The Fortezza is an imposing fortress, which overlooks the city of Rethymno from the rocky hill of Paleokastro. It is possible that in antiquity before the medieval Fortezza was built, the acropolis of Ancient Rithymna and the temple of Artemis Rokkea existed in the area.
The location of the building that survives today was decided upon for defensive reasons, two years after the destruction of the city by the pirate Uluj Ali (1571). The construction work was overseen by the rector Alvise Lando and his master craftsman Yiannis Skordilis, according to designs by Sforza Palavicini. The fortification was completed in 1580, after 76.800 mandatory days of forced labour, from residents of the whole prefecture. The final result was a structure with an irregular polygonal shape, four bastions and three corners.
The Fortezza proved to be ineffective for defense because it lacked a moat, and outworks that could slow down the attacker’s, however, the interior was quite well-planned. A square with the Cathedral of Agios Nikolaos (which, during the Turkish rule, was turned into the Ibrahim Khan Mosque, after the addition of a dome and a minaret), and the rector’s residence occupied the central area of the fortress. Parts of this residence complex survive today; however, its former glory is no longer obvious: According to documents of the time, it had two stories, 49 doors, 81 windows, two staircases, and balconies, and its design followed the Renaissance palazzo pattern. Two gunpowder magazines were found inside the Fortezza, strategically located on the northern, more secure side, where the walls were reinforced. There were also several cisterns, a residence for the Councilors, a building which is believed to be an Episcopate (Bishop’s residence), storage rooms, and two churches (Agia Ekaterini and Agios Theodoros), as well as private houses. The central gate was on the eastern side, between the bastions of Agios Loukas and Agios Nikolaos. On the outer side of the entrance portico, there was the Lion of St. Mark, one of the five in total, that adorned the fortress.
The Fortezza fell ingloriously to the Turkish conquerors on November 4, 1646. Few ruins of the Venetian buildings, walls, cisterns and the mosque (Agios Nikolaos church) can be seen today. All buildings that survived until the 20th century were destroyed by the Germans, who placed machine guns on the north-eastern side of the fortress and also held many hostages here. The Fortezza today continues to look over the city and its shoreline from high above, and hosts important cultural events every summer, at the Erofili Theatre. Above all, it hosts the Renaissance Festival of Rethymnon, a unique festival which has been organized here for 25 years, with cultural happenings that make the Cretan and the European Renaissance known to the public.
Summer Season: Daily (except Monday) 08:00-19:00
(*) During events, it remains open all 24 hours
Winter Season: Daily 08:30-15:00