The Modern Period (1897 AD - Present Day)
In 1897 Russian troops arrived in Rethymnon as part of the settlement by
the 'Great Powers' which gave autonomy to Crete. In 1898 Prince
George arrived at Chania to take office as High Commissioner.
During this time preparations began in order to establish Crete as an
autonomous state with its own constitution and government.
Autonomy brought Rethymnon several benefits, resulting in the revival of
economic and intellectual activity within the town. Nevertheless,
unification with the rest of Greece remained an ultimate goal for many
of the inhabitants.
There were several attempts by Crete to attain unity with Greece. A key protagonist in this respect was Eleftherios Venizelos, Prince George's Justice Minister and a representative of the Cretan Assembly. As a result of Prince George's implacable opposition to unification, Eleftherios Venizelos convened a revolutionary assembly in Therisos in 1905, summoning the Cretans to take up arms. Although the rebellion was subsequently crushed, the strength of local support resulted in the resignation of Prince George and the appointment of a new Governor. Despite the appointment of a new Governor, Cretans continued to press for unification with Greece. In 1908 the Cretan assembly unilaterally declared unity with Greece. However, the Greek government, fearful of antagonising the Great Powers, rejected this declaration. It was not until the outbreak of the first Balkan War in 1912 that Cretan representatives were allowed in the Greek parliament. Crete was formally recognised as part of the Greek state at the end of the Balkan War in 1913 by the Treaty of Bucharest.
After WWI the Greek army landed at Smyrna (now Izmir) in Turkey. This started the Asia Minor War which ended in 1923 with the Treaty of Lausanne. Part of the treaty called for the enforced exchange of populations: almost 400,000 Turks living in Greece were moved back to Turkey whilst almost 1.5 million Greeks left Turkey. On Crete the entire population of 30,000 Turks left the island - leaving their houses to a similar number of incoming Greek refugees.
During WWII Rethymnon was one of the major theatres of war in the Battle of Crete (1941). After intense fighting the German troops managed to capture the airfield of Maleme (16 km West of Chania), effectively ending the battle. Despite fierce resistance the German occupying forces managed to settle in Rethymnon, taking control of all aspects of daily life. During the German occupation Rethymnon became a centre for local partisan activity. Many townspeople and villagers risked their lives by hiding and helping allied soldiers who had been stranded on the island after the Battle of Crete. The local monasteries also played an important role in the resistance, in particular Preveli Monastery on the South coast. Resistance activities resulted in savage reprisals by the occupying forces; in a number of villages the entire male population was massacred by the Germans and buildings were razed to the ground.
After WWII it took some time for Rethymnon to recover its former prosperity. The first tourists started to arrive in the late '50s and early '60s; this industry has continued to grow year on year. Over recent decades Rethymnon's importance as a commercial and agricultural centre has also increased: agricultural products providing valuable revenue for the region include olives, wine, oranges and avocados.
Intellectual activity in Rethymnon has continued to develop: in 1973 the University of Crete was established with a campus in Rethymnon; other campuses were built in Heraklion and Chania. In 1998 a completely new campus was built in the village of Gallou, 3 km South-West of Rethymnon. This campus brought together the schools of Philosophy, Education and Social Sciences. The Rethymnon campus is now the main seat of the University of Crete.
Modern-day Rethymnon is a fascinating mix of old and new. It is a thriving intellectual and commercial centre, inhabitants being extremely receptive to all the latest technological advances. Nevertheless, local people retain a deep sense of pride in their history, thus ensuring that Rethymnon's unique heritage is preserved for generations to come.