Olympic Holidays

Ancient Fortezza at Rethymnon Crete

Huge bastions of the Fortezza fortress dominate the Crete port of Rethymnon

The huge Fortezza fortress at the Greek holiday port resort of Rethymnon on the Greek island of Crete was built from 1573 till 1580 by the Venetians to protect the city from the marauding Turks.

It dominates the port area with a star-shaped wall formation, three gates and six towering bastions. In the centre of the Fortezza complex is the church of Agios Nikolaos, later turned into the Mosque of the Sultan Ibrahim Han. There are also the remains of houses, barracks, stables, ammunition stores, and a cistern.

Original plans for walling in the Cretan port city of of Rethymnon against raiding pirates and Turkish attack were made in 1540. But high costs left the wall unfinished and, while authorities were still squabbling over the cost, the Turks destroyed the lot in 1571.

The destruction prompted the erection of the Fortezza on the hill above Rethymnon and by 1578 the walls had been built. It took another ten years to complete the cannon ports and parapets and by 1593 it was big enough to hold the whole city population in the event of an attack.

Following Turkish occupation of Crete in 1646 the fortifications were abandoned but many houses were erected within its walls. In modern times the fortress became the poor quarter of the city.

During the Nazi occupation in World War II it was used to imprison and execute Cretan patriots. After the war it was a haven for paupers and prostitutes but the government rehoused the population in the late 1960's to pave the way for renovation.

Today, many fine buildings remain and archaeological and renovation work continues. Near the main entrance is the archaeology museum whose exhibits include a boar-tooth helmet, bronze double axes and extensive coin collection and many finds from local Minoan tombs.

The enclosing Venetian walls of the Fortezza, more than 1,000 metres of them, survive almost intact. They include four bastions joined by straight walls on the north side. The walls are nearly two metres thick in places and have been built slightly inclined to deflect cannonballs and other missiles.

The parapets on top of the walls have cannon ports. At intervals along the walls are ten circular guard rooms for patrolling soldiers. Behind the north wall is an elevated passage used by defending soldiers. The main gate is to the east and there are two extra gates to the north and west.

There are many buildings within the walls. They include an artillery magazine behind the main gate built in 1581 and used for storing cannons, munitions and cereals. A Cretan nobleman built a luxurious two storey house now known as the Councillor's Residence which was later used as a barracks.

In the main 'square' of the Fortezza is the mosque of Sultan Ibrahim (above) built on the ruins of a former cathedral which was destroyed in 1585. Along the northern wall is a maze of storerooms while to the south are the remains of two powder magazines. Archaeological and excavation work is still carried out all over the site. Some of the buildings are being cleaned and rebuilt.