Dotted throughout the Ionian and Aegean seas of Greece you’ll find around 6,000 islands or islets, and yet only 227 islands that are inhabited. The inhabited islands offer their own unique history, mythology, specialised cuisine and pace of life, making choice of holiday location challenging to say the least when decided which islands to see.
Each year I gift myself a birthday treat and go somewhere new. On this occasion, I took myself on a short break island hopping through some of the Greek Islands. Cruising through the Cyclades starting in the Island of Crete with a stopover in Santorini and Mykonos before continuing to the archipelago of Dodecanese and the small picturesque island of Pátmos tucked away in the Aegean Sea.
Its early afternoon and I’m gazing out across the infinite blue sea, before arriving into the quiet and tranquil Grikos Bay, and the quaint ferry port of Skala, nestled on the island of Pátmos, GR – Πάτμος… and a much slower pace.
I learn the island of Pátmos has connections with the ancient city of Ephesus, and the Olympian Goddess Artemis – the huntress, goddess of the wild, who personifies the beauty of nature, whether it be the stillness of the forests, the tranquillity of mountain lakes, or the wild animals.
The earliest legend in ancient times is Selene, the Moon Goddess bathed the island that lie at the bottom of the sea with her enchanting moonbeams. When going to meet with her friend Selene one day, Artemis looked down and saw the island shimmering like a jewel on the sea bed and fell in love with its beauty, begging Selene to let her have it. Artemis asked help from her brother Apollo, who then sought support by Zeus, who convinced his brother Poseidon (The God of the Sea) that the island wasn’t much use covered in water. Poseidon saying he had no interest in the island, then permitted the beautiful jewel be brought from its watery depths. With the gift of warmth by Selene’s brother the Sun God Helios the island was given life.
Artemis then persuaded inhabitants from the area around Mount Lamos to move to the island – with some accepting the Goddess’ request to please her. In her honour those who relocated named the island Lítios – GR Λίτιος, another name that Artemis was known by, meaning “daughter of Leto”.
Within the museum of the monastery of St. John there is an inscription noting that Orestes, being pursued by the Furies for the murder of his mother, took refuge on Pátmos and built a great temple in honour of the Goddess Artemis, on the same site that the Monastery stands on today.
Other temples found from the antiquity period were those dedicated to Zeus, Dionysius, Apollo and Aphrodite, however it was Artemis that became the patron Goddess of Pátmos.
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During the Roman occupation the island fell into decline and was abandoned, only being used as a place of exile. In the year 96 AD, the evangelist St. John the Theologian was banished to Pátmos by the Roman Emperor Domitian for preaching the gospel at Ephesus. Following the Emperor’s death in 97 AD, St. John returned to live out the remainder of his life in Ephesus.
A sense of calm greets you as you step foot on the island, with an air of peace and quiet as I and other fellow passengers make our way to the taxi service close by Vagelis tavern waiting for the afternoon/evening trade.
I learn that there’s an old Byzantine path that leads from Skala to Hora and the Monastery of St. John. The path starts about 1 km away from the port and takes approx. 25 minutes to walk to Hora.
Due to time considerations, a taxi was the better option. I’m asked by a young French girl and her parents where I was going, and as we all wanted to spend time visiting the hilltop village of Hora that’s nestled closely together beside the Monastery of St John, we decide to share a taxi together.
A hair raising taxi ride along the steep, narrow winding road lined with eucalyptus trees and pine forests to arrive, safely at the traditional medieval village of Hora. We had passed the sign showing the path to the Cave of the Apocalypse, however as the taxi driver was in such a rush, we decided not to try and communicate the suggestion of stopping. The Cave of the Apocalypse is said to have been the place where St John heard the voice of God and where he received the words of the Revelation.
Reaching the end of the road, that joined to the path to Hora, we were dropped off by the driver, however not before having a brief discussion and verbal assurance by the driver to return in two hours and take us back to Skala Port. I look around and find myself standing in awe and admiring the open spectacular views of the port of Skala and the surrounding rolling hills across Pátmos and further afield the rolling hills of other islands in the archipelago of Dodecanese.
Walking along the winding path that takes you upwards towards the monastery of St. John the Theologian and passing by a number of charming trinket shops filled with interesting finds that adorn the shops inner and outer walls with pops of colour.
It’s a peaceful and delightful walk through the labyrinth of narrow lanes as you ascend the steep ascent, before reaching the monastery that sits atop the hill like a castle with the white tightly clustered dwelling spilling out from the monastery’s foundations like tree roots.
Reaching the top of the hill you’re left in awe of the solid stone fortress like monastery that today has become a significant sacred destination for Christianity. The monastery, together with the Cave of the Apocalypse and the historic village of Hora is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
During the Byzantine era a Basilica was built in honour of St. John however was subsequently destroyed during the Arab pirate raids between to 6th – 9th centuries. Around 1000 years following St. Johns temporary exile on the island, the monastery was then built in his memory and honour and founded in 1088 by Ossios Christodoulos. following a grant by the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Kommenos. The solid towering walls stand more than 15 meters, yet appear much larger when standing at the entrance of the thick walls and heavily reinforced entrance doors.
