Fortezza fortress

The Fortezza fortress is an archaeological site in the prefecture of Rethymno that is built upon the hill of Paleokastro, on the west side of the today’s city, being its hallmark until present. The castle was constructed in the 16th century, within the period 1573 to 1580, by the Venetians in order to protect the inhabitants from the Turkish threat. The Fortezza fortress is star-shaped, three northern points of Agiou Pneumatos (Holy Spirit), Agias Ioustinis and Agiou Sozontos and bastions. The total length of the fortress is 1,307 meters and it required hard work of 76,800 residents to complete it. For its construction the master builder John Skordilis used rectangular stones, while the castle was designed by Sforza Palavitsini. The choice of the construction site (in the northern part of the peninsula) was not accidental, since the hill offers panoramic views of land and sea. Moreover, there were the acropolis of the ancient city of Rithymna and the sanctuary of Artemis Rokkaia on the hill of Palaiokastro in antiquity, but, unfortunately they did not remain for us to see.

Along the castle wall there are four bastions, Agiou Louka, Agiou Ilia, Agiou Paulou and Agiou Nikolaou, which were used for defense in case of an attack.

The Fortezza fortress is a huge defensive structure, so big that it could provide shelter to the whole city. It is considered the largest Venetian fortress ever built. However, it appears not to have played any important role in comparison with other major fortifications, such as Candia of Heraklion. Indeed, the easy surrender to the Turks in 1645 is attributed to the trench absence and the cholera epidemic that overtook the castle. During the German occupation, the Fortezza fortress was used as a prison for Resistance fighters.

The main gate that is between the bastions of Agiou Louka and Agiou Nikolaou consists of a large gallery passing through the walls, tall enough to allow an easy passage for soldiers, wagons and artillery. On the outer side of the gate there was the lion of St. Mark, the emblem of Venice. The position of the gate was the best possible since on the east it was less exposed to danger and was in direct contact with the city. To the east of the gate there was a little church of Santa Maria or Madonna (Panagia Palaiokastrini), according to the Venetian drawings. In 1646 the Turks built the pentagonal fortress in the same location, to complete the defense of the main entrance of the fortress.

Inside the Fortezza fortress there were many important buildings, such as the residence of the Governor, an imposing complex of buildings, of which today remained nothing but ruins, the House of Advisors, where one of the two Venetian Councilors of the city lived, the mosque of Ibrahim Khan, the Episcopal Palace, Agios Theodoros Trichinas, houses of the citizens, the Artillery Warehouse, which was a large two-storeyed building with arches inside of it and nowadays hosting cultural events, along with two powder storages that were built in isolated places in the castle. The walls at those points were reinforced in order to resist the cannonades and had ventilation holes to keep the powder dry. Walking towards the bastion of Agios Ilias, the visitor will see one of the many castle’s reservoirs, which collected water from the roofs, and the theater of Erofili hosting events every summer as well as the Renaissance Festival of Rethymno.

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