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.
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 monastery of Preveli (or Prevelis) includes two separate monasteries which are located 1.7km from each other, the Kato (Lower) Monastery of Prodromos and the Piso (Back) Monastery of Theologos.
Arsaniou monastery is located near Pagalochori village, 11km east of Rethymnon, in a location with panoramic views to the Cretan Sea. The church of the monastery is dedicated to St. George and is a cruciform basilica with a dome. A museum and a conference center operate in the complex.
The Monastery of Aghia Irini (Santa Irene) is built at an altitude of 260m at the foot of Mount Vrisinas, about 5km south of Rethymnon. It operates as a nunnery and is one of the oldest monasteries in Crete, built before 1362.
The convent of Jesus Christ (Christ the Savior) is built on the hill of Timios Stavros, in the west suburb of Rethymnon called Koumbes. The monastery was probably initially founded during the Venetian period, like several monasteries and temples in the region.
The monastery of Christ the Savior of Halepa is built on a high hill near the villages Tsahiana and Veni, 46km east of Rethymno. The views to the valley of Mylopotamos from there are panoramic. While before 2000 the monastery was a set of ruins, today the restored monastery operates normally and is one of the most beautiful monasteries in Crete.
On the hill of the Episcopacy (seat of Diocese) of Lambi, Sivritos and Sfakia, in early 1990s, started operating the monastery of Saints Raphael. The main temple is dedicated to the martyrs Saint Raphael, Nikolaos and Irini. The monastery also hosts the chapels of Saint Irinaeus, Saint John the Baptist, Saint John the Hermit and Archangel Michael.
The monastery of Diskouri is located 43km east of Rethymnon and is considered one of the oldest monasteries in Crete. Its age is evidenced by the nearby richly decorated Byzantine church of St. John the Baptist.