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About Patmos Island

Patmos has been officially declared the Holy Island by ministerial decree, and signs at the port sternly warn against nudism and other indecent behaviors, emphasizing a commitment to maintaining its sanctity. The historical and religious significance of Patmos is unmistakable. It is a member of the Dodecanese group of islands in the Aegean, consisting of 12 islands that, through their unique past, have cultivated an extraordinary and captivating collection of culture and architecture in the Mediterranean basin. The island, located merely 40 miles from the Turkish coast, boasts the historic Monastery of St. John, situated in its capital, Chora.

In ancient times, the inhabitants of Patmos revered Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, who, according to legend, raised the island from the sea. Orestes sought refuge on Patmos, building a grand temple to Artemis to escape pursuit for the alleged murder of his mother, Clytemnestra.

During St. John's exile from Ephesus, he established a Christian colony on Patmos and purportedly wrote the Book of Revelations in a grotto overlooking the main town. In the 4th century CE, as Christianity spread with the Byzantine Empire, a basilica replaced the razed Temple of Artemis. The fortified Monastery of St. John was constructed in the 11th century on a hill overlooking the entire island. While monks exclusively inhabited the island until recent centuries, news of its austere rocky mountains and serene beaches eventually spread. A traveler, expressing the allure of Patmos, remarked, “I had fixed my trip to Patmos for the 11th of August at two o’clock in the morning. The nearest way thither is half by land and half by water. The ruins of Ephesus lie upon this road, nothing could be more inviting. It was desirable to make the long journey from Smyrna to Scala Nuova in one day to avoid the dangers arising from malaria in the Plain of Ephesus and the robbers infesting the vicinity. Hence, it was requisite to start very early and continue the journey very late.”

Present-day Patmos is lively and sophisticated, successfully striking a delicate balance between its current popularity and solemn past. The yellow flag with the black two-headed eagle serves as the age-old banner of the Byzantine Empire and Greek Orthodox Church.

The turreted walls and imposing gateway of the Monastery of St. John the Theologian give it the appearance of a fortress rather than a place of worship. Founded by St. Christodoulos in 1088, almost a millennium after St. John’s celebrated stay on the island, the memorial to St. John was transformed into a citadel with battlements and watchtowers. As you enter the courtyard, observe the 17th-century frescoes to the left, portraying stories from the Miracles and Travels of St. John The Evangelist, written by John’s disciple Prochoros. To the upper right, a fresco depicts St. John’s duel with the local priest of Apollo named Kynops. When the Saint threw Kynops into the water at Skala, the heathen was turned into stone. The rock still rests in the harbor, and locals can point out the unfortunate heretic’s supposed resting place.

Continue to the Chapel of the Virgin Mary, adorned with original 12th-century frescoes. In 1956, tremors revealed these frescoes beneath the ones currently exhibited. The treasury guards icons, ornamented stoles, some donated by Catherine The Great of Russia, a copy of St. Mark’s Gospel, and an 8th-century Book of Job. Look for Helkomenos, an icon painted by El Greco near the end of the exhibit. The Chapel of the Holy Christodoulos houses the remains of the monastery’s illustrious founder. Shortly after Christodoulos’ death, many visitors attempted to appropriate his saintliness by carrying away his remains. In response, the monks built a marble sarcophagus and covered it with a silver reliquary.

Halfway uphill on the winding road connecting Chora and Skala (2 km from each), there is a turnoff to another monastery, the Apocalypsis, a large, white complex of interconnected buildings. Most people come here to see the Sacred Grotto of Revelation, adjacent to the church of St. Anne. In this cave, St. John dictated the Book of Revelation, the last book of the New Testament, after hearing the voice of God proclaim, “Now write what you see, what will take place hereafter.” According to legend, when God spoke to St. John, he left the ceiling of the cave with a three-pronged crack representing the Holy Trinity. Silver plating marks the spot where St. John presumably slept. In 1999, the island's historic center Chora, along with the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian and the Cave of the Apocalypse, were declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.

SKALA, built on a long, graceful arc of coastline, is a neat and colorful port that only hints at the diversity of the island’s terrain. Patmos port, Skala, did not develop until the 19th century when fear of pirates subsided, allowing people to live safely by the water. The main administrative buildings, which now house the post office and customs house, were constructed during Italian occupation (1912-1943). Today, whitewashed churches blend in with village buildings, but Skala also offers more secular features of the island, such as lively cafes, bars, tavernas, and shops. Skala’s amenities are all within a block or two of the waterfront. Small ferries dock opposite the line of cafes and restaurants, while larger vessels park in front of the imposing Italian building that houses the police and Post Office. The building borders the main square, where the banks are located. Skala is situated on a narrow part of the island, and a 10-minute walk away from the water takes you to the other side.

CHORA is visible from almost any part of Patmos, with its white houses and the majestic gray walls of the nearby Monastery of St. John the Theologian. Roam Chora’s labyrinthine streets, discovering gardens hidden behind grand doors, all nestled in the shelter of the monastery, while enjoying panoramic views of the Patmos shoreline and outlying archipelago. Due to the convoluted layout of the town, it's impossible to give precise directions. The map of Patmos, available at kiosks and tourist shops, comes with a sketchy illustration of the town. Buses travel to Chora from Skala every 10 minutes, dropping off at the top of the hill outside the town.

GRIKOU, located 5 km southwest of Skala and 5 km west of Chora, boasts a somewhat touristy beach with watersport rentals, a few hotels, and a couple of restaurants. Several buses visit daily from both Skala and Chora, making it easily accessible for tourists looking to enjoy its amenities.