The Venetian Monuments of Rethymnon
When the Venetians came to Rethymnon they established themselves in the Castel Vecchio, the first building centre of the town. The Castel Vecchio included a very small area and was surrounded by a fortified wall.
Later, the expansion of the settlement beyond that wall demanded the construction of a new wall, which would include a larger area. This was carried out during the period between 1540 and 1570, when the new settlement was fortified according to the drafts of M. Sanmicheli.
The new fortification of the building complex included a magnificent entrance gate, the Porta Guora, which led to the central square, where the superb public buildings such as the Loggia, the Rimondi Fountain and the sundial tower were situated.
The Fortezza - In 1571 Ulutz Ali devastated the wall during one of his raids. Thus it became absolutely vital to fortify the hill of Palaiokastro (Old Castle) and to relocate the entire city there. Many problems had to be solved before the Fortezza was finally built during the period between 1573 and 1578. However, the city was never transferred to the safe area within the walls.
Two years after the destruction, on September 1573, the Rector Alvise Lando laid the foundation stone of the castle, which was to be built according to the drafts of Sforza Palavicini. After a large number of modifications, the fortress was finally completed in 1590. The general draft of the fortress provided new forms of defense, which had become necessary, since gunpowder had come into use: The polygonal ground plan included bastions whilst the walls were wider and inclined.
In reality however, due to the morphology of the land only three bastions could be built to the South and to the East, while the north wall formed three peaks. In general the draft of the fortification wall was not the best possible, since it limited defensive abilities.
The rocky surface, which impeded an appropriate construction, the lack of a moat, the limited free space around the fortress resulting from the inhabitants' refusal to demolish their houses, were some of the basic factors, which limited successful defensive action.
Contrary to that the infrastructure of the interior space was probably well planned: Public buildings were situated at a distance from the wall, the ammunition storerooms were housed at the safe north side, and a square formed the centre of the fortress.
The interior of the fortress accommodated the following basic buildings: the storeroom of the artillery, where canons and weapons were kept, the residence of the Councilors, where one of the city's two Venetian councilors lived, the residence of the Rector, which represented a luxurious, magnificent building in the central square of the fortress.
Rector's residential premises - West of the central square and opposite the cathedral the Rector's residential premises were built, part of which have been preserved up to today.
The building was founded in 1575 and completed in 1582, and it was first occupied by the Rector Anzolo Barocci. He continued to modify the building up until 1584, because he considered it to be too high and exposed on the hill of Agios Athanassios, in the west of the city. The imposing and luxurious style of the building is testified to in written records of that time referring to 49 doors, 81 windows, two staircases as well as galleries.
Unfortunately, none of the buildings of this complex could be preserved, except for part of the prison, which Barocci had built east of the main residence, and for the cathedral, which was situated opposite the remarkable residential complex of buildings and was dedicated to
The temple of Sultan Ibrahim was built on the ruins of the cathedral of San Nicolo during the Turkish occupation. New elements such as the large semi-circular dome, the apse of Michrab in the centre of the south-eastern side as well as the minaret, which was built next to the entrance, characterized the transformation of the cathedral into a Muslim temple.
The public buildings of Rethymnon and also of the entire island of Crete, which had been built during the Venetian occupation, were generally magnificent constructions. On the one hand they served as a successful defense of the area, and on the other hand they gave an air of western architecture, showing at the same time the undisputed predominance of Venice.
Apart from fortification works the Venetians provided superb public buildings similar to those, which adorned their hometown, such as loggias, fountains, customs, ports, storehouses etc. During the early years of the Venetian occupation architects and engineers from Venice were especially sent for and entrusted with most of the architectural drafts as well as the supervision of the construction works.
Eventually, some of the Cretans who had taken part in the construction of important buildings were in a position to accomplish work on their own. They were called master builders or "murari" and their work was no different from that of the Venetians.
The Loggia of Rethymnon: The Loggia, situated in the centre of the city, was a magnificent building, where the nobility met to discuss political and economic issues. It dates back to the 16th century and was built according to the plans of the famous Venetian architect Michele Sanmicheli.
The well-preserved building has a square ground plan with three vaulted sides (the west side is not vaulted). It is built of regular sized stones and the projections of the cornice are particularly beautiful. Originally the building was open and had a four-sided roof, qualities which do not apply any more today.
The Rimondi Fountain: A. Rimondi, the Rector of the city, built the famous Rimondi Fountain, which is situated at present day Platanos Square, formerly the centre of Venetian city life, in 1626. The water runs from three spouts in the shape of a lion's head into three sinks.
Three small, fluted columns, ornamented with Corinthian capitals are "standing" on the sinks. Above the capitals an entablature can be observed, the middle part of which displays four projections in the shape of the leaves of the acanthus exactly above the columns.
Furthermore in this section the words LIBERALITATIS and FONTES are inscribed.
Aghios Frankiskos: This church belonged to a monastery run by Franciscan monks. Apart from the temple two chapels have been preserved which are situated east of the church.
The door frame of the entrance is ornamented with capitals of various orders and deserves particular attention.
The Mosque Neratzes: During Venetian occupation the mosque Neratzes, which today is used as a music school, was the Augustinian church of the Holy Virgin.
In 1657 the Turks transformed it into the mosque Gazi Housein or Neratze, and in 1890 they added a large minaret with two galleries, which was built from the famous stones from the village of Alfa.
The chapel of the Holy Virgin, situated at its west side and dedicated to the Body of Christ, was also transformed into a seminary. Outstanding elements of this building are the door frame and the three domes.