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 Bali is a male monastery dedicated to St. John the Baptist. The complex is built in two levels. Next to the impressive entrance of the monastery there were the stables, while around you will see the old mill, a pottery workshop, a bakery and, opposite, the monk cells and the refectory (which is decorated with frescoes).
The church is not in the middle of the yard, as used in Crete, but on the northeast side of the complex and outside it. In onder the monks to feel safe from the frequent pirate raids, since it is located close to the sea, there was a heavy door that isolated the stairs leading to the temple. Thus, there was a kind of fortress within which all the basic amenities were surrounded, but still the temple was left out of it!
Bali area has played an important role in the local history, as its bay was one of the key points for supplying the rebels with ammunition and for communicating with liberated Greece. The Turks tried several times to occupy the area, causing also severe damages to the monastery. It is characteristic that in Sifnos there is another monastery named Bali, which is believed to be the monastery where the monks of Attali transferred the sacred icon of Our Lady, so as to save it from the Turkish hands.
Sacred peak of Apakoi
The summit of Apakoui is one of the lowest peaks of the Talea Mountains in Rethymno, but is of foremost archaeological importance. Located above Bali and strategically located with unobstructed views of the sea, Pyrovolopetra (the port of ancient Astali) and the plains of North Milopotamos. Apakoui is located east of the other peak Bachoumis, which hosts the sacred cave of Askintis (of Ascete), which was the sacred cave of the town Astali. The name Apakoui comes from the Virgin Mary Gorgoepikoos, who listens to the prayers.
Atop Apakoui you can still see scattered and broken pottery and the foundations of some old walls on a small artificial plateau, which is the only remaining part of the chapel of Virgin Mary Gorgoepikoos, built was there. The church was built in early Christian times, was later ruined but its name remained to remind the story. Next to it stands a rough wooden cross reminiscent of the sacredness of the area. The chapel was built on the site of a former Minoan Peak sanctuary, which is supposed to have been the sanctuary of Astali. On the north side of the hill there is a part of the trail that connected Eleftherna to ancient Astali. On the east side of Apakoui, there is are stone fountain which feeds Atali Monastery with water. Ascent to the summit is quite difficult, steep and dangerous and the old path is damaged.
The monastery of St. John owns the church of Panagia Charakiani just next to the highway. According to the tradition, a shepherd found the miraculous icon of Our Lady in a cavernous rock (charaki). The miraculous icon is stored in the monastery and is moved to Charakiani during August. The locals used to stay for the first 15 days of August, till August 15 when Panagia celebrates, in huts made of reeds, although their number has declined lately. West of the church you can see the blazon of Kallergis family, the most powerful Cretan family during the Venetian period.
- 14th century: The monastery of Agios Ioannis in Attali already exists but the exact date of its establishment is unknown.
- 1628: The first written evidence of the existence of the monastery.
- 1635-46: Many buildings of the monastery are built and the church is extended. It is believed that someone called Balis was the founder of the new family, hence the name.
- 1646: The Turks, after the conquest of western Crete, destroy the monastery. The monks restore it quickly.
- 1646-1669: The monks of Attali move the icon of the Virgin Mary in Sifnos Island (current monastery of Balis).
- 1669: Repairments start
- 1692: Restoration works are completed.
- 1739: The traveler Richard Pococke for the first time mentions the name Bali (Bal Monastir).
- 1761: The fountain in the interior of the Attali monastery is built
- 1791: Abbot Gideon builds the beautiful fountain outside the monastery. The same year, the icon of St. John (now attached to the iconostasis) is drawn.
- 1830: Locals gather in the bay of Bali in order to escape with ships to free Greece. The Turkish ships bombard the refugees.
- 1837: The imposing wooden iconostasis is constructed.
- 1866-69: The bay of Bali is a key entry point for volunteers / soldiers from Greece and the main route for locals escaping to free Greece. The commander Panos Koroneos lands in Bali. The Turks destroy the monastery.
- 1868: A Turkish ship bombs the civilians gathered in Bali. The Monasteries of Vosako and Attali offer help.
- 1874: After the death of Attali Abbot, Meletios Karteris, Gerasimos Pikrakis becomes the new abbot. Pikrakis is well known for his struggle against the Turks in the period 1866-1869.
- 1900: The Monastery of Attali, like dozens of monasteries in Crete, is declared as about to stop operating.
- 1935: The Monastery of Attali is declared again as about to stop its operation, however some monks still live here.
- 1945: Attali monastery gets deserted.
- 1970: The new National Road connecting Heraklion to Rethymnon is constructed, bringing the monastery closer to civilization.
- 1982: Anthimos Syros (later Bishop of Rethymno & Avlopotamos) arrives in the monastery and starts the restoration of the monastery.