The Museums of Rethymno Crete
Crete is a land of unique experiences. From relaxing on sandy blue beaches and savoring culinary marvels, to being charmed by a rich unique culture and the warmhearted locals, you will find Crete is undeniably like a bit of heaven. Rethymno is one of the four pillars of Crete and may certainly claim part of the credit for this island being called a paradise. With its rich diverse history and enchanting landscapes and architecture, there is beauty everywhere you look. So before you set out for another day at the beach, or settling in at a local tavern, consider a visit to one of Rethymno’s phenomenal museums. From Cretan Lyras to Wax figures, these centers of history and culture are sure to engage, educate and entertain!
The Archaeological Museum of Rethymno, which was founded in 1887 by the Society of Friends of Education, offers a retrospect view to the cultural history of Crete from the Neolithic age to the Roman period.
The permanent collections include findings from Geometric, Archaic, Classic, Hellenistic and Roman eras and objects from the Gerani and Amari caves and Minoan cemeteries.
Among the most important exhibits of the museum is a figurine of a Minoan goddess and a marble statue of Venus. The Museum’s small yet noteworthy numismatic collection showcases the prefecture of Crete and Egypt represents the glorious mercantile history of the island and its strategic location.
The mission of the Museum is to promote the cultural history of Crete to a wide audience through its pop-up exhibits, educational programs and cultural events.
Location: St. Francis Basilica, Old Town of Rethymno
Phone: +30 28310 54668
Historical and Folklore Museum
The Historical and Folklore Museum, which was founded in 1973, is housed in a Venetian manor house classified as a historical monument. It hosts exhibits that reflect life in the 17th century through today. After extensive research for folklore ephemera, experts have collected more than 5,000 artifacts displayed in five thematic rooms (embroidery, textiles and knitting, traditional jobs, agriculture and pottery).
The Museum aims to preserve the cultural history of Crete, from the everyday life of Cretans to their commercial and interpersonal relations with other nations. To enhance the visitors’ experience the Museum boasts a modern audiovisual equipment of European standards and organizes lectures, cultural events and educational programs.
Among the most important exhibits is a collection of personal items belonging to Eleftherios Venizelos.
LOCATION: 30, Vernardou St.
The Ecclesiastical Museum of Rethymno, established in 1994, is of both religious and historic importance as it hosts a collection of religious materials that date back almost 200 years. The permanent exhibits vary and include traditional religious artifacts – icons, crosses, priest vestments, and Gospels – as well as other objects such as a collection of Cretan, American, Turkish and French coins.
The Museum also exhibits relics from several Byzantine churches. A number of icons and an embroidered epitaph, which were found in the temple of St. Charalambos, can be seen on display.
One of the most significant artifacts is an icon of Saint John, which dates back to the 16th century, and an 1866 lithographic plate, which served as a pattern for printing marriage certificates.
The Ecclesiastical Museum documents the religious history of Crete from the 16th century through modern times, giving visitors the chance to admire, and free of charge.
LOCATION: Rustica, Rethymno
PHONE: 28310 91089
Museum of Contemporary Art of Crete
With a permanent collection of approximately 500 works spanning the last 70 years of Greek culture, the Museum of Contemporary Art of Crete is not only the center of Cretan art; its prominence extends nationwide.
In the main Museum gallery, which is about 43,000 square feet, visitors will find the permanent collection of paintings and sculptures of the neo-Expressionism, Minimalism and other 20th century movements, as well as a fascinating collection of modern photography and graphic arts creations.
In its 20 years of operation it has hosted a plethora of international exhibits, as well as lectures, group tours and workshop sessions for children and adults. Living up to its name, it never stops providing visitors with the chance to view collections of the latest contemporary art movements and creators.
Military Museum of Chromonastiri
The Military Museum of Chromonastiri, founded in 2010, is a must-visit destination for all history lovers.
Housed in Villa Claudio, an impressive collection of military objects, weapons, uniforms and medals are on exhibit for visitors. Two rooms of this 16th century Venetian Villa are dedicated exhibit halls for relics and rare artifacts that date from the 1821 Greek War of Independence through today.
