Besides the ancient treasures, paradise-like beaches, and picturesque villages Greece is known for, there is a fourth category of sites that should be on your travel itinerary. The religious sites. All over Greece, you can find the most beautiful churches and monasteries. These places are often build on such unique and wonderful places that they are not only a place to visit for the believers amongst us. They will impress everyone. So wherever you are in Greece, find one and pay a visit!
Religion in Greece
The Orthodox Church plays an important role in Greek culture and history. While Greece, as a country, has known many occupations throughout history, the orthodox religion has always been there. For thousands of years, the Orthodox church was there to preserve Greek nationality through Ottoman and Venetian control. Many churches and monasteries are located in remote locations, far away from the wars that the country fought. In caves and on cliff sides, the religion survived. Today, the Greek culture is intertwined with the Orthodox religion, and over 90% of the Greeks today are Christian Orthodox.
The Greeks take their religion serious. Meaning that when you are planning on visiting religious sites in Greece, you have to stick to the church’s rules. Respect the religion and the etiquettes, even as a tourist.
Types of must-see religious sites
For the Orthodox faith to survive in Greece, many churches and monasteries are located in remote locations. As a result, there are three types of must-visit religious sites in Greece.
- The monasteries build on holy sites in the most extreme places.
- Small cave-churches build as a hideout from the occupants at that time.
- White churches or monasteries surrounded by clear blue water.
Monasteries at extreme places
The most impressive religious buildings in Greece are the ones that connect with the extreme nature around them. Hundreds of years old monasteries, built on giant stone pillars, sea-side cliffs, or as an almost invisible part of a mountain. The most famous example is Meteora. But even less famous ones, like Megalo Spireo, Kipina, Timios Prodromos, or mount Athos, are both impressive and breathtaking. It seems impossible that human hands created them so many years ago. The structures are so surreal that even an atheist can feel the spirituality of these places.
Cave-churches as hideout
In many areas in Greece, the Orthodox religion could only survive by hiding. As a result there are many churches around today that are hidden inside a cave. Often these churches themselves are not truly impressive, but the landscape around is. Examples are Panagia Kakaviotissa in Lemnos, Agios Stefanos in Syros, and Agios Georgios in Didyma Peloponnese.
White and blue water sights
Less spectacular, but nevertheless extremely wonderful, are the religious sites enclosed by a sea or a lake. Clear blue water surrounding a white church situated in a remote location, truly makes the perfect Greek scenery. The tranquility around these churches is extraordinary. Perfect examples of churches like these are Agios Isidoros on Chios, Agios Ioannis on Skopelos and Agios Nikolaos on Lemnos.
Tips for visiting religious sites in Greece
Here is an overview of the most important rules and etiquettes when visiting a religious site in Greece. Although many places have these rules on a sign when you enter, not all of them do. So read these tips before you enter any church or monastery in the country to make sure you respect the Greeks and their faith as a tourist.
Follow the dress code
Since the Orthodox church is still important to the Greeks, all religious sites, even the ones in the most remote places, are still in use. Monks still live in the monasteries and Easter is celebrated in the churches. As a result, there is a strict dress code when entering a holy place in Greece.
The general rule is that men should wear long pants and women long skirts, for both shoulders, upper arms, and knees should be covered. However, every church and monastery has its own variation on this rule. A dress that allows you to enter one monastery, might be refused by another.
Safest is to always have long pants or a skirt and a light scarf to cover your upper body with you when visiting a religious site. Personally, I always have an orthodox-approved outfit in the trunk of the car while traveling in Greece. The alternative is to borrow body-covering fabric at the entrance, which is possible at many monasteries. However, these fabrics are not the most breathable, comfortable, and hygienic solutions, especially during summer. So better prepare if you have the option.
Be careful with photographs
The Orthodox religion does allow you to take pictures inside churches and monasteries. However, be careful where you point your camera at, and how you take the picture. It is taboo to use a flash inside a religious building in Greece. Also, never take a picture of the altar in a church! Many of the Greek religious sites do have a reminder about these rules when you enter.
Don’t cross your legs
In many Greek Orthodox churches it is considered rude to cross your legs. This because crossing your legs when seating is a way to get comfortable, which is not permitted inside a church. According to the religion, getting too relaxed will prevent you from a true connection with God. And even when you do not believe in the Greek God, it is a sign of disrespect when you sit down and act comfortable.
Check the opening hours
The last tip I want to give you is to check the opening hours, especially of the monasteries. Most of them close around five (often even earlier during the non-summer months) and have at least one day a week on which they do not open at all. Since the most beautiful religious sites are at very remote locations, it would be a pity to conquer the winding mountain roads, only to discover that you can not enter. Most monasteries and churches have accurate information regarding their opening hours on Google maps.
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