PREHISTORIC - MINOAN TIMES
The first appearance of man in the area of the prefecture of Rethymno can be traced back to the late Neolithic years (3500-2800 BC) from the archaeological finds. So far, 13 places of human presence have been identified, of which 5 are in caves. More famous is the cave of Gerani, which has yielded important archaeological and paleontological findings.
In the Minoan years (2800-1100 BC) human activity spread over the whole area of the prefecture. The Minoan period was an economic but mainly a cultural stage for the island. From the middle of the 12th century BC, until the middle of the 11th century BC (Late Minoan period), the Minoan civilization experienced a significant flowering, with a strong development of trade and relations and contacts with Syria and Egypt. During that period, settlements and large building complexes appear (archaeological findings in Elenes, Monastiraki, Apodoulou). The period of commercial and cultural peak, ends abruptly for the Cretans, the period of the mythical King Minos, probably due to the catastrophic eruption of the Santorini volcano and the consequences of this.
GEOMETRIC - CLASSIC PERIOD
In the geometric years (970-710 BC) in the region of the prefecture, Eleftherna shows a special development and during the archaic period (710-470 BC) at least 15 cities appear, most of them comas. Of these, Axos shows a special flourish. In the classical years (470-323 BC) Syvritos flourished while Rithymna, the ancestor of today's Rethymno, also flourished.
GREEK - ROMAN - BYZANTINE TIMES
The periods that follow create problems for the inhabitants of the island, as they are characterized by a series of conquests. After the Dorians came the Romans and then the Venetians.
In the Hellenistic and Roman years, Lappa appears as the most important city. The 5th, 6th and first half of the 7th century AD passed peacefully under the jurisdiction of the Byzantine Empire. From the second half of the 7th c. constant Arab raids disturbed Crete, until in 827 or 828 the Arabs occupied it. Repeated efforts by the Byzantines resulted in its recovery only a century and a half later (961 AD). Thus Crete and Rethymnon passed to the Byzantine Empire for another century and a half.
In 1204, a new period begins for Crete and more specifically for the Rethymnon area. After the Byzantine Empire was overthrown by the Crusaders, their leaders divided its territories, and then ceded Crete to the Venetians, for a fee. They, however, due to the many possessions they had in the Peloponnese and the Aegean, neglected their new acquisition, thus making access easier for all those who were eyeing the island.
In 1538, it was a date - station for Rethymno. In that year, the naval powers of the infamous pirate Barbarosa, whose history and exploits filled the pages of books by great authors, even in modern times. Barbarosa's attack led the Venetians to realize that the city needed fortifications so that they could protect it from attacks by pirates and would-be conquerors.
For this purpose, they begin to build a wall that started from the eastern beach of the city and ended at the western, thus protecting Rethymno only from the land, and leaving it completely exposed to the conquerors from the sea side. A few years later, when the pirate Oluj Ali conquered Rethymnon from the sea with relative ease, the Venetians realized the mistake they had made in their fortification policy and two years after this attack, they started building the castle which has survived to this day and is a unique beauty and characteristic symbol of the city, Fortezza.
The beginning of the 16th century finds Rethymno in prosperity. The city's population at that time reached 10,000 inhabitants, a number that constituted the highest population of Rethymno until the 1940s. So great was the thirst and will of the Rethymnon to highlight their culture and history, that they manage to influence the way life of the Venetian conquerors, who over time began to appropriate the daily habits of the locals. Finally the Rethemnian nobles managed to co-rule their city with the conqueror.
The period of the "Cretan Renaissance" follows, a time of cultural flourishing, which from the rest of Greece is observed only in Crete and the Ionian Islands. The bourgeoisie is awakening and developing rapidly. The first scientists, children of urban families, who some years earlier had traveled to Padua to study at the local University, began to return to Rethymno.
At the same time, Rethymno, the third largest city of the Kingdom of Crete, was endowed with very important buildings, many of which are preserved to this day, irrefutable witnesses of its prosperity.
In the same period, on the one hand, Georgios Hortatzis with the amazing and timeless folk drama he wrote, "Erophili", and on the other hand, Marinos Tzane Buniale with the Cretan War, a poetic vignette that for the first time brings to the surface elements of social life of Rethymno in the last years of the Venetian rule, shape and utilize the concepts of literature and poetry.
This cultural "orgasm" was ignominiously and abruptly interrupted in 1669, with the conquest of Crete by the Turks. Natural consequence. the economic and cultural withering of the city of Rethemnia. Contrary to the upward progress and cultural flourishing that the inhabitants had achieved until then, the intellectual and artistic life is being degraded. The Turks manage, even for a while, to suppress the Cretan Culture.
The city of Rethymno is being deserted by its inhabitants. With the Turkish conquest, a dark period begins for Rethymno. The economy became agrarian, letters for a few centuries died out and oppression became unbearable. The revolution in Sfakia in 1770 prepared the uprising of 1821.
Redemption came with the revolution of 1821. The people of Rethymno, together with the rest of the Cretans, have the opportunity to prove once again that the love they feel for their country fills them with courage, strength and determination. Freedom is still a possibility, and they will not let any conqueror take it away from them. They fight bravely. The climax of their struggles comes with the Holocaust of the Arkadi Monastery. Arkadi became world famous thanks to the voluntary sacrifice of its defenders
On October 2 and 3, 1823, 370 residents of the Melidoni village who hid there, because they did not want to surrender to the invading Turks, met a bitter death in the Melidoni cave. The latter threw burning materials from the entrance of the cave, so that the smoke would suffocate the heroic inhabitants of Melidonio.
The efforts of the fighters of Crete are not wasted. In 1897, Crete regained its autonomy and Rethymno, slowly but powerfully, begins to take the first steps towards development again. The carriage road that led from Rethymnon to Georgioupolis is built, bridges are built, the first dental office, the first kindergarten and the first photo studio are opened.
Difficulties and hardships do not stop here for the beautiful city of Rethymno. The economic and intellectual flourishing stopped once again in 1907, when the troops of the Great Powers left Crete.
Finally in 1913 Crete joined the rest of Greece and since then it follows the common history. In May 1941 the area of Rethymnon was one of the three fronts of attack by the German paratroopers. The monumental resistance of the inhabitants led to the execution of hundreds of inhabitants and the razing of entire villages.
The Second World War left wounds in the city of Rethymno, because it suffered many disasters.
However, the people of Rethymno managed in the following years to bring their city back to life and highlight their culture. Since the 1970s, Rethymno has supported its economic development mainly on tourism, which flourishes to this day due to the natural beauty, the abundance of attractions that the place has to show, but mainly due to the warm hospitality offered by the locals and for which they have now become known throughout Europe.
Editor: Fotini Anastasopoulou