The first archaeological findings of civilization in the area are from the late Minoan period. Its ancient name was Rethymna.The area developed during the 5th and 4th century BC but towards the end of the Roman period the town began to decline. It flourished again during the Venetian rule when it became an important export centre and seat Lektor (today’s prefecture). Also their knowledge in letters and art grew, here was founded the Academy VIVI (1562 with the initiative of Francesco Barrozi), first intellectual association in Greece and one of the first in the whole of Eastern Europe. During this period of Venetian rule the city underwent repeated revolts from the Cretans.
Rethymnon was to encounter frequent invasions from the pirates and the Turkish fleet (1562 pirate Barbarousa, 1562 Dragoumis, 1571 Ali Oylouits). Due to the attacks they suffered they decided to build walls around town and the fort to fortify the city. In 1646 the Venetian rule ended in Rethymnon and it was then the turn for the Turks to take over the city. After it was seized by the Turks Rethymnon ceased to be an administrative and intellectual centre. Because of the decimation of the population after the war and the epidemic, a large amount of the residents fled the city and the islamization phenomenon was to change the ethnological composition of the town. The architectural structure of the town with its Venetian buildings was to change dramatically when the Turkish architectural elements were added, to this day these buildings give a special atmosphere to the city that was once the crossroads for different cultures/civilizations. The Second World War left Rethymnon with catastrophic damage. After the emancipation of Crete a new era was about to begin for Rethymnon. The opening of the University of Crete was to turn Rethymnon into a centre for literature and social studies. The position of the town with its long beach along with her natural beauty has made it one of the most popular tourist destinations on the island. Famous landmarks for Rethymnon are the Venetian harbour. South and south west behind the harbour are all the old houses with the characteristic combination of Venetian and Turkish features, also better samples of buildings that are called Cretan Palazzo. Close to the harbour is the Venetian fort which was the central point for their social life during the Venetian occupation.
It is well worth going to see the Rimonti fountain one of the most elegant monumental fountains on Crete. The most impressive Venetian building in Rethymnon is the fort which had a fortress to protect the city. A visit to the archaeological museum which is located where the prison once was, Neratze mosque, the ruins of the old Turkish baths, Kara Mousa mosque, four witnesses square, temple of our lady of the angels and the historical and folklore museum, which will give you a clear picture as to what life was like through the ages in Rethymnon. On the border of the old town are the municipal gardens which was once the Turkish cemetery. Finally a little outside the old town you can see the Veli Pasa mosque which not only functioned as a mosque but also as a Teke (smoking den).