With 97% of the country comprised of Greek Orthodox members, it’s no wonder there’s an abundance of historic monasteries and churches with generations of monks, nuns, and priests who have preserved the Greek language, culture, and religion. Greek Orthodox monasteries stretch across the countryside in some of the most beautiful locations imaginable—some balanced atop steep rocks with others burrowed in lush, green valleys and olive groves. Many of these monasteries were built centuries ago by hermits and monks in an effort to escape religious persecution. During Greece’s most troubling times, monasteries offered safety and comfort to the people of Greece.
In addition to the monasteries, visitors will find countless Orthodox churches, packed with holy icons and whose architecture reflect particular regions of Greece and the period in which they were built. Some of the oldest date back to the Byzantine era (330-1453 A.D.).
The architecture and the earthly tones of the churches on the Ionian Islands like Corfu, Lefkada, and Zakynthos were heavily influenced by the Venetians during the 15th century. Santorini, Tinos, Milos, and other islands in the Cyclades are known for the picturesque, whitewashed churches with vibrant blue domes. The sizes of churches vary, too. Some are large, fit for a large congregation, while others are tiny, simply providing a tranquil place for a single worshipper to light a candle in solitude, or offer faithful prayers for themselves and loved ones.
No matter your faith or belief, exploring religious sites is a humbling experience and allows travelers to see a different side of a country and experience the rich history that is often wrapped in these places of worship.
Note: When visiting a monastery or church, it is often recommended to have shoulders and legs covered. Many monasteries will have shawls or skirts available for women upon entry.
Listed are five I’ve visited that have stood out in my memory.
Other must visit monasteries and churches:
- Mount Athos
- Church of Panagia Kapnikarea, Athens
- Monastery of St. John the Theologian, Patmos
- Church of Panagia Ekatontapiliani (the church of 100 doors), Paros
- Church of Panagia Megalochari, Tinos
- Monastery of Panagia Elona, Lakonia
- Church of the Seven Martyrs, Sifnos
- Monastery of Agios Gerasimos, Cephalonia
- Monastery of Akridi, Rethymnon Crete
- Agia Sofia, Thessaloniki