Amorgos is one of the most stunningly beautiful islands in the Aegean. Everything in Amorgos is saturated with tradition, wild natural beauty, stunning views, and unusually lush vegetation for the standards of the Cyclades, of which Amorgos is part.
One of Amorgos’ most famous and impressive sights is none other than the Monastery of Hozoviotissa, or just “Hozoviotissa,” as the locals refer to it. The monastery is the second oldest in all of Greece and is a masterpiece of architecture that merges with Amorgos’ wildest, most remote beauty: its cliffsides.
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There is a lot to see in Hozoviotissa, including some of the most unforgettable views of one of the most gorgeous islands of the Cyclades. To fully enjoy your visit to Amorgos’ most important and sacred site, read on to learn everything you should know about Hozoviotissa before actually going there!
Where is Hozoviotissa?
The Monastery is roughly 1 km from Amorgos’ Chora. You can go by car or on foot. If you go by car, it’s just a kilometer until you reach its 350 steps. Beyond that, you’ll need to go on foot by going up the steps.
If you choose to go on foot, the road leading there is around 1.5 km, and then you will also need to go up its steps. Calculate around 30 minutes worth of walking at a leisurely pace.
You also need to keep visiting hours in mind: Hozoviotissa is open to visitors from 8 am to 1 pm in the morning and 5 pm to 7 pm in the evening. Before you go there, ensure you adhere to the dress code requirements: men need to have trousers on, and women need to have long skirts.
The reason is that such clothing symbolizes respect and a level of formality entering this place of worship and dedication to God. Keep in mind that the clothing needs to be loose rather than form-fitting, or it won’t be considered respectful. This goes for men and women alike.
The legend surrounding the Monastery of Hozoviotissa
The monastery is extremely old. It was built in the 11th century, and it’s no wonder it has its own legends! According to tradition, sometime in the 9th century, some monks from Palestine were fleeing to Greece to save a sacred icon of the Virgin Mary. The monks were in a boat that led them to the shores of Aghia Anna beach, and they built a church to house it.
In another version of the legend, they didn’t make it themselves to Amorgos. Instead, they were caught, and the icon was taken from them in Cyprus. It was broken in half and tossed into the sea. However, both pieces were delivered to the shores of Aghia Anna beach intact and together. Monks already living on the island collected the icon and built a church to house it.
A little later, a huge rock is said to have parted to reveal a secret chamber with treasure. There are different accounts of whether the treasure was there and whether it was used to build the monastery- but that is part of the charm!
Hozoviotissa’s icon is therefore considered miraculous and attracts many people for pilgrimage on August 15, for the holiday of the Ascension of the Virgin Mary, one of the most important holidays in the Greek Orthodox calendar.
A brief history of the Monastery of Hozoviotissa
There’s consensus that the monastery was founded in 1088 by the Byzantine emperor Alexios I Komnenos. He founded the monastery to further honor the sacred icon found in the 800s. This icon is still on display in the monastery today!
The monastery was a religious hub during the Byzantine Empire. When the Venetians took over control of Amorgos in the late 1200s, they also respected and further embellished the monastery. This is evident in its architectural additions that you will see when you visit and walk around its winding corridors and pathways.
Even when the Ottoman Empire took over the Cyclades in the 1500s, the monastery continued to thrive and grow. It generally was untouched and evaded attacks to this day, which allowed it to be in pristine condition. It remains as it was when first built, with the passage of history only adding to it, not subtracting.
The monastery is still active today, though only with three monks. These three monks, though, are more than active in preserving and enhancing the monastery as a place of worship and as a living cache of history.
What to see and do in Hozoviotissa Monastery
The most iconic and impressive feature of the Hozoviotissa Monastery is that it is built to merge with the cliffside and surrounding environment. It’s eight stories high but relatively narrow, to better fit in the crack in the cliff that had been chosen as its building site. All the floors and the nearly hundred rooms of the monastery are connected with narrow corridors, archways, tunnels, and stairways, creating a mystical, almost magical feel of ascension.
Explore the monastery
Walking around in the monastery gives you a unique feeling you have to experience for yourself. The monastery was built to be fully functional for the monks, like a tiny independent city. So wander around and see the various ancient and newer cells, the ancient bread pantry, the kitchens, the woodshed, the chamber with the huge jars for oil and wine, the water wells, and more.
Going through each chamber through narrow staircases and stone or marble archways saturated with the fragrance of incense gives a sense of traveling back in time to the Byzantine, Venetian, or Ottoman eras.
Visit the church
Walk through a low marble doorway into the staircase that will lead you up to the chapel. Within the chapel, you will see all the ancient and precious icons, including one of legend and other famous ones from the 15th and 16th centuries. Each little part of this chapel represents a part of history, so even if you don’t observe the faith, you will be treated to a very experiential cultural and historical museum.
Talk with the monks
The monks preserving the monastery will greet you with warmth and hospitality. They will treat you to a glass of honey and raki and offer you a loukoumi, or Turkish delight. As you sit with them to enjoy the treat, have a chat and let them tell you themselves about the monastery and other things the conversation may bring. Use the time to relax and let the calm of the monastery imbue your senses before moving on.
Enjoy the views
The monastery is famous for its breathtaking views of the Aegean and some of the islands. Each glimpse of the view from every window offers a different angle for you to enjoy. But the pinnacle of vistas lies at the topmost balcony that offers a sweeping, endless view of the Aegean in a way that will have you daydreaming for a long time. The monastery is an experience, and the stunning views are only part of the spiritual element you can only understand exists once you are there.
Hit the beaches
The beach of Aghia Anna, where legend says the miraculous icon was found, is a gorgeous sandy beach with azure waters you don’t want to miss. Keep in mind it’s very popular for that reason, so you will probably need to share!
If you’re looking for a more secluded, rewarding experience, you can go the extra mile and find the beach below the monastery. To get there, you need to go by boat or on foot as you descend from the monastery.
Just keep in mind that it’s a 40-minute walk on foot. If you’re feeling especially adventurous and have endurance, you can also swim to that beach from Aghia Anna. But make sure you have reserves, as the swim is quite long! Once you get there, you will be rewarded with the most gorgeous waters and the seclusion of enjoying them without crowds.
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Participate in the procession in November
If you are of the rare few visitors that opt to visit the islands in November, don’t miss out on the grand celebration of Hozoviotissa on November 21st, the holiday of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary. A big procession takes place of the monastery’s holy icon, followed by a huge feast in the monastery for everyone that participated.