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The current catholicon (church) dates back to the 16th century and is marked by the influence of the Renaissance. This influence is visible in the architecture, which mixes both Roman and baroque elements. This church with two naves was destroyed by the Turks in 1866 and rebuilt since. As early as the 16th century, the monastery was a place for sciences and the arts, and had a school and a rich library. Situated on a plateau only accessible with extreme difficulty and surrounding by thick and high wall, the monastery is a true fortress.
The monastery played an active role in the Cretan resistance of Ottoman rule during the Cretan revolt in 1886, 943 Greeks sought refuge in the monastery, the majority of which were women and children. After three days of battle, under orders from the hegumen (abbot) of the monastery, the Cretans blew up barrels of gunpowder, preferring to sacrifice themselves rather than surrender.
The monastery became a national sanctuary in honor of the Cretan resistance. November 8 is henceforth the day of commemorative parties, to Arkadi and to Rethymnon. The explosion did not end the Cretan insurrection, but attracted the attention of Europe to the struggle for independence.
Uprising of 1866-1869
By the mid-1800s, the Turks had occupied Crete for more than two centuries, despite frequent bloody uprisings by Cretan rebels. The monastery of Arkadi became the rebels' headquarters, owing to its central position on the island and its strategic location.
There were 259 rebels in the monastery and 12 out of the 16 revolutionary committee's members. In addition to the rebels and revolutionary leaders, there were 700 unarmed women and children from nearby villages who were seeking refuge from the Turks.
On November 8, 1866, the Monastery was surrounded by 15,000 Turkish soldiers armed with 30 cannons. The Turkish commander gave Abbot Gabriel Marinakis an ultimatum, which was to either surrender or the Monastery would be destroyed. The ultimatum was answered by gunfire from the rebels.
After several days of fighting, the Turks penetrated the Monastery's walls, pouring into the inner courtyard, where they fought a hand-to-hand fight with the rebels. Nine-hundred-thirty-four Greeks, mostly women and children, sought refuge in a gunpowder room, where they decided it would be better to commit suicide than surrender to the Turks. Konstantinos Giamboudakis set the gunpowder off, causing the explosion which killed the 700 women and children and several hundred Turkish soldiers.
The Greeks killed over 3,000 Turks and Egyptians in the battle.