Patmos, Greece

The Greek island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea is small yet famous as the site where the Book of Revelation was written in the 1st century AD. Start your day at one of the world’s best fortified Byzantine monasteries and finish on the sands of a sun-kissed beach.

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1 Tendering into Skala on Patmos, Greece

The island of Patmos is a popular port-of-call during cruises of Greece and Turkey. Most large ships anchor in the natural harbor and tender their passengers into the town of Skala. Plan to disembark early. Although the island is small, there is plenty to see. Among the highlights are an 11th century monastery resembling a castle, a cave where the Book of Revelation was written, scenic overlooks next to picturesque windmills plus charming, cobblestone streets filled with whitewashed buildings.

Patmos Harbour, Skála, Patmos 855 00, Greece

2 Archipelago of Patmos, Greece

Greece has up to 6,000 islands depending upon who is counting. Only about 225 are inhabited. Each island is assigned to an archipelago grouping depending on geographical location. Patmos is part of the Dodecanese complex, also called the Southern Sporades. These 165 islands are in the Aegean Sea off the western coast of Turkey. Patmos is only 13 square miles with a 39 mile coastline. Together with a handful of sibling islets, Patmos has a population of about 3,000 residents.

Skála, Patmos 855 00, Greece

3 Whitewashed Homes Encircling Monastery of St. John at Chora on Patmos, Greece

Less than three miles from the port is the historic epicenter of Patmos: the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian. The Byzantine, polygonal fortress is perched on a 325 foot hill. In the foreground are the whitewashed houses of Chora, the second largest yet oldest town on the island. Construction of the community (also called Hora) started in the early 12th century. The homes were built into the hill encircling the monastery. For added defense against attackers, the stacked rows had high walls, narrow passageways and locked gates. Most of what you see today is contemporary. The oldest surviving home dates from 1522.

Monastery of St. John, Chora, Patmos 855 00, Greece

4 Exterior of Monastery of St. John in Chora on Patmos, Greece

You are standing below a former temple dedicated to Artemis, the Greek goddess of hunting and chastity. In the late 1st century, Saint John the Theologian wrote the Book of Revelation here. This was also the site of the Grand Royal Basilica, built in the 4th century and destroyed by the Muslims centuries later. All of these were incorporated into the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian on the hill. The monastery was established in 1088, finished at the turn of the 12th century and expanded several times through the 20th century. Most striking is the exterior of what the founder called “The Fortress.” The citadel’s curtain walls and flanking towers rise 52 to 60 feet before being capped with battlements. Equally imposing and impressive is the mammoth size: 174 by 230 feet. This is one of the best examples of a fortified monastery from the Middle Ages. In 1999, the 900 year old Monastery of St. John and the 1,900 year old Holy Cave of the Apocalypse were declared to be a combined UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Monastery of St. John, Chora, Patmos 855 00, Greece

5 John of Patmos Mosaic at Monastery of St. John in Chora on Patmos, Greece

Above the entry of the Monastery of St. John the Theologian is a mosaic of the namesake. Alternative names include John the Divine and John of Patmos. He authored the Book of Revelation. The last book of the New Testament proclaims his apocalyptic vision of the disasters signaling the end of time and the second coming of Jesus. At the nearby Cave of the Apocalypse where the book was written, you can also see a mosaic of John of Patmos dictating the Book of Revelation to his scribe, Prochorus.

Monastery of St. John, Chora, Patmos 855 00, Greece

6 Identity of John at Monastery of St. John in Chora on Patmos, Greece

Another mosaic at the monastery shows John holding the Book of Revelation. The debate among scholars and theologians is whether St. John the Theologian (John of Patmos) is the same as John the Apostle. Both were exiled by the Romans in the late 1st century. There is agreement the last chapter of the New Testament was written about 95-96 AD (John the Apostle died in 98-100AD). Both men also lived for a while at Ephesus located less than 50 miles by sea (where John the Apostle was buried). But analysis of the writing style suggests they were different individuals. There is additional speculation about John the Evangelist. Was he John of Patmos, John the Apostle or a third disciple of Jesus? Portrayed on the right in this mosaic is Christodoulos. More on him in a minute.

