If you travel across Greece, you will come across many monasteries that reflect the country’s Christian identity. These monasteries are not only impressive for the history they carry but also for their masterful architecture. Here are five monasteries with rich history that you should visit to experience their sacred environment and learn about their historical significance.
Monasteries of Greece: Where religion meets history and architecture
Mega Spilaio Monastery, Kalavrita, Achaia
The Mega Spilaio Monastery is located in a cave under a steep rock that reaches and exceeds nine hundred meters. It is situated at a distance of 11 kilometers from Kalavryta, one of the most important monasteries in the Peloponnese. The monastery stands on the slope of Mount Helmos up to the Vouraikos River. It is one of the oldest monasteries built in Greece, founded in 362 AD by two brothers from Thessaloniki, Simeon and Theodore. They discovered an icon of the Virgin Mary inside the cave under the guidance of Saint Euphrosyne. Over the centuries, the monastery has been severely damaged by fires and looted by the Nazis. However, it has always found a way to rise from the ashes and played an important historical role, especially during the revolution when it was a tangible center of resistance against enemies.
The monastery’s external appearance resembles a well-fortified multi-story fortress with eight floors. Once you enter the interior of the cave, you will have the opportunity to admire unique frescoes and its iconostasis, which is a true masterpiece of woodwork. A visit to this unique monastery will surely captivate you because of its natural environment and the devout aura it emits.
Toplou Monastery, Lassithi, Crete
The Toplou Monastery is located in the region of Lassithi and is one of the most emblematic monasteries in the whole of Crete. Its foundation is estimated to be in the 15th century. A year later, it was damaged by an earthquake and restored with the help of the Venetians. The Turkish occupation period stigmatized the Monastery, which was considered a refuge for revolutionaries. The Nazi occupation ordered the execution of its monks due to the use of wireless communication with the Allies. The origin of its name bears behind two possible scenarios: either that it stems from the corresponding word of Turkish which translates as cannon, due to the existence of a cannon as a means of protection from pirate attacks, or as an abbreviation of the word wealth that indicated the financial strength of the monastery that came from the donations of the faithful but also its real estate.
The most important architectural creation of this castle-like monastery is its imperious bell tower of more than thirty meters. A visit to its unique interior can be combined with a stop at the copperplate museum it hosts, where you will admire a multitude of priceless seals and banners.
Panagia Hozoviotissa Monastery, Amorgos, Cyclades
The monastery of Panagia Hozoviotissa is one of the most famous monasteries of the Cyclades complex, as well as of the entire Aegean Sea. Its construction in 1088 is due to the discovery of the icon of the Virgin Mary, which led the emperor Alexios Komninos to build this unique monastery at its exact spot. You will find it literally standing inside the surrounding rocks, less than five hundred meters from the seawater.
The architectural construction of the monastery really takes the breath away from every visitor with its eight-story vertical slope and especially with its unique scenery that wants its once forty-meter width to be transformed into just five at the point of the narrow entrance. The monastery hosts about 100 rooms in number. To reach its amazing surroundings, you will need an ascent of about a quarter to a highly steep landscape. Visiting the highest point of the monastery is done only with the help of the monks who will guide you every step of the way. The adjacent balcony will generously offer you a panoramic view that will be unforgettable.
Monastery of Evangelistria, Skiathos, Sporades
The Monastery of Evangelistria is one of the most unique religious sights of the island and beyond. Just 4 km away from the main town of Skiathos, in a verdant environment of olive and oak trees, you will find this wonderful monastery. Built by a group of monks towards the end of the 18th century, this monastery carries a rich historical past on its back during the revolution. In its area in 1807, the Greek flag was raised for the first time with the appearance it carried then. Visiting the monastery, you will have the opportunity to tour its folklore museum to admire the rich exhibits and relics that are in its area, as well as the library and the sacristy of the monastery.
The architecture of the monastery includes it in the rhythm of the Byzantine era, having three domes. Extremely impressive is its iconostasis made of wood, which bears unique portable icons dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries.
Agios Loukas, Steiri, Boiotia
The monastery of Agios Loukas in Steiri, Boiotia, is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with Nea Moni in Chios, built by Constantine IX the Gladiator, and Dafni of Attica that stands proudly on the site of the old sanctuary of the god Apollo. The monastery of Agios Lukas was erected by him at the dawn of the 10th century and is located on a picturesque hillside near the area of ancient Steiris.
The masterful technique of the monastery established it as an example for the other monuments under construction at the time. A multitude of icons, mosaics, and relics with the obvious dominance of silver and gold compose its abundant decoration. The golden mosaic of the saint that adorns the entrance leaves every visitor astonished. The relics are kept in a crypt under the main temple of the monastery.
The monasteries of Greece are those religious places that, apart from their devout atmosphere, have to offer every visitor an extensive look at history but also at the art of architecture. When you leave their sacred precinct, you feel truly enchanted.