Theotokis Monastery

One of the biggest tourist attractions on Corfu is the Monastery dedicated to the Virgin Mary in Paleokastritsa, also named Theotokis Monastery. In itself, Paleokastritsa is already an attraction, with several picturesque bays, white beaches and soaring above them the beautiful mountain ridge.

Historic Corfu

The Monastery was founded in the thirteenth century on the site of an earlier religious building, (local legend says in 1228) but most of the original building has been lost. The original Monastery undoubtedly suffered from the elements and the ravages of time. What’s more, in 1403 it was destroyed by Genovezous, a very rough boy with bad friends, who apparently had nothing better to do than destroy things. In 1469, the Monastery was rebuilt but during the war with the Turks in 1537, the Monastery was again destroyed. In 1722, the entrance on the north side was little by little restored. In the 18th century, they believed the coast was clear and the Monastery was largely rebuilt. The structure thus has a long history of building, destruction and reconstruction.

What to see while visiting

Although little remains of the original structure, from an architectural point of view it is well worth a visit as it is a classic example of Greek monastic architecture. If architecture is not your thing then the views from the Monastery make the climb worthwhile. Built on top of a steep rock promontory that dominates the bays in the original area of Paleokastritsa, you have the opportunity for great views over the Ionian Sea and the various beautiful bays of Paleokastritsa.
There are also monks’ cells to visit, it is a working Monastery, and when you see them, you will feel so comfortable in your 3 x 4 m bedroom with its amenities. Hopefully, the cells inhabited by the current occupants are a little more luxurious, but in earlier days, it was a custom to spend your days in such a room without comfort and luxury.
On site, there is also a church and there you will see some amazing artwork. Of course, there are numerous icons (we do not have to mention that) and a number of impressive paintings of mythological scenes and of the Last Judgement Day. Here you can also see how St. George put up a vigorous fight against the dragon. Lastly, but no means least, pay attention to the carvings on the ceiling! As with many churches on the island, flash photography is frowned upon, as it fades the colour of the icons and other artwork. However, do not despair as in the grounds there is a small gift shop, where postcards can be bought and reproductions of the icons.

Corfu Traditions

Within the Monastery’s walls, there is an arched inner courtyard resplendent with plants. Even on the hottest day, it remains cool and is as welcoming as an oasis in the Sahara. The outer courtyards have amazingly intricate mosaic work. One courtyard, set to the rear, has fantastic views over the sea and the other has an old wishing well, a popular choice for those wanting their heart’s desire. It is best to cover your options and light a candle whilst inside the church! Unlike many other historical sites on the island, it is still a working Monastery and plays an important role in the daily life of the locals. It is home to eight Greek Orthodox monks who receive their guidance from Bishop Efthimios. Visitors will see the monks in their black gowns going about their daily business. (Please respect the dress code. Women should have their shoulders covered. Short shorts are frowned upon, particularly on women.) On Good Friday, many people make a pilgrimage to the area to take part in a traditional Greek Orthodox service. On the first Friday after Easter, there is a panayeri (traditional local festival) in the car park outside the Monastery grounds.

Walking paradise Corfu

On the same promontory, but outside the Monastery grounds, several footpaths are worth exploring for the wonderful seascapes that can be seen. There are also fantastic views of Angelokastro and the Monastery is the only place in Paleokastritsa from which you are able to see the original village of Lakones. There is also a small garden/farming area used by the monks. Here you will find an area with a fountain and a separate enclosure where the Monastery’s peacocks are housed.

The museum

The museum inside the Monastery is fun for a quick visit. There are displays of Byzantine and post-Byzantine icons, sacred books and other religious relics. Among the main attractions, there is a very old bible with silver cover, inlaid with jewels. Please do not touch, or before you know it, the precious relics will be dust in your hands! Do not let us forget the most intriguing part of the collection - part of the skeleton of some sort of mammoth, though it looks more like a big bone! Of course, there are legends attached to it and we always enjoy those. The wildest stories are doing the rounds about this unusual object. One of the most frequently heard stories is that the bone was part of the dragon, killed by St. George - a popular boy on Corfu, or that it belonged to a sea monster. Who knows!
It would not be a tourist spot if you could not buy some souvenirs, handicrafts and trinkets. So within one of the original monks' cells, a shop has been established that sells icons, hand-made crafts, small bottles of olive oil pressed by the monks and other memorabilia For those not averse to a gamble, you can buy unlabeled wine. It is very good wine! A small olive press can also be found within the Monastery.

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