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 exact date of the foundation of the monastery is not known, but it is believed that it was actually founded by Byzantine Emperor Arkadios in the 12th century. According to another version, the name is taken after a monk called Arkadios, who first founded the monastery. Moreover, the monastery was called Tsanli Manastir by the Turks (i.e. beneficiary bell), as the Arkadi monastery was the only Cretan monastery that had the right to ring its bells.
The initial church of the monastery was dedicated to Saint Constantine and some ruins of it are preserved in the northwestern part of the monastery enclosure. Arkadi is surrounded by massif walls that made it impregnable from the enemies and its rich fortification attracted the rebellious Cretans. Many Turkish and Greek documents are referring to the life and the adventures of the monastery, that provided educational, national, ethical and monetary support for the locals.
Arkadi is certainly the most historic monastery of Crete and has become the most sacred symbol of the Struggle of the Cretans for Freedom. It is the theater of the tragic battle of 1866, which opened the way for the liberation of the island in 1898. Indeed, UNESCO has designated Arkadi as a European Freedom Monument.
The Battle of Arkadi
During the Turkish occupation of Crete, the Cretans made many revolutionary movements, such as the Revolution of Daskalogiannis in 1770, of the Janissaries in 1821, against the Egyptians in 1822, of Gramvousa in 1828, of Chairetis in 1811. They all failed but strengthened Cretan morale and hatred against the Turks. The Revolution that opened the way for the Liberation of Crete was the Revolution of 1866, which, combined with the revolutions of 1878 and 1895, put an end to the Turkish Occupation in 1898.
The Cretan Revolution of 1866 brought a blow against the Turkish Empire, caused significant economic damage and stultified its military prestige. The Monastery of Arkadi from the first moment of the Revolution was the center of the Cretan struggle. On May 1, 1866, 1500 Cretan rebels gathered under the leadership of Hadji Michalis Giannaris and elected representatives of the various provinces of Crete. As president of the Rethymno Commission, was elected the abbot of Arkadi Monastery, Gabriel Marinakis.
When Ismail Pasha was informed of these events he demanded that the abbot had to expel the Revolutionary Committee from the monastery, otherwise he would destroy it. The abbot refused and in July Ishmael Pasha sent his troops. However, the Commission had abandoned Arkadi and the Turks only destroyed the icons and sacred vessels of the temple. The committee returned in Arkadi and, in September, Pasha reasked the abandonment of the monastery, otherwise he would destroy it completely!
The message of Ishmael was rejected and the rebels immediately started organizing their defense. On September 24, Panos Koroneos arrived in Bali and visited Arkadi with his soldiers, where he was announced as the General Chief of Rethymnon. He organized the military defense and pointed out that Arkadi is not suitable for defense. The abbot and monks had the opposite opinion, so Koroneos set John Dimakopoulos as commander and left Arkadi. The monastery was a refuge for many women and children from the nearby villages. So, on November 7, in the monastery there were 964 people. 325 of them were men of whom 259 were armed.
On the evening of November 7, an army consisting of 6000 soldiers, 200 horsemen, 1200 Albanians and 30 cannons departed from Rethymnon city. In the morning of November 8, 1866 all that army, led by the groom of Mustafa Pasha, Suleiman Veis, was standing in front of the monastery. The dawn of the same day found the Cretans in the Divine Liturgy (in church). When the abbot Gabriel learned that the Turks were established on the hills around the monastery, he blessed all the rebels and everyone took up battle positions.
Soon, Suleiman Veis asked from the Cretan warriors to surrender. The answer was given by the shooting guns and the raised emblem - flag depicting the Transfiguration of Christ (and now kept at the Museum of the Monastery). The battle started.
Women helped by carrying ammunition and water for the warriors, while the Turks were trying in vain to approach and destroy the West Gate. The battle continued all day with many casualties of the Turks. In the windmill outside of the gate (where the ossuary is currently set) seven Cretans were hidden, who caused the greatest damage to the Turks, but by the evening they were all killed.
