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The Turkish Period (1646-1897 AD)

  Arab inscription from the Turkish period in Rethymnon - Rethymnon.biz

The period of the Turkish occupation is seen as one of the darkest times in Crete's history.  Rethymnon continued to be an important administrative centre under the Turks; however it was also a hotbed of local resistance.  The Turks imposed crippling taxes on the townspeople, re-investing little in the development of the town.  Muslims became dominant, and those Christians who resisted conversion to Islam suffered severe repression.

Architecturally, the image of the town changed completely.  Many churches were destroyed, with mosques and minarets being erected in their place.  The Turks also made modifications to the existing Venetian houses - most notably in the construction of sachnisia, or wooden balconies, projecting from the buildings.  The distinctive mix of Venetian and Turkish architecture in the 'old town' of Rethymnon is still greatly in evidence today.

During the Turkish occupation there were numerous uprisings by local inhabitants.  One of the first major rebellions, centred in Sfakia, took place in 1770.  This rebellion failed, however it did pave the way for an almost constant series of successive revolutions.  By the 19th century the Turkish occupiers were under serious pressure from local inhabitants both on Crete and on the Greek mainland.  In 1821 the Greek War of Independence broke out.  Despite the fierce fighting Crete failed to gain its freedom - instead the island was ceded by the Turks to the Egyptian Pasha Mehmet Ali (1830-1841).  After the Turks regained control of the island in 1841 Cretans were engaged in continual warfare in favour of union with the rest of Greece.

As with previous rebellions the Great Cretan Revolution (1866-1869) failed to gain freedom for the Cretans.  Nevertheless, this uprising drew international attention to the plight of the Cretans.  The dramatic culmination to the siege of the Arkadi Monastery (18 km South-East of Rethymnon) in 1866 attracted world-wide sympathy.  Several hundred local inhabitants barricaded themselves into ammunition storerooms and then chose to blow themselves up, rather than surrender to the Turks.

The Turkish period of occupation finally ended with the arrival of the Great Powers in 1897.  The island was occupied by an international force, with the island being divided into regions controlled by the British, French, Russians and Italians.