Crete’s delightful third city, Rethymnon (ΡΕΘΥΜΝΟ), ‘weds the wave-washed sand’. The Venetians dug a cute round harbor for it, but it kept sitting up, which in a way proved a blessing, inhabiting the local economy enough to spare Rethymnon much of what passes for progress and a bombing from the Luftwaffe in the Second World War. Its Venetian and Turkish architecture earned it landmark status, only Rethymnon luckily escaped the attention of the Luftwaffe. The fortress peering over the town’s shoulder and its minarets lend an exotic touch; covered wooden balconies build by the Turks project overhead, darkening the piquant narrow streets.
Rethymnon’s relative isolation attracted scholars who fled Constantinople in 1453, and in the following century founded the first Renaissance academy in Greece here, making Rethymnon the “brain of Crete”. Rethymnon and its long beaches is nowadays also an increasingly popular base for exploring the rest of Crete: the Minoan sites to the east, and Chania and the beaches to the west, are all in a easy striking distance with Elan’s Cars.
Rent a car in Rethymno, and drive less than 35 minutes to go to Plakias, Agios Pavlos, Preveli Monastery or Preveli Palmbeach.
Rethymnon is exceedingly pleasant to explore, at least once you are past the outer sprawl and into the historic center. Although the site of Rethymnon has been inhabited since late Minoan times, the oldest monuments in town are Venetian, beginning with Guora Gate, just north of the Plateia Tessaron Martyron (Square of the Four Martyrs). Build in 1566 by Venetian governor Jacopo Guόra, the gate is the sole surviving part of the city walls erected after successive sackings by Barbarossa in 1538 and Uluch Ali in 1562. However, they were not enough to prevent another Turkish attack, led by Uluch Ali in 1571.
Before entering the gate, take note of one of Rethymnon’s finest mosques, the 17th century Posta Grande or Valide Sultana, just beside the square and originally dedicated to the Sultan’s mother. It is now used by the archeological museum to store its excess amphorae. Valide Sultana’s old cemetery was converted after the 1923 population exchange, in to the Municipal Gardens, across busy Kountouriotou street.
From the Guora Gate, Ethnikis Antistaseos street leads past the church of San Francesco, once part of a friary where Petros Philagris, the Cretan who became Pope Alexander V (1409-10) began his religious career.
In Plateia Petychaki (Petychaki Square) is the ornate lion-headed Rimondi Fountain, build in 1629 by another Venetian governor at the junction of several streets. The Fountain has been the heart of the town since it was created and all the the finest buildings of Rethymno like Nerantzes Mosque are closed by.
Car hire in Rethymno is a smart way for elegant and cheap transfers in Crete.