The monasteries of Ilia are unique destinations where the visitor can find the pure taste of the Greek orthodox faith.
(7.38 Km – approx. 9 mins from Katakolon)
On your way to Olympia just before entering the village of Agios Ioannis you will notice a huge yellowish building with arches hidden behind the trees to your left hand side. The monastery hosts the Faculty of Hagiogrphy and Byzantine Music.One can order any icon they wish or purchase from those that are readily available. You won’t have any trouble finding it since a shrine (iconostasis) before the crossroads indicates that the monastery is to the left. Today the cells of the monks function as a youth shelter for young adolescents.
Further to the left there is a big rock with a hole in the middle which is considered miraculous. According to poplar tradition people who are either psychologically or physically ill pass their clothes through the hole in order to be cured.
This monastery, like many other churches and monasteries, has been built on the ancient site of the temple dedicated to the Goddess Artemis. According to Greek mythology, it was here that she managed to escape from the fate of being abducted by her stalker Alpheus (the river god of Ancient Olympia), who was madly in love with her. It all happened one night as she was celebrating with the nymphs. In order to confuse him, she came up with a trick and covered the nymphs’ faces, as well as her own, with mud. Unable to distinguish “his victim” he left the party early…
The medieval monastery of Skafidia
(9.64 km – approx. 13 mins from Katakolon)
The beautiful medieval monastery of Skafidia is now actually a nunnery. Rumour has it that members of the church hierarchy had their differences about “earthy issues” thus, eventually resulting in the monastery being converted.
From the outside, this monastery looks like a fortress. Once you are inside, wander around in the open courtyard and admire the old katholikon (main church) where you can see frescos in the narthex dating back to the 10th century AD.
This monastery can be visited in the morning hours (10.00 – 13.00). As in other monasteries, there is a dress code here as well; for the ladies, it is appreciated if you wear a skirt and have your shoulders covered up; for the men, please no shorts or shirts without sleeves.
Unfortunately, the nuns living here are a little grumpy. They get friendlier once you make a little donation to the church where you can light a candle. Just leave a euro or 2 and light a candle for your beloved persons.
Apart from its remarkable architecture, it houses many treasures, such as sacred vessels, vestments, reliquaries, uniforms, weapons, photographs, coins, votive offerings including the banner of the Monastery, the image of the Virgin Mary hand sewn in fine needlework.
Important is the archive of the monastery and library with many manuscripts, referring to liturgy, music, icon painting and other subjects.
The monastery of Kremasti (the hanging monastery)
(30 km – approx. 35 mins from Katakolon)
Looking at the Kremasti (hanging) monastery, one can easily see how it got its name. Imposing and impressive, it really seems to be hanging off the rock. The view you will have from here is amazing.
The monastery was founded in 1700, when shepherds of the area found an icon of the Virgin Mary hanging in a cave, high up in the mountain. They couldn’t explain the presence of the icon there, so it was considered to be a sign from God that a monastery should be founded here. The first monks settled near the cave and build a small chapel. From the chronicles we learn that they were specialized in treating people who were “possessed”. (Today one can still see the chains which were once used for this macabre purpose…)
In 1930 the monastery was converted into a nunnery. Many people visit this monastery for the miraculous icon it possesses. It is said that the wicks of the oil lamp burning in front of the icon help couples who have fertility problems …
If you decide to visit this nunnery make sure to be dressed appropriately. If not, there are a few (not so fashionable and worn at least a hundred times by all kinds of people, without having been washed) skirts and trousers at the entrance. These appropriate cover ups make some interesting outfits!
The nuns living here are sweethearts and usually very hospitable and chatty. There is also a little souvenir stand where they sell little icons, handmade bracelets, etc.
This nunnery can be visited during the morning hours (10.00 – 12.30). Please note that you are supposed to ring the bell so the nuns can open the gate. Nice to combine with a visit to Olympia since it is on your way. On your way to Olympia (11 km before you arrive) there is a sign which says “Kremasti nunnery”. It’s really worthy to leave the highway and get off the beaten track. Turn left and just follow the signs. After a minute or 10 you will arrive at the monastery. After your visit, don’t go back to the highway but take the secondary road through the villages of Pelopion and Platanos in order to see some of the authentic Greek village life. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to have a real Greek coffee in one of the authentic kafeneia among the locals. In Olympia all the cafeterias are much more touristy……
Moni Agiou Ioanni Prodromou (Monastery of John the Baptist)
(119.58 km – approx. 2 hrs from Katakolon and 7.30 km – approx. 15 mins from Stemnitsa)
The Baptist Monastery or Monastery of John the Baptist is located between the villages of Stemnitsa and Dimitsana, down by the ravine of the river Lousios. According to some sources, it was built around 1167. Scrambled on the side of a rock face, it is a sight quite breathtaking for the unsuspecting visitor. At the car park there is a little church jutting out above the ravine. From there, walk for about 20 minutes downhill to visit the monastery. Since access to the monastery requires walking, appropriate shoes are well advised.
There are now only 6 monks left in the monastery from what used to be 40. These monks don’t practice a vow of silence as you can hear them chattering from below especially around lunch time. On some occasions, visitors and pilgrims can stay overnight.
From the balcony of the monastery, visitors can admire the rugged beauty of the gorge accompanied by the constant sound of the running and impetuous waters of the river.
Today, the monastery operates a workshop for painting and the sewing of holy garments. There is also a remarkable collection of some 1,000 books.
Near the monastery are the excavations of an ancient hospital built in honor of the ancient Greek god of medicine, Asclepius.
The Baptist monastery is considered to be one of the most beautiful monasteries in the Peloponnese.