In the south we will follow a circular route through ten small villages. The villages with their churches are: Asklipio with the church dedicated to the “Assumption of the Virgin Mary”, Gennadi with Agios Ioannis o Theologos, Lachania with Agios Georgios, Mesanagros with the church dedicated to Archangel Michael, Kattavia with Agia Paraskevi, Apolakkia with Agia Marina, Arnitha with Agios Georgios, Istrios with Agios Merkourios, Profilia with the church dedicated to the “Birth of the Virgin Mary” and Vati with Agios Ioannis o Theologos. If you are on the east coast start your journey from Asklipio. If you are on the west side of the island then you can start your journey from Agios Georgios “Kalamos” near Apolakkia.
Before the tour the visitor should keep in mind that the older and therefore more interesting from an archaeological point of view churches, are the cemeteries. Starting your journey from the east you reach the village of Asklipio. The church is a cross-formed building with a dome and is dedicated to the “Assumption of Virgin Mary.” It was built in 1060 A.D., and is full of knightly additions with crosses from the 14th century. Its 17th century frescoes are also remarkable. From these, the imposing figure of the Archangel Michael at the north aisle and the scenes from John’s “Apocalypse ” in the south stand out. It celebrates on August 15th . The old oil mill in the church yard is now a religious and folk art museum.
East from the village at Kiotari beach, is the church of the Transfiguration (15th century) with many architectural and ornate marble parts of columns of an older temple. It celebrates on August 6th and the feast takes place the evening before. On the way from Kiotari to Asklipio there are two post-Byzantine churches of archaeological interest, Agios Georgios in “Lambra” area and Agios Nektarios. If you follow a dirt road to the northwest of the village there are two more churches , Agios Zacharias and Agios Georgios in “Kounara” area. Continuing the journey through a beautiful forest of conifers, there is the chapel of Zoodochos Pigi (Life-Giving Spring) or “Arosali” built in the 19th century. Friday after Easter and during the day a feastival takes place. The festival is held every year during the trekking while transferring the icon of the Virgin Mary “Skiadeni” from village to village during Holy Week and the week after Easter.
The second village we meet along the main street, is Gennadi. On the northeast side of the village is the Byzantine Basilica of Agia Anastasia the Roman, built in the 12th century with ancient marble used from the old church of the Resurrection. Decorated with remarkable frescoes, with scenes from Agia Anastasia’s martyrdom on the north and south side and the scenes of Judgment Day on the west side. Today It’s Gennadi ’s cemetery. Continue your journey to the northwest, and you will find the chapel of Agios Savas “Igiasmenos” The festival takes place on the first Saturday after August 15th . Southeast of the village on the main road, near a quiet, undeveloped beach and under the shade of trees is the chapel of Agios Georgios “Tha”. Passing this chapel towards the hinterland near the reservoir in the “Skoloniti” area is the chapel of Agios Georgios “Skolonitis.” A remarkable 18th century chapel of both natural beauty and archaeological interest. Each year, May 1st , residents from Gennadi and the surrounding area gather there to celebrate “Labour Day” and the coming of Spring.
Continuing on the main road (always having the sea on your left side), you arrive in Plimmiri, a beautiful beach in Lachania. There is a chapel dedicated to Zoodochos Pigi (Life-Giving Spring) built on an ancient temple, from which many architectural and marble capitals are preserved. Leaving the coastal zone and heading to the west and to the mainland at the entrance of Lachania, you will find the church of Agia Irini (16th century). Today it’s the village’s cemetery. It celebrates on the 5th of May. Right after Lachania , in a forest of conifers, is the chapel of Agios Thomas, a Byzantine church from the 14th century built over the ruins of an older temple. Following steadily uphill, at an altitude of 400 meters lies the village Mesanagros. In the village square, you will find a church dedicated to the “Assumption of the Virgin” built in the 13th century in the middle aisle of a 6th century Christian basilica. The remains of these temples , mosaics and marble pillars , reveal the age of piracy. It also shoes the gathering of a large population and the existence of a city, in this remote area away from the sea threats and the pirates.
Continue from Mesanagros to Kattavia. Follow a dirt road, through a path of ecological interest, and you will come across some remarkable chapels. These chapels are: Agia Irini Chrysovalantou, Agios Nektarios, Agios Dimitrios, Prophet Elias (Mesanagros) , Agia Paraskevi, Agios Nikolaos, Prophet Elias (Kattavia) ,Agios Minas and in Kattavia’s entrance Agios Stamatios.. In Kattavia, you will find one of the most important religious monuments of the 10th century, with ornate murals and many marbles of an older building. This is the church of “Panagia Katholiki” which is the village cemetery. It celebrates on August 15th . A three-day festival takes place in Kattavia staring from July 25th. Agios Panteleimon is located on the road that connects Kattavia to the main street. On the main street the buildings of the Catholic church of St. Mark can also be seen. Just across the street from Saint Mark, under the shadow of the arches formed by two rows of cypresses, is an alley leading to the chapel of Agios Georgios built in the 17th century. The bell of the chapel is an old bomb shell,remain of the Second World War. That dirt road leads to two unexploited, quiet and sandy beaches, “Agios Georgios” and “Mavros Kavos”.
Head back to the main street and drive down the west coast of the road. On your left the “marble boat of Panagia Skiadeni” sails, an island that according to a legend was once a pirate ship the Virgin Mary turned into stone. Opposite, across the mountain, you see the monastery of Panagia Skiadeni, the most important pilgrimage in the south part of the island.
As we can tell by the marble architectural parts, it was a place of worship since ancient times, where a temple dedicated to goddess Artemis existed.. Today there is a Byzantine chapel used as a sanctuary, where a Dodecanese type temple was added dedicated to the “Birth of the Virgin.” The icon, covered with silver, shoes the Virgin Mary with a tormented face, exressive eyes and a scar on her right cheek made by an infidel. This image is taken on foot from village to village, during Holy Week and the week after Easter. The monastery celebrates on September 8th and the festival takes place the night before.
Continuing the tour on the coastal road lies the village of Apolakkia. In the village square, on July 16th , the eve of Agia Marina’s celebration a festival takes place. The church, dedicated to Agia Marina, bears ornate marble capitals transferred from the ruined basilica of Agia Irini. From Apolakkia, heading northwest to Monolithos, you will find the chapel of Agios Georgios “Kalamos”. From there you can enjoy the panoramic view over the bay of Apolakkia from “Panos Gialos” until the beach “Fourni”. This area is protected by the European program «Natura 2000». From the courtyard you can enjoy an idyllic landscape, especially the sunset.
From Agios Georgios “Kalamos” head east to Agios Georgios “Vardas, a remarkable chapel, built in 1290 with great Byzantine hagiography. Visitors can observe the shapes of the Saints, with the clearly marked recesses of their eyes. Continuing your journey into the colorful flora of the mainland, you reach Arnitha, where the monastery of Agios Philemonas is. It is a post- Byzantine monastery of “Dodecanese style ‘, built over an older Byzantine, where there formerly stood an ancient temple dedicated to Apollo, with many architectural and marble capitals. It celebrates on July 21st and the festival takes place on the evening of July 20th. Crossing a steep uphill path south of Arnitha, you will reach the hill “Garoufa.” There is a remarkable chapel, a unique saint, Agios Nikonas of “repentance.” The area has a spectacular view over Apolakkia bay and the dam of Apolakkia in the hinterland. Going down a dirt road on the steep southern slope of the hill “Garoufa” at the foot of the hill in a grove of cypresses, in the “Katakalon” area is the chapel of Agii Theodori built in the 13th century, with remarkable frescoes.
From Arnitha head north until you reach Istrios. There are two religious monuments in Istrios both dedicated to Agios Merkourios. One is the main church and the other is cemetery built in the 17th century. It celebrates on August 16th and the festival takes place on August 15th. Driving uphill at an altitude of 320 meters is Profilia. You will find the chapel of Agios Georgios (16th century) with great folk art frescoes. In one of the frescoes the Virgin Mary spins wool and lulls in the cradle of Christ. South of Profilia in a coniferous forest is the chapel of Agios Ioannis o Myranos which celebrates on August 29th.The festival takes place the night before.
Returning to the main Street and heading east, is the chapel of “Panagia Galatousa.” A rare icon of the 14th century stored for security reasons in the main church of Vati. This icon shows the Virgin Mary getting ready to breast feed Christ. The celebration is on August 15th. South from Vati,following a dirt road, you will arrive at a hill where the chapel of Archangel Michael “Paralimnioti”is. A Dodecanese type chapel built over an older church. The festival takes place on the first Saturday of September.
East of Vati, between olive groves with gigantic trunks, near a windmill, is the chapel of Agios Georgios. Built in the 14th century, with folk art murals. Next to the chapel in a separate enclosure, is the village’s cemetery. Continuing your tour eastward, you come back to Gennadi bringing your journey to an end. A place with strong religious feelings from ancient times until today.