At the night, the Turks brought two heavier cannons from Rethymnon. One was the famous bombard koutsahila, famous throughout Crete for its devastating effectiveness. The desperate besieged managed to send secretly the priest Kraniotis and Adam Papadakis to ask for help from Koroneos and the other chieftains of Amari province. The two men managed to escape Arkadi and reach the other rebels, but they could not help. It is worth mentioning that the heroic Adam Papadakis decided to return the monastery, where he knew that he would certainly die.
In the evening of November 8, the bell rang for last time. Warriors, old men, women and children came to the Holy Communion (Blessed Sacrament). Even children had understood that they lived the last moments of their lives.
When November 9 dawned the battle began. The new canons destroyed the western gate. The abbot ordered whoever would manage to be alive when the Turks would enter the yard, to give fire to the gunpowder storage room.
The battle continued relentlessly. The Turks managed to enter the gate of the monastery and the battle was bounded inside the monastery. Those warriors that had run out of ammunition came to the courtyard and fought with their swords. Many girls and women ran to the storey with the powder kegs, as they preferred to surrender their bodies to the flames rather than the atrocities of the Turks. When most of the Turks entered the monastery, Dimakopoulos and other warriors, rushed with swords and killed many Turks from those who were in the yard. After a while their swords were broken and the Turks continued to come from everywhere after the resistance had fallen from all sides.
It was now dark and most women had gathered in the powder room. Kostas Giamboudakis then raised his pistol and ordered anyone who wanted to leave the storey, as he would explode the gunpowder. Hundreds of Turks were trying to break the door to slaughter the Christians. Giamboudakis waited to attract as many Turks as possible outside the door. Then he shot the powder kegs and a huge explosion was heard. Stones, bodies, heads, ruins, soils were all mixed and the souls of the Cretans passed into history forever.
After the explosion of gunpowder, John Dimakopoulos and a few survivors continued to fight against the Turks and the Albanians in the courtyard of the monastery. He decided to surrender when he was guaranteed that the last alive defenders would be left free. However, on the next day, they were all beheaded. Even today you can see the marks of the swords on the dining tables. The result of the holocaust of Arkadi, as this drama has prevailed in Greek History, was: 114 men and women prisoners, 864 dead Cretans and about 1500 dead Turks.
In the cypress of the monastery there are still bullets of that battle. Pasha believed that his victory would stop rebels in Crete. However, this battle was learned in Europe and opened the closed doors of European diplomacy, changed the mindset and tactics of the Great Powers towards Crete and led to its liberation in 1898.
- 6th century: The Byzantine emperor Heraclitus establishes the monastery of Arkadi.
- 12th century: The Byzantine Emperor Arcadius rebuils the Monastery of Arkadi in the area owned by Kalergis family.
- 14th century: The church of Saint Constantine is built, which is now ruined.
- 1587: Monks and bothers Klimis and Visarionas Hortatzis renovate the monastery of Arkadi and build the present magnificent temple.
- 1610: The stables of the monastery are built
- 1645: The Turks occupy the town of Rethymno and the monks find refuge in the Monastery Vrontisi, except two of them who are massacred. The monastery gets looted and destroyed. The abbot of the monastery manages later to distract the privilege of ringing the bell, something forbidden for all other monasteries of Crete.
- 1658: Mustafa Pasha prohibits bell ringing, but the abbot indicated the permission of the Great Gate and Arkadi is excluded again.
- 1670: The magnificent dining room of the monastery is built.
- 18th Century: The great library manuscripts of the monastery are sold and the monastery declines.
- 1822: Yentim Ali occupies the monastery, but it soon re-conquered by the Rebels and most Turks are killed.
- 1831-1841: During the brief ten-year Egyptian Era, the monastery flourishes.
- 7-9 November 1866: The battle of Arkadi, one of the most tragic events of European history.
- 1870: The ruined monastery is restored.
- 1933: Timotheos Veneris founds the museum with the historical relics of the monastery.