Please Note: Dress code in monasteries and churches - No shorts, bikinis or sleeveless shirts ie: tank tops etc. At some monasteries clothes are provided for you to 'cover up' respectfully, as in all churches. You must take your hat off when you enter a church and often photographs are not permitted.




Situated on the northern end of the Akrotiri Peninsula some 16 km from Hania. The St. Trinity Giagarolo or Zangarolo is perhaps the most impressive monastery of Crete. It was named after its founders, two brothers Jeremiah and Lavrentio Giagarolo, they came from a wealthy Venetian family who had converted to Orthodoxy. They originally lead ascetic lives in the monastery of Ayios Ioannis (see below) as they faced many problems with the other monks, perhaps because they were ex-Catholics, but it is more likely because they were also wealthy, handsome and young! They left Ayios Ioannis strong willed and dedicated to building a monastery themselves, they had money, courage and faith and were resolute when they both moved south in a vision to pursue their dream. 


Jeremiah took a trip to Mount Athos a mountain on the peninsula of the same name in the region of Halkidiki, northern Greece called  'Ayios Oros', the Holy Mountain, home to 20 Eastern Orthodox monasteries. Only males are allowed to live and visit this sacred 'Garden of the Virgin'. This is where Jeremiah brought back the best architectural designs he could find, whilst Lavrentio started to gather stones and other building materials. Construction began in 1612, however the plans were so ambitious that the monastery wasn't finished in the brothers lifetime. It was in 1834 under Turkish rule that their predecessors completed their work.


The church was built in the Byzantine style noted for its rich use of ornamental domes, colourful mosaics, icon painting and lavish decorations  it is dedicated to the 'Holy Trinity'. Its impressive frontage has a high bell tower an addition built in 1863. Two chapels one dedicated to the  'Zoodochos Pigi' - the source of life. The other to Ioannis Theologos (St John the Divine who wrote the Book of Revelations). If you visit you will find that most of the monastery cells are locked albeit, the buildings are slowly being restored, one houses the olive oil factory, the oil can be purchased and the proceeds go to the restoration work. This is also one of the only Monasteries on Crete that tries to preserve real monastic life to some degree, as monastic life has lost its appeal and the monasteries of Crete only have a few monks (or nuns) still living in them. Ayia Triada used to be an important religious school and has enough space for several hundred monks although nowadays only 4 or 5 live there. By the entrance is a small museum with vestments, relics and ancient manuscripts, most dating from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and icons which are significantly older. In the grounds are benches placed under the shade of orange trees and of course no monastery would be without its cats which seem to breed at an alarming rate.




As if the solitude, sacrifices and suffering of the monastic life was not enough to endure, the crippling attacks by pirates made things just too much to bare here in this remote region of the  peninsula. It is believed that during the beginning of the Venetian rule of Crete the monks abandoned their monastery below close to the sea and in the cool of the gorge and moved up much higher to a safer place where they built a truly monastic fort! Surrounded by a thick rectangular wall some 40 x 50 metres, whose four corners feature square towers with embrasures (an opening for a gun or bow & arrow in a wall or parapet) and scorchers. Which were used in defence, by pouring boiling water on the attacking enemy.


In the centre of the monastery yard stands the church, dedicated to the 'Mistress of the Angels' the Virgin Mary. The frontage has a very impressive monster head sculpted by Venetian craftsmen. There are also two chapels, one dedicated to St. John the Hermit, founder of the Ayios Ioannis monastery and the other to the 'Ayii Deka' The Holy Ten (the most revered of Cretan saints regarded as martyrs).  Most of the impressive icons and relics were destroyed in 1821 when the barbaric Turkish pirates burnt down this and many other monasteries and butchered the monks. Today only two monks remain in the monastery, it also houses a small museum.


A path to the left leads you to the steps and the start of the decent that enters an impressive and majestic gorge called 'Avlaki'. Nearby is a hermit cave called 'Arkoudiotissa' 'she bear' named after a huge so called, bear-shaped stalagmite which is found inside, albeit, after visiting I would suggest it looks similar to a praying monk with white hair and a long white beard - nothing like a bear! Caves such as this served as places of worship long before monasteries and churches were built, this and other caves found in the area were used by hermits. 


Inside the Bear Cave it is large low and stark with sturdy stalactites and stalagmites and a substantial bathing reservoir in the centre, which was probably used for baptisms and was thought to be dedicated to the goddess Artemis. Built inside and to the left of the cave is a small church.


