The monastery dedicated to Panagia Chozoviotissa, Saint protector of the island, is an admirable sample of anonymous folk architecture. “Hanging” from a steep cliff, 300 m. above sea level, it is probably the oldest monastery in the Cyclades and one of the oldest in Greece. Its name is associated with the region of Choziva or Koziva in the Holy Land, where there has been an important orthodox monastic tradition since the first centuries AD. According to the oral tradition, the icon of the Virgin, supposedly painted by Evangelist Lucas, came to Amorgos from Chozova in Palestine. It reached the island by boat, at the bay of Aghia Anna –right under the spot where the monastery was later built– during the years of Iconoclasm (8th-9th century).
The story of the icon’s arrival to Amorgos has two versions. According to the first, a woman from Chozova put it on a boat in order to save it from the hands of the iconoclasts, and left it to travel alone at sea. According to the second version the icon was brought to Amorgos by monks from the monastery of Chotzeva in Palestine, who fled persecution by the iconoclasts. The oral tradition here is rich: the monks stopped in Cyprus and stumbled upon thieves who desecrated the icon, tore it in two and threw it into the sea. The two pieces came together in a miraculous way under the rock of Amorgos and became one again, without leaving a trace of the tear. Others say that the monks themselves glued the pieces together and continued their journey. Then they came to Amorgos and built the monastery in a place chosen by the Virgin Mary herself. The place was indicated by the chisel, the large iron nail which according to tradition the master builder stuck in the position suggested by the Virgin Mary for the monastery. It fell off the cliff in 1952.
Wedged in the rock, the white, unadorned monastery is very impressive. The building has eight storeys, it is 40 m. long and its maximum width does not exceed the 5 meters. In the interior, with its narrow stairs, built or carved in the rock, the monks' cells, the dining room, the kitchen, the ovens, the wine-presses, and the wells, the natural rock is turned into a functional building element. The monastery preserves and protects valuable relics, icons and manuscripts.
The monastery celebrates the Presentation of the Virgin Mary on November 21st, a great day for the whole island. A lot of Amorgians from all over Greece, and friends of the island make sure to be at the monastery on this day, to take part in the big festival and taste the offered local dishes, the sesame bars and the “baked” raki.
A visit to the monastery is a unique experience, as the 350 wide steps that one needs to climb, slowly reveal the grandeur of this unique religious and historical monument. The exploits of faith, the beauty and vastness of the sea fill one’s eyes and soul. A small miracle.
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Aghios Georgios Varsamitis
The church of Aghios Georgios Varsamitis is a dependency of the monastery of Chozoviotissa. You can find it in a beautiful ravine, in the area of Chora, on the road to Kato Meria. The three-aisled basilica was built in the 17th century and it combines Ottoman and Byzantine architectural elements. Its name comes from the wild mint or ‘varsamo’ which grows in the area.
It is a very beautiful church in a landscape of special beauty. Inside the temple there is a spring which still flows today, though with less intensive course than it used to, and it creates a unique atmosphere. The spring has given the church its reputation as a hydromancy or water oracle, since the years of the Ottoman domination, because people thought the water had prophetic properties and many were those who travelled from far away, hoping for a good oracle.
There is a tower in the area (at Skopi), built in the 13th century, which served as a spot for overlooking the sea. There’s also an old path that connects the church with the visible in the background Katapola.
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The Tower of Gavras, a Venetian building of the 16th century, is located in the center of Chora. Today, the tower is a museum exhibiting finds from excavations in various parts of the island. In the hall of the Gavras mansion, known as the “hall of Gavras” or “ano(g)i”, there is an exhibition of sculptures, statues and reliefs dating from the Archaic period, 6th BC century, until the Roman period, the 2nd AD century. Almost all the exhibits are surface finds from the ancient cities of Amorgos, Aegiale, Arcesine, Minoa and other places.
In the courtyard the exhibition is comprised of archaic inscribed stone slabs, architectural parts and headless torsos of statues from the Roman times, all surface finds.
In "kato(g)i" (the ground floor) in the courtyard, the exhibition includes surface finds, such as tomb inscriptions, dating from the 6th century until the Christian age, dedicatory and honorary resolutions from the Hellenistic and Roman times? it also includes reliefs and statues from the Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods and architectural parts from the Hellenistic, Roman and early Christian times.
In two small rooms, the exhibition was completed in 1998. In Room 1 you can see objects from the prehistoric times, archaeological finds dating to the Late Neolithic period, 4th millennium BC, the Early Bronze Age, 3rd millennium BC, and the Late Bronze Age, 13th-12th century BC. Room 2 presents the archaeological collection of the Amorgian teacher and antiquarian Emmanuel Ioannidis (1823-1906), who was the first to systematically collect all kinds of archaeological, epigraphical, literary and folklore evidence about the island.
The castle stands on a rock in the middle of the village of Chora, of which it is a symbol. It was built in the 13th century by Ieremias Gizi and it protected the inhabitants from pirate raids. The wall with its loopholes has survived till today, as well as Kato Lakkos, that is the “Lower Pit”, the medieval cistern which watered Chora.
It is located right above the port of Katapola. To get there, you need to climb up a difficult uphill path for about half an hour. However, when you get to Minoa, you are rewarded by the breathtaking view and the aura of history that surrounds the ruins of the Stadium, the Gymnasium and the Temple of Dionysos. Being in the archaeological site of Minoa is a unique experience.
Minoa was one of the three cities that flourished in ancient Amorgos. The first to recognize the ruins of the city was Ludwig Ross in 1837. He studied them closely and matched the details he found with those described in inscriptions. In 1888 the French archaeologist Gaston Deschamps’ excavations caused great destructions to the site. Since 1981 the Amorgian archaeologist Lila Marangos, Professor at the University of Ioannina, has conducted systematic surface research and excavations under the auspices of the Archaeological Society of Athens.
The building remains and the numerous finds have radically changed the image we had drawn from the information on inscriptions. Thus, in 1985 it was discovered that the oldest habitation of Minoa took place during the Late Neolithic period, 4th millennium BC. At the end of the Geometric Period, roughly the late 8th BC century, the city was fortified in places where it is not naturally fortified, for unknown reasons. The wall with its towers and bastions gives Minoa the appearance of a fortified city. It is one of the best preserved walled settlements of the Pre-classical years in the geographical area of the Cyclades. The findings around and inside the temple, the sacred complex whose ruins still exist, show that it was the centre of the religious life of the city for at least one thousand years from the late 8th century BC to the 3rd-4th century AD. These findings support the association of the deity worshiped as Dionysos.
The Gymnasium, was built in the late 4th century BC, early Hellenistic period, as it was known by inscriptions. Although the excavation has not been completed yet, the building has a monumental character.
During the Roman period, Amorgos was a place of exile for Roman politicians. The life of the city gradually moved to the port and, after the victory of Christianity in the 4th AD century, the city of Minoa was abandoned.
Tower of Agia Triada (or Vassilis’ Tower))
In the area of Kato Meria, more specifically at the periphery of the ancient city of Arcesine and near the settlement of “Chorio” or “the Village", are the ruins of the Tower of Aghia Triada (Holy Trinity). It dates from the late 4th century BC and it is the best preserved ancient monument of the island and the best preserved rectangular tower in the Cyclades. Works in the tower, which began in 1993, revealed the architectural structure of the interior of the monument, which according to the sign on the gate was the fortified private residence of Ktisiphon. Numerous utilitarian objects attest to the continued use of the monument and the adjacent building complex from antiquity to the modern times.