Panagia Hozoviotissa monastery
Clinging to a steep cliff, 300 m above sea level, the monastery of Panagia i Hozoviotissa is the emblem of Amorgos. Grand and well preserved, it is considered the most striking monastery in the Aegean not merely for its unique construction on the sheer cliffside but for the manner in which its eight floors grip the rock for support.
A peculiarity of its architecture is that whereas the breadth of the façade is over 40 m, the west wall, where the entrance is, measures no more than 5 m. The building comprises over a hundred rooms, including the monks’ cells, refectories, kitchens, storerooms, cisterns, guest cells, a library and luggage storage.
The road from Hora, the main town of Amorgos, takes barely 5 minutes to reach the east coast. From there, a well-maintained footpath leads up the mountainside, a 15-minute climb to the monastery towering overhead. The awe we felt as we climbed along the abyss competed with our admiration as we watched the monastery rise above us. First built in 1017, it was expanded by the Byzantine Emperor Alexios Comnenos (1081-1118) on the spot where an icon of the Virgin was found which, according to tradition, came from the Holy Land. (Curiously, its other half washed up on Patmos and is a prize in the monastery there.)
Today only four monks are in residence, who on weekdays welcome visitors with cool water, Amorgos raki and Turkish delight. The view from the balcony next to the chapel is breathtaking.
On 21 November, when the monastery of Hozoviotissa celebrates the Presentation of the Virgin Mary, it fills with people.With the Bishop of Thera, Amorgos and Other Islands officiating, crowds climb up and down from the monastery, pay their respects to the Virgin and enjoy a festive dish of split-pea purée (fava). Next morning, following the service, the pilgrims, usually numbering over five hundred, are offered such fasting dishes as cod with potatoes and cod with garlic sauce. (The day falls within the 40-day pre-Christmas fast observed in the Orthodox Church.)