More pirate raids necessitated commanding fortification giving the rare example of a monastic fortified castle. It was during the end of the 12th century that Pátmos became a semi-autonomous monastic state and acquired great wealth and influence. Shortly after in 1340, the Knights of Saint John having taken control of the island of Rhodes, subsequently took occupation of Pátmos. In 1522 the Turkish rulers took possession, however due to Pátmos’ semi-autonomous monastic state and having achieved considerable wealth and influence, the islands’ inhabitants were able to resist Turkish oppression, however were focused to pay taxes. Succeeding wars and unrest ensured until 1945 when the German occupation left the island and Pátmos and leaving the island under autonomous rule until 1948 when it joined with the rest of the Dodecanese islands under Independent Greece rule. In 1981 the Greek Parliament declared Pátmos as a Holy Island.
Before stepping inside the reinforced entrance doors of the St. John monastery to take a look inside – look up several meters above the entrance and see a small opening that was used to pour burning hot oil or burning hot water over pirates and other invaders trying to break through the entrance.
The three heavy iron bells were used to echo the sound to warn inhabitants of Pátmos to take refuge behind the fortified walls of the monastery, when pirate ships were seen anchoring in the port.
As you enter the main courtyard different local pebbles and stone are underfoot that were used during the various stages of construction, refurbishment and additions over the centuries.
Inside the monastery walls, you’ll find artefacts and other items of significance belonging to the Greek Orthodox Church. Beautiful 12th century paintings adorn the walls of the chapel of The Virgin Mary. The monastery’s library is home to more than 3000 printed books, 90 manuscripts and 13000 documents dating back to 1073, however can only be visited with permission.
Standing of the roof tops and gazing out the sea, I notice an original section of the Monastery that was build during the Byzantine era that had been saved from various attacks.
Rather than leaving from the main entrance, I left by a side door and took a stroll around the outside of the monastery walls, where you’ll find an expansive view across the land from every window of the rear exterior.
I also found the small gate entrance connecting the monastery to the inner lane ways of the historic old village of Hora.
The first intrinsic and interlacing dwellings were built in 1130 around the approaching side of monastery, when the monastery monks sought the islands inhabitants. Mainly builders and their families taking up resident in close proximity to one another, and to form an outer wall that held back invaders and giving inhabitants easy access to the safety of the monastery.
Dwellings were initially built in rows, with thick exterior walls standing higher than the roof, discouraging anyone from climbing over them. Five doors locked the interconnecting passageways inside the walls. The strength to ward off invaders saw other islanders move to Pátmos to escape from various ruling occupiers.
As more islanders arrived to seek refuge a new outer wall of dwellings needed to be made and an extension of passageways along with additional locked doors were also needed.
Once the treat of invaders eased and eventually ceased, many of the dwellings turned to ruins and locals relocated and taking with them whatever building materials that could be salvaged to new locations, to build new dwellings in the lower areas of the island, closer to the port. Reforming the new, old Hora that is seen today.
As I roamed through the lane ways, I came across a local bakery, where I was able to but one of my all-time favourite Greek savoury pastries.
Spanakotirópita, GR – Σπανακοτιρόπιτα. Traditionally made with a mix of spinach, leek, spring onion, dill, spearmint or mint, feta cheese, eggs, rice, olive oil, then seasoned with salt, pepper and nutmeg and wrapped in filo pastry then baked in the oven. Delicious.
Whilst waiting for the taxi to return, I found myself enjoying the view and relaxing with a refreshing drink at Loza café overlooking the Skala port below, and the imposing Monastery of St. John the Theologian above, watching over the occupants of the clustered village of white-washed houses of Hora and out to sea.
Looking across to the east of the Monastery at the top of the hill overlooking the sea, there are three traditional windmills. Two of which date back to 1588 and the third one built in 1863 that fell into disuse in the late 1950s, when industrial mills replaced traditional production throughout Europe.
Today however, they are being revived and lovingly restored to once again provide visitors with an image of traditional flour production and to revive the traditional flour and bakery professions and product of the island. In addition, to restoring the windmills utilitarian value, their “Soul”; as a testament that unites the past with the present and beyond to the future.
Whilst enjoying the view the waiter suggests I stop by at Koumanis traditional bakery in Skala and try at least one traditional Patmian cheese pie (patromitikí tiropitá, GR πατρομιτική τιροπιτά), known for being the best on the island.
Our taxi driver showed up as arranged, and in a more relaxed manner drove us back down the twisting winding narrow road to Skala.
There was still time to wonder the charming lane ways and explore the local boutique shops, gift and memorabilia shops, have an ice cream and… yes! try the traditional Patmian cheese pie. Great recommendation.
Pátmos’ relaxing feel made for a very enjoyable and rewarding afternoon. A leisurely pace, taking in the highlights, sights and tastes sensations of this small island only accessible by boat.
For me, on this occasion, I left Pátmos for a night of sailing onwards to the next island destination.
This blog is one of a number in a series of blog posts sharing historic events, ancient history and the hypnotic wonders of other parts of Greece and her Islands. Read and learn more about other locations within Greece and her Islands here.
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