Monasteries of Crete

Gouverneto Monastery

You don’t have to be a religious person to appreciate the beauty and splendour of a monastery. Greece is a predominantly Greek Orthodox country and as such, you can always find a chapel or church near you.  The largest monastic complex in the country is Agio Oros, it includes 20 monasteries and is an autonomous self-governing entity. 

The island of Crete is also home to religious centres and monastic communities that have been operating for hundreds of years and had to face the wrath of conquerors throughout the centuries. These spiritual centres are worth exploring and learning about in full not just because of their religious history but also for the role they played during the resistance under the Ottomans and much later during World War II. Some of these monasteries are hard to find, hidden behind the mountain slopes of Crete, or tucked within gorges and remote areas of the island. 

When visiting a monastery in Crete or anywhere else in the country, make sure to always respect the dress code and cover-up. Most monasteries will ask visitors to refrain from entering while wearing a swimsuit, shorts, tank tops, and short skirts. It is best to keep a loose scarf or two in the car that you can wrap around your legs and shoulders; a long towel will do as well. In the past, monasteries used to provide visitors with “coverings” however, this is not the case everywhere anymore due to the cost of cleaning the garments and recent changes due to the pandemic. You may also need to remove your hat when entering into the church out of respect. Keep your camera away from the faces of the monks and nuns since most times photography is not permitted.

On the island of Crete, you will find an ancient monastic tradition that blossomed at the end of the Venetian period, leading to the renowned achievements of the Cretan School of Iconography. Most monasteries were centres of freedom, nurturing resistance fighters during the long and difficult period of Ottoman rule, thus becoming the guardians of Orthodoxy and Byzantine culture. The Monastery of Arkadi in Rethymno is arguably one of the most famous on the island due to its distinctive architecture and rich history. Many monasteries have temples with exquisite frescoes – showcasing the development of Byzantine painting in  Crete. 

Monastery of Panagia Vriomeni

Monastery of Panagia Vriomeni

The Monastery of Panagia Vriomeni (the Virgin) used to be one of the most important monastic centres of Ierapetra. Just like most monasteries in Crete, it is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

Moni Varsamonerou

Moni Varsamonerou

The Monastery of Varsamoneros was one of the most important centres of the Cretan School of Hagiography and is connected with the monastery of Vrontisiou. Most of the buildings of the monastery are now destroyed and only a few architectural elements from the complex are preserved.

Moni Antifonitrias – Monastery

Moni Antifonitrias – Monastery

The church of Panagia ton Myriokefalon in the village of Myriokefala was the katholikon of the monastery of Panagia Antifonitria in the 11th century, which is no longer saved. This monastery was built by Saint John the Stranger and operated until the beginning of the 20th century. Apart from the katholikon, the other buildings are from the 18th and 19th centuries.

Moni Kallergi – Kastelli

Moni Kallergi – Kastelli

The Kallergi Monastery is located about 4 km northwest of Kastelli, in a verdant hilly area. It was built during the Venetian occupation and is dedicated to Agios Ioannis the Forerunner. It is part of the Vidiani Monastery on the Lassithi Plateau. Kallergi was probably built on the site of an older monastery, the ruins of which are preserved in the nearby church of Prophet Elias.

Moni Vrontisiou – Zaros

Moni Vrontisiou – Zaros

The monastery of Vrontisiou is one of the most famous and important monasteries of Crete that was a remarkable centre of letters and arts during the Cretan Renaissance. It is no exaggeration to say that the scholars, artists and respected monks of the monastery of Vrontisiou, during the last centuries of Venetian rule, marked their presence with their accomplishments. 

Kera Monastery – Lassithi

Kera Monastery – Lassithi

The monastery of Kera Kardiotissa is located on the mountain range of Dikti and can be found following the uphill road to the Lassithi Plateau. It is 50 km from Heraklion and is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, like most Cretan monasteries.

Monastery of Kyra Eleousa – Voritsi

Monastery of Kyra Eleousa – Voritsi

The Monastery of Panagia Kyra Eleousa is located 1.5 km northeast of the village of Voritsi. Until a few years ago the monastery was deserted but with the care of the monk and the inhabitants of the area, the monastery has been restored and is active, after many years.

Monastery of Agios Georgios – Selinari

Monastery of Agios Georgios – Selinari

The Monastery of Agios Georgios, located in the gorge of Selinari, was built during the second Byzantine period. In the area, there is the katholikon which is dedicated to Agios Georgios as well as two other temples dedicated to the Epiphany and the Resurrection. It is located between Heraklion and Agios Nikolaos looking over the Bay of Malia. 

Kremaston Monastery – Neapolis

Kremaston Monastery – Neapolis

South of the settlement of Neapoli, on the slope of Mount Kavalara and at an altitude of 397 m, is the Monastery of Kremaston. Its name is associated with the fortress architecture and the location that makes it look like it hangs from the slope.

