Skala and Grikos
17.05.2012 - 20.05.2012 22 °C
Patmos proved to be the quintessential Greek island that we had been hoping to find. The main town, Skala, is set on a serene and tranquil harbour. The boardwalk is lined with tavernas, small shops and a main square that is the heart of local social life. Atop a high hill, overlooking the island is the village of Hora, home to the Monastery of St. John the Theologian and the Monastery of the Apocolypse. The main Monastery was established by agreement between the ruler of the day and the clergy in the 11th. century. This manuscript is housed in a museum within the monastery, along with many other pre-printing press parchments. The museum is also home to artworks, including a painting by Greco, artefacts and iconography dating back to 1 A.D.
The monastery itself is protected by fortress-like surrounds and is an imposing sight that can be seen from all corners of the island. However, the most fascinating aspect of the monastery is that it still in use today. Greek Orthodox monks live within the fortress walls and practice their faith and traditions as they have done for centuries. Eating is a communal affair, with a bell rung to call the monks for lunch each day. The monastery bells and monks’ chants can be heard across the island, accentuating the spiritual feeling of the island.
The main chapel within the monastery is a sight to behold. Whilst small and dark, it is frescoed from top to toe. An intricately carved, gold-plated altar runs the length of one wall from floor to ceiling. Unfortunately no photos could be taken inside the chapel itself.
Part way down the hill from the main monastery is the Monastary of the Apocalyspe. This monastery has been built around and the cave where St. John wrote The Book of Revelations. The chapel in this complex is very small and set inside the cave itself. We happened to visit on a Sunday during mass. We were drawn into the chapel by the sound of male voices, chorusing in a Gregorian chant style. Inside a small congregation of not more than 30 locals were crammed inside the chapel, mostly standing as there were very few seats available. The mass was quite literally a moving feast as parishioners circumnavigated the cave ‘rooms’ within the chapel to receive the sacrament and pay homage to icons that were of particular significance to them. We felt quite humbled to be part of the service.
We spent a spiritual day of a different kind at Grikos, a small seaside village surrounding a picturesque horseshoe-shaped bay. We spent a lazy day exploring the coastline, lazing on the beach and lunching at a seaside taverna (the only one open for business at this early stage of the tourist season). We pretty much had the beach to ourselves, aside from the yachties who moored for lunch and the odd tourist who wandered past. On a small hill above Grikos rests a little chapel built on the ancient public baths where John is said to have baptised Patmians.
The houses of Patmos are whitewashed affairs that cascade down hillsides. Veggies, citrus trees, geraniums, bougainvillea and roses in almost every yard. The seawater is crystal clear. We could see the sea floor in the main harbour that was deep enough to accommodate a large cruise ship that sailed in for a few hours at one point. Religious tourism is a major source of income. Our affable hotel owner, Theo, said, “thank God John chose Patmos (to write Revelations) instead of Leros (a neighbouring island)”. An Aussie-born waitress, who said she came for a holiday and “did a Shirley Valentine” told us that although Patmos does not see a lot of tourists, those who do come make an active choice to be there. And that they were all the nicer for it as they often had to go out of their way to get there.
Yesterday evening we sailed to Samos, where we are only stopping for one night as we head back to Turkey this evening. We are staying on the harbour and had beautiful sunset views of the town as we strolled the promenade last night.