Patmos-port of Skala

We had another well-organized tour today. After a sort of rough passage from Milos, we anchored just outside Skala, the port for the island of Patmos. A short tender ride got us to the dock.

The island of Patmos seems to be largely composed of hills and rock-wall terraces. There isn’t much flat land. During the winter only about 4,000 people live here. Our guide, Nicholas, was at pains to point out that guests (tourists) are good but that the island would be self-sufficient without us. I’m not so sure.

Mosaic over entrance to church at Cave of the Apocolypse

Our first stop was high above Skala. The setting was a small forest. We were there to visit the Cave of the Apocalypse or the Cave of Revelations. This is where the Apostle John received the visions that were turned into the Book of Revelations in the Bible. [Unless it was some other St. John or it took place somewhere else.] The place really is a cave but it now has a church built up around it. It wasn’t terribly interesting to us, but it was clearly important to some people. Unfortunately, we could not take pictures inside, or we might have been able to give some sort of sense of the icons and devotional items have built up over the centuries.

Our next stop was the provincial capital of the area, which is a small town called Chora (or Hora). It is famous in part for the design of its streets which are narrow and winding.

Narrow Chora street; pedestrians share with motor bikes

They were built that way, it is said, to confuse pirates. Now, if I was a pirate, I would not hike up there in the first place, but that’s their story and they have stuck to it for years. It is a long way from the anchorage. It really is a pretty place with the two-story houses hugging the hills. There is a small square that overlooks some of the island. The square is special because each Maundy Thursday (Last Supper during Holy Week) there is a ceremony that occurs only here, at the Vatican, and in Jerusalem. One of the older houses is open to visitors as part of the tour. The owner, an 88 year-old woman, still lives there and bosses each visitor around as if they were an unusually inconsiderate guest. We would have liked to have taken pictures there as well because the house was packed with generations of pictures and knick-knacks all proudly displayed, but it wasn’t allowed. We were glad that peak guest (tourist) season had passed because the streets were crowded just by the people from 4 tour busses.

St. John Monastery

After Chora, we went to the fortified Monastery of St John. It was built as a fortress in the 11th century to protect the monks from (all together now) pirates. A soldier-priest named Kristodhoulos asked the Byzantine emperor for support and the emperor gave him Patmos and some of the surrounding islands. Only 15 monks live there permanently now. It is like a castle built up around what you might think of as a monastery. It was largely built in three years, which is pretty impressive when you see the size of the place and the thickness of the walls. The church and surrounding area were interesting but we weren’t allowed to take pictures. What used to be the treasury on the second floor is now a museum. There was plenty of gold and silver on display, so perhaps they did have to worry about pirates. More important than the precious metals, I think, were the early Bibles. Some were written on papyrus, some on parchment, and some on (early) paper. They also have a painting by a painter born locally in the mid-1500s named Doménikos Theotokópoulos whom we know today as El Greco. People from all over Europe, including Katherine the Great from Russia, have sent gifts over the centuries to show their devotion.

After working our way back down from Chora, we went to lunch at a “folk dancing restaurant.” The guide was pleased with himself for preserving the “secret last stop” of the tour. We were served a nice lunch and indeed, once the waiters had served us, they headed to a small stage and showed us several Greek dances. It was tourist-y but entertaining.

We walked around Skala while waiting to get the tender back to the Odyssey, but the shops near the port were all for tourists.

The Captain has just come on and given the sailing plan for tonight. He thinks it won’t be quite so rough and Patricia hopes he is right.

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