The second day at the Strophades started with a golden light on “Ionian Sea, the begining and the end of the world”…quoting the Polish poet Adam Zagajewski…(read about the fist day of our trip and Arpia island here) …and indeed, so swiftly the Ionian blue has taken over……with all shades of blue… By the time I stepped out on Stamfani and I walking on the path paved with purple blue thistles, leading me to its singular monastery, our sailboat was the only one left at the island…… my travel companions were still on the yacht having a slow breakfast and morning swim when I reached the rusty blue gate of the fortress surrounded by nothing but the sounds of nature …I pressed on on the blue gate…it opened wide…and I got in…a dog started barking…as if calling…and soon a man, the monastery’s guard, awaken from his sleep, was greeting me…candidly.
From then on he opened for me all the other blue doors of the monastery…shade after shade of blue…The monastery was founded by the Theodoros I Laskaris (Greek: Θεόδωρος Α’ Λάσκαρις) the first Emperor of Nicaea in 1241 and was dedicated to the Blessed Mother of Christ and Christ the Savior. The building complex has the form of a castle tower an enclosed fortress with iron gate protecting the monks from the pirates looting for food and valuables. Earthquakes took their tall on the monastery such as the fierce earthquake of 1897 and the most recent one in 1997. Since the last one the fortress’s cracked walls had to be braced with iron brackets.The katholikon-the central temple of the Divine Transformation (Metamorfoseis) is located in the tower, which is a unique feature for an Orthodox monastery.Dark blue door strengthened with iron bolts leads to the tower and to the main temple…Apart from natural disasters, mentioned already, the monastery was tested by hijackings and raids, especially at the end of the 15th and the middle of the 16th century, which by the way are eloquently archived. The 17th century was a period of glory for the monastery, which at that time had the largest ever number of monks and cultivated lands. As a prominent monastic and spiritual center of Orthodoxy, the monastery has managed to preserve a considerable part of artistic and historical wealth created by the piety and skill of artists, eminent patriarchs, scholars and humble pilgrims. Many of the invaluable artifacts of the monastery, as well as a large part of its famous library, were the prey of invaders, pirates and antiquities prowlers. Its remaining treasures are guarded now at the Monastery of Agios Dionysios in Zakynthos.
Among them there is the oldest icon of the Strophades monastery depicting the Virgin Thalassomachousa (Virgin the “Seaconfronting”), a masterpiece of the early 13th century, attributed to a painter from Constantinople. According to a tradition of the monastery, the icon had been thrown into the sea in Constantinople during the period of iconoclasm and the sea miraculously brought it to Strophades.
Opposite the tower and its main temple there is a humble blue door leading to the chapel of St. George, which served as the tomb of St. Dionysius’s body for almost 100 years.
In the 16th century, the monastery was attacked by Saracens and the monks of the monastery were slaughtered. After this disaster, slowly, the monastery started to regain life and new monks settled on the island. In 1568, in a church of Zakynthos, the Zakynthian count Draganinos Sigouros, was asigned as a monk of the holy monastery of Strophades as pater Daniel. Later becoming the abbot of the monastery and around 1570 the Archbishop of Aegina. Pater Daniel’s name changed to Dionysius when he was ordained as an archbishop. He took great care of his monasteries with Strophades fortress among them. His wish was to be buried in the holy monastery of Strophades and his body was laid in the chapel of St George on 17th December 1622. His remnants stayed on Stamfani until 19th August 1717, a year in which a new great assault was carried on the island, this time by the Agrarians lead by the Turkish pirate Moust bringing upon the monastery the most devastationg destruction. Only two monks managed to remain alive hiding in the Specter. They took the relics of the saint to Zakynthos and St Dionysius has become the patron saint of the island.
The remains of the monks who were slaughtered during the multiple pirate raids are kept in a tiny church complex built outside the walls of the fortress…In the past Strophades were counted among the most fertile lands of Greece. Sweet water is available, Stamfani counting still 19 functional wells. There were orchards producing enough quantity of fruits to satisfy the needs of the more than one hundred monks that used to live there. Nowadays there still are some fruit trees like orange and lemon trees, fig trees while the uncultivated part of Stamfani is covered with thick wild vegetation with prominent cedar trees. In total there are more than 250 different trees and flowers specimen on both islands. As far as the animals there are wild goats and some domestic animals which are attended by the guard of the island.Luckily the otherwise entangled impenetrable dense forest has a very comfortable manmade path which leadis to unother interesting historical landmark, the lighthouse built in 1829 by the English. The height of its tower is 11 meters and its focal height is 39 meters. It is in very a poor condition with cracked walls, broken handrails, old staircase and broken windows….having a blue door and great views of Ionian blue in place of the broken shutters… One more look from the steep tower of the lighthouse at Arpia and the monastery beyond the green forest and then I was back on the blue route…at first a deep turquoise swim…a looooong one…and then…we are on our way of return from the “islands of return”…
…reaching the harbor of Marathopolis at golden sunset….Thank you IONIAN SAIL for Ionian sailing, wholehearted hospitality, your cool vacation mood, great food….the mythical trip…!!!