Monastery of St. John, Chora, Patmos 855 00, Greece

7 Interior of Monastery of St. John in Chora on Patmos, Greece

If you were a medieval invader, your welcome into the monastery would be a shower of hot oil. Your experience as a tourist is considerably more pleasant. You will be impressed as you walk through the Monastery of St. John. Highlights include this cobblestone courtyard, whitewashed arches, multiple chapels, numerous frescos and mosaics of religious icons, the former monks’ cells and refectory (dining room), a kitchen and bakery, saint relics, a treasury filled with priceless religious documents, art and vestiges plus a terrace offering stunning views.

Monastery of St. John, Chora, Patmos 855 00, Greece

8 Founder of Monastery of St. John in Chora on Patmos, Greece

A third mosaic illustrates St. John the Theologian on the left and Saint Christodoulos Latrinos on the right. His given name at birth in 1020 was John. After becoming a hermit, he became Christodoulos meaning Christ’s servant. For decades, he was an abbot at several monasteries. In 1088, he asked Byzantine emperor Alexius I Comnenus to give him the deserted island of Patmos. In exchange, he agreed to build a sacred shrine and monastery honoring where John wrote the Book of Revelation. Christodoulos and his group of monks did not finish construction before being driven off the island by Turkish pirates in 1092. After his death in 1093, the relics of Saint Christodoulos the Wonderworker were returned to the monastery. Notice two things about the imagery of Christodoulos. With one hand he is gifting the monastery to John the Theologian. In his other hand is a scroll. This is a chrysobull (golden bull or decree) issued by Byzantine emperor Alexios I Komnenos. It represents the deed to Patmos. The actual 1088 document is housed in the monastery’s Treasury.

Monastery of St. John, Chora, Patmos 855 00, Greece

9 Treasury and Library at Monastery of St. John in Chora on Patmos, Greece

Saint Christodoulos amassed a huge number of religious documents and objects during his extensive travels. In the will he wrote shortly before dying in 1093, he bequeathed the materials to the monastery. The collection has since swelled to 3,000 books, 900 manuscripts and 13,000 documents plus jewels, silverware, icons, vestments and relics. This priceless agglomeration is divided between the Treasury and the Library. The latter is typically closed except by special permission. But you will be amazed by the exhibits inside the Treasury (also called the monastery’s museum).

Monastery of St. John, Chora, Patmos 855 00, Greece

10 Pilgrimages to Monastery of St. John in Chora on Patmos, Greece

The powerful messages described in the Book of Revelation initially inspired and frightened thousands of Greco-Roman people. Devout converts began arriving to see where John had his inspirations. Ever since, the cave and later the monastery have been the destination for Christian pilgrimages. In 1981, the Greek Parliament designated Patmos as the Holy Island. Patmos is also called the Sacred Land of the Aegean, the Jerusalem of the Aegean and the Island of the Apocalypse.

Monastery of St. John, Chora, Patmos 855 00, Greece

11 Chapels at Monastery of St. John in Chora on Patmos, Greece

There are an unexpected ten chapels associated with the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian. Three are outside the walls. Of the seven inside, three are most noteworthy. The Katholikon (main church) is the oldest from the late 11th century. You will be impressed by the 17th century paintings of St. John’s miracles and the large wooden iconostasis. Inside the Chapel of Holy Christodoulos is the tomb of the founder, the skull of St. Thomas and pieces of the True Cross. Equally impressive are the 12th century paintings inside the Chapel of the Virgin Mary (also called Theotokos). Pictured is the Chapel of the Holy Cross, built in 1598.

Monastery of St. John, Chora, Patmos 855 00, Greece

12 Bells atop Monastery of St. John in Chora on Patmos, Greece

During the early centuries, the Monastery of St. John was under constant threat by several enemies including the Crusaders, the Arabs, the Turks and pirates. All of them coveted the monastery’s treasures. As the town of Chora grew and encircled the monastery, the residents relied on sentinels to constantly scan the horizon for potential intruders. At the first sign of danger, the monks rang the bells on The Terrace. This notified the Patmians to immediately seek refuge within the formidable monastery walls.

Monastery of St. John, Chora, Patmos 855 00, Greece

13 Terrace of Monastery of St. John in Chora on Patmos, Greece

The culmination of your visit to the Monastery of St. John is on The Terrace. You will immediately admire two sets of Byzantine carillons. The largest consists of five bells of different sizes stacked in two rows. Then, venture toward the white crenelated wall. Dare to look over the edge. The squeamish might get vertigo. Everyone else is thrilled with the incredible, bird’s-eye view of the harbor, the town of Skala and the island’s barren, hilly terrain.

