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.
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 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 nunnery of Paliani is located at an altitude of 280m, next to the village Venerato, 20km southwest of Heraklion at the exit of Venerato Gorge. The monastery is dedicated to the Assumption and celebrates on August 15.
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.
Arsaniou monastery is located near Pagalochori village, 11km east of Rethymnon, in a location with panoramic views to the Cretan Sea. The church of the monastery is dedicated to St. George and is a cruciform basilica with a dome. A museum and a conference center operate in the complex.
The Monastery of Aghia Irini (Santa Irene) is built at an altitude of 260m at the foot of Mount Vrisinas, about 5km south of Rethymnon. It operates as a nunnery and is one of the oldest monasteries in Crete, built before 1362.
The convent of Jesus Christ (Christ the Savior) is built on the hill of Timios Stavros, in the west suburb of Rethymnon called Koumbes. The monastery was probably initially founded during the Venetian period, like several monasteries and temples in the region.
The monastery of Christ the Savior of Halepa is built on a high hill near the villages Tsahiana and Veni, 46km east of Rethymno. The views to the valley of Mylopotamos from there are panoramic. While before 2000 the monastery was a set of ruins, today the restored monastery operates normally and is one of the most beautiful monasteries in Crete.
On the hill of the Episcopacy (seat of Diocese) of Lambi, Sivritos and Sfakia, in early 1990s, started operating the monastery of Saints Raphael. The main temple is dedicated to the martyrs Saint Raphael, Nikolaos and Irini. The monastery also hosts the chapels of Saint Irinaeus, Saint John the Baptist, Saint John the Hermit and Archangel Michael.
The monastery of Diskouri is located 43km east of Rethymnon and is considered one of the oldest monasteries in Crete. Its age is evidenced by the nearby richly decorated Byzantine church of St. John the Baptist.
The Holy Monastery of St. Anthony is located at position Katevati, 6 km from the village Akoumia, at an altitude of 525m. To reach the monastery you must travel 15 minutes by car on a dirt road from Akoumia.
The Monastery of Prophet Elijah (Profitis Elias) is built above a hill with panoramic views, 20km south of Rethymno, next to Roustika village. It is a relatively unknown monastery throughout Crete, although it was founded in the Venetian Era and belongs to the most historic convents of the island.
The Monastery Attali or Bai is built over the hill of Agia Ypakoi, west of Bali, with panoramic sea views to the sea and close to the main road connecting Rethymnon to Heraklion. The region was isolated till 1970, when the highway was constructed, and thus monasticism and asceticism flourished till then.
The Monastery of the Agio Pnevma (Holy Spirit) was probably founded in the 12th century and certainly at the end of Venetian rule it was already autonomous and in welfare. On June 15, 1821 the local Turks massacred the monks and burned the monastery.