Patmos, a holy island in the Aegean Sea
Patmos sacred Island
Patmos is a small island in the Aegean Sea and it is located west of the coast of Turkey. It looks like many other picturesque and adorable Greek islands, but there is something more about it. It is one of the holiest islands in the Christian world. Actually, it is believed that Apostle John wrote the famous the Book of the Apocalypse there.
We visited this beautiful island during our vacation on Samos Island, as a one-day excursion. You can read more about this stunning island here.
And of course, one day is not enough time to see all the interesting places, but we visited two main pilgrim sites: the cave of Apocalypse and the Monastery of St John.
How to get to Patmos
Patmos is one of the northernmost islands of the Dodecanese complex. The only way to get to the island is by sea.
As a matter of fact, there is no airport, and the nearest ones are on Kos and Leros islands. Patmos is connected by Blue Star, Hellenic Seaways, and Dodekanisos Seaways ferries to Piraeus port, and a trip takes about seven hours. Also, it is connected with neighbouring islands such as Samos, Syros, Leros, Rhodes, Kalymnos, Lipsi, and some Cyclades islands. You can check the ferry schedule here.
Patmos is a small island and it covers an area of only 34 km2. It is mostly mountainous with small hills. The highest point on the island is Profitis Ilias, only 269 metres (883 feet) above sea level. It has a mild Mediterranean climate with many sunny days throughout the whole year.
Chora is the capital of Patmos, and port Skala is the largest settlement on the island.
The two main villages are Kambos, to the north, and Grikou, to the south. The coastline is about 63 km long and indented with numerous bays, caves, and calm beaches, perfect for relaxation and a wonderful vacation.
Because of its important religious sites, Patmos has been declared a Holy island in 1981 by the Greek Parliament.
A few words about the history of Patmos
According to archaeological excavations, the remains of human settlements date back to the Middle Bronze Age.
Also, during the 3rd century BC, in the Hellenistic period, the settlement of Patmos got the form of an acropolis with a fortification wall and towers.
It is interesting that Romans used Patmos island as a place of exile. One of the exiled persons was Apostle John, who wrote the Book of Revelation. Because of him, the island of Patmos became a place of pilgrimage.
After his death around 100 AD, a few Early Christian basilicas were erected on Patmos. Among them was a Grand Royal Basilica, erected in honour of Saint John. Patmos was attacked by pirates and Muslims for centuries, and at that time, the Grand Basilica was destroyed.
The island passed into the hands of the Venetians in 1207, but the island was almost independent.
Between 1537 and 1912, it was occupied by Turks, and in 1912, the island was taken by Italians. During the Second World War, Nazi Germany took over Patmos. Finally, in 1948, it became part of independent Greece, together with other Dodecanese islands.
Our trip to Patmos started from the Pythagorion port on Samos island.
After two and half hours, we arrived at Skala, the only harbour on the island. It is the largest settlement as well as the commercial and trade centre.
From Skala, you can catch buses and go to the rest of the island. Also, there are boats for daily excursions to the secluded beaches and nearby islands such as Leros, Lipsi, Arki, and Marathi.
The landmark of Skala is the white tower – an Italian building from 1932, which houses the Customs, the tourism office, and various municipal services.
In Skala, you can find interesting taverns, cafes, bars, and various types of accommodations.
In small and charming shops, you can buy various souvenirs, sandals, clothes, hand-made jewellery, wines and local food.
The sandy beach Agios Theologos is located about 200 meters from the port and it is usually crowded with locals during weekdays.
Since we were part of a guided tour, a bus with an excellent tour guide was waiting for us in the port. By the way, you can take a taxi or bus from Skala to Chora.
Hora or Chora is the capital of Patmos island, located about 4 km from the port of Skala.
Because of its historic centre, the Cave of the Apocalypse and the Monastery of Saint John, it was described on the World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 1999.
Similar to many Greek island’s places, Chora is a labyrinth of whitewashed houses decorated with colourful flowers, and narrow alleyways.
Many mansions and residences were built during the 16th and 17th centuries. The oldest house in Chora is the Simantiri Mansion from 1625. Today it is a private residence. One part of the house was turned into a museum and today it also housed Folklore Museum.
The cave of Apocalypse
The first pilgrim site on Patmos is the Cave of Apocalypse.
In the early 17th century, the Greek Orthodox chapel of St. Anne was constructed around the cave and completely enclosed it. The entrance fee for the cave is 2 euros. Close to the Cave, there is also the Patman Ecclesiastic School founded in 1713.
Apostle John was exiled by Emperor Domitian to the island of Patmos.
Actually, John was the youngest of the twelve apostles of Jesus. It is believed that his mother was the sister of Mary, Jesus’ mother, and John was the beloved disciple of Jesus. He lived an ascetic life in a grotto, which is about 6.60 m long and 5.50 m wide. There is a small outlined place where he slept and a small rock he used as a pillow.
The rock ceiling is split into three parts and the three fissures can be seen, as a symbol of the Holy Trinity. It is believed that Saint John heard the voice of God from this rock.
The Book of the Revelation
Since John was old, his disciple Prochoros transferred John’s visions into writing and this is how The Book of the Revelation was written in 95 AD. Also known as the Book of the Apocalypse, it is the final book of the New Testament, and the final book of the Christian Bible.
