Arkadi is a historical monastery situated on a small plateau 23km southeast from Rethymno city, 4km from Amnatos village, at the borders of provinces Rethymno, Mylopotamos and Amari. The beautiful typical Cretan surrounding landscape is semi-mountainous and remains green all year round. The nature in this area is both wild and peaceful. Visitors are awed by its splendour of the scenery, which seems blessed by God himself.

The exact foundation year of the monastery is unknown. Legends say that Herakleios, Byzantine emperor, founded Arkadi and that it was built by emperor Arcadius in the 5th century. Others believe that a monk named Arcadius was the founder of the monastery. An inscription from the 14th century proves that the first church was built by then and was dedicated to St Constantine. The monastery was renovated in the late 16th century (1587). The imposing two-aisled church which still stands today was built by that time as well. The northern aisle of the church is dedicated to the Transfiguration of Christ and the southern to St Constantine and St Helen.

Arkadi used to be a powerful and privileged monastery. During periods of occupations, the monks in Arkadi had the right to ring the bell. For this reason, the Ottomans used to call Arkadi “çanli monastir” (bell monastery). During national revolts, Arkadi has always played an active role. The monks used to support and hide rebels, provide children with basic education and morally support the whole area.

The Arkadi monastery became known and honored because of the holocaust in the Cretan revolt of 1866-1869. In the holocaust, hundreds of rebels, clerics, women and children resisted the Ottomans and sacrificed themselves. This incident encouraged the Cretan rebels but also shook the western world. The European and the American press and many famous personages – such as Victor Hugo - wrote about the Cretan revolt and sensitized the powerful governments of that time to the Cretan issue. After decades of struggle, independence started to be gained and in 1913 Crete was finally joined with Greece.


The ground plan of the monastery is rectangular-shaped. It is a fortified complex of two-floor buildings which surround a central court. The surrounding walls are 1.20m thick. The impressive church (katholikon) stands in the middle of the court.

The main entrance of the monastery is the western one and it is called Chaniotiki or Rethymniotiki because Chania and Rethymno are the cities that lie to the west. The gate was destroyed by the Ottoman canons in 1866 and was rebuilt in 1870 on the original plan of 1693. The eastern gate is smaller and it is called Kastrini (Kastro is another name of Heraklion, which is located to the east). Another small gate called portali is the southeastern one.

The buildings surrounding the court are used as monks’ cells, abbey, guest quarters, refectory, store rooms, vestry, etc. On the ground floor, cells with portico towards the court (called mesokoumia) lie on the southern side. A cloister with arched windows is attached to the inner side of the western walls.

The gunpowder room was an arched building located at the northeastern corner of the complex. It used to serve as a wine cellar but during the revolts, the ammunition was transferred in this room because of its safety. The gunpowder room is the main room of the holocaust. It was exploded on 9th November 1866 and remains without a roof ever since.

The refectory lies north. It used to host the monks' and guests' meals by the time that the monastery flourished. Bullets marks and sword cuts on the wooden door, benches and tables remind the heroic battle that took place in this room.

The stables of the monastery, built in 1714, stand outside of the walls, opposite the main entrance. Bullet marks are still visible on the stairs and on the eastern wall. The bones of the rebels killed in 1866 are kept in a memorial near the building of the stables. The sword cuts are visible on the skulls. The memorial building used to be the monastery's windmill. In 1866, when the Ottomans besieged Arkadi, seven rebels defended the windmill from the Ottoman army for a whole day long.


Crete used to be under Ottoman occupation for 250 years. The Cretans never stopped struggling for independence and union with Greece and rebelled many times: in 1770 under chief Daskalogiannis, in 1821 against the janissaries, in 1822 against the Egyptian army, in 1828 in Gramvoussa, in 1841 under chief Heretis.

