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The first signs of human life date back to Neolithic times, but the first settlement appeared in the last years of the Minoan civilization (1350-1100 BC). The ancient city, called Rithymna, developed during the Classical period (470-323 BC) and then lost its prosperity

After the capture of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204 and the establishment of the Frankokratia, Crete was ceded to the Republic of Venice. The island (Regno di Candia) was was one of the most important overseas possessions of Venice, due to its geographical location and the trade with the Peloponnese, the Aegean islands, the Arab countries and India.

In 1206 Rethymno received the first Venetian settlers. During the Venetian occupation, Rethymno flourished commercially and economically, developed an intense spiritual life and important monuments were built, such as the Saint Francisco’s church, the Fortezza, the old harbour as well as the defensive walls of the city and the famous Venetian clock, which no longer exists. Many citizens of Rethymno were able to study at Italian universities, which led to the development of the arts – literature, theatre, painting, architecture, creating the Cretan Renaissance. In 1561 the ViVi (Living) Academy was founded in Rethymno, the first cultural association in Greece after the fall of the Byzantine Empire. In 1538, after the unsuccessful attempt of the pirate Hayreddin Barbarossa to occupy the city, the Venetians fortified the city from the land, building a defensive wall. In 1571 after the pirate raid by the Algerian pirate Uluj Ali from the sea, the city was sacked, burned and destroyed and the Venetians built the Fortezza fortress to fortify the city’s population from pirate raids.

In 1645 the great Cretan War began between the Ottoman Empire and the Venetian Republic and its allies. Chania was conquered by the Ottomans in 1645, Rethymno in 1646 and Candia (Heraklion today) in 1669. After the conquest by the Turks, the Cretan Renaissance was interrupted, the economy became agricultural and education and all intellectual activity and development came to a halt. In 1830 Crete was ceded to Egypt as a reward for Egypt’s help to Turkey during the Greek Revolution of 1821. In 1840, after Egypt’s defeat in the war with Turkey, Crete was returned to the Turkish rule. After many continuous revolutions and uprisings, with the intervention of the “Great Powers”, it was decided in 1896 to resolve the Cretan issue, regarding the violations of rights, violence and massacres of Cretans by the Turks, by agreeing to an international occupation of the island, which would be an autonomous state. Crete was divided into four zones of occupation: Chania was given to Italy, Heraklion to United Kingdom, Lassithi to France and Rethymno to Russia.

In 1898 the Turkish army left the island and the autonomous Cretan State was created. Crete got finally united with the rest of Greece, after much struggle, in 1913. From 1941-1944, the island was under German occupation. In the last 45 years, Rethymno has experienced significant growth, in the economy with the development of tourism and in culture with the operation of the university.