Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Arcadia

The Monastery of Saint John the Baptist (Agios Ioannis Prodromos) is also named the ‘Great Cave’ (Mega Spilaio) of Arcadia because it was built into a huge vertical rock on the east bank of Lousios Gorge by monks who lived in nearby hermitages. Thousands of pilgrims arrive here each year to explore this holy site, which offers peace, harmony and serenity.  

Location and getting there

Insights Greece - Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Arcadia

Located near the villages of Stemnitsa and Dimitsana, the landscape is impressive and reminiscent of other holy sites in Greece, such as Meteora and Mega Spilaio. 

To arrive at the monastery, on the road from Dimitsana to Stemnitsa, turn right two kilometers before Stemnitsa and follow the signs for the monastery and Ancient Gortys. Following the signs for 6 kilometers from the turning point, you will reach the point where you must leave your car and begin a walk along a lovely 600 metre footpath.

The Church 

The church of Saint John the Baptist is a single-domed basilica, decorated with remarkable frescoes. Murals are also found outside the church, which are admired by all those who visit. 

The Monastery

This monastery is said to have been built in the mid 16th century, although the monks suggest its construction is much older, dating to the 12th century. Historically, the building was used as a refuge and hospital for local fighters during the Turkish occupation, due to its hidden position. From the balconies of the Monastery visitors can enjoy the splendid views of the luscious landscapes surrounding them.

What you will find here

There are workshops for painting and sewing sacred garments at the monastery and there is also an impressive collection of about 1000 historical books. The number of visitors who come here each year is huge, because apart from the spiritual journey, the monastery is built in a landscape of immense beauty, on towering cliffs, inside lush vegetation and with the Lousios River right by. Here you will be greeted by monks who show you around and offer coffee and local sweets to all their guests. 

Nature Walks

For those who love nature walks, two very beautiful paths begin at the Monastery of Saint John the Baptist. The first path heads left and takes you about 600 metres through a magnificent landscape rich in vegetation, then leads you down 200 metres to the Lousios Gorge. Here you will cross a new footbridge, and see the ruins of the monastery’s watermill, which were mentioned as early as 1630. 

The second route starts at the Monastery of Saint John, following the path to the right toward the Monastery of the Philosopher (old and new sections). About 650 metres down the path, approximately half way to the monastery, you will see a bridge linking the two banks of the Lousios. The monastery of Philosophos, located on the western side of the Lousios river gorge, is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. The monastery consists of two sections- the Old Monastery and the New Monastery of the Philosopher. 

Insights Greece - Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Arcadia

Who is Saint John the Baptist?

The  Prophet and Forerunner John the Baptist is also referred to as John the Forerunner because he was the forerunner of Christ. He was an ascetic and great prophet, who baptised Christ and became one of the most revered saints in the Orthodox Church. He was later beheaded by Herod in the first century to satisfy the request of Herod’s stepdaughter, Salome, and wife Herodias. As he baptised Christ, he is the Patron Saint of godparents. January 7 is the Feast Day of Saint John the Baptist and it is also a celebration and name day of those named Ioannis or Ioanna. 

A: Arkadias, Tripoli 221 00, Greece

*Main image courtesy of Blog of Dimi © (Copyright) 

Holy Monastery of Taxiarchis Michael Panormitis in Symi

The Holy Monastery of Archangel Michael Panormitis is one of the most popular attractions on Symi island. Located on the sea front of the tiny village of Panormitis, the Monastery was built in the 6th century, but what stands today is the restoration of the new building of the 18th century.

How to get here

You can arrive via a ferry or excursion boat from the port of Symi or from the island of Rhodes. If you are already in Symi, you can also catch a bus or taxi from the town, which takes about an hour.

The Monastery

Insights Greece - Holy Monastery of Taxiarchis Michael Panormitis in SymiA Venetian-styled building with its high baroque bell tower, the facade of the main structure is white and it stretches along the coast on either side of the main gateway. The inner courtyard has its own church along with some pebble courtyards.

The Church

The interior of the church is covered with iconography (of particular interest is the ‘fall of the angels’ mural at the back of the church) and is decorated with very elaborate chandeliers. Many baptisms and weddings take place here throughout the year.

The Museums

There are two museums– a folklore and a religious one. One houses ecclesiastical art, and is rich in exhibits like pontificals, silver icons, Russian epitaphs, and ecclesiastical utensils, ship model offerings brought to Panormitis from far away by the sea, and one of folk art with important objects of the folk culture of the island relevant to fishing, agriculture, and shepherding. There is also a library with Byzantine manuscripts and editions of ecclesiastical, historical, and philological content, as well as a gallery with paintings of the landscape of the monastery and its two chapels.

Who is Archangel Michael Panormitis? 

Insights Greece - Holy Monastery of Taxiarchis Michael Panormitis in Symi

Archangel Michael is the Patron Saint and protector of Symi and of sailors. Archangel Michael is known to perform miracles for those who pray for his intercession. The Archangel is famous in the Dodecanese for his righteous nature. If you have made an offering to him and do not fulfill it, he will make it clear through various miracles that he is not pleased – until you complete your promise.

The Icon

It is said that a holy icon of the Archangel appeared miraculously and, on several occasions, was removed only to reappear mysteriously in this same location. The church was then built over the location. The church dedicated to the Archangel now contains a two-metre-high, silver-leafed wall icon of Panormiti. 

What else you will find here

Elsewhere at Panormitis you will find a little bay, guarded by the beautifully restored windmill on the western headland. The small beach with fine sand is very peaceful. There is also a local bakery, which is always packed with people trying the freshly made Symian pies, biscuits and breads.

Daphni Monastery: Rising like a phoenix for 2,000 years

Venture outside the tourist box to see how Athens’ ever-changing present syncs with its age-old past! The book ‘111 Places in Athens You Shouldn’t Miss’ was written to offer you exactly that. This is just one of 10 unmissable places that even locals often miss, offered exclusively for IN+SIGHTS GREECE readers by the guide’s publishers EMONS.

Insights Greece - Daphni Monastery: Rising like a phoenix for 2,000 years

This World Heritage monument, whose church has some of the most stunning mosaics in Greece, has been under almost constant repair since its beginnings. The plot, once a laurel wood, first held a temple dedicated to Apollo Daphnephoros (the laurel bearer). That was destroyed in 395 A.D. by barbarians, all but a few Ionic columns, which were incorporated into the first monastery erected in its place in the 6th century. Only one is left; Lord Elgin made off with the rest, which have been replaced with obvious too-white marble copies.

Despite its prestige, it was later abandoned until the 11th century, when someone high up in the Byzantine imperial court restored   it, building a new church and lining it with ravishing mosaics. But with the nefarious Fourth Crusade in 1204, Crusaders took over the Byzantine empire and the monastery became part of the Duchy of Athens, run by Cistercians. The sarcophagi near the entrance belong to two Catholic dukes.

Semi-abandoned once more under the Ottomans, it was variously used as a garrison, a base for Greek revolutionaries, a Bavarian bar- racks, and a lunatic asylum as well as a monastery. In our day, though, owing to earthquake damage, it has been closed for repairs for decades and has only recently become visitable again.

Worth seeing are the crenellated battlements of its outer walls, the cloisters on either side and the superb mosaics – of the Life of Christ and the Virgin, the saints and prophets – dominated by the piercing eyes and stern face of the Pantocrator (Ruler of All) in the golden dome. There’s no doubt he knows your secrets. But take your binoculars because, except for the flowers above the north door, most of the mosaics are too high to examine properly. Many gaps reflect the church’s chequered history, but it’s a miracle any survived. There was even an attempt to melt down the tesserae for their gold.

Insights Greece - Daphni Monastery: Rising like a phoenix for 2,000 years

Address: Athinon, Haidari 12400, +30 210 5811558

Getting there: Metro to Agia Marina (M 3) and then bus 811; buses from Athens A 16, G16 or 836, or from Piraeus 801 or 845

Hours: Tue & Fri 8am – 3pm.

Tip: At the Haidari ‘death’ camp just beyond the monastery, hundreds were executed by the Nazis in 1944 in reprisals for partisan attacks against them. It was the most notorious prison in Greece.

111 Places in Athens That You Shouldn’t Miss can be found at all major bookstores worldwide as well as online at Amazon.