You may wish to read an introduction to the history of Venetian Crete first.
Rettimo is situated on a short promontory on the northern coast of Crete halfway between Candia (Iraklion) to the east and La Canea (Xania) to the west. The site was populated in antiquity because the promontory sheltered a small bay where ships could anchor safely, but the town does not retain ancient monuments, although the local archaeological museum displays interesting exhibits found in the Rethymno district, one of the four into which Crete is divided.
Views of the fortress: (above) western side; (below) eastern side
Retimo is situated on the bay antiently called Amphimale; it is on
a peninsula that runs northward into the sea, at the north end of which
there is a high rock, strongly fortified; to the south of it there is a level spot of ground, on which the town is built, defended by a wall
built across the neck of the peninsula, which on the west side extends to
the hill on which the castle is built: (..) the situation is delightful.
Richard Pococke - A Description of the East and Some Other Countries - 1745.
The image used as background for this page shows a 1618 Venetian map of Rettimo.
In 1571 Uluc Ali Reis, an Ottoman corsair of Italian origin, raided and almost entirely destroyed Rettimo; a few months later at the Battle of Lepanto he was the only commander who was able to escape defeat; he returned to Constantinople with the flagship of the Maltese Knights; he was appointed Grand Admiral and in this capacity he superintended the reconstruction of the Ottoman fleet (you may wish to see the mosque he built at the entrance to the Bosporus). After Uluc Ali's raid the Venetian Senate and Sforza Pallavicino, the commander of the Venetian Army, decided to build a new large fortress on the promontory and to relocate the population of Rettimo there.
Northern walls built above the rocks
This objective was not achieved because the construction of the fortress lasted until 1580 and in the meantime the inhabitants had already rebuilt their homes.
The side of the fortress towards the town was protected by two large projecting bastions, in line with recommended standards of Italian military architecture. A review of the status of the town defences which was conducted some years later by a Venetian expert pointed out as a major weakness the fact that authorities had allowed several houses to be built too close to the fortress.The layout of a state-of-the-art Italian fortress was based on a star-like shape, which could not be implemented fully at Rettimo because of the morphology of the site. The walls built above the rocks are impressive to see, yet they were not so difficult to be assaulted because they had dead corners, i.e. points at their base which could not be reached by the fortress guns.
Remaining main buildings inside the fortress
In line with the original plan, the fortress housed the governor's residence, the Catholic cathedral and other public offices; at the same time however the Venetians built fountains and other facilities in the town outside the fortress, so that eventually Rettimo was composed of an upper town and of a lower one
(left) Armoury; (centre) Agia Ekaterini; (right) Agios Spyridon near the western walls of the fortress
In 1646 a large Ottoman army laid siege to Lower Rettimo, which was protected by walls, but not as imposing as those of Candia or La Canea. After having repelled a first Ottoman assault, the defenders abandoned the lower town and retreated to the fortress, where for twenty days they managed to keep the enemy at bay. Eventually however the Ottomans, helped by the fact that the fortress was not surrounded by a moat, were able to mine a wall and to open a breach. The Venetians prevented them from entering the fortress, but they realized they could not hold their positions for long; they surrendered the fortress, but they were allowed to reach Candia, which was still in Venetian hands.
Immediately afterwards Retimo, the ancient Rhithymna, comes in sight. This is undoubtedly the
most striking in its position of all the larger towns of Crete. It occupies a peninsula, joined to the land
by a low sandy isthmus, across which runs the wall
of the town, surmounted with flame-shaped battlements; within this lie the houses, which are interspersed at intervals with tall minarets, while between them and the sea rises a precipitous height, crowned
by the extensive buildings of the castle.
Henry Fanshawe Tozer - The islands of the Aegean Sea. Published 1890, but Tozer began his travels in 1874
Rettimo became the main port through which the Ottomans supplied their troops during the next and last phase of the war: the siege of Candia which lasted until 1669. Only minor changes were made to the Venetian fortress; the main one being the addition of typical Ottoman merlons above the gate.
Interior of the mosque and mihrab
The Catholic cathedral was dedicated to St. Nicholas; it was turned into a mosque named after Sultan Ibrahim; the dome is typically Ottoman, but the fact that the mihrab, the niche indicating the point nearest to Mecca, is located in an asymmetrical position is evidence that in origin the building was not a mosque.
(in descending order) Guns; view westwards; view eastwards with the lighthouse of the old harbour and the modern seafront
I found it just like most other Turkish forts: such guns as are not absolutely dismounted being either broken or unserviceable from rust and neglect. I noticed several large bronze Venetian swivels among them.
Robert Pashley - Travels in Crete - 1834
(left/centre) Venetian portals; (right) Ottoman portal
The houses are here intirely according to the Venetian manner of building.
Bernard Randolph, b. 1643. The present state of the islands in the archipelago.
After the 1571 raid by Uluc Ali, Rettimo was rebuilt in an orderly way along the sides of Ruga Magistra, the main street having an east-west direction. The new buildings were consistent in size and appearance; the wealthiest families added a Venetian touch to their homes by having a decorated portal. This practice continued during the Ottoman rule, but without representing human beings or angels.