Monastery of St. John, Chora, Patmos 855 00, Greece

14 History of Patmos Island, Greece

Archeologic evidence suggests this island was first populated over 5,000 years ago. According to Greek mythology, Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, convinced her father Zeus to raise the island from below the sea. It was then called Letois. Dorians lived here in the 5th and 4th centuries BC (Classical Period). Within a hundred years, the residents began building fortified walls. During the reign of Roman emperor Domitian (81 – 96 AD), political prisoners and social-dissidents were exiled here. John the Theologian was one of them. He arrived from Ephesus in 95 AD. After his death, Christianity took roots on the island until severely challenged by the Muslims in the 7th through 9th centuries. Patmos was largely uninhabited when it was given to Christodulus by emperor Alexios I Komnenos in 1088. Within a couple years, he and his monks were chased away. When his followers returned, they finished building the monastery. The population grew with war refugees from Constantinople (1453) and Candia (1669). For nearly 300 years, the island was successively controlled by the Ottomans, Venetians, Russians, Greeks, Italians and Nazis. After WWII, Patmos was independent until joining Greece in 1948.

Chora, Patmos 855 00, Greece

15 Windmills in Chora on Patmos, Greece

Another engaging landmark above Chora are three masonry windmills. Two of them were built in 1588. The third was added in 1863. They harnessed the wind blowing across the ridgeline to power large stones for grinding wheat into flour. This was sophisticated technology in the early Renaissance. They were eventually replaced first by steam and then electricity-driven processes. The windmills ceased operations in the 1950s.

Windmills, Chora, Patmos 855 00, Greece

16 Panoramic Vista from Windmills in Chora on Patmos, Greece

The three windmills on Patmos were given new purpose after their restoration in the early 21st century. One is a museum that demonstrates the old grinding stone. Another converts the wind into electricity. The third turning wheel pumps water. The trio also provide an elevated vista of this gorgeous Dodecanese island in the Aegean Sea. Enjoy the panoramic scenery of the harbor before driving or walking back to Skala.

Windmills, Chora, Patmos 855 00, Greece

17 Exploring Skala on Patmos, Greece

If you are only on Patmos for the day, be sure to save time to explore Skala. The very walkable village begins at the cruise terminal. You will find boutique shops, friendly bars, a few nightclubs plus restaurants and hotels. Nothing is fancy. But surely you will find the ideal souvenir followed by something to eat or drink at an outdoor café.

Skala 1, Skála, Patmos 855 00, Greece

18 Churches in Skala on Patmos, Greece

Many tourists routinely include church visits to their vacation itinerary because they personify an area’s history and culture. Patmos is no exception. There are many churches and former monasteries on Patmos. Most are Eastern Orthodox. The popular ones are the Church of Agia Paraskevi of Cavos, the Church of Panagia Koumana, the Monastery of Zoodochos Pigi and, in the village of Grikos, the Church of Agios Ioannis Theologos. This is the Church of Saint John the Baptist in Skala. The humble design is accented with a pair of white-washed domes and a three-bell carillon.

Church of Saint John, Skála, Patmos 855 00, Greece

19 Scenic Shoreline in Skala on Patmos, Greece

The shoreline of Skala specializes in quaint. This is in sharp contrast to the 16th century when it began evolving into a major commercial port. The inner harbor was once lined with warehouses, hustling shoremen and trading merchants. Today, as you stroll along a cement promenade encircling the harbor, you will see small colorful boats tethered against the quay and yachts in the marina. There are also daily ferries providing transportation to neighboring islands.

Skála, Patmos 855 00, Greece

20 Skala Beach in Skala on Patmos, Greece

Most Greek islands are famous for their beaches. Patmos is no exception. They range from expansive stretches of sand to isolated havens hidden in coves. This is Skala Beach, also called Agios Theologos (Saint Theologian) Beach. It is located on Skala Bay about 700 feet from the port. Enjoy a relaxing swim here before reboarding your cruise ship. Other nearby beaches to consider are Kambos (the most popular), Agriolivado (ideal for children and water sport enthusiasts), Meloi (offers campsites), Lambi (secluded with colorful pebbles) and Grikos (the longest beach). For a special treat, venture out to the islets of Arkoi and Marathi.

Agios Theologos Beach, Skála, Patmos 855 00, Greece