Kroustallenia Monastery – Lassithi plateau

Kroustallenia Monastery – Lassithi plateau

The monastery of Panagia Kroustallenia is perched on a rock overgrown with trees that rises to a height of 15 m above the Lassithi plain. Built at an altitude of 850 m, in one of the most beautiful locations on the plateau, it offers stunning views of the surrounding area.

Monastery of Agios Nikolaos – Zaros

Monastery of Agios Nikolaos – Zaros

On the southern slopes of Mount Psiloritis, close to the village of Zaros and the southern entrance of Rouvas Gorge, we find the Monastery of Agios Nikolaos. This was the third most important monastery in the area of ​​Zaros. Today only the small church of Agios Nikolaos dates back to the 14th century.

Monastery of Apezanon

Monastery of Apezanon

The Monastery of Apezanon is located 63.3 km away from Heraklion on the southern coast of Crete island. To reach the monastery, we follow the road Heraklion – Tympaki and turn left at the junction of Gortyna towards the villages of Platanos and Plora. The monastery is found within the mountain range of the Asterousia Mountains that constitute the “Mount Athos” of Crete.

Monastery of Asomaton

Monastery of Asomaton

In the green valley of Amari, 35 km from Rethymno by the foothills of Mount Psiloritis, is the Monastery Asomaton which is dedicated to the Gathering of the Angels.

Halepa Monastery

Halepa Monastery

At a distance of 46 km from Rethymno, on a hill near Tsachiana, you will find the Monastery of Halepa in a lush landscape. It was founded at the end of the Venetian occupation and, according to documents of 1555, maintained a considerable estate and was considered a wealth monastery.

Moni Preveli – Monastery

Moni Preveli – Monastery

Preveli Monastery is located 37 km south of Rethymno, in a landscape of unique beauty. It is one of the most famous monasteries on the island and overlooks the Libyan Sea and an exotic palm forest, next to which flows the Great River.

Attalis Monastery – Bali

Attalis Monastery – Bali

The Monastery of Attali or Bali is located in the hills of Agia Ypakoi near the coastal village of Bali and is dedicated to Agios Ioannis the Forerunner.

Agia Irini Monastery – Koumbes

Agia Irini Monastery – Koumbes

The monastery of Agia Irini is a very old monastery located near Rethymnon. After long periods of devastation and many disasters, today it stands as a classic example of a Christian monument that regained its former glory thanks to systematic restoration work.

Monastery of Agia Irini – Krousonas

Monastery of Agia Irini – Krousonas

The monastery of Agia Irini of Krousonas is located at an altitude of 630 m south of Krousonas, at the foot of Mount Psiloritis. It was one of the richest monasteries during the first years of Ottoman rule. The road leading to the monastery connects the village with the nearby Special Children Center of  Saint Spiridon.

Monastery of Profitis Ilias

Monastery of Profitis Ilias

The Monastery of the Prophet Elias is located on a rocky hill near the village of Roustika. It is a small village, not far from the popular springs of Argyroupoli that attracts a great number of tourists during the summertime. To reach the monastery from Rethymno, you will travel south for about 23 km.

Antifonitria Monastery

Antifonitria Monastery

The church of Panagia ton Myriokefalon in the village of Myriokefala was the katholikon of the monastery of Panagia Antifonitria in the 11th century,  which no longer survives. The monastery was built by Saint John the Stranger (Xeno) and was active until the beginning of the 20th century.

Chrysoskalitissa Monastery – Chania

Chrysoskalitissa Monastery – Chania

The Monastery of Chrysoskalitissa is built on a rock at the south-west end of Crete. The church of the monastery is dedicated to Mother Mary and the Holy Trinity and its feast is held on August 15, one of the most important Greek holidays. (often referred to as Dekapentavgoustos).

Diskouriou Monastery

Diskouriou Monastery

Diskouriou Monastery is located near the traditional settlement of Axos and was the glebe of Halepa Monastery. It must have been in operation during the late years of Venetian Rule, as it is listed in 1630 in the list of Mylopotamos villages. The fact that an important religious centre was located here is also proven by the fact that a very old Byzantine Chapel dedicated to Saint John is situated next to the monastery.

Vidiani Monastery – Lassithi Plateau

Vidiani Monastery – Lassithi Plateau

Vidiani Monastery was founded in the mid-19th century by monk Methodius. During the revolution of 1866, the Monastery was set on fire by the Ottomans, but it was soon rebuilt.

Moni Paliani – Venerato

Moni Paliani – Venerato

This is one of the oldest convents on Crete, situated south of Venerato village and built on top of the ruins of an ancient temple, as confirmed by the inscription located in the courtyard of the convent. The monastery is dedicated to the Dormition of Mother Mary and has been in operation since the first centuries of the Byzantine Empire, reaching its prime during the Venetian era.

Hodegetria Monastery

Hodegetria Monastery

Hodegetria Monastery is one of the oldest and grandest monasteries on Crete, with its history closely linked to that of small monasteries and hermitages in the Asterousia region.

Koudoumas Monastery – Asterousia

Koudoumas Monastery – Asterousia

Koudoumas Monastery is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, as are a lot of the monasteries you will find around Crete island. It is located on a beautiful coastal area south of Kofina peak, on the southern coast of the island in the prefecture of Heraklion.

