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 monastery of Panagia Spiliotissa is located 22km south of Heraklion, between the villages Houdetsi and Agios Vasilios. It is hidden in the sides of the lush green Spiliotissa canyon. It can be easily accessed by walking on a green path, 500m long, from Houdetsi. Along this path you will see the Byzantine churches of St. John and Anthony, and two old water mills.
The monastery of Saint George Gorgolainis is located at an altitude of 480m, next to the village Asites, 24km south of Heraklion. It is built at a lush green area with huge platan, cypress and oak trees. Indeed, one platan and one cypress tree inside the complex have been declared as protected natural monuments by law.
The monastery of Kallergis or Kaleris is located southeast of Smari village, about 35km east of Heraklion and 4km north of Kastelli. It is built in a wooded area with many hills and mountainous morphology.
The monastery of Kera Eleoussa is located next to the village Voritsio and belongs to the monastery of Agarathos. The monastery is built on a hill at three different levels, because of the slope.
The monastery of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary is located at an elevated position, east of the village Sgourokefali. The nunnery was founded in 1990 and has beautiful views to the village of Sgourokefali.
The monastery of St. John Theologos (John the Apostle) in Anopolis is located relatively close to Heraklion. Although it has experienced the cruelty of the Turks during the Turkish occupation of Crete, the monastery still operates today. It is built in a beautiful valley at an altitude of 170m, southeast of Anopolis.
The Monastery of Kera Kardiotissa is located 50km southeast of Heraklion, in a wooded area of North Dikti Range, next to the road leading to the Plateau of Lassithi. This is a historic monastery, after which the nearby settlements of Kera and Ano Kera Kera have been named.
The monastery of Agia Marina is located 500m south of the village of Voni and during its feast day (July 17) huge crowds arrive from all over Greece. The number of people arriving at Agia Marina is the highest in Crete, with car queues of many kilometers. There are many vendors before reaching the church.