Moni Toplou

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Moni Toplou is an attractive monastery about 18 km East of Sitia. It is built high on a rugged plateau on the way to Erimoupoli or Vai, and its architecture resembles a fort due to the fact that throughout history it had to defend itself from bandits, pirates, and invaders. Moni Toplou literally means "Monastery with the gun", thus named by the Turks because it had in its possession a small cannon.

The monastery was founded in the 15th century but was devastated during the earthquake of 1612 and it was rebuilt by the Venetians, but it was destroyed again by the Turkish occupation of Crete.

Currently the monastery seems to own the entire land mass of northeast
crete which it uses as grazing pastures for the free-ranging goats in its possession. This is one of the main reasons the entire area has remained pristine and undeveloped. While talk of the construction of a large hotel near Vai circulates, no other building project has taken place besides some stone villas for the monastery's land caretakers.

The monastery is dedicated to Panagia Theotokos and todayit functions as a museum of Byzantine icons and engravings which we vistited one day on our way back to Sitia from Erimoupoli. The collection of icons was very interesting, and the engravings were more interesting from a historical point of view. A helpful caretaker explained the etching process during which gunpowder is used to etch large areas of the plate. Unfortunately, photographing is prohibited inside the monastery so I cannot include pictures here of its impressive icons.

There are also rooms with historical exhibits which reflect the monastery's role in the historical events which formulated modern Greece. In fact much of the destructions on its buildings and slaughter of the monks were caused by the direct involvement of the monastery with the organized resistance against the Turks, and more recently against the Germans in World War II.

Near the monastery there is a small cave which functioned as a shelter for the resistance fighter's wireless radio during WWII. When the Germans found the radio they arrested three monks from Moni Toplou and tortured them. One monk (Evmenios Stamatakis) died in prison while abbot Gennadios Silignakis and Kallinikos Papathanasakis were executed. There is a steep dirt road leading to the cave about 500 meters away from the monastery towards Sitia.

On our way out we visit the traditional cafe right outside the museum and enjoyed some local delicacies along with a little chilled raki in a genuine Cretan atmosphere. Home made yogurt and local honey is one of the most popular items on the menu, along with local Sitia olives, succulent cucumber, fresh baked bread, and xygalo.

Athens map. Satellite picture
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