The monastery of Mega Spileo (Large Cave) is the oldest monastery in Greece. It was founded in 362 and built over a large cave at the base of a huge cliff, hence the name Mega Spileo, at an altitude of 1km. It has been destroyed several times over the years due to war and fire. The last time was 1934, when a gunpowder magazine left over from the revolution of 1821 exploded. In 1943, the Nazis pushed 22 monks off a cliff to their deaths.
The monastery is 8 storeys high and allows you to visit the cave and a museum with many treasures. Admission is free but it is nice to leave a donation. There is a dress code. No shorts or bare shoulders. Women must wear a skirt that is about ankle length. Men must wear long pants.
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Agia Lavra is a very important site in Greek history. It is a monastery near Kalavrita that was founded in 961. It was built at an altitude of 961m and once housed 961 monks. It holds the skull of Agios Alexios and an impressive collection of treasures.
The monastery has been burned down 3 times. Twice by the Turks in 1585 and 1827, and again by the Nazis in 1943 after they executed 4 monks who were unable to escape. The oldest remaining building dates back to 1689.
Probably the most important event that ever took place in Greece occured at Agia Lavra on 25 March, 1821. Greece had been under Turkish rule for nearly 400 years and a resistance was building. Bishop Palaion Patron Germanos led freedom fighters in prayer and vowed that they would fight to the death for their freedom. Eleftheria i Thanatos (Freedom or Death) was the proclamation, and the banner of the revolution was raised. The day is recognized as Greece's Independence Day.
Admission to the monastery is free but it is nice to leave a small donation. There is a dress code. No shorts or bare shoulders. Women must wear a skirt that is about ankle length. Men must wear long pants.
A reenactment of the discovery of the icon of the Panagia is displayed in the cave at Mega Spileo. You can see Ag. Efrosini kneeling to the right looking up at an icon, and Ss. Theodore and Simeon holding the icon on the left.
The icon of the Panagia (Virgin Mary) can be found inside the church at Mega Spileo. It was made by St. Luke of wax and mastic, and miraculously has survived fires!
The Holy Apostle St. Luke was born in Antioch, was of Greek descent, and was a physician. He was the first iconographer in the Christian church, settled in Greece later in his life, and died in 84, so that tells you how old this icon is.
The story of how the monastery of Mega Spileo was founded is very interesting. A shepherd girl named Efrosini (now a saint) discovered an icon of the Panagia (Virgin Mary) made of wax and mastic by St. Luke. She gave it to 2 monks, St. Theodore and St. Simeon, and they built the first monastery over the cave where the icon was found.
This icon representing the discovery of the icon of the Panagia is found on the outside of the monastery.
The Panhellenic Monument of the Heroes of the Revolution of 1821 is located near Agia Lavra. There are 3 figures on the monument. To the left is a statue of a freedom fighter, representing the sacrifices and struggles during the revolution. To the right is a priest, representing the role of the church in the revolution. In the middle is a woman, representing the freedom of Greece.
Besides the monument, you will get some great views.
On December 13th, 1943, Nazi soldiers marched into Kalavrita looking for members of the Greek resistance who had kidnapped and murdered some other Nazi soldiers. The villagers said the resistance had left, but the Nazis gathered all males in the village aged 12 and up to a hill overlooking the village. They also gathered the females and locked them in the schoolhouse. What happened next has haunted the village ever since.
The males were forced to watch as the Nazis set fire to each house and building, one by one. As they watched the city burn, the Nazis opened fire with machine guns. When the shooting stopped, they walked around the bodies and shot anyone who was still alive. Only a few miraculously survived.
As for the women, they watched the village burn from the schoolhouse. A Nazi soldier disobeying orders unlocked the door and let them escape, probably sparing their lives. That soldier was never heard from again. The women searched the town and couldn't find the men until later in the day when they found the bodies scattered on the hill. The final count was 1436.
The Nazis took all of the supplies they could find leaving the surviving villagers with absolutely nothing, and homeless for the upcoming winter.
A monument to commemorate the villagers who were slaughtered is located on the hill and is decorated with stones inscribed with the names of those who were murdered. A large white cross sits at the top of the hill and provides a great view of the village.
In town, you will notice that the clock on the old cathedral are set at 2:34. This is the time that the massacre began.
A tiny chapel is located at the holocaust monument. Inside, candles are lit for each person who was murdered. A nameplate is attached to each candle with a name and age of the person, and some have extra info. You can feel the spirits of the people with you when you walk inside.
The Museum of the People of Kalavryta was founded in 1993, after 50 years the town's holocaust.
The Museum is housed in the town's primary school, which is a historic building, donated by Andreas Syngros in 1906, and closely linked to the historical event of the destruction of Kalavryta.
The Museum's aim is to constitute a centre for the promotion, through education, of peace in the world and of cooperation among peoples.
The Museum Collection is composed of personal belongings of citizens who were executed, historical documents from private collections, photographs from both Greek and German state archives, stamps, engravings by various artists, whose themes were inspired by the sacrifice of the people of Kalavryta and some of which were created immediately after the tragic event.
Many hundreds of monks were living in the monastery in the past (today not so many, of course), there were some ascets too... Surely, it is a totally different style of living, I wonder who can live eremetically nowadays...
It was founded by two monks-brothers, when a woman from a village (Agia Efrosini) gave to them -in 362 AD- the famous icon of Virgin Mary (Panagia), which she had found at the cave at the entrance of the monastery.
The well organized ski center of Kalavrita, 14 km away from it, at an altitude of 1650-2340 m. (mountain Helmos), has 12 ski runs. It is usually crowded at the weekends (there is snow until the end of April).
It has been characterised as one of the best of the country.
This amazing cave is near a village called Kastria, not far from Kalavrita.
The developed part of the cave is 500 m (of a total of 20.000) long and includes artistic lighting.
It is famous and unique in the world because of its cascading lakes forming three different levels. The cave retains water permanently throught the years in 13 picturesque lakes.
It is next to the main building of the monastery. It is said that the revolutionary flag of 1821 was raised there...
There are a lot of heirlooms to admire in the monastery, as this banner of freedom, canonicals of Palaion Patron Germanos, the holy head of Agios (Saint) Alexios, an important library too...
The call for "freedom or death" first rang out "officialy" in this place in March of 1821, when chieftains and other leaders were gathered there and decided to throw off the Turks after being almost 400 years in Greece.
It is believed that Palaion Patron Germanos, a bishop, blessed there the soldiers and their will to fight for freedom until their death.
25 March is a national day for Greece (there are scientific doubts if this blessing happened that day in Agia Lavra) because also of the important church festival of Annunciation at the same day. The other national day is on 28 October.