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.
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 Agia Moni (Holy Monastery) is located about 60km east of Heraklion and 38km west of Ierapetra, near Kavoussi Gorge. It can be accessed via a short road that starts from Ano Viannos and passes through a verdant landscape.
The Monastery of Virgin Mary Theogennitor is located very close to Mohos and is built on a unique location with views of the coast of Stalis. The monastery, although new, has gained a great reputation mainly because of its founder father Apostolos. Apostolos was a former monk of the monastery of St. John in Anopolis and in 2009 he was evicted and founded this monastery.
The Holy Monastery of Santa Irene Hrysovalantou in Heraklion is located on the southern outskirts of the city. It was founded as a male monastery on April 14, 2002 by father Methodios Samaritakis. It currently has a few monks engaged in the production of wax and incense, and the management of the House of Elders that hosts elderly people.
The Holy monastery of St. Theodore is located on the road that leads to the University Hospital of Heraklion. The nunnery was founded by Timothy Tzannis in around 1980.
The Monastery of Agia Fotini the Samaritan is located at Ellinoperamata, Malevizi district, on the road leading to Rodia village. It was founded in June 1991 by the Archbishop of Crete, Timotheos. The monastery houses the church of Agia Fotini, the chapel of St. Fanourios, the nuns’ cells and the tomb of the founder of the monastery, Timotheos.
Pantanassa monastery (Panagia Pantanassa) is built atop a pine covered hill beside the sea at an altitude of 30m, about 14km west of Heraklion. It is a relatively new female monastery dedicated to the Nativity of Mary (celebr. on September 8).
Agios Nikitas is located 65km south of Heraklion, on the east side of the wild and arid Asterousia Mountains. The monastery was originally a hermitage for monks from the monastery of Koudoumas. It is built on a high hill with breathtaking views to the Libyan Sea. The church of the monastery, dedicated to St. Nikitas (feast September 15), is built in a cave and dates back in 1640.