The 16th-century Arkadi Monastery, 23km southeast of Rethymno, has deep significance for Cretans. As the site where hundreds of cornered locals massacred both themselves and invading Turks, it's a stark and potent symbol of resistance and considered a catalyst in the island's struggle towards freedom from Turkish occupation.
Arkadiou’s impressive Venetian church (1587) has a striking Renaissance facade topped by an ornate triple-belled tower. The grounds include a small museum and the old wine cellar where the gunpowder was stored.
In November 1866, massive Ottoman forces arrived to crush island-wide revolts. Hundreds of Cretan men, women and children fled their villages to find shelter at Arkadiou. However, far from being a safe haven, the monastery was soon besieged by 2000 Turkish soldiers. Rather than surrender, the entrapped locals blew up stored gunpowder kegs, killing everyone, Turks included. One small girl miraculously survived and lived to a ripe old age in a village nearby. A bust of this woman and another of the abbot who lit the gunpowder are outside the monastery not far from the old windmill – now an ossuary with skulls and bones of the 1866 victims neatly arranged in a glass cabinet.
Four to five buses arrive here each weekday (two to three at weekends) from Rethymno (€3.10, 40 minutes), leaving you about 90 minutes for your visit before returning.