Details of Venetian portals: (above-left) Nikiforos Phocas Street; (above-right) Klidis Street; (below-left) Vernardou Street; (below-right) Arkadiou Street
On the east side there
are some very fine houses of the Venetian architecture, with gardens behind them extending to the sea side. There is a Doric door to one of
the houses, which may vye with any piece of modern architecture. Pococke
In addition to reliefs and coats of arms, Venetian portals had Latin inscriptions with a moral/religious content such as QUI SPERAT IN DEO SUBLEVABITUR (he who believes in God, will be raised) or VIRTUTE FULGIDA DOMUS (with or from virtue a brilliant/clean house). A (Doric) portal can be seen in the environs of the town.
(left) Porta Guora (named after a Venetian governor); (right) Loggia
The expansion of modern Rethymno has led to the destruction of the walls which protected the town. They were made up of a straight long wall with a
small bastion at each end and a third bastion in a central position next to which Porta Guora, the gate of the town, was located.
Venetian merchants and local noblemen of Rettimo met for business and leisure at a loggia which is similar, albeit smaller, to that of Candia.
Though the city is almost encompassed by the sea, yet they find plenty of good water wherever
they dig, and a fine stream is brought to the town from a spring that
is near, which runs like a river from a handsome conduit made by the
This fountain was built in 1626 by the governor of Rettimo; it was part of a larger building because the existing inscription LIBERALITATIS/FONTES (by the generosity/fountains) was preceded and followed by other words, parts of which can still be detected (ICAE before - perhaps REI PUBLICAE - and IN after). The design of the fountain resembles that of Fontana Bembo at Candia.
(left) Old Harbour; (right) Ottoman lighthouse
The City stands on a point of land very pleasantly, having a Port to the East, which is almost choakt up, so as no Gally can get over the barr being laden, but Brigantines and smaller Vessels are very secure against all winds. Randolph
The port is a small bason to the east, into which large boats only can enter; but the ships anchor abroad in a good road. There are here some French factors for the merchants of Canea and Candia, in order to export oil. Pococke
Kara Musa Pacha Djami
It is now chiefly inhabited by Turks, who trade to Constantinople considerably. Randolph
They compute that there are about ten thousand souls in the town, three thousand of which are Turks who bear arms; there are about five hundred Greek families, who have a church and a bishop residing here: There are six or seven families ot Jews, but they have no public synagogue. Pococke
Within, the place has all the picturesqueness of a Turkish town, being composed of irregular streets, lined with bazaars and wooden houses with projecting roofs and balconies. Tozer
After having conquered Rettimo, the Ottomans hastened to turn Catholic churches and monasteries into mosques and medrese (religious schools) or tekke (lodges of Islamic brotherhoods). The church of S. Barbara (patron of gunners) was turned into a mosque dedicated to an Ottoman admiral who was involved in supporting the conquest of the town.
S. Maria, the church of an Augustinian monastery, which was located in a very central position, was turned into a large mosque dedicated to Hussein Aga, the Ottoman commander at the time of the conquest of Rettimo. A very tall minaret was added in 1890.
Valide (mother of the ruling sultan) Kosem Djami: (left) detail of the minaret; (right) domes of the prayer hall
Kosem was the mother of Sultan Ibrahim who started the War of Candia.
Her name is associated with the construction of Cinili Camii and Buyuk Valide Han at Constantinople.
The mosque named after her at Rettimo is located very near Porta Guora; its minaret is very visible, but the prayer hall is surrounded by other buildings and its twin domes can be seen only from them.
Ottoman-Venetian portal near the former church of St. Francis
The common sort of wine is red; but about Retimo they make a fine Muscadine wine. Pococke
Introductory page on the Venetian fortresses in Crete
An Excursion to Moni Arkadi
La Canea (Xania) and Souda
An Excursion to Kritsa
Sittia and Paleocastro
Castelfranco (Frangokastelo) and other castles on the southern coast
Other Venetian fortresses in Greece:
|Geographic area||Location||Ionian Islands||Corfų (Kerkyra) Paxo (Paxi) Santa Maura (Lefkadas) Cefalonia (Kephallonia) Asso (Assos) Itaca (Ithaki) Zante (Zachintos) Cerigo (Kythera)||Greek Mainland||Butrinto (Butrint) Parga Preveza and Azio (Aktion) Vonizza (Vonitsa) Lepanto (Nafpaktos) Atene (Athens)||Peloponnese (Morea)||Castel di Morea (Rio), Castel di Rumelia (Antirio) and Patrasso (Patra) Castel Tornese (Hlemoutsi) and Glarenza Navarino (Pilo) and Calamata Modon (Methoni) Corone (Koroni) Braccio di Maina, Zarnata, Passavā and Chielefā Mistrā Corinto (Korinthos) Argo (Argos) Napoli di Romania (Nafplio) Malvasia (Monemvassia)||Aegean Islands||Negroponte (Chalki) Castelrosso (Karistos) Oreo Lemno (Limnos) Schiatto (Skiathos) Scopello (Skopelos) Alonisso Schiro (Skyros) Andro (Andros) Tino (Tinos) Micono (Mykonos) Siro (Syros) Egina (Aegina) Spezzia (Spetse) Paris (Paros) Antiparis (Andiparos) Nasso (Naxos) Serifo (Serifos) Sifno (Syphnos) Milo (Milos) Argentiera (Kimolos) Santorino (Thira) Folegandro (Folegandros) Stampalia (Astipalea)|
You may refresh your knowledge of the history of Venice in the Levant by reading an abstract from
the History of Venice by Thomas Salmon, published in 1754. The Italian text is accompanied by an English summary.