The Museum also has an impressive outdoor exhibit where visitors can see actual “retired” examples of the Greek Military’s airplanes, helicopters, tanks and artillery that have been used through the centuries.
LOCATION: Chromonastiri, Rethymno
PHONE: 2831 075135
The Museum of Cretan Lyra
The Museum of Cretan Lyra was founded by Manolis Stagakis Jr., a third generation Lyra manufacturer of the popular Stagakis lyras.
Situated in the same building where Stagakis Lyras have been hand-crafted since 1945, the Museum preserves and promotes the long history of the family business and the lyra tradition.
Manolis Stagakis Sr. began making lyras because he felt that what was, at the time, available on the market did not meet his needs. It turned out that he had an innate gift and exceled at the art of lyra making, a talent he passed on to his son Michalis, and then grandson Manolis Jr.
Nowadays, Manolis Stagakis Jr. is honoring his family by not only continuing the art of instrument manufacturing, but has also founded the Museum to honor his family’s trade as well as preserve the artistry of Cretan Lyra crafting.
Museum visitors can see traditional lyras made with rare materials (such as wood from Mournia, Kelempeki and Asfendamos trees), take a guided tour around the workshop for free and watch a live demonstrations of lyras being crafted. They may even try their luck playing this traditional instrument!
To learn more,visit: http://www.stagakis-manolis.gr/en/index.php
Georgoulakis Folklore Museum (Oriseum Museum)
The Georgoulakis Folklore Museum was founded on the personal initiative of Reverend Father Michalis Georgoulakis, whose love of folklore material led to a creation of an impressive and large collection.
Among the Museum exhibits, visitors will find a fascinating array of tools, textiles, furnishings, liturgical objects, bank notes, books and photos which shed light on the folk culture of Crete from the time of the Ottoman occupation through modern times.
The museum is housed in the building where Father Michalis once lived. After his passing in 2008, the Museum has been ran by his son who has also dedicated himself to keeping history alive.
Impressively, exhibit descriptions are available in four languages, Greek, English, French and German, creating an experience that allows countless visitors to garner a deep understand of the culture of Crete.
LOCATION: Asomatos municipality of Foinikas, Rethymno
Potamianos Wax Museum
The second largest Wax Museum of Greece is located in Zoniana, Rethymno. It is the creation of Dionysis Potamianos, whose love for wax models resulted in the creation of 87 different wax figures.
In the 10,000 square feet of museum space, visitors have the chance to walk amongst and stand beside the figures of Eleftherios Venizelos, El Greco, Nikos Kazantzakis, and other historic personalities from Cretan history. The figures and the infrastructure of European standards, stand out because of their precision and liveliness.
Among the museum exhibits, the most moving of installations are representations of the secret schools convened during the Ottoman Occupation, the killing of Ioannis Daskalogiannis (the shipbuilder who lead the 1770 Cretan revolt against the Ottomans) and those of prisons and dungeons that held many Cretans during these bitter times of history.
The Wax Museum in Zoniana represents the work and devotion of a man who dedicated his life to preserving the Cretan history and honoring important Cretans! His pride and enthusiasm for the heroes of Crete are sure to touch you!
LOCATION: Zoniana, Mylopotamos, Rethymno
Folklore Museum of Polios
The Folklore Museum of Polios was founded in 2009 by George Polioudakis and love for tradition. Polioudakis, who saw his fellow villagers regularly throwing away valuable items, started collecting the treasures and amassed a large collection. By 2009, Polioudakis opened his home as a museum to display the items. The house has been in his family since 1915 and is of traditional 19th century Cretan styling and is furnished with artifacts dating back more than a century. Traditional looms are also on exhibit along with sample of various tools (farming, shoe-making, carpentry). One man’s garbage is another man’s way of successfully preserving history and tradition!
Prinaris Mill was constructed in the early 18th century and operated until 1958. Years later, the Prinaris family decided that the mill should function as a monument of Crete’s cultural legacy. The mill, fully restored and functional today, is home to the Centre of Education and Information for Culture of Olive Oil and Olive Mills. Visitors can learn about pre-industrial oil extraction process, manual pressing of olive paste and all the tools and equipment that were necessary in these agricultural activities.
