The History of Rethymno began many centuries ago, in the New Stone Age, according to archaeological findings indicating that fishermen were the first to stay occasionally in the area of the cave of Gerani. Evidence regarding the existence of the town, such as ancient writings, inscriptions and coins, date from the 5th – 4th Century BC.
During the Late Minoan Era, beginning from the middle of the 12th century BC until the middle of the 11th century BC, Minoan Civilization enjoyed great prosperity and Cretans developed their trade and started having contact with Syria and Egypt.
Trade and Culture flourished until the reign of mythical King Minos, probably due to the disastrous volcanic eruption of the Thera that suddenly disrupted Cretan welfare and prosperity.
After that period, the population of the island faced many challenges, because of the invasions in the consequent eras. Dorians at first, the Romans, the Venetians, the Turks and finally the Germans conquered the island. Beautiful Crete is desperately wanted and Cretans despite their bravery and will, couldn’t win their freedom.
In 1204 a new era for Crete begins and especially for Rehymno. When the Byzantine Empire reached its end due to their defeat by the Crusaders, their leaders sold Cretan land to the Venetians. However, the Venetians dominated large areas in Peloponnesus and the Aegean Sea as well and couldn’t control the new land they acquired. Therefore it was easy for their enemies to attack the island that was unprotected.
The year 1538 was a turning point for Rethymno. The town survived from a great attack of Pirate Barbarosa, whose history and achievements are described by many well known writers, in modern times. Barbarosa’s threat, led the Venetians to the conclusion that the town required fortification in order to be protected from invaders.
Therefore, they began enclosing the town with walls, starting from the eastern part of the town till the western one. The construction works helped to protect only the south part of the town whereas the northern area, by the sea, was not adequately secured. Some years later, when pirate Oloutz Ali conquered Rethymno without facing special difficulties, the Venetians realized their mistake regarding their defensive strategy and, after two years, started building a fortress that has survived through all these years until today. It’s known as one of the most characteristic monuments of Rethymno and its beauty is unique: it’s the so-called “Fortezza”.
At the beginning of 16th century Rehymno flourished. Its population was ca. 10000, which remained the highest one till 1940. The desire and will of the Rethymnians to promote their culture and history were so strong that managed to influence their conquerors’ way of living. The Venetians started to follow cretan habits in every day life. Noble families of Rethymno co ruled their own town.
The period of “Cretan Reconnaissance” comes next. During that time cultural development seemed to occur only in Crete and the Ionian Islands. The middle class was activated and developed rapidly. Scientists started coming back to the town. They belonged to the middle class families of Rethymno and returned after traveling to Padova for university studies.
It’s the same period when Georgios Chortatzis wrote his astonishing drama “Erofili”. Furthermore, Marinos Tzanes Bounialis is the writer of “Cretan War”, a poetic historical narrative that provides information about social life in Rethymno during the late years of the Venetian Domination. They both determine and enrich cretan literature and poetry.
This cultural acme was suddenly disrupted in 1669: Crete under Turkish Occupation. Financial and cultural poverty was the outcome of this historical period. Despite all that has been achieved before that period, intellectual and artistic life seemed to deteriorate. The Turks, at first, managed to fight Cretan Culture and Traditions successfully.
The town of Rethymno was deserted. Revolution in 1821 helped Rethymnians and all Cretans to prove once more their love for their land that encouraged and strengthened them. Freedom was again their only aim and they fought their enemy bravely. The Holocaust of the Monastery of Arkadi is the most significant moment of their efforts (1866).
Their struggle for freedom was finally successful. In 1897 Crete managed to gain its autonomy again and Rethymno, made its first steps for its development. The road from Rethymno to Georgioupoli and new bridges, as well, were constructed. The first dentist’s office, the first nursery school and the first photographer’s shop were set up.
Difficulties and obstacles haven’t vanished yet for the town of Rethymno. Financial and cultural prosperity were stopped once more in 1907, when Great Forces’ troops left Crete.
The Second World War caused many disasters to the citizens of Rethymno.
Rethymnians tried to regain their strength after the war and managed to revive their culture and traditions. Since the seventies, Rethymno has based its development strategy on tourism that flourished thanks to its natural beauty, the admirable sceneries and mainly thanks to local warm hospitality of which Rethymnians are well-known in all over Europe.