Epanosifis Monastery – Heraklion

Epanosifis Monastery – Heraklion

This is one of the largest and richest monasteries on Crete. It flourished during the era of the Ottoman rule and is dedicated to Saint George. The structure of the monastery is reminiscent of 17th-century secular Cretan architecture with independent cells, built next to each other.

Agarathos Monastery – Sgourokefali

Agarathos Monastery – Sgourokefali

Agarathos Monastery is one of the oldest monasteries on Crete, founded during the 2nd Byzantine era and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It is located 23 km from Heraklion near the village of Sgourokefali and the stunning gorges of Astrakiano and Kounaviano. The area is off the beaten track and is mostly popular with nature and hiking enthusiasts. You can make a quick rest stop here if you explore the nearby area of Vathypetro. The winery of Lyrarakis is another…

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Agios Georgios Monastery – Gorgolainis

Agios Georgios Monastery – Gorgolainis

The Holy Monastery of Saint George Gorgolainis, one of the most historic monasteries on Crete, was founded by Archpriest Sylvester in the 13th century. The single-space arch-covered church dedicated to Saint George was erected in 1627. During the 20th century, an aisle was added to the catholicon, which is dedicated to Saint Nicholas. Also worthy of note is the Venetian fountain which was decorated with a marble lion until 1990, when it was stolen.

Gonia Monastery – Chania

Gonia Monastery – Chania

The monastery of Gonia Odigitria is situated near the village of Kolymbari and is one of the best-preserved monasteries on Crete. From the outside, it looks like a fort and has a three apse Catholicon church and two chapels. The initial donor (ktetor) was Brother Vlassios, a monk from Cyprus, who, according to tradition, started building the monastery on this site after it was revealed to him by Mother Mary. This is why the monastery, that was built between 1618…

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Chrysopigi Convent – Chania

Chrysopigi Convent – Chania

The Convent of Chrysopigi, just outside Chania, is dedicated to Mother Mary, the Life-Giving Font (Panagia Zoodochos Pigi). The convent was built like a fortress, in the 16th century and was founded as a monastery by Ioannis Chartophylakas. During Venetian rule, it was a significant spiritual centre with a well-stocked library. It started to decline during the Ottoman siege in the summer of 1645, when Philotheos Skoufos, the Father Superior, escaped to the Ionian Islands, taking with him the holy…

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Guverneto Monastery – Chania

Guverneto Monastery – Chania

The Gouverneto Monastery is situated at the northeast end of Akrotiri, on a location full of lentisks, thyme, wild olive trees and carob trees. It is one of the oldest monasteries in the Akrotiri peninsula and is located only 20 km away from downtown Chania and 7 km from the International Airport.

Arsaniou Monastery

Arsaniou Monastery

The Monastery of Saint George of Arsani is an old men’s monastery, located 12km east of Rethymno, in the Pangalochori community, possibly founded during the 2nd Byzantine period (961-1204). It was founded by a monk named Arsenios, after whom it was named.

Kapsa Monastery

Kapsa Monastery

Between Makrigialos and Goudouras, perched on the rocks next to the entrance of the gorge of Pervolakia we find the Monastery of Agios Ioannis Kapsa. The monastery overlooks the Libyan Sea and Koufonisi and was established in the middle of the 15th century.

Faneromeni Monastery – Sitia

Faneromeni Monastery – Sitia

The monastery of Faneromeni in the northwest region of Sitia is found at the Cape of Trachils and has access to the beautiful gorge of Agios Pantos, and stunning views of the surrounding area. It is relatively close to the coast and can be visited on your way from Agios Nikolaos to Ierapetra.

Toplou Monastery – Moni Toplou

Toplou Monastery – Moni Toplou

Panagia Akrotiriani (Our Lady of the Cape) Monastery, is better known as Toplou and is one of Crete’s most impressive and historic monasteries. It is a true bastion and a living museum of the island’s monastic history.

Aretiou Monastery

Aretiou Monastery

The Monastery of Areti is located 25 km north of Agios Nikolaos on the eastern region of Crete island. It was founded between 1580 and 1596 and is dedicated to the Holy Trinity.

Agia Triada Monastery (Holy Trinity)

Agia Triada Monastery (Holy Trinity)

The monastery of Agia Triada Tzigaroli is located in the Akrotiri peninsula of Chania, an area rich in olive groves, vineyards and cypress trees. Architecturally it is one of the most important examples of the Cretan Renaissance. According to tradition, it was founded by the brothers Jeremiah and Lorenzo of the old Venetian family of the Zagaroloi, who were monks in the nearby monastery of Guverneto. It is said that Jeremiah travelled to Mt. Athos to copy the construction plans…

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Arkadi Monastery

Arkadi Monastery

The Monastery of Arkadi is perhaps the best-known on Crete island due to its striking design and the historical significance of the tragic events that took place in the Holocaust of 1866. However, its location and impressive architecture make it all the more special.