Site of 1866 rebellion that ended with act of astonishing determination
The Monastery of Arkadi, some 25 kilometers southeast of Rethymno, in the foothills of Mount Psiloritis, is perhaps Crete’s foremost symbol of freedom.
Cretan monasteries often served as rebel strongholds under Ottoman rule -- in 1866, the fortified enclosure of Arkadi became the headquarters of yet another rebellion. Seeking refuge from the Ottomans, several hundred women and children fled from nearby villages and hid there.
At dawn on November 8, the defenders, numbering less than 300, awoke to find the monastery surrounded by thousands of enemy troops. On the evening of the following day, the Ottoman Turks launched a massive assault, pouring through the gate into the inner courtyard. As they swarmed over the roof and rammed away at the bolted door of the ammunition room, where the women and children had sought shelter, the defenders put a spark to a gunpowder keg, resolved not to be taken alive. The massive explosion killed everyone inside, along with several hundred Turkish soldiers. Only three Cretans managed to escape to tell the tale.
Nowadays, visitors can peer into the roofless vault where the explosion occurred and wander about in the well-restored grounds. The 16th-century baroque-style church, which survived the explosion, is the centerpiece; there is also a small museum, housed in the southern wing, which includes old icons, ecclesiastical vestments and implements, weapons, manuscripts, personal objects belonging to the defenders of the 1866 rebellion and other religious and historic relics. In a special showcase, visitors can see the banner of the revolt, which depicts the Transfiguration of Christ (returned to Arkadi Monastery in 1870 by the Ottoman officer who had taken it after the 1866 explosion). Another important exhibit is the section of the wood-carved iconostasis of the main church depicting the Resurrection, the only piece that survived the explosion and fire. Examples of sacerdotal vestments, produced by the important embroidery center at the monastery during the 17th century, are also displayed. A particularly outstanding piece, embroidered in gold, dates to 1681 and depicts Christ and the 12 disciples. Finally, there are weapons that were used during the struggle, including flintlock rifles, pistols and Turkish muskets.
Arkadi Monastery, tel 28310.83116. Open daily in winter from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and in summer from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Admission costs 2 euros.