Monasteries in Crete

Crete is often known for its gorgeous beaches, crazy nightlife, and amazing food. But, although these things are all true, you’ll be surprised to know that the most astonishing thing about the island is its impressive monasteries. A wide range of monasteries is spread throughout Crete, each one more beautiful than the other.

From tiny, white-washed chapels to gigantic churches with stunning blue domes, each monastery is unique and offers its own fascinating look at traditional Greek religious architecture. Here are some of the most breathtaking monasteries in Crete you shouldn’t miss seeing!

  • Preveli Monastery
  • Arkadi Monastery
  • Toplou Monastery
  • Chrisoskalitissa Monastery
  • Agia Triada “Tzagaroli” Monastery
  • Gouverneto Monastery
  • Gonia Odigitria Monastery
  • Prodromou Monastery “Korakies”
  • Vrontisi Monastery

Preveli Monastery

One of the must-visit monasteries in Crete is the Preveli Monastery. Surrounded by mountains and a great view of the sea, the Preveli Monastery is an ancient monastery that was believed to have been established during the Venetian period (1205-1669). The monastery is made up of two major building complexes: the first one is the Lower (Kato) Monastery of Saint John the Baptist. The second one is the Rear (Pisso) Monastery of Saint John the Theologian, both of which are still in use today.

Preveli Monastery

The monastery has a glorious history due to its fellow monks’ strong and leading involvement in all national endeavours for the independence and education of their people. As a result, this monastery is respected and well-known as a major influence in the public life of Crete.

In 1649, the Turks invaded Crete and destroyed numerous church establishments, including the Preveli Monastery. For three centuries, the monastery was regarded as the most important center due to its high position in the local society of Sfakia and Saint Vassilios provinces, where the Turkish invasion force permitted a distinctive system of political tolerance and a restricted state of freedom due to the landscaping territory.

Monastery of Agios Ioannis Prodromos at Preveli

Today, the monastery is a major tourist attraction in Crete. The Lower Monastery has various structures as well as a courtyard. The church of Saint John is located in the center of the yard. The Lower Monastery’s church (Katholikon) includes one aisle, a domed roof, and a tower with two huge bells.

On the other hand, the Rear Monastery is situated at the base of a mountain facing the sea. There is a small cemetery with a beautiful chapel and a burial chamber for the monks. The church (Katholikon) is located in the center of the courtyard and has a lovely yet simple exterior.

  • Region: Rethymno
  • Opening Hours:
    Summer: 9 am – 6 pm
    Winter: 9 am – 4 pm
  • Entrance Tickets: €2.50, free for local citizens.

Arkadi Monastery

The Arkadi Monastery is a site of exceptional historical importance, recognized for the events that occurred during the 1866 revolt. The monastery is situated on the edge of a high plateau. Arkadi is one of the most prominent monuments in Crete and a popular tourist destination.

Arkadi Monastery

The first fortressing part of the monastery is said to have been built in the 12th century by an Arkadian monk. During the Ottoman invasion, the monks escaped after the Turks raided Arkadi. They were permitted to return and reconstruct the destroyed structures after months of negotiating and vowing fealty to the authorities. Around 100 monks lived within the vicinity and over 200 more in the neighboring districts. The monks farmed the area and produced wine and olive oil, making it Crete’s most opulent monastery.

Inner Yard in Arkadi

Defensive walls surround Arkadi, giving it the impression of being a fortress. The church, right in the center of the courtyard, is filled with many valuable icons. The paintings were made during the Cretan renaissance period. In addition, a museum is located in the monastery, providing visitors with a further understanding of Arkadi’s history. It includes a collection of documents and Cretan folk art items. You can also see an ossuary right outside the Arkadi monastery, housing the remains of monks who once lived there.

  • Region: Rethymno
  • Opening Hours:
    Summer: 9 am – 6 pm
    Winter: 9 am – 4 pm
  • Entrance Tickets: €3.00

Toplou Monastery

Another historical monastery in Crete is the Toplou Monastery. It was built in the 15th century and is located in the eastern part of the island on the way to Vai Beach. The monastery is guarded with a 10m high defensive wall, which kept enemy raids at bay. It’s a three-storey structure with a square area of 800 sq m. You can also find 40 rooms and a 33m high bell tower in the area.

Toplou monastery

The Toplou Monastery was initially called Panagia Akrotiriani, which means Virgin Mary of the cape. However, during the Turkish period, the name was changed to Toplou since “top” means cannon, and a cannon was stationed in the monastery as a line of defense. Throughout the years, the monastery has changed ownership multiple times, but it continued to be of religious significance.

Today, visitors can access the on-site museum to examine the many things that the monastery utilised to fight the Germans. Among them is a wireless radio that is used to connect with allied troops in Egypt. Unfortunately, when German forces discovered the so-called radio, it led to the torture and killing of the abbot and many monks (in the jail of Agia, near Chania).

  • Region: Lasithi
  • Opening Hours:
    9 am-1 pm / 2 pm-6 pm – Toplou Monastery is open all year around
  • Entrance Tickets: €2.50

Chrisoskalitissa Monastery

If you’re in Chania, you shouldn’t miss visiting the Chrisoskalitissa Monastery. It is a beautiful ancient building situated on top of a cliff with a gorgeous view. The Chrisoskalitissa monastery is about 71 kilometers from the Chania center and around 5 kilometers from the beach of Elafonissi. The monastery dates back to the 17th century and was built as a fortress, dominating the terrain with a great view of the Libyan sea.

Monastery of Chrysoskalitissa

A small folklore museum can be found in the area. The museum showcases tools and equipment used in everyday life of the monks. A Byzantine museum with religious displays is also accessible. The museums can be found immediately after entering the monastery. Panagia Chrisoskalitissa is Greek for “Our Lady of the Golden Step“. The final step of the 98-stepped stairs going up to the church is claimed to be made of gold. However, only the pure of heart can see it.

In addition, two beautiful chapels can also be seen in the area. One is dedicated to the Transfiguration of Christ, while the other is for Saint Gregory the Theologian. Overall, it’s a great place to visit while in Chania and a little detour on the way to Elafonissi.

  • Region: Chania
  • Opening Hours: 7 am – 7.30 pm
  • Entrance Tickets: €2.00

Agia Triada Monastery

Another monastery found in Chania is the popular Agia Triada, which means “Holy Trinity“. The monastery was built in the 17th century by two brothers who came from the Venetian Zangaroli family, during the last years of Venetian rule. The monastery’s architectural design was created by one of the founders, Ieremias, and was finished by his brother after his death. It is square in form and encircled by strong defensive walls.

Agia Triada Tzagaroli Monastery

After climbing the formidable steps at the entryway, a vaulted passage leads to a magnificent courtyard with lavish fruit trees and gorgeous flowers, a landscape meticulously maintained by the monastery’s monks. There are two chapels found in the area. One of them is in honor of Saint John the Theologian. It also boasts a distinctive dome with beautiful paintings on the inside. The bell tower is situated directly across from the church and beneath the entryway. You can also see a museum and library, all showcasing various artifacts from the monastery’s history.

Agia Triada Monastery

If you wish, you may explore the wine cellars, an antique stone mill, and many artifacts from the monastery’s past in the building next to the monastery. You can also sample the monastery’s wines and olive oil, as well as other gourmet specialties, such as their orange balsamic sauce.

  • Region: Chania
  • Opening Hours:
    Summer: 8 am – 5 pm
    Winter: 8 am – 4 pm
  • Entrance Tickets: €2.50

Gouverneto Monastery

Gouverneto Monastery is one of Crete’s oldest monasteries, having been founded in 1537. Gouverneto Monastery, also known as Our Lady of the Angels, is located on the Akrotiri Peninsula, about 4 kilometers from the Monastery of Agia Triada and 19 kilometers north of Chania.

Gouverneto Monastery

The Gouverneto Monastery is built in the style of a castle, with high towers nestled to protect it against invaders. The monastery’s exterior, in particular, exhibits considerable Venetian influences: it is 40 m x 50 m in size, with around 50 monks’ cells on two levels. There is also a tower in each of the four corners and distinctive embrasures or apertures in the walls. Only two of the towers exist now, although the remnants of the other two may be seen from the courtyard.

There are two small astonishing chapels on either side of the main church. The first one is dedicated to the Ten Saints of Crete, while the other is for Saint John the Hermit. Saint John not only founded the monastery, but he also lived in the nearby cave known as Arkoudospilios. The cave is right below the monastery, along the Avlaki Gorge.

  • Region: 19 km north of Chania
  • Opening Hours:
    Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday: 9 am – 12 pm / 5 pm – 7 pm
    Saturday and Sunday: 9 am – 11 am / 5 pm – 8 pm
  • Entrance Tickets: Free

Gonia Odigitria Monastery

This easy-to-find monastery of Our Lady of Gonia is located at the base of Cape Rodopo. It is less than 1 km from the village of Kolymbari and 25 kilometers from the heart of Chania. It’s in a spectacular high site, on a steep hill overlooking the Gulf of Chania. The views of this monastery are enough to take your breath away.

Gonia Monastery

The monastery was first established in the 9th century and was located farther within the peninsula, near the beach of Menies and not far from the historic remnants of a Minoan temple. However, it was rebuilt in its current position during the 15th century, under the control of the Republic of Venice. As a result, Venetian architecture has had a great influence on the construction of the monastery.

The building has fortified walls with a beautiful courtyard facing the church and the cells of the monks. There is also a belfry and a gorgeous fountain found at the entrance. During the Ottoman rule, Gonia, like many other Cretan monasteries, was subjected to repeated attacks and efforts of demolition; in fact, you can still see the remains of an old cannonball on one of the monastery’s walls.

  • Region: Chania
  • Opening Hours: 9 am – 1 pm / 2 pm – 7 pm
  • Entrance Tickets: €2.00

Prodromou Monastery in Korakies

Last but not the least, the Prodromou Monastery of Korakies is a beautiful monastery located near the mentioned monasteries above. It’s a typical Orthodox Easter gathering spot, where the monastery’s nuns take turns reading the Holy Scripts in a variety of languages all throughout the night. In fact, residents of the Akrotiri peninsula claim this is the most traditional Easter destination in Chania. So if you happen to be in Crete during Easter, this is a must-visit monastery.

Prodromou Monastery in Korakies

The monastery’s official name is Holy Convent of Saint John the Forerunner. Unfortunately, its founding date is uncertain because the convent’s documents were lost during consecutive Ottoman raids. The convent was heavily destroyed after the Greek revolt against the Ottomans in 1821. The nuns sought safety in other religious structures in the area. In 1867, the monastery reopened, while several of the nuns were involved in many of the Cretan fights against the Turks.

Today, visitors may tour the Korakies monastery and stroll through the beautiful gardens, while learning about historical crafts in the museum. The monastery is home to only a few nuns, who are exceptionally accommodating to foreigners and anyone interested in learning more about the history of Korakies Monastery.

  • Region: Chania
  • Opening Hours: 8 am – 6 pm
  • Entrance Tickets: Free