Roustika Melathron is an 11 acre complex of cultural facilities, including stone-built mansions, weaving workshops, traditional taverns, the church of St. Stylianos and a conference room for cultural events. The campus is also home to the Greek Community of Folk Dance and Song and the Museum of Traditional Costumes. The Museum came to be after years of research by Kaiti Karekla and Andreas Fragiadakis. Their collection includes 70 authentic costumes, representative of various regions of Greece and are also known as a source for replica production or rental to dancing clubs throughout Greece and abroad.
PHONE: +30 28310 91244, +30 6979819075
Axos Wood Carving Museum
The Wood Carving Museum in Axos founded in 2010 was born of George Koutantos’ love of sculpture. In his 20 years of artistry, the sculptor has created more than 100 works inspired by Cretan everyday life, religion and mythology. The majority of pieces are life-sized, while others impressively oversized – “The Eagle and the Snake” at 19 feet long. Koutantos is present to speak with visitors who tour his museum and shares the secrets and techniques of his woodcarving. Visitors should take also the chance to see and tour Axos, the region has a history dating back 4000 years and is worth the time!
Mantinades – The Musical Poetry of Crete
What exactly is a Mantinada? Technically, it is a 15-syllable rhyming couplet, spoken in rhythm to accompanying music, most often the vibrant strumming of a lyra or laouto. It is one of the most common, and well-known, styles of traditional Cretan music. But to say simply it is a poem, or lyric does not truly encompass what a Mantinada is. In the word of the great Nikos Kazantzakis, “Mantinada is the cry of a masculine but sensitive heart: the Cretan heart.”
As many thousands of years exist in Crete’s history, there are also as many lines of Mantinades that have been composed. For every emotion, from love to rage, and for every event, from celebration to war, you can be sure a Mantinada has been composed.
These songs reflect the soul of the Cretan people. Sometimes humorous, sometimes sarcastic, and often philosophical, Mantinades reflect the soul of Crete. The tradition finds its roots in ancient and Byzantine Greece. Mantinades are references in the Katalogia, a Byzantine manuscript that dates back to the 15th century. Some say the Venetian Occupation of Crete greatly influenced the styling of Mantinades, honing the skills of poets like Vitsentzos Kornaros, author of the epic poem “Erotokritos” (see the May issue for a sampling of his lyrics set to music by Nikos Ksylouris).
Mantinada competitions are regularly organized throughout Crete, and a Pan Cretan Mantinada Competition hosted by the Korfes Cultural Association. Be sure to look for such an event the next time you are in Crete!
We include a few samples of Mantinades for you and encourage you to visit www.Mantinades.gr to read and hear more!
“A Cretan does not say in plain words what he feels,
With mantinades he weeps or with laughter he peals!”
Oh God, please change the heavens, I humbly do entreat
And place the stars all in a row to make the shape of Crete.
If I were a snowflake, my life would be bliss
I’d lie on your lips and melt in your kiss!
I’ll love you as the donkey loves its fen,
The cat its kittens and the cock his hen!
Death and separation: they’re only a word apart
For both provoke the same pain in a grieving heart.
Ότι και να ’χει ο Κρητικός με λόγια δεν το λέει,
με μαντινάδες χαίρεται, με μαντίναδες κλαίει!
Θεέ μου σε παρακαλώ τον ουρανό ν’ αλλάξεις
και βάλε τ’ άστρα στην σειρά μια Κρήτη να μου φτιάξεις…
Να ’μουν νιφάδα του χιονιού κι ας ζήσω λίγο χρόνο,
να κάθομαι στα χείλη σου να με φιλάς να λιώνω!
Θα σ’ αγαπώ ως αγαπά ο γάιδαρος τα χόρτα,
η γάτα τα γατάκια τζη κι ο πετεινός την κότα!
Τι χωρισμός, τι θάνατος, η λέξη αλλάζει μόνο,
αφού η καρδιά και για τα δυο νιώθει τον ίδιο πόνο.