When you visit Patmos, one of the most beautiful islands in the Dodecanese, its imprint on your soul remains long after you leave. It becomes an echo you take with you, to infuse the rest of your life with the same sense of timeless serenity. And Patmos only needs a few hours to get you hooked on its unique vibe. You’ll fall in love with towns that seem built within castle walls, their winding streets shaded by vaulted archways supporting balconies and courtyards just above. No matter where you look, there’s more to what you’ll see. Opulent historical homes are hidden behind plain unassuming facades, but step within for a tour and you’ll find indoor wells of unknown depths collecting rainwater, works of art, a blacksmith’s long unused furnace. Follow a handful of stone steps to a mystical cave that changed history – and still has scholars and theologians fervently attempting to interpret the manuscript and prophesies divined and penned within its eerie chamber. Hike up through town and pass through a gate that will take you back a thousand years, to treasures and relics and a cathedral unparalleled in the world. Then follow a unique network of paths to hike through a cultural tour of this stunning island to combine ecotourism and cultural activities. Top it off by taking a dip in crystal-clear exotic waters before sailing to a network of nearby islets that play a crucial role in the local ecosystem. Sight-seeing, sports and sacred locations – Patmos hands you everything you need to find sanctuary – physically, mentally and spiritually.
Spiritual Patmos – The Cave of the Apocalypse and the Monastery of St. John Theologian
Patmos is proud of many sites and attractions, but if you want to experience the exact place where history changed, where Patmos began its journey as the Patmos known and loved by thousands each year, then make your way to the Cave of the Apocalypse. Located between the towns of Hora and Skala, visit this astounding site and you’ll be able to feel the charge in the air as soon as you climb the few stone steps and go inside. The significance of the cave dates back to 95 AD, when St. John the Theologian fled persecution and sought sanctuary in Patmos. And in Patmos, in this cave, he changed everything. Because it is within this very cave that he divined the Book of Revelation and predicted the signs leading to the Apocalypse. And as you’ll stand within the eerie silence of the cave’s chamber, you’ll get a glimpse of the Saint’s life. Admire the unique geological formations within the cave. It has a number of boulders that almost float down, that look as fluffy and weightless as a cloud hovering above the altar, icons and candles adorning the cave walls.
Tour the cave chamber and you’ll find what looks like a rip in the stone – this is where religious texts say St. John heard God’s voice telling him the secrets of the Book of Revelation, booming through the gap in the cave’s stone wall. Nearby you’ll see a shelf made of rock which was used by Prohoros, the Saint’s student and scribe, to record everything St. John said about the Apocalypse. And beyond you’ll see the small rock ledges that St. John used as support as he prayed. Regardless of faith, the sense of serenity and peace in this cave is palpable – take your time to soak in the hushed mysticism of the cave. Admire the many icons that sparkle in the gold light shining from forests of lit candles. And you’ll feel the weight of history there – history that changed Patmos and led it to flourish within Christendom, and a history born of predictions that to this day are analyzed by scholars and priests alike.
From the Cave, make your way to Hora town and then up the hill to the Monastery of St. John the Theologian. Admire the monastery’s castle-like Byzantine architecture, with a turreted outer wall that stretches almost to the sky designed to keep people out as well as in and an enormous main gate. You’ll feel like you stepped back in time to a place where this castle housed both monks and warriors, embraced spirituality and scholarship as well as cut-throat politics. You’re not wrong, because the Monastery was a place of contradictions. Built in 1088, the Monastery was founded by Ossios Christodoulos after he received a Chryssobull decree from the Byzantine Emperor Alexi Komninos granting Patmos fiscal independence – thus making both the island and the Monastery a key player in the political arena from Byzantine times and beyond. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Monastery of St. John Theologian fostered spiritual scholarship, navigated political intrigue between warring Venetian and Ottoman empires, and opened its gates to offer refuge to Patmos’ local population during pirate raids.
You’ll feel this sense of political and religious power from the moment you reach the Monastery’s main gate – and look straight up. Because from the stone rafters right above you, scalding oil and boiling water was poured down on invading pirates and warriors by desperate monks in a final attempt to keep locals safe. As you walk through this huge door to be welcomed in the Monastery’s now-peaceful courtyard, remember that this gate was once called Fonias – the Murderer – because along with serenity, the monastery had to brutally fight to protect its people and Patmos itself. But then as soon as you step within those soaring stone walls, you’ll find a beautiful courtyard with flowing vines and flowers, peaceful monks in meditation, and crowds of visitors taking in this unique aura.
Don’t miss out on a quiet tour of the Cathedral – an architectural, religious and historical gem that will infuse you with a sense of history rarely found elsewhere. Admire one-of-a-kind 12th, 16th, and 19th C frescoes, a stunning, intricately hand-carved wooden altar from 1820, and a three-part style of Byzantine architecture that seems to embrace visitors within its dark stone walls. From the Cathedral, head to the Sacristy which doubles as a museum. Tour the exhibits and admire ancient icons, religious vessels and relics. It’s the biggest Sacristy in the Aegean and holds unique treasures, including the 11thC mosaic icon of St. Nicholas, the actual Chryssobull issued to Ossios Christodoulos and the 6thC Purple Codex famous for the purple color of the parchment itself, gold and silver text, and one of the most important manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark. From there, head to the Monastery’s Library, where you’ll admire 1200 religious manuscripts, more than 3000 books of unprecedented historical value and importance, as well as Ossios Christodoulos’ many books which also constituted the origins of the Monastery’s now vital and immense collection. If you’re an art enthusiast, you’ll be delighted with the Monastery’s workshop. This beautiful room is where all icons and artifacts are brought for restoration, so ask the craftsmen for their secrets – both about the technical process and little-known facts about the artifacts themselves.
Hora Town – medieval beauty that beckons you
If you’re an architecture and history buff, you’ll revel in the beauty of this stunning medieval town. Hora Town hugs the monastery, creating an extra ring of fortification around the religious castle-like monastery. This town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well, and you’ll understand why as soon as you wander through its many winding streets and admire Patmos’ one-of-a-kind architecture. Widely believed to be the most beautiful medieval town in Greece, Hora will beguile you from the very beginning of your tour with its many mysteries and secret gems. Begin exploring by following Hora’s historical roots – visit the homes along the winding cobblestone streets right outside the Monastery’s imposing walls. These low, square stone homes were built by craftsmen who built the Monastery itself and are the oldest in town. From there head to the Alotina district and witness the charm of this ancient neighborhood built by refugees fleeing Constantinople after the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453. Then go to Kritika district where Cretans found a new home after fleeing Crete in 1669.
And as you make your way through Hora’s oldest neighborhoods, you’ll see the unique charm of this medieval village. Different architectural styles sit side by side, with large Neoclassicals next to modest homes. But they all have the same fortress-like feel, with white or gray stone walls, turret-shaped sections, Gothic windows, external stone staircases and a distinct castle-type aura as walls are draped with the greenest ivy or brightly colored flowers. And you’ll see the fortification behind the plan of the town as soon as you realize these homes were built wall-to-wall, with balconies touching the roof of the houses just down the hill, creating a maze of clustered neighborhoods designed to throw off pirates storming streets and invading armies rushing up the hill to the Monastery. Tiny alleys meander under vaulted ceilings and arcades that support adjoining balconies above, turning quiet streets into dark eerie tunnels. Notice all the unique features that adorn Patmos’ windows and doorways, turning everyday doorframes and gates into works of art that seems riddled with secret codes and symbols. This style, called Mandomata and unique to Patmos, boasts a combination of crosses and Byzantine symbols carved in doors and windows to ward off evil – and will take you back to the days of medieval superstition and suspicion.
But the real mysteries and secrets lie beyond these mystical doors, inside average-looking homes where wealthy families kept the facades of mansions modest and unassuming to misdirect greedy pirates. Once inside though, the true architecture of Patmos will reveal its many mysteries. You’ll be astounded by the vaulted ceilings sweeping across open-space ground floors, with archways that turn everyday rooms into Medieval arcades. Tour the island’s famous mansions – you’ll find indoor stone wells hiding in living rooms, their depths unknown to this day. In nooks beside kitchens you’ll find blacksmith’s furnaces, carved into stone walls, a throwback to the Middle Ages. Wander through dining areas and you’ll be enchanted by furniture and silverware dating back to 17thC Russia. Peek into bedrooms and you’ll be awestruck by 15thC icons, a work-of-art crib from 1913, and a hand-carved wooden console that’s a unique masterpiece. With the eeriness of its vaulted streets, unique architecture from Asia Minor not found on islands and which has been painstakingly preserved, and many secrets hiding behind mystical doors, it’s no wonder Patmo’s Hora is considered the Princess of all of Greece’s main towns, with the sturdiest homes in the Aegean.
The perfect blend of ecosports, nature and culture
If you love hiking, walking and mountain biking, Patmos offers all you adrenalin junkies an ideal way of exploring its many treasures. Follow Patmos’ Paths of Culture, which combines a network of ancient footpaths with modern ecosports, and cultural and natural sites. Clearly marked, you’ll enjoy biking, walking or hiking your way across centuries’-old footpaths – and along the way get a perfect tour of Patmos’ many treasures.
The most popular route from Skala to Hora and back takes you through lush pine and cypress forests to the Cave of the Apocalypse and the historic Patmiada Seminary founded in 1713 and an important academic center. Take some time and explore Skala Town, built on a tiny strip of land connecting two almost separate parts of Patmos. Explore Skala’s police building – a perfect example of Italian architecture – as well as Neoclassical homes. Archaeology enthusiasts will love the trail from Skala to Kastelli. Hike up – or take your mountain bike – to the top of Kastelli where you’ll explore the ancient city of Kastelli. Remains date back to the 3rdC BC, so explore the Hellenistic wall made of volcanic trachyte rock, Roman fortifications, and evidence of the local Temple of Apollo. If you prefer to hike close to the sea, follow the Aporthianos footpath that begins right at Patmos’ famous windmills at the very top of the highest hill in Hora Town. Make sure you take in the beauty of these stunning 16thC stone windmills that have been completely restored and are now fully functioning then hike or mountain bike up the mountain and take in awe-inspiring views of Patmos bay.
Nature lovers will rejoice in the stunning wetlands and well protected ecosystem around Grikos and Petra. If you love hiking while taking in nature’s treasures, follow the footpath from Hora to Grikos Bay to Petra and Diakofti. The lake and wetlands here are a protected site where a vibrant ecosystem of wild ducks, swans and heron seek refuge. Make it a point to explore a unique rock formation that also played a pivotal role in Patmos’ history – Petra tis Kallikatsou, or Kallikatsou Boulder. Riddled with natural and manmade caves, it served as a temple for Aphrodite and then was taken over by monks who lived in tiny caves. You can still see the stone steps carved by monks, as well as natural reservoirs that collected rainwater and manmade niches for votive candles and other religious offerings – both during Christianity and in Antiquity. It’s a pivotal archaeological site with remains dating back to 1100 BC. Then hike or bike your way from Stavros to Prasovouno to Psili Ammos and back for a challenging route that will take you through a ravine, stunning cliffs and a lush forest. If you’d rather take a more relaxed approach to exploring Patmos’ beautiful countryside, follow the ancient paths that take you from Hora to Kipi and the Holy Monastery of the Annunciation. Here you’ll meander through lemon, orange and carob tree orchards, enchanting vineyards, and along an elevated path that snakes through countless wells. Avid mountain bikers and hikers will also revel in Patmos’ three mountains – Genoupas, Hondro Vouno and Profiti Ilias, the island’s highest peak.
If you’re an experienced sea kayaker, explore Patmos by rowing your way along the coastline. You’ll find isolated coves with crystal-clear green waters and exotic white-sand shores as well as more popular, well-organized beaches. Don’t miss Lambi beach up north which boasts so many colorful stones you’ll think a treasure-chest full of gems was emptied across the shores and into the water – and in the dark, under the moonlight, the brightly colored rocks sparkle underwater. As you row along the coastline, visit Koumaro forest near Lambi – one of only three surviving Arbutus forests in Greece. Then make your way to a tiny island across from Grikos Bay where you’ll be able to wander along with herds of wild goats. Make sure your travels also take you to Arki Islets, a network of tiny islands that not only boast pristine exotic beaches but also a vital ecosystem. Wild birds, lizards and flora create a unique ecosystem around Patmos, supported by a pristine habitat. Don’t miss out on the island’s environmental research center on Arki Islet. Then hike through the islands to find secret coves perfect for swimming.
Patmos offers visitors a perfect sanctuary, so soak in the peace and serenity this stunning island exudes by exploring the natural and cultural beauty Patmos is famous for. Exotic beaches, tiny islets whose cliffs seem to flutter as they shelter birds, unique forests, and winding ancient footpaths revived for modern ecosports. Dark caves that changed world history, a castle-like monastery guarding treasures, vaulted streets between medieval neighborhoods, and doors with secret codes. Close your eyes, breathe it in and be ready to explore. You’ll be changed forever.
Written for ecotourism-greece.com by Christina Condomaros