near Finokalia village. Today the old monastery does not survive, but a small church of St. Andrew has been built at the same site.
The nunnery of Paliani is located at an altitude of 280m, next to the village Venerato, 20km north of Heraklion at the exit of Venerato Gorge. The monastery is dedicated to the Assumption and celebrates on August 15.
The male monastery of Saint George Selinaris is built in the heart of the gorge Selinari, near Vrachasi village and Neapolis. Next to the monastery passes the National Road connecting Heraklion to Agios Nikolaos, which is the main reason why Selinaris receives many visitors daily.
The Monastery of Panagia Exakousti is located in the beautiful green location Malles, near Ierapetra. Today it serves as a female convent. The nuns operate a workshop with textiles, a tailor and needlework shop and other souvenirs.
The monastery of the Virgin Mary «of the hollow stone» (Greek: Panagia Koufis Petras) is dedicated to the Annunciation. It is located west of Kremasta Monastery and at a short distance from Neapolis.
The Monastery of Panagia Kroustallenia is built on a small hill covered with oak trees near the villages of Agios Konstantinos and Marmaketo in Lassithi Plateau. It is one of the most historical monasteries of Crete and is always worth a visit.
The monastery of Vidiani is located at the foot of the mountain Louloudaki, near the village of Kato Metohi in Lassithi Plateau. Access is very easy, as the peripheral road of the plateau runs just next to it.
The Monastery of Panagia Faneromeni (i.e. Revealed Holy Mary) or Virgin Mary of Gournia is located northwest of Pachia Ammos, 24km south of Agios Nikolaos. It is a male monastery built on a steep slope at an altitude of 540 meters with stunning sea views. The monastery church is built inside a cave.
Chrysopigi monastery is located 3km south of Chania city. Its temple belongs to the architecture Mount Athos triconch with dome and is dedicated to the Panagia Zoodochos Pigi (Live Giving Virgin Mary) (celebr. on Friday after Easter). Thousands of believers arrive here to honor the miraculous icon of Virgin Mary.
The monastery of Parthenos is a modern nunnery dedicated to Life Giving Spring. It was founded in 1905 and was renovated in 1962. Here operated the Urban School of Girls and the first Deaf school in Crete.
The monastery is located in the village Margarites, 30km south of Rethymno, and was built in the late 15th - early 16th century. It is a dependency of to the Monastery of Karakalou at Athos. Its founder belonged to the Venetian family Dandolo. In front the beautiful gate there is a tomb embossed with the crest of Dandolo, preserved in very good condition till today.
The Monastery of St. Anastasia the Roman, the first in Greece monastery dedicated to Her, was founded in 2008 and started its operationin July 2009. Apart from the main church of St. Anastasia, there is the chapel of St. Kosmas the Aetolian.
Arkadi Monastery is located near the village Amnatos, 23km east of Rethymno. It is built at an altitude of 500m, on a fertile plateau with olive groves, vineyards, pine, cypress and oak trees. Around the monastery there are several picturesque chapels and from there starts the beautiful Arkadi gorge.
The monastery of Preveli (or Prevelis) includes two separate monasteries which are located 1.7km from each other, the Kato (Lower) Monastery of Prodromos and the Piso (Back) Monastery of Theologos.