The Arkadi Monastery is a historic structure on the idyllic northern coast of the Grecian island of Crete. In late 1866, it was the site of a daring, and ultimately deadly, uprising. The event became known as the Arkadi Holocaust.
In 1866, Crete had been under the rule of Ottoman Turks for roughly 200 years. Many of the citizens on the island longed for freedom. There had been several uprisings in the years leading up to 1866, but all were for naught. The Ottoman Turks had too much of a presence on the island and those who opposed them risked death. However, like most societies that have been placed under the tyrannical rule of foreigners, the people of Crete would eventually have their freedom. In addition, like most societies that have been placed under the tyrannical rule of foreigners, it would not come without a price.
Before the Arkadi Holocaust, an organized rebellion had taken root in Crete. The leaders of the rebellion used the Arkadi Monastery as their headquarters. In fact, the monastery’s abbot, Gabriel was one of them. It was not long before the commander of the Turks in Crete made the decision to quell the uprising. He sent out a man named Mustapha Pasha to do the job. At first, Mustapha was not successful in finding and arresting the leaders of the rebellion. Instead, he terrorized local villages. However, he eventually heard that the men were at the Arkadi Monastery and so he set out to arrest them in October of 1866.
Mustapha Pasha sent word ahead of him that he would destroy the Arkadi Monastery, if the rebels did not give themselves up. The rebels decided to take their chances and readied themselves for the impending attack. As Pasha and his men approached, equipped with 30 canons and other various weapons, hundreds of people in nearby areas fled to the Arkadi Monastery in fear of the Turks. The Turks arrived on November 8, 1866.
The people inside of the Arkadi Monastery were greatly outnumbered. The Turks supposedly numbered around 15,000. Inside of the Arkadi Monastery, there were roughly 960 Cretans. Not even one-third of them were men of fighting age. However, the Cretans had the advantage of cover; the Turks did not. Seven Cretan snipers hid out in a nearby windmill and managed to kill many Turks before they were killed themselves. The men inside of the monastery fought through to the next day, sending many Turks to their graves. Nonetheless, the Turks eventually made their way through the doors of the Arkadi Monastery on November 9, 1866.
When it became apparent that the Turks were going to take the Arkadi Monastery, Abbot Gabriel gave the people who had survived thus far their last sacrament. He also spoke with another rebel by the name of Konstantinos Giaboudakis and gave Konstantinos permission to go ahead with a plan that would kill many of the Turks who had besieged the Arkadi Monastery. Abbot Gabriel then climbed up on the walls of his monastery and began firing upon the Turks. He was killed.
While the abbot was making his last stand, the remaining Cretans fell back to a wine cellar that held barrels of gunpowder. One can imagine that the women hugged their children tightly and prayed as the Turks approached. When the Turks were gathered around the cellar door, Giaboudakis fired his pistol at a barrel of gunpowder. The resulting explosion killed hundreds on both sides. All told, roughly 1,500 Turks and more than 800 Cretans were killed. One-hundred fourteen Cretans were taken prisoner and ultimately executed. Only three Cretans escaped. They carried their tale of bravery, defiance and sacrifice to the rest of the world.
The Holocaust of Arkadi would turn the tide for the oppressed Cretans. Countries like Greece, England, France, Russia and Italy would finally come to aid Crete when they heard of the horror and sacrifice of the Arkadi Holocaust. Roughly three years after the event, another rebellion took place in Crete. This time, with the help of other nations, Crete was able to rid itself of Turkish rule. Crete became part of Greece, once again, in 1913.
The Turks may be gone, but the Arkadi Monastery still bears the marks of the events of November 8 and 9, 1866. Apart from the scars of bullets on the monastery walls, an ossuary was made for the bones of the victims in the windmill.
Harpur, James & Westwood, Jenifer, The Atlas of Legendary Places, pages 210-212, Konecky & Konecky, 2003
Crete, Arkadi, The Holocaust, retrieved 5/8/10, secret-crete.com/crete-articles_03.html
The Holocaust of Arkadi, retrieved 5/8/10, stigmes.gr/br/brpages/articles/arkadi.htm