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.
Koudoumas monastery is located at the exit of Katarraktis gorge in Asterousia Mountains, 80km south of Iraklion and only 40m from a beautiful beach. It is one of the most secluded monasteries of Crete, as access from Heraklion requires 2.5 hours. There is a safe 24km long dirt road that starts from the village Sternes (accessible from Charakas), at an altitude of 1000m near the peak Kofinas (1231m).
The Monastery of St. Anthony in Apezanes or Apezana is built on a rocky plateau of Asterousia Mountains, at an altitude of 440m, approximately 63km south of Heraklion. From there starts a short valley that leads from Antiskari village to the beachfront of Platia Peramata.
The monastery of Agios Nikolaos (Saint Nicholas) is located just off the beautiful canyon Gafaris (or Rouvas), about 48km southwest of Heraklion and 3km north of Zaros village. It is situated at the point where in 1994 a great fire burnt much of the beautiful pine forest of the gorge.
Vrontissi monastery is located 49km southwest of Heraklion, near Vorizia Gorge, between the villages of Zaros and Vorizia. The area has panoramic views to Vorizia village and the plain of Messara. The monastery is dedicated to Saint Anthony and is one of the oldest monasteries in Crete.
The Monastery of Panagia Kalyviani is located at an altitude of 80m around 60km south of Heraklion, next to Mires and Kalyvia villages. It is a relatively new monastery which was built on the ruins of an older one.
Odigitria Monastery is a male monastery located in a protected position of Asterousia Mountains, at an altitude of 250m. The monastery can be accessed through the village of Sivas in Messara Plain. It is one the most historic monasteries in Crete, known for its huge estate, with several chapels and vast land property in Asterousia Mountains.
Agia Irini monastery is located 25km south of Heraklion and 3km west of Kroussonas village, on the slopes of Psiloritis at an altitude of 630m. It can be accessed via the road connecting Kroussonas with Livadi plateau.
The nunnery of Rodia, known as Holy Monastery of the Virgin Mary was founded in 1990 by the Bishop Nektarios Papadakis. The region of the monastery belonged to Agapi Sbokou, who donated that to the Archdiocese of Crete in order to found the monastery.