In the spring of 1866, a new revolt began in Crete under Hadji Mihalis Yiannaris, chief of Cydonia area. Delegates from all Cretan areas were chosen. Gabriel Marinakis, the abbot of Arkadi, was voted chair of the committee of Rethymno. Gabriel was from Margarites village, Mylopotamos. He was a bold man with an imposing appearance and personality. In 1866 he was 40 years old. Arkadi monastery served as headquarters of the rebel’s committee. In September, the Ottoman sultan sent Mustafa pasha with many regular soldiers with the order to put down the revolt. Mustafa, along with Ismael Pasha, who was commander of Crete by that time, warned several times that the monastery would be destroyed unless the committee surrenders. The abbot answered:

Our oath and our goal is the union of Crete with Greece or else death and nothing more we want to listen

The rebels started preparing the monastery for the siege. On 24 September 1866 General Panos Koroneos with a small volunteer corps arrived in Bali from the independent Greek state. In Arkadi, Koroneos was proclaimed General Chief of Rethymno. Koroneos was an experienced serviceman and soon realized that the monastery was not suitable for defense. He ordered the rebels to destroy the stables outside of the walls so that they could not be used by the enemy, dig mines in front of the three monastery gates so that they could explode them when the enemy approached, block up the gates with soil, release beehives against the enemy, ask for help from the chiefs of the area and send the women and children away. Women and children from the neighbor villages had sought shelter in the monastery. However, the abbot and chief Daskalakis disagreed with Koroneos’ orders and so did the women.

The women insisted that they would stay with their husbands.
Koroneos insisted as well and said:
-I came here to sacrifice myself for my country and not to be trapped.
Then, he appointed second lieutenant Ioannis Dimakopoulos as garrison commander and left planning to attack the Ottoman army from behind with army from Amari and Agios Vasilios provinces. Dimakopoulos was from Gortinia, Peloponnesus. He stayed in Arkadi with 35 volunteer soldiers.
On 7 November 1866, 964 people were in the monastery: 325 men, 259 of which were armed and 40 were monks. The rest of them were women and children.

The first day of the battle

The army under the commands of Mustafa pasha consisted of up to 15000 men, regulars and irregulars, Ottomans and Egyptians. Their arming included 30 canons. On 8 November 1866, the Mustafa's army reached Arkadi at dawn. Mustafa himself had remained in Mesi village and had appointed Suleiman Bei at his place. When the Ottomans arrived, the Cretans were in the church, celebrating the name day of the archangels Michael and Gabriel. As soon as they realized that the siege had began, abbot Gabriel raised his hands to pray, made the sign of the cross and said:

“My children, my brothers, there is no sweeter death than the death for our country and our faith. The holy Gospel teaches us that death is just a passage to heaven. Let’s fight with courage so that on the Great Day of Judgment we can appear in front of God with a clear heart.
Garrison commander Dimakopoulos also spoke with passion and courage. The rebels answered that they would follow him till death.
Suleiman was on a hill north from the monastery and called the rebels to surrender but their answer was given by their guns. The monastery’s flag with the Transfiguration of Christ- today exhibited in the monastery – rose at the western gate and the Greek flag brought by chief Daskalakis rose at the northwestern corner. The flagstaffs broke several times but the rebels raised the flags again.
The women in the monastery took an active part in the battle. They brought munitions and water to the warriors and treated the wounded. Chief Daskalakis' heroic mother was among them. She was called Hariklia Daskalaki or Dasakalohariklia. She came from Harkia village and her husband was from Amnatos village. Her father, husband and sons were all rebels and all her three sons were killed in Arkadi. Chief Daskalakis was only 24 years old and he was her younger son. Hariklia transferred munitions and when the rifles were too hot, she cooled the by rubbing them with lemon leaves.
The Ottomans attempted to destroy the gate but they couldn't make it. The battle lasted all day long and the area around the monastery was covered with dead bodies.
Seven Cretan heroes, two of which were monks, barricaded themselves in the windmill and courageously fought the Ottomans. In the afternoon the windmill was set on fire by irregulars Islamized Cretans. The warriors climbed on the roof and fought uncovered. Six of them were burnt to death and only one managed to survive the fire and the bullets by jumping in a cliff.
Meanwhile, General Koroneos had brought rebels from Mylopotamos and Amari to attack the Ottomans in the rear. However, the rain wet their guns and they had to fall back. The original plan for diversionary attack outside the monastery and in Rethymno had failed. Mustafa again proposed the rebels to surrender and they refused.

The great decision

The battle ceased at night. Hopeless commissioners, chiefs and monks gathered in the abbot's cell. Manolis Melissiotis, a young student who had been elected as delegate of Mylopotamos courageously spoke about the Greek history, the sacrifices, the pride and the love for freedom. Everyone agreed that they would resist to death, even they would be buried in the monastery. The council decided to announce their decision to the neighbor provinces and ask for help from Koroneos and the other chiefs. The messengers were priest Nikolas Kokkinidis from Krana (Papakraniotis), Polihronis Katevas and Adam Papadakis from Pikri. The messengers climbed down the walls with ropes and pretended to be Ottomans to cross the Ottoman camp. Adam Papadakis delivered the letter to Koroneos in Klisidi, Amari and went back to the monastery by midnight. He is considered one of the most important heroes of Arkadi because he had escaped and had the chance to save himself but chose to return.
Late at night the bell rang and the besieged gathered for the last Divine Liturgy. Warriors, women and children were all aware of their fate. They hugged, kissed and received communion. The abbot encouraged them once more.

The heroic battle

On 9 November at dawn the Ottomans placed two big canons in front of the western gate which they had brought from the fortress of Rethymno. The biggest canon was 2.5 meters long and its balls weighed more than 50kg. The rebels managed to kill the gunners and the cannons were transferred in the stables from where they could hit the gate safe. The monastery was shaking. Women were screaming, canons were banging, warriors were shouting. A great writer from Rethymno, Pandelis Prevelakis, wrote in his work “Pantermi Kriti”:
" They had dug a mine near Kastrini porta, in the wine cellar which was used as gunpowder room and another mine in the abbey. The abbot found the women and children and encouraged them to burn themselves when the monastery would fall to the enemy. Mothers took their children in the mines. A young girl walked around the cellars and store rooms with a lantern and asked: Who wants to come in the mine?".
At midday, the gate seemed ready to fall. Konstantis Giamboudakis, a rebel from Adele village, shouted: “If you want to die in honor come to burn ourselves!” and he walked towards the mines holding his gun. Giamboudakis was a brave, strong man. He was invited in Arkadi by two comrades of him. When it had become clear that the monastery would fall, somebody invited him to leave and he answered: “I’m not leaving, I have pity for the women and children and if it is needed I will die with them”. Everyone followed Giamboudakis’ invitation to death. The gunpowder room was full of people and Giamboudakis said that they would explode the abbey as well. Women and children preferred death than capture. They all had made their mind at dawn, in the church. Hariklia Daskalaki was holding the Greek flag and shouted: “The ground shall not accept a woman who will allow herself to be violated by the enemy!”. Even the children cowered silent on their mother, as if they knew their fate.
The western gate fell in the afternoon and hundreds of Ottoman irregulars dashed into the court but were repulsed. The regulars attacked three times. Prevelakis wrote:

"in the afternoon, the Ottoman trumpets sounded. Two rows of Egyptian regulars joined in front of the gate. The officers forced them to go into the kiln. The Christians managed to repulse the first attack. Dimakopoulos ran in the battlefield, fought the enemy with his sword and shouted: Hang on brothers, the other attacks will be the same as the first !".
The warriors were looking for cartridge in vain. Hariklia Daskalaki searched the dead bodies of the enemies and collected cartridge. The Ottomans attacked again. Some of them managed to reach deep in the court, where a horrible massacre took place.
The sun had already started going down when the trumpets sounded for the third attack. Their sound reached even far away, outside of the monastery, where the rebels from Mylopotamos and Amari were. The rebels, who wanted to help the besieged, were terrified. The Ottomans started shooting altogether and none had the time to reload. The rebels in the court of the monastery attacked the Ottomans that came in and the massacre started. The rooms around the court were full of people and seemed like a bomb ready to explode. A rebel from Pigi village called Kouvohadjis..

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