After about a 20-30 mins walk down hill and stops all the way, you arrive at the amazing and abandoned Ayios Ioannis monastery also known as 'Moni Katholikou'. This monastery was built during the 6th-7th century on the side of this steep gorge in the heart of the rugged landscape, this is thought to probably be the oldest monastery on Crete.  As mentioned the founder St. John the Hermit, carved into rock with only the western side made of stone, there is an imposing stone bridge about 50m long and 15m wide spanning in front of the monastery, joining the two gorges at a height of 30 metres, the bridge originally was used as the monastery's yard.


The largest of the caves at a depth of 135 metres approached down 150 steps carved into the rock is where St. John spent a life of seclusion and remained until his death. Its opening is 2 x 1.8 metre is situated to the right of the ruined monastery church.

If you have time and would like to explore this area further continue on past the bridge and follow the rough path, which after 30mins (albeit don't forget the walk back up!) will lead you to the rocky shoreline where the monastery's small harbour was once located hewn from the rock this looks to be an ancient boathouse.




Ayia Triada is 16km from Hania on the Hania  - Paxinos - Ayia Triada road on the way to the airport. In Paxinos (Gallagado), is the abandoned Byzantine monastery of Ayios Ioannis Eleimon. The cloister is evident within this fortress style monastery.




Korakies is located in a most enviable position high on a hillside on the Akrotiri Peninsula with a  particularly breathtaking sight of the Bay of Souda and a glorious 360 degree panoramic view. A couple of kilometres outside Hania again on your way to the airport, a road branches off to the village of Korakies, where you find this beautiful convent. The original name of the convent was Ayios Ioannis o Vitas. But there is no information about who Vitas actually was. He was presumably the founder of the convent, or perhaps a benefactor who had renovated the convent. Today it is dedicated to Ayios Ioannis (St. John the Baptist), and is simply called 'The Convent' or 'The Convent of Korakies'. Its church has two naves, one dedicated to St. John the Baptist and one to Ayios Yeorgios (St. George). It is not known with certainty, when the convent was founded, but it existed as a convent as early as in the Venetian and Turkish reign, when the young girls sought refuge here to avoid persecution. 


During this era the convent had more than 100 nuns. However, the rebellion against the Turks in 1821 saw the convent destroyed, the nuns murdered and its lands and property placed under Gouvernetou Monastery, where it still belongs. It was rebuilt in about 1840 but was destroyed again during the rebellion of 1866.


The scientist Vittorio Simonelli visited Crete in 1893. In his report he gives a vivid description of the conditions in Korakies village at that time. "We rode up the slopes north of the Souda bay and approached the village of Korakies, situated on the Akrotiri plateau. To every intact house there are at least ten ruined - a typical example of the Turkish way of upholding law and order in Crete. But we also had a great example of the local people's hospitality, as everyone wanted us to spend the hot midday hours in precisely their home and to eat 'staka' - a mixture of flour and boiled milk, which can be quite tasty, if you have got nothing else." 
The convent was rebuilt once more. At the end of the 19th century one of the nuns lived for a longer period of time with the English ambassadors wife in Athens, where she was taught embroidery. Since then the convent has been well-known for its beautiful embroideries, which can still be seen in its small museum and purchased in its shop.




One kilometre north of Kolymbari along the peninsula of Spatha is the Gonia Monastery (25km from Hania). This fortress monastery has a commanding view over the gulf of Hania. Founded at the beginning of the 17th century and the main church and chapels are surrounded by a courtyard and is dedicated to 'Our Lady Odigitria'. The monks' cells are situated around this courtyard along with the abbot's quarters, the refectory, and storehouses. The Gonia Monastery has an important collection of precious post-Byzantine icons, relics, and other rare religious treasures. Numerous inscriptions on the walls testify to the historical importance of this monastery with icons and assorted relics which are kept in a small museum. 


This monastery as many others has tales to tell of the heroic feat of the fight against the Turkish invasion, a cannonball lodged in the wall on the side facing the sea is a reminder of those assaults. Opposite the fountain a track leads behind and above the monastery where you will find the single-aisled 14th century church of the 'Panayia' Virgin Mary with spectacular views.

Outside the monastery is a strict no shorts sign, this normally only applies to beachwear - but be warned!




The Panayias Chrisoskalitissa Monastery is 38km south of Kastelli, on the west coast of Crete, 71km from Hania. The name of 'Panayias Chrisoskalitissa' the Golden-Step Monastery of the Holy Mary, is a historical monument built on a rock close to the sea, where the icon of the Holy Mary, is devoutly worshipped and is allegedly a thousand years old.  Its name came from a traditional legend telling that one of the 90 stairs to the top of the monastery is golden but only a person without sin can see it. Founded on the ruins of another monastery named Ayios Nikolaos. The first information regarding that monastery comes from around 1855 when the Reverend Manassis Glynias, a monk who was consecrated a bishop came to live in the area and gave the monastery a new lease of life. He instigated the building of new cells and storerooms, and some fifteen nuns from nearby retreats move into the monastery. 


In 1894 a new church was build and decorated with paintings of saints. In 1900 the monastery ceased to exist officially and its property was sold, albeit the candles never stopped burning, thanks to the faith and patience of a few devout nuns that never left. In 1955 an amazing priest, Father Nektarios together with a handful of nuns has kept up the buildings and the tradition of the monastery.




The monastery of Preveli is superbly located above the Libyan sea, it is situated 37 km south of Rethymnon and can be found on the road between Lefkoyia and Asomatos in the south of the island. The monastery consists of two separated parts, 'Pisso Monastiri' (meaning behind) and 'Kato Monastiri' (meaning lower). The first monastery you come to is the ruined remains of the16th century Kato Moni falling apart little by little every year, some of the cells still have walls but they have no roofs. The church, of 'Ayios Ioannis o Prodromos' which was dedicated to John the Baptist, actually has a roof, but has suffered greatly, yet the fountain at the entrance still flows as well as ever. Now fenced in for safety. Another monastery torched by the Turks the Abbot decided to seek out safety higher uphill in the 19th century.


Some 2 kilometres further on, set in an imposing landscape, you will see 'Pisso Monastiri', most distinguished to its visitors, dedicated to 'Ayios Ioannis o Theologos'. The existing buildings are not the original ones, but what is left from the Turks destruction and the later modifications and extensions. This monastery above all has suffered greatly from countless raids and looting resulting in the loss of precious historical documents that could shed light on its illustrious past. Carved on the monastery's fountain is the year 1701. With a magnificent view out to sea and it's seclusion it is in sharp contrast with it turbulent history. It frequently served as a refuge for rebels and even as a base for their operations due to its isolated position playing an important role in Cretan revolts against the occupying forces. 


As well as the Germans during W.W.II they plundered it in retaliation for helping the defeated Allied troops leave the island from its beaches below. There is a beautiful church and interesting modest museum that house some splendid treasures. There are lots of legends concerning the foundation of the monastery, which are believed to have started during the Venetian occupation of the island as well as often conflicting stories of a number of its monks activities making the monastery one of the richest of western Crete. 


The characteristic rock of Limni, where the British submarines used to tie up their small craft during the evacuation of the allied troops.



Built in the 16th century the monastery of Arkadi is located on a low plateau 22 km southeast of Rethymnon and posses an impressive Venetian baroque church building. It buildings are fortress-like in style with the main one housing the monastic cells, the warehouses where the agricultural products were stored inside and even the stables, this is were its occupants could find refuge in times of trouble.


The elaborate central entrance was restored just four years after the 1866 explosion (see below). It leads to the interior court, through a vaulted passage. In the middle of the courtyard, stands the impressive church, with its two naves dedicated to Saint Constantine and Saint Helen. The monastery was completed in 1587, with its façade clearly showing the different development of Cretan art during the 16th and 17th centuries. In the south-west corner of the church, you can still see a section of the burnt icons that survived the terrible holocaust. The church is surrounded by a large and roomy are and the vaulted passages with their row of arches have retained their opulence. The cells on the three sides of the court and the communal rooms on the north side are impressively austere.


Its history goes back to Byzantine times, when a monk, thought to have been named 'Arkadios', founded the monastery. By the 16th century the monastery was already playing an important role in the cultural life of Crete. 

The Turkish invasion reduced its cultural activities, but the Arkadi Monastery was able to recover quickly and received a unique privilege among Greek monasteries - the Turks allowed the ringing of its bells.

The monastery also played an important role in the fight against the Turks, when around  20,000 men
of the Turkish Army surrounded the monastery in November 1866, 300 men and 600 hundred women and children who had taken refuge in it fought rather than surrender.

When the walls were breached the Turks began to massacre these poor frightened people. One of the rebels named Kostis Giamboudakis blew up the powder magazine and the explosion reduced the monastery to a pile of rubble the explosion killed nearly everyone, including the Turks. This heroic feat is considered one of the greatest in Cretan history and has turned the Arkadi remains a symbol of Cretan defiance.

There's a museum in the monastery with many impressive relics of the fighting and some beautiful icons. Many efforts have been made to restore the monastery in the last year and as with most of the monasteries less than a handful of monks still reside here.






 More Round the Island pages
: Beaches - Western Crete : Apokoronas : Hania Town : Kournas Lake : Aptera :
: Frangokastello : Gramvousa : Spinalonga : Monasteries
: Phaestos : Knossos:



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