The Venetian Period (1204-1646 AD)
In 1204 Byzantium handed over Crete to Boniface of Monferrato of the
Fourth Crusade. Boniface of Monferrato then sold Crete to the
Venetians for 230 kilos of silver. However, the Venetians were
initially slow to establish themselves on the island. In 1206 the
Genoese pirate Enrico Pescatore invaded Crete and it was not until 1210
that the Venetians regained control.
It was during the Venetian occupation that Rethymnon re-emerged as a settlement of note. The Venetians constructed impressive fortifications to the town - most notably the Fortezza, built distinctive monuments such as the Rimondi Fountain and the Loggia, and developed the harbour. Rethymnon became an important trading centre for the export of wine and oil from the region. This period also marks a time of cultural and artistic renaissance for the town. Local scholars such as Markos Mousouros, Zacharias Kalliergis and the Vergikios brothers were internationally revered. Poets such as Hortatzis, Troilus and Marinos Tzane Bounialis made valuable contributions to Cretan literature, and painters such as Emmanuel Lambardos and Emmanuel Bounialis were renowned as exponents of the Cretan School in Renaissance art.
The first 150 years of Venetian rule were turbulent times, marked by several uprisings by local inhabitants against the Venetian conquerors. However, despite local resistance, the Venetians managed to implement a number of administrative changes to the region. In the second administrative division of Crete (14th Century), Rethymnon was made capital of one of the 4 provinces. In 1307 it became the seat of the governor, indicating the growing importance of the town. The port also became more important as a centre for international trade due to its direct link with Constantinople.
After the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453, Crete became increasingly vulnerable to raids from the East. In 1538 Khair-ed-Din Barbarossa (pirate/Turkish admiral) attacked the North coast of Crete. This attack brought home the need to fortify Rethymnon. One of the greatest architects of the age - Michele Sanmicheli - was brought to Rethymnon for this purpose. During the period of 1540-1570 fortification work began. Unfortunately, the only remaining part of the original fortifications to be seen today is the Guora Gate in the centre of town.
The initial fortifications were unable to withstand the continuing onslaughts from the Turks. In 1571 the pirate Ulutz Ali launched a devastating raid on Rethymnon and the Turkish army burned down half the houses in town. The Venetians responded to this by starting work on the construction of the imposing Fortezza, the first stone being laid in 1573. Over the years, however, the walls of the Fortezza became weakened by successive Turkish raids. In 1646 during the fifth Venetian-Turkish war, the troops of Huseyin Pas besieged the city for 22 days. The local population and Venetian soldiers sought refuge in the Fortezza, but were finally forced to negotiate surrender to the Turks on November 13th.