The Venetian Fortress (also called 'Forteza' and 'Palaiokastro'), is allegedly the biggest castle built by the Venetians anywhere in Greece, costing a fortune and taking ten years to build with forced labor imported from several islands, all this in response to repeated pirate raids during the middle of the 16th century. The notorious Turkish pirate, Barbarossa was one of the assaulters of the town. Nevertheless, the city fell (in 1645) to the Ottomans in one day, the Turks just going around the fort to take the city. The fortress itself held out between 23 days and two months, depending on whom you believe. There had been prior fears that without a moat around it, it would not keep invaders out, though still it seems that it offered little protection to the town itself.
The entrance to the fortress is across from the Archaeological Museum, on the southeast corner (not on the waterfront). Besides the café, there is a deep well off to the left with a downward sloping passageway leading to it. ' In the center, past remains of arsenals, officers' houses and the like, is a large domed structure (first a church and then the Ibrahim Han mosque), which was built as a refuge for the entire town population. in the event of an attack.
The domed Ibrahim Han mosque (left) has a carved prayer niche (known as a mihrab) pointing the direction of Mecca, though this has been vandalized. The cisterns where rain-water was collected are marvelous, with light coming through slits on the sides. Standing up on the fortress walls and looking out at the town and harbor, as well as the coast to the west, is a fine pastime while visiting Rethymnon. (Open Sat-Thurs 8:30am-7pm;Nov-March closes 6pm;2.90euros). In August and September there is a twenty-day Renaissance Festival held here.