The name of the book derives from the Greek word apokalypsis, meaning “revelation.” As a matter of fact, there are many transcripts and interpretations of the Book of Revelation. But even today, some parts of the book are still a mystery for many scientists.
The book includes three literary genres: the epistolary, the apocalyptic, and the prophetic.
The number 7 is one of the most important symbols in the book. In his visions, he saw God with seven stars in the right hand, with seven gold lamps. John mentioned the “Seven Churches of Asia” in seven holy cities, seven angels with seven trumpets and seven bowls of God’s wrath.
Also, John describes many prophetic visions, figures as the Seven-Headed Dragon, the Serpent, the Beast, the Four Horsemen, and the Second Coming of Jesus. It is really difficult to explain his visions described in 22 chapters. But some of these events, we can recognize in many natural disasters and huge climate changes on our planet through history.
There are many sufferings, deaths, tragic events, the end of the existing world. But also there is hope.
So we can say that today’s message of the Book of the Revelation is that we have to change ourselves, our bad habits and build a new and better world.
St. John Monastery (Agios Ioannis Theologos)
We continued our tour to the St John Monastery.
Definitely, the Monastery is the landmark of the island with its fortified walls which are over 15 meters high. It looks stunning, like a fortress on the hill, surrounded by tiny whitewashed houses built in the Neoclassical style.
It was built in 1088 by the monk Christodoulos with the assistance of the Byzantine Emperor Alexius II Comnenus. The monastery was erected on the former ancient temple of goddess Artemis. Actually, the monastery owned the whole island and houses were built around it later, making a new Chora settlement.
The courtyard is laid with pebbles and decorated with flowers.
All around there are whitewashed passageways and arches.
The monastery complex consists of ten chapels, a refectory, and the main church Kathoikon from the 11th century.
It is covered with impressive frescoes on its outside walls.
Also, the interior of the church is amazing, with marvellous golden wood iconostasis and frescoes dating from the late 12th and 16th centuries.
The Monastery’s library
Next to the church is the Monastery museum and library, one of the most important and best-organised libraries of Christianity. There you can see many rare exhibits, 900 handwritten codexes, 13.000 historical documents, 3.000 books, many icons, jewellery, vestments and relics. Taking photos is strictly forbidden. But thanks to the collaboration with the Google Art Project, you can see the part of this amazing library by clicking here.
From the library, you can go out on the roof of the monastery and see very impressive belfries.
And from the roof, there is a spectacular view of white houses and the sea.
The entrance fee for the Monastery is 4 euros.
Close to the monastery, there is the Monastery of Zoodochos Pighi, a female Monastery dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
Since the Cave of Apocalypse and St John Monastery are sacred places, you should dress properly.
Cover your shoulders and knees when you enter the cave and monastery. It applies to both women and men.
During the excursion, we had an organized lunch in Aloni, a family restaurant.
The food was delicious, and the restaurant is decorated in a very interesting way. So mom runs the kitchen, dad is at the bar, and two brothers serve the guests.
But there is something more: dressed in traditional costumes, they entertain the guests with Greek traditional dances! I have to say that it was a very interesting performance, considering that it was a very hot day. And dancing in costumes was not so easy!
You can find many taverns, cafes and restaurants on Patmos with fresh fish, local dishes, and wine.
While you walking around the island, taste pouggia, a traditional sweet made of almonds and walnuts, or tiropita, made of three different types of cheese. In the centre of Skala, there is a Christodoulos pastry shop, with a long tradition of handmade pastry and ice cream production.
Vacation on Patmos
Although Patmos is a pilgrim island and a very important religious centre in Greece, it is also a place where you can spend a really nice holiday. There is no massive tourism, but still, you can find various types of accommodations, from studios and apartments to luxurious villas and hotels.
On Patmos island, you can enjoy yourself in organized, as well as secluded, non-organized beaches, both sandy and pebbled. The most popular are Livadi Geranou, Skala, Agriolivado, Grikos, and Kambos beach.
If you like diving, there is the scuba diving centre in the port of Skala. Also, there is a Blue Fin centre shop with diving and fishing gear, where you can also rent equipment.
Since the locals respect the old customs and traditions, various religious festivals and events take place on Patmos. Some of the most popular are the Dormition of the Virgin, then the feast of Saint John on May 8th and September 26th, and the feast of Agia Thekla. The famous cultural events are the Religious Music Festival, the Festival of Folklore Dances, and the International Film Festival.
Spiritual journey on Patmos
Because of its religious sites, Patmos is also known as „the Aegean Jerusalem“.
And indeed, the whole island exudes peace and tranquillity. Maybe because it is a place where, according to religious beliefs, there was the presence of God through his words to St John about the future of humanity and the end of the world.
Well, it is said that “the ways of God are strange“.
But definitely, we are happy that we had an opportunity to visit this wonderful island.
The scenery of whitewashed houses with a flat roof that is saving the rainwater, little chapels, narrow alleys, a sacred cave, a monastery with high walls and windmills at the hill of the island, are something that leaves you speechless.
And at the same time, you feel serene and thankful because of the stunning places on our planet which we can visit and where we live.
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