The south and the east of the Island

The eastern Monasteries

The shoreline road which passes the Asklepieion is the only access to the eastern extremity of the island and the group of monasteries on the slopes of Mount Palouki (567m). Apart from the historic and architectural inter est of this group of five monasteries, the journey to them is panoramic and the final walk to the monastery of the Taxiarches is through wild and untouched coastal scenery.
   The monastery of the Evangelismos (the Annunciation) (3.5km. Open daily 8–1 & 4–8) is a 17th century building on the site of an older foundation, in a position commanding impressive views over the bay of the Chora: it now has three resident nuns. From outside, the attractive cupola drum of the catholicon is visible, studded with Ottoman ceramic plates (from Iznik and Canakkale). It is ironic that a Christian monastic foundation constructed in a period of Moslem Turkish occupation should conspicuously display these unmistakable pieces of ‘Ottomania’: they were primarily decorative, but they also served as a tacit sign of compliance to avert any malign intentions of the overlords. The door to the catholicon has elaborate late 17th century carved lintels, but plain columns and capitals supporting the dome inside. The most unusual element of the interior is the polychrome tile floor, which dates from not long after the original construction. The tiles, set in rather erratic design, are a kind that was popular in Sicily and Southern Italy in the 18th century. The kitchen on the north side of the monastery buildings has a fine example of a large bread oven.
   Across the valley is the monastery of the Metamorphosis (the Transfiguration) (4km. Open daily 8.30–1.30 & 5.30–8). Like the Evangelismos this is a dependency of the Xeropotamos Monastery on Mount Athos, but is an older foundation going back to c. 1500. It has a more compact feel, and the simple steeply domed interior of the catholicon is adorned by a beautiful carved 17th century iconostasis. One monk remains in the monastery.
   Both the road and the footpath beyond the Metamorphosis reach a plateau where a landscape populated with chapels and monastic settlements opens out: the mid 17th century, fortress-like Aghia Barbara, and beyond it, the nunnery of Aghios Ioannis Prodromos (St John the Baptist) (6km. Open daily: 8–1 & 5–8). A restoration project is underway at Aghia Barbara and the whole construction is now visible in its bare unplastered stone, giving it more the look of a fortress than ever. The cruciform catholicon has three curious apses which are linked over their conical roofs by a ‘flying’ gutter, which collects and channels rainwater from the roof into a cistern. Aghios Ioannis Prodromos was founded slightly earlier in 1612, but then enlarged and restored in 1721, the date it bears over the door. Founded as a male monastery, it became a nunnery in 1920, and now has three resident nuns. The catholicon here has a painted iconostasis with beautifully carved symbolic animals of the Byzantine bestiary. The icon of St John the Baptist is also worthy of note.
   Beyond these two monasteries, a track, with fine views of Alonnisos, continues for a further 2km: it passes a junction which leads down to the modern chapel of Aghia Triada, and comes to a point (7km) where a path leads steeply downhill to the east (left) towards the church of Aghia Anna, and then branches right for the * monastery of the Taxiarches (c. 8km). This tiny monastery or hermitage is sewn in a crease of the mountain, about 30 minutes south from the beginning of the path, which leads through a dense maquis of arbutus trees. Like many other places dedicated to the Archangels, it is built beside the entrance of a cave-like breach in the hillside, from which two springs flow out with a good sweet water. There are small monastery buildings around the catholicon which has the simple dome on a cube form, with an apse which has been restored—possibly added—at a later date. The main curiosity here lies in the carved, large-bellied figure heads which protrude from the ogival bell-tower. There is complete isolation and peace here: the only sound is from the running water of the springs.

Skopelos Island is part of the Sporades Island Group, Greece.

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