Clinging high above the turquoise sea on the island of Amorgos, and nestled like an aerie on a sheer bluff is one of Greece’s most extraordinary old Byzantine monasteries and religious gems. The Monastery of Panaghia Hozoviotissa, an architectural masterpiece, was founded by the Emperor Alexius Commenius I in the 11th century and built to house a miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary that mysteriously arrived on the shore below from Palestine. The monastery, built on a sheer cliff, is the pride of Amorgos.
I’d heard about the monastery, and its precarious location and isolation. And, I’ve visited the monasteries of Meteora, perched high on the rocky outcrops of Thessaly. So, the Panaghia Hozoviotissa intrigued me.
Amorgos is the most eastern of the Cycladic Islands, a rugged, simple island with breathtaking views. There’s a peaceful atmosphere on this small island, and the few residents (population 2000) are mainly fishers or farmers.
The amazing crystal-clear waters of the island’s coastline provided a setting for Luc Besson’s 1988 film “The Big Blue.” At that time, Amorgos was a popular haven for hippies. Nowadays, the tourists who visit are mainly from northern Europe, mostly interested in the variety of hiking trails around the island. The monastery has become part of a pilgrimage on the hiking routes.
If you’re not there to hike, you can get around using the island bus service in order to enjoy the spectacular views. We took the bus to the tiny capital of Chora. From there you can walk to the monastery, about a half hour on a windy road high above the sea. Or you can take a taxi, as we did.
From the entrance gate, we trudged up the steep path, each step offering a moment to meditate and enjoy the spectacular views of the secluded beach below as well as the vast brilliant blue of the sea. Hozoviotissa Monastery is definitely a must-see, and one of the Aegean’s most extraordinary locations. The trek up the hillside to reach it was well worth the effort, except when we arrived at the door I remembered that because this is a place of reverence and historical importance, there is a dress code. If you’re a woman, be sure and wear a skirt, not slacks or shorts, and cover your arms, otherwise you are not allowed inside. Men are required to wear long trousers. I made the mistake of forgetting this rule and therefore missed a chance to go into the sanctuary.Instead I had to wait in the foyer until someone came along with a beach towel to wrap around my Capri-pants.
The most important treasure held here is the miraculous icon of the Virgin, dating to the 15th century. There are also other famous treasures in the monastery. Its pristine white walls are decorated with the portraits of monks, and other notables. But the true beauty is its architecture and the breathtaking views from the windows.
The friendly monks welcome guests into a sitting room where we are served a drink of raki and sweet loukoumi for refreshment.
After visiting this holy sanctuary you might want to hike 40 minutes down the cliff-side to the beach for a refreshing swim at beautiful Aghia Anna beach. We opted to trek the long, winding road back to Chora where there are small cafes and tavernas. Our visit to Amorgos had some disappointments, but what wasn’t disappointing was the scenic beauty of the island and the fact that it is still reasonably untouched by tourism. The experience of visiting the Monastery of Panaghia Hozoviotissa was definitely a high-light of our trip there.
There are buses connecting the villages with Chora, Agia Anna, Egiali and Katapola. There are also taxis and car rentals.
By ferry from Athens, Mykonos, Naxos or Santorini
Written by W. Ruth Kozak